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La Grange Board Won't Allow Chickens, Upholds Removal of Resident's Hens

Citing negative feedback and excessive time allotment, trustees will not further investigate a poultry-permitting ordinance and has ordered one man to shut down his coop.

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.

Ali October 11, 2012 at 01:56 PM
“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?’ - What is the 'process' called when you go around asking your friends what they think? Definitely take measures to force a village wide vote and you may find a lot more support for a change in this ordinance.
J October 11, 2012 at 02:55 PM
“I’ve not heard of any groundswell of support for this outside of your block,” added Trustee Jeff Nowak. Mr. Nowak, I don't live on or even near his block, was NEVER polled by a trustee, don't plan on having chickens yet the feedback in our neighborhood has been positive. What is considered "excessive time allotment"? Come on Village Board, let's not base this only on what you "hear". There has to be a better way.
Richard Fisher October 11, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Seems like there should have been at least a public hearing. Maybe it could be handle as a special use variance. At least that way both sides can publicly present their argument.
Art October 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I have friends with chickens in Lyons and in Chicago (plus other parts of the US) and it was something I was seriously thinking of pursuing. As with so many progressive optons, LaGrange is still stuck in the past. What a disappointment.
Susan R. October 11, 2012 at 04:30 PM
I'm very disappointed at the "I don't know, so it must be bad" attitude of the board. My neighbor (in LG) has chickens and has had them for years. They make way less noise than my dog and I have NEVER noticed any smell even though their coop is right against the fence separating our properties. I've never commented on this before for fear of "outing" the family for their violation of village ordinance. By the way, this neighbor lives 1/2 block from Ms. Asperger and she regularly walks her dog past the house. I'm not sure if she is pretending she doesn't know they are there or maybe this post will make her realize that chickens can be kept without any mess, smell or disturbance.
Patricia Browne October 11, 2012 at 04:39 PM
UNFAIR - a board has "time" to pass what ever it wants on the agenda. If it was something that one of the board members was interested in, I am sure the time would "magically be alloted."
Jeffrey Lee October 11, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Ridiculous--- our friends in Oak Park keep chickens and it in no way impacts their neighbors.
Liz layden October 11, 2012 at 05:15 PM
What a shame-- I thought the chickens were a great idea and a great way to provide fresh eggs for the family
Margaret Fisher October 11, 2012 at 05:20 PM
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT JEFF!!!!
Jimmy Mac October 11, 2012 at 05:50 PM
The bottom line is some people don't want live chickens in the town because it makes the neighborhood seem like it's backwater and hillbilly. Its a matter of perception and, right or wrong, I think that is the crux of the issue here. I believe the village board needs to do much more research and not rely on silly informal and unscientific "polls". I don't find any merit in the board asking "their friends and neighbors in La Grange about the concept, as they were asked to do in April". Conduct a complete town survey and not rely on a biased uninformed focus group. Put it to a vote.
Ben October 11, 2012 at 06:41 PM
actually, Jimmy, urban chickens aren't perceived by most people as "backwater and hillbilly." They're actually kind of hipster. An article about the trend in Portland, Oregon: http://www.nwitimes.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/in-portland-oregon-urban-chickens-are-old-hat/article_2b980fba-350f-5ae9-a0ec-b7015ed3992e.html
Nancy Sawickis October 11, 2012 at 09:57 PM
If you poll your own friends and your own "group" of neighbors, chances are they are going to "think" like you. I do not like the village board "thinking" for me, that is not their job. I for one, support chickens in LG, as long as they are kept clean and healthy as it seems Mr. Cogelja seems to have. Ask me for my signature, to force a Village-wide referendum vote.
jen October 12, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I was very surprised and disheartened to hear about how the board handled this issue. What a letdown!
Michael Horvath October 12, 2012 at 04:19 AM
In my view, a fair and engaged process would have seen Jeff’s proposal sent to the Plan Commission for review. This starts the process to review possible code changes. It results in an official record and a recommendation based on objective research, sworn public testimony and a vote by the Village Board. This is how informed decisions on zoning code changes are made. Since this was a political decision and not the result of the formal code review process, you have to work the politics if you want change. The President and 4 of 6 Trustees did not support vetting the idea. Unless that dynamic changes, this idea will never make it to the Plan Commission or pass a Board vote. I’d focus your efforts on lobbying the five people who see no merit in this idea. If you want change, change their minds or change the people with your vote in the Spring. Four of the five people who oppose this idea are up for election next April. You need 4 Board votes to make change happen. Like Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local”. Focus on the election. An advisory referendum is meaningless if the people elected are not open to objectively looking at the idea.
Henrietta October 12, 2012 at 05:30 AM
I'd say "backwater and hillbilly" accurately describes the trustees who dismissed Mr. Cogelja with anecdotal / lazy research and concerns about making a change because it would require a bit of work. I am fired up to look for new trustees come spring elections!!
Darren McRoy October 12, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Comments seem overwhelmingly in favor of this proposal and against the Board consensus. Are there any dissenting opinions out there?
Erik Bloecks October 13, 2012 at 10:15 PM
La Grange started as a farming community, so why not continue that tradition.
Al October 13, 2012 at 11:52 PM
"I am fired up to look for new trustees come spring elections!!" I second that notion!
Mouse October 15, 2012 at 10:37 PM
"trustees polled their friends and neighbors" All you need to know is in that bit of sentence. La Grange Village government continues to be the playground of several self-important twits who just can't stand anything that is not their pet project (pun intended). They don't have time to consider the wants and desires of the people who live, love and die here but they certainly have unlimited hours and dollars to pursue property owners regarding things like sign ordinances and useless backflow valves (which, I suspect, has some cash "backflow" to the promoters). Nothing ever changes here.
Clay Edwards October 17, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Mouse - There are open positions this year on the Village Board including Village President. I very much encourage anyone to run, especially if you are not happy with the current board. Thanks!
Jeff Cogelja October 29, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Thanks everyone for your support. I am not giving up. I am collecting signatures to get an advisory referendum to the April ballot. Please get out and vote in April. Also, I am having a meeting at the La Grange Library on November 4 from 2-4 with a visit to my coop afterwards to educate people what raising backyard hens is really about. Please come and spread the word. Thanks. Jeff
Chicken November 10, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Visit our chicken blog!!! backyardchickensinlagrange.blogspot.com or follow us on twitter @Chickens18 We need as much support as we can get to save our ladies!!
Kathleen M. Weber November 14, 2012 at 03:16 PM
The lack of a fair and engaged process as described is indeed a disappointment (independent of this particular issue) as it relates to an overall approach to better governance. I had a good chuckle (or cluckle) when I read the sampling approach! I would have expected more from LaGrange. On the subject of a poultry ordinance, I strongly support the keeping of a defined number (no more than 4) of hens (not roosters) for individual use and enjoyment. Our family (here in LaGrange) has enjoyed the educational experience of not only 'harboring' but also initiating & watching the incubation and hatching process since our children were toddlers. Its been fascinating and has facilitated numerous worthwhile discussions over the years. Equally important, there is no comparison to the use of fresh eggs from the hens you have fed (I wouldn't have believed this until we had our own hens). It would be hard for me to go back to using the old refrigerated nutritionally degraded eggs trucked across the country and purchased in a grocery store! Lastly, there is indeed a fairly large community of hen keepers here in LaGrange! Kathleen Weber (Reardon)
Jeff Cogelja November 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Hi chicken supporters. Unfortunatey, I had to get rid of my girls last weekend or was told I would face legal action. We are very sad that the coop is empty and I am trying to get the needed signatures for the advisory referendum by January 7, but have had to spend my free time moving my aged and ailing parents out of their home of 60 years - not a quick task. If anyone can collect a sheet of signatures, please email us at chickens4lagrange@gmail.com and I will forward a copy of the petition. The collector needs to sign in front of a Notary to verify that they witnessed the signatures. Please help if you can. Thanks you for your support and for helping bring chickens back to La Grange. Jeff
Johnny Wilkins March 14, 2013 at 03:27 PM
As the potholes grow, the streets crumble and the light bulbs on streets go unattended, the village denies home owners basic rights. Set up some guidelines such as maximum of 5 hens - no roosters, it is easy and healthy for people to maintain these quiet birds. Far better than dogs which are allowed out, barking in the middle of the night or leaving "gifts" on our parkways. Let's go La Grange, do some good for the people. The protein will help my ankle heal, twisted from walking on my street that resembles an asphalt-patched moon-scape. Patches on patches. Fix the roads, fix the chicken ordinance for Pete's sake and all of our sake. Johnny
Beth June 07, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Good luck Jeff! Keep fighting.

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