The La Grange Board of Trustees has said no to chickens for now.
Resident Jeff Cogelja appeared before the Board on Monday night to appeal for an extension or an exemption to allow him to continue keeping hens in his backyard—currently not allowed under Village of La Grange code—but was told that the Board has decided not to pursue amending the code to allow poultry, and that an enforcement action against him would still be pursued.
Cogelja originally appeared before the Board in April to request the ordinance, and in the time since has established a four-hen coop in his fenced in backyard to provide a daily supply of fresh, organic eggs. (While acknowledging this was “bending the law,” he told the Board on Monday that “that’s how change happens.”)
But Village President Liz Asperger said that when trustees polled their friends and neighbors in La Grange about the concept, as they were asked to do in April, they found a “considerably negative” response to a proposed ordinance, with worries about noise, odor, disease, disturbing other pets and attracting unwanted wildlife.
“There were lots of reasons given… they relate some to what are likely realities and some that are simply perception,” Asperger said. “The most important fact that has swayed the majority of our board is that the majority of the feedback individuals received was negative. “
For his part, Cogelja said this baffles him and that nearly everyone he has spoken with supports the idea. He contended that any such concerns are completely unfounded—he has seen no predators or pet difficulties (he has a full coop and his yard is fenced, and the chickens get along well with his dog) and the hens neither make a racket nor smell nor spread disease.
“They’re quieter than most dogs,” Cogelja noted. “There’s no noise; there’s no smell... People have these ‘perceptions,’ but there are things that disprove that. I don’t understand not changing an ordinance because of the ‘perceptions’ of something.”
In addition, he pointed to places like Winnetka and Glencoe as quality neighborhoods that allow poultry, to counter the charge that chickens degrade a town’s character. (Western Springs is still evaluating a test case; other towns have rejected ordinances.)
Board members also spoke to other reasons for opposing taking any action towards changing an ordinance, primarily that it would involve expending too much of Village staff’s time and effort.
“My concern remains with the amount of staff time that would be involved,” said Trustee Mark Kuchler. “I don’t have a concern with your chickens, but I do have a concern with the amount of time [that would be expended] by staff.”
“I’ve not heard of any groundswell of support for this outside of your block,” added Trustee Jeff Nowak.
President Asperger called what has transpired, including a personal staff meeting with Cogelja, “a thoughtful process, a fair process and an engaged process.”
Trustee Michael Horvath, one two trustees in favor of researching an ordinance change (the other being Trustee Jim Palermo), dissented, saying that a Plan Commission should at least look at the idea.
“I certainly didn’t see any majority negative feedback,” Horvath said. “I don’t know if it’s a thorough process for us just to walk around and talk to our neighbors and go, ‘is this a good idea or not?’
The current action against Cogelja springs from two official complaints that he was harboring poultry (not, as he pointed out, noise or odor complaints.) President Asperger said that with a majority of trustees not in favor of looking into any new ordinance, the Village had no choice but to enforce its code and force Cogelja to remove his hens.
Cogelja also suggested that he’s hardly the only resident in La Grange to keep poultry—just the one who came forward and who got pointed out. (If true, other residents might be hesitant to step forward for fear of losing their hens.) At least, he says, he does a safe place to send his “ladies” when his time runs out in just over a month.
Cogelja added that even if he does lose the hens for now, he intends to keep the coop that he built and try a new tactic—perhaps assembling enough signatures to force a Village-wide referendum vote.