EAST PEORIA — Chickens are being welcomed to East Peoria. But they're not legal yet.
The city's zoning board on Monday unanimously approved its recommendation of an ordinance allowing backyard chickens, with some restrictions and limitations. The city council will make the final consideration at a future meeting. About 40 people attended Monday's meeting.
"We're pretty happy about it," chicken enthusiast Robert Brinker said Tuesday. "I think that everybody came up with a pretty reasonable solution."
The idea has been hanging around for more than a year. At least three residents, including Brinker, have spoken multiple times at City Council meetings in support of backyard chickens. Director of development Ty Livingston drafted an ordinance and presented it to the council last year. But the issue languished in limbo with only lukewarm support on the council.
"I don't think it's an avenue we need to go down," Commissioner Gary Densberger said a year ago.
Then Livingston suggested a new route. By making chicken ownership a legal special use exception to the city's zoning ordinances, interested residents would need to make their case to the zoning board before getting approval to raise their chickens within the city's boundaries. Neighbors would have to be notified and given an opportunity to oppose the keeping of chickens.
"We've found that a special use is a good way to introduce something new," Livingston said Tuesday. "That could be relaxed in the future if we find that it was no longer necessary."
The ordinance allows for a maximum of five chickens on any zoning lot. No roosters are allowed. Chickens must be kept in a structure enclosed by wire or mesh in an area not to exceed 100 square feet.
"All chickens shall be maintained in a clean, healthy and sanitary condition," the ordinance reads. "No person shall allow the accumulation of any waste material resulting from the keeping of chickens which creates any offensive odor or nuisance."
Chicken owners will be assessed a one-time $150 special use fee.
Commissioners Dan Decker and John Kahl have in the past expressed support of residents raising chickens. Commissioner Tim Jeffers said Tuesday he expects to vote in favor of the ordinance. It passes with three votes.
"With the multiple safeguards and specifically designed regulations, I think the issue is a win-win," Jeffers said "Much of the opposition in my view is a lack of knowledge of how it all works, fearful of noise and odor. These issues are addressed in my view. Hundreds of towns, city’s and locations coast to coast have allowed chickens/hens for decades, including large metropolitan areas. I think we owe it to those wanting this to allow the practice."
The idea of urban chickens has come up in the city of Peoria in the past, but no action has ever been taken.
"There have been on-and-off conversations about chickens and other backyard animals in Peoria for several years. I don't think the question has ever made it to the Council for review," Ross Black, the city's director of community development, said Tuesday in an email. "Currently, chickens are not permitted in Peoria, outside of our very limited agriculturally zoned areas. We don't have any requests for an ordinance amendment at this time."
For Brinker, the step toward legal chicken ownership begins to partially legitimize the hobby he and his family have already undertaken. He keeps 18 chickens in his backyard in Sunnyland, including some Americana chickens he says lay blue and green eggs.
"It took a while, but the city has been really good to work with," Brinker said. "We appreciate what they have done and will do whatever it takes to make this work for everyone."
For Jeffers, it's a matter of property rights for residents.
"I like the idea of people being able to use their own property in as many ways possible within the framework of an urban area," Jeffers said. "Getting along with neighbors is key to anything we do, and this is just another one of those cases."
Livingston said the ordinance will likely be placed on an April council agenda for a vote.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.