Berwyn mulls legalizing backyard chickens

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Jeremy and Heather West of Berwyn really like chickens, and not necessarily fried, baked or floating in soup. They like them in the backyard, laying eggs.

While Berwyn officials recently planned on amending city ordinances to specify chickens in the list of prohibited livestock, the Wests are not alone in their love of fresh eggs, and city officials are now taking a serious look at decriminalizing the keeping of chickens in the city limits.

In June, officials began the process of tightening up the ordinance after the Building Department received a few calls about neighbors keeping chickens and bees. The previous ordinance did not spell out that chickens – and bees – were on the list of objectionable animals outlined in the ordinance.

The proposed code now reads that “No person shall keep or board any horse, mule, ass, ox, cow, goat, pig (with the exception of miniature pot bellied pigs), chicken, rooster, turkey, duck, goose, or other like fowl, animal or livestock. Possession of such animal is hereby declared to be a nuisance ...”

However, Eighth Ward Alderman Nora Laureto requested that the issue be brought to the Building, Zoning and Planning Commission for further review. Several hearings were held, resulting in the committee’s recommendation that raising chickens is permissible in the ordinance.

At the Aug. 28 City Council Meeting, Laureto, who represents the Wests in her ward, said there were plenty of illegal chicken coops in the city, but the reason they have not been reported is because they have not posed any problem. Mayor Robert Lovero asked Building Director Charles Lazzara to not issue any more citations against chicken owners until the issue is resolved.

The Council is expected to review the revised ordinance when the Commission drafts a new ordinance.

West was cited in May for violating the ordinance but was told by the hearing officer that no complaint was received about the chickens, but merely a report that the Wests were keeping chickens on their property.

Third Ward Alderman Marge Paul said her concern was what becomes of those chickens whose owners become disenchanted with taking care of them.

“I’m really concerned about abandoned foul,” Paul said. She added that if the ordinance was going to be changed, the city needs to find out if animal shelters in Cicero and Oak Park will accept homeless chickens, and also recommended the City look into other communities that allow chickens to see how they handle the homeless chicken issue.

West credited Laureate with carrying the torch for legitimizing home-fresh eggs.

“Alderman Laureto has been extremely helpful,” West said.

West raised chickens in a couple of different locations when they lived in Chicago before moving to Berwyn in 2013. In 2014, they bought two chicks, a buff Orpington and the South American araucana, which lay green eggs, and raised them in their dining room.

“They need indoor warmth when they’re little, but of course you take them outside as soon as you can,” West said. “ I got into it because I’ve been into gardening for a while. Chickens are a good addition to a garden system. They eat scraps, bugs, clean up weeds and stuff like that.”

West said his two chickens yield one to two eggs daily.

As for his neighbors, West said they like the chickens.

“We asked our neighbors on either side if it would be all right,” West said. “It’s kind of fun to watch chickens peck around. I think people in the neighborhood like them. When they walk down 23rd Street they stop and talk. Kids like them. They think they’re kind of fun.”