Backyard chickens in Riverside? You’d better believe it.

At their next regularly scheduled business meeting on Dec. 1, Riverside trustees are poised to approve an ordinance allowing hens to be kept in the village’s residential backyards, at least as a one-year pilot program, beginning in 2017.

An informal poll of trustees during the latest discussion of the subject on Nov. 17 indicated that trustees were in favor of a pilot program by a 4 to 2 margin. Trustees Joseph Ballerine and Michael Sedivy opposed allowing chickens to be raised in the village.

“I don’t think I’d be too excited about having chickens next door to my house,” Sedivy said.

Ballerine pointed to an Oct. 6 report by the Center for Disease Control linking backyard chickens to an uptick in salmonella cases during 2016 as one reason why he was against allowing hens in the village.

“We’re not a rural community,” said Ballerine. “I don’t like the idea.”

But other trustees were amenable to a pilot program after village staff submitted more information from other suburban Chicago communities that allow chickens. 

Village staff surveyed a dozen communities that allow chickens and heard back from Brookfield, Burr Ridge, Downers Grove, North Riverside, Oak Park and Western Springs. 

The information they received back suggested that the practice of raising chickens either was not widely practiced and/or that few, if any, complaints about noise, cleanliness and predation could be substantiated.

Rob Dixon, a Riverside resident who has raised chickens in the past, argued for allowing the program and said concerns about noise and attracting predators such as coyotes are “overblown.”

Dixon said allowing chickens to be raised in Riverside was “in keeping with the promise of Riverside, which is green space, the connection to the environment, and using your property in a way that is satisfying.”

According to a draft version of the ordinance discussed by trustees on Nov. 17, the village’s pilot program would be limited to a maximum of 15 properties during the one-year trial and that if more than 15 residents express interest, the licenses would be awarded by a lottery.

The initial license would cost $100 and would have to be renewed annually, likely at a lower cost, and limits each property to between two and four hens (no roosters would be allowed), which must be kept in a rear yard coop that is set back at least 15 feet from any property line and at least 30 feet from any occupied structure on adjacent properties.

An earlier draft of the ordinance suggested a 25-foot property line setback, but trustees agreed that such a restriction would make it impossible for many homeowners to raise chickens in their backyards.

Riverside’s village board has had backyard chickens on the table for discussion since March. In August, the village board voted 4 to 1 to create a similar pilot program allowing homeowners to keep bees in their backyards.

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