Champaign to allow residents to own hens

By Angelica Lavito

Residents of Champaign will now be able to raise hens, as the Champaign City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to amend a previous ordinance that didn’t allow residents to own the animal.

The ordinance states that citizens must obtain a license to possess hens. Licenses will only be granted to those who live in single-family and two-family homes. They are allowed to own a minimum of two hens and a maximum of six per property.

Roosters are prohibited within Champaign, and hens must be kept in a designated coop, or run, that follows the provisions outlined in the ordinance, but hens are permitted to exercise in a backyard with a 6-foot or higher fence with supervision. Their food must be stored in a fully-enclosed container.

“For 30 years, everyone felt like this was really a nervous, hot-button topic about whether or not you can raise hens,” said Mayor Don Gerard. “But as it turns out, it’s really a pretty progressive thing to do.”

At a study session in November, a resident questioned whether the proposed license fee of $50 was too high for low-income families. The ordinance voted on at Tuesday’s meeting included a lower fee of $25.

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    City Council member at-large Karen Foster said at the meeting that the residents she spoke to were concerned about the property value decreasing if hens were allowed.

    “In Evanston and in Carbondale, Illinois, they’ve had their ordinances in the books for a few years, and we’ve certainly modeled our ordinance after theirs; they haven’t had a single enforcement action,” Lacey Rains Lowe, a Champaign city planner, said at the meeting. “So they haven’t seen anything in relation to enforcement, but they also have no evidence of even neighbor complaints, let alone a reduction in property value.”

    Gerard said he and Deputy Mayor Tom Bruno encouraged community members to get organized and reach out because although some residents wanted to discuss the issue, the council did not.

    “It was really one of those democracy-in-action things where citizens just pummeled City Council members with information and pleas, and basically it went and turned around from only being able to only having two signatures (you need five to have a study session) to passing in the study session 8-1,” Gerard said.

    Multiple residents thanked the Council for their work, asked clarifying questions about the ordinance and offered their suggestions at the study session.

    “It has been illuminating how many people in the community have expressed an interest in doing this,” Bruno said at the study session. “I don’t think a year ago … we collectively would have guessed how many people in our community have an interest in participating in this activity.”

    Gerard said after speaking with friends who reside in Urbana and own chickens, he is considering raising hens.

    “I have a dog right now, and it would probably drive her crazy, but I’m actually not opposed to the idea,” Gerard said. “I’ve had friends in Urbana who love (hens) and say they’re really friendly and you can compost their poop.”

    Angelica can be reached at [email protected].