Lee County’s proposed chicken ordinance sent back to zoning office for more work

DIXON — An ordinance that would have allowed up to six chickens in unincorporated single-family residential areas of Lee County has been sent back to the county’s Zoning and Planning Office for revision.

On April 1, the Lee County Planning Commission unanimously voted to direct Zoning and Planning to reconsider the number of chickens allowed, to take into account lot size in regard to the number of chickens allowed and to restrict how close a chicken enclosure can be to a neighboring home.

The vote came at the end of a 90-minute meeting attended by around 35 people. Twelve people asked questions and/or commented on the proposed ordinance.

“I heard a common theme that, maybe the R-2 zone is very broad and maybe the ordinance is too specific,” Planning Commission member Emily Pratt said of the public’s questions and comments. “Maybe where there are large acreages, maybe we do need to consider size more.”

If passed by the Lee County Board later, the ordinance would not apply to agricultural districts, nor to residents within the boundaries of municipalities that have their own zoning laws, Lee County Zoning Administrator Alice Henkel said. It also would not supersede any covenants that rural subdivisions have in place prohibiting chickens, she noted.

The ordinance would allow for an accessory use in the R-2 Single-Family Residential District, which would require petitioners to live primarily on the land in question, Henkel said.

Provisions of the ordinance currently include having no more than six chickens at any time; no roosters; having and maintaining adequate fencing and/or an enclosure large enough to keep the chickens on the property at all times; maintaining the property “so as to retain residential characteristics;” no slaughtering or processing of chickens on the property; no selling of chickens or chicken byproducts, such as meat or eggs; and, if there are no chickens on the property for at least 90 consecutive days, the enclosure and/or fencing must be removed.

If the provisions are violated, the proposed penalties are that the property owner or occupant might be required to remove the chickens from the property, and that a fine of up to $500 for violations might be levied for every day a violation occurs. Additionally, Henkel can choose to refer any violations to the Lee County State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution as a misdemeanor, with a sentence of up to six months, fines or both.

Henkel noted that it would be rare for penalties to be that harsh, and such steps would be taken only in extreme circumstances.

“When my office deals with a zoning violation, the goal of my office is compliance,” she said. “We’re not looking to go out and come down hard on somebody.”

If fines become necessary, they would be set at a rate that would allow the county to recoup funds from the time staff spent trying to bring the property into compliance, Henkel said.

A revised version of the ordinance will be reviewed by the Lee County Planning Commission at 6:30 p.m. May 6. Members of the public attending in person or via Zoom will be allowed to comment.

The Planning Commission meets in the third-floor board room of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., Dixon.

For a more in-depth explanation on how zoning and the zoning ordinance process works, see Shaw Local’s article on the Lee County zoning process.

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.