In this screenshot of a Crystal Lake City Council meeting, council members discuss whether to allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards.
In this screenshot of a Crystal Lake City Council meeting, council members discuss whether to allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards.

Backyard chickens will still not be allowed in Crystal Lake, even after a lengthy discussion on the matter at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Council members, voting 6-1, ultimately decided to take no action on a motion that would have directed city staff to finalize a proposed city code amendment allowing residents to have backyard hens. The vote means the proposed change will not move forward to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.

The sole no vote came from council member Ian Philpot, who said he would be open to considering it.

Though some council members said they could see the benefits of allowing backyard chickens, they said the risks and potential nuisance involved outweighed them. 

While McHenry County as a whole permits residents to have up to six chickens in their yard, in the immediate Crystal Lake area, Prairie Grove is the only local municipality allowing them. The village of less than 2,000 people limits them to properties with 5 or more acres.

Michelle Rentzsch, Crystal Lake's community development director, said some of the issues to think about are abandoned chickens, as chickens lay eggs for only about two years; the potential transmission of disease; associated odor or noise issues; and the attraction of predators, such as raccoons or foxes, and rodents.

However, Rentzsch added, there are also sustainable living benefits associated with keeping chickens, as they lay fresh eggs people can eat. Chickens are also omnivores, which means they can eat food scraps, and they are also natural hunters, so they can be a chemical-free way to keep insects and small rodents out of people’s backyards, she said.

In addition, Rentzsch said, the appearance of the chicken coop itself can also be attractive.

Crystal Lake last grappled with the idea of backyard chickens in 2011

Council member Ellen Brady said the world has changed since then. Healthy and pesticide-free food is now readily available in grocery stores. 

With these natural products available, Brady said she doesn’t think people need to be able to raise chickens in their own yard for eggs.

She said a resident having backyard chickens would also be a “nightmare” for someone who has a dog as the dog would bark at the birds and try to catch them. 

“I can't imagine that the dog doesn't do everything in his power, when he's out in the yard, to get that chicken,” Brady said. 

Council member Mandy Montford said she loves the sustainability aspect of backyard chickens and the idea of getting children involved with taking care of something.

On the other hand, she said, maintaining the coop takes a lot of work and it would take a lot of city staff time to manage them properly and ensure chickens don't become a nuisance. 

“I really I think this is cool and I think it's progressive,” Montford said. “But I'm hearing these problems that I hadn't totally focused on before, so I'm struggling.”

Council member Brett Hopkins questioned what problem the council would be solving by changing the ordinance. 

In fact, he said, it might create problems: It would be more work for city employees who would need to enforce different rules and regulations when it comes to the chickens. 

“We have a pretty lean staff, and I do not want to, at least in the heat of this pandemic, put any more pressure on them to regulate how this is happening,” Hopkins said. “For me, it's just not the right time.”


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