In September of 2012, Maple Park homeowner Cliff Assell removed the six chickens that he had raised and was boarding on his property in town, because the government of Maple Park forced him to do so. Assell had bought the chicks in the late spring, and had been raising them inside his house until they were ready to be placed outside and begin laying eggs, a process that is shared by most backyard chicken owners.
While the chicks were growing, Assell had built a coop for them in his yard; equipped with a ventilation system, windows, lights, heat lamps, and a fenced-in area on the sides.
Within a few weeks of the chickens’ debut, Assell received a letter from the village explaining that they had received complaints from a neighbor regarding his chickens, and that he had violated a village ordinance. The letter also informed him that he had to eliminate the “problem”.
The neighbors’ concerns were that the chickens would be noisy, and could be smelly, or possibly bring in coyotes and vermin from the surrounding country. Concerns that animals like dogs or cats could never fulfill.
Assell decided to appear in front of the village board and plead his case. He brought a team of support with him that consisted of his neighbor and girlfriend, Erika Seibert, and her stepfather. Before attending the meeting, they collected information to present to the board. After he presented his reasons for wanting chickens, the facts about owning chickens, and trying to persuade the board’s opinion, he said he received positive feedback.
“It seemed promising,” Assell said. “They told me I did a good job, and told me I had to collect signatures.”
So, he did just that. Assell collected about 150 signatures from his neighbors for a petition allowing his chickens to stay.
Assell presented his signatures to the board at the next meeting, but this time, received a different response. The board declined his efforts and decided to uphold the existing ordinance.
“They were very indifferent this time around, and pretty much just told me “no”. They didn’t let me talk very much either. I just didn’t expect that outcome,” Assell said.
It took Assell and his team a while for the board’s decision to sink in.
“I didn’t get rid of my chickens right away, I guess I was kind of hoping that the outcome would change,” Assell said.
Within another week, and the chickens still living on Assell’s property, the village fined Assell $50, and also informed him that he must remove the coop as well, for it violated village building codes, and he had not gotten a permit for it.
“I found a woman in Wayne, IL who rescues animals from situations like mine, and I gave her my chickens. It was hard to let them go, you know? I became sort of attached to them, like pets,” Assell said.
Assell is still in the process of removing the coop from his property, a long and arduous task for a workingman.
“I spent between $1200 and $1500 on this whole thing; between the chickens, the fencing, the roof, windows, lights, heat, electricity, and whatever else I needed. That’s a lot of money wasted,” declared Assell. “ I guess I’m just a little discouraged and disappointed in the village, seeing as though it is a farming community. On the bright side though, it was a great learning experience for me. I know now to check with the village before I make major decisions like this,” he added.
Like parents, the village was there to aid Assell in his decision-making, perhaps to lead him in the right direction, away from potentially dangerous situations, such as backyard chickens.
Although Assell was able to find a positive side to his situation, other Maple Park residents did not share his encouraged disposition. Jacoby O’Connor and his wife, Julie Parrilli are residents of unincorporated Maple Park, and also own and raise chickens.
“There are so many positive aspects to owning chickens,” O’Connor said. “They are a natural fertilizer, they eat bugs, their waste is wonderful compost for growing, they provide delicious and healthy eggs for my family and I, and in turn they are being treated humanely and living good lives.”
Parrilli agrees, adding, “I would love the opportunity to educate the Maple Park board as to how this will, in fact, enhance the lives of Maple Park residents and community as a whole and that, with education it could be a wonderful thing.”
Back in October of last year, O’Connor sent an e-mail to the village board requesting a meeting in order to debunk the myths about raising chickens for personal use, under regulation. In his e-mail he stated,
“As you may know, many communities around our area and the country have begun revising and removing their anti-chicken ordinances due to the dispelling of myths about the negatives of chickens, as well as learning about the benefits to health, community, and family that chickens bring.”
He received no response.
One week later, Parrilli sent another e-mail requesting the board’s response, and the next day received a reply from village board President, Kathleen Curtis.
Curtis wrote, “The Village of Maple Park has an ordinance against fowl within Village limits and the ordinance is going to be upheld. Thank you for your offer, but there is no interest in re-visiting the subject at this time.”
O’Connor e-mailed Curtis once more, requesting information about the specific ordinance that Assell violated. Curtis provided O’Connor with the necessary information. The ordinance is listed as 6-2-9: Livestock and Poultry, and it states,
“It shall be unlawful to harbor or keep, any live horse, cattle, swine, sheep, or goat, or to raise any chickens, rabbits or other fowl anywhere in the village, unless otherwise permitted in the village zoning regulations”.
The zoning regulations permit certain areas to own chickens, including the area that O’Connor and Parrilli reside, but not the area in which Assell resides.
Assell, O’Connor, and Parrilli had hoped that the village would amend the portion of the ordinance that outlawed the raising of chickens, noting the need for revisions of the ordinance to include new regulations for backyard chickens.
“This is a movement, a sustainability movement,” Parrilli stated. “Other local towns have changed their ordinances because they were willing to hear out members of their community. Backyard chickens should be allowed, especially in rural communities.”
Many Illinois towns and cities now allow for backyard chickens, including Naperville, Warrenville, St. Charles, Batavia, Downers Grove, Oak Park, Evanston, and even the city of Chicago. Residents of the 3rd largest city in the United States can own backyard chickens, but not Maple Park- a town of 1,300 that nobody has heard of.
A couple of years ago, two residents of Batavia took it upon themselves to urge the city to overturn an ordinance outlawing backyard chickens. The two residents presented their case to the Community Development Committee, who subsequently invited citizens of Batavia to submit comments about backyard chickens via a city e-mail address. The results held that most comments were in favor of permitting chickens, while the minority was opposed. Many people commented that there should be a limit of eight hens, and that roosters should be prohibited. Subsequently, the city of Batavia decided to hold a discussion at the next board meeting, and it catalyzed a string of events that led to the amending of ordinance 11-4; the ordinance that prohibited the raising of fowl and poultry within city limits.
City officials added certain reasonable regulations to the code book including a limit of 8 hens, the prohibition of roosters, guidelines for the housing of the hens, guidelines for the coop and fencing, rules regarding the location of the chickens, the tidiness of the area, and the prohibition of loud noises. It is also requires that chicken owners register with the city, requiring inspection of the premises before registration be given.
“The city of Batavia should be a model for any town that’s trying to amend an ordinance against chickens. Those two people did a lot of research and worked very hard to get the results they wanted,” O’Connor said. “They collected surveys and signatures and did a lot of research to present their case.”
“There should be education around this issue. Housing, feeding, and caring for chickens should not be taken lightly and there should be regulation around it, we are not advocating a free-for-all. This is about sustainability, local food, our connection with our food, and the responsibility that we have for it,” added Parrilli. “I believe that this movement is important for a growing community. It shows our town has an attitude of improvement, supported by reasonable facts around the idea of sustainable living.”