EAST PEORIA — In the last year and a half, the topic of whether to allow East Peoria residents to raise chickens received a lot of attention.
There was frequent debate at City Council meetings, in-depth research and a written ordinance change proposal from the planning department, a packed hearing and a recommendation for approval from the zoning board. Facebook chatter proliferated. But, besides attention, there was one thing the chickens never got:
The council aimed to end the chicken chronicles not with a roll call, but with a news release delivered at the end of last week.
"Rules that prohibit keeping backyard chickens in the city limits will remain in effect ...," the release began, "... with the City Council opting not to vote on the issue and therefore ending further discussion of the topic."
Mayor Dave Mingus repeated the council's decision at this week's regular meeting at City Hall.
"It's dead for now," he said. "It's not an issue"
Not everyone agrees.
"It's not over," East Peoria resident Shannon Brinker, the owner of several backyard chickens, said Wednesday. "We're not giving up. They (the City Council) are going to vote on it."
The issue was brought before the council in 2017 by Bob Sinks, a resident of the Richland neighborhood in East Peoria who attends most, if not all, City Council meetings. He addressed the council at the end of a meeting and asked the commissioners to consider allowing, with reasonable limitations, the raising of what he called "yard birds" within city limits. Sinks would occasionally ask for an update, but a vote never landed on a council agenda as the issue meandered its way through the governmental process.
Sinks spoke Tuesday at the end of the meeting, when audience members can raise issues not on the night's agenda.
"The scuttlebutt on the street is that you killed the chicken bill," Sinks said, having not read the actual news release that announced the death of the chicken ordinance. "I didn't expect it to fly. I did want it at least to be voted for."
It looked good for chicken lovers last March. The zoning board unanimously approved a chicken ordinance at a meeting attended by about 40 supporters. The ordinance excluded noisy roosters and limited the number of chickens to five. There were living condition regulations, fees and the requirement that each request was contingent on approval of neighbors. Three of the five commissioners had expressed support for keeping chickens.
Then came the news release.
"Although there are some residents who are in favor of having backyard chickens, the council members heard from many who are against the issue," Mingus said, according to the release.
It cited residents' concerns about an increase in rodents and predatory animals, noise and odors. It cited the concerns of unnamed Realtors that the proposed ordinance would result in reduced property values in the city. A mayoral polling of the council revealed it lacked majority support.
Former chicken owner Neil Perrin called the reasoning bogus.
"It's kind of ridiculous. Five well-kept chickens don't put out much of an odor. I don't have chickens any more, but I still have raccoons and if your neighbors don't care if you have chickens, why would a Realtor care," Perrin said Wednesday. "I won't have chickens because I don't want the fines, but at least they could have voted on it."
Mayor Mingus and Commissioner Gary Densberger have said all along that they oppose keeping chickens inside city limits. The hope for chicken supporters rested on the support of the other three commissioners. On Tuesday, only Commissioner Tim Jeffers said he would vote to allow chickens, but only if there were two other votes on the council. Commissioner John Kahl said his support fell apart when he heard from an "overwhelming" number of residents who opposed keeping chickens. He also cited concerns that a short-staffed code enforcement office was ill-equipped to respond to an influx of inevitable chicken complaints.
Commissioner Dan Decker, who missed Tuesday's meeting, said Wednesday that he finally decided last Friday that more people opposed the keeping of chickens than supported it.
"I naively thought we could work something out that would satisfy both sides and that individual special use requirement was the answer," Decker said. "In the end, I had to decide what I thought was best for the entire city."
With enforcement of the current law that prohibits chickens in the city, residents who currently keep chickens are required to contact the Inspections Department by June 30 with a plan on removing them from city limits, according to Robert Cole, director of code enforcement.
"The few residents that have chickens have received letters indicating that the council has chosen to table the draft ordinance and that they would have 30 days to contact our department and submit a plan for the removal of the chickens," Cole said Wednesday. "If not removed, they will receive a summons to appear before our hearing officer. I’m not aware of any plans coming as of yet. It’s always a challenge to enforce the codes and ordinances with limited staff and resources. We do what is in the best interest of the community, and I believe it’s not for staff or myself to conclude if chickens should be allowed in city limits. I do believe that additional staff would be needed."
Resident Kimberly Steiner criticized the council's lack of a vote at the end of Tuesday's meeting. She was still angry Wednesday afternoon.
"Chickens are therapeutic and fun to watch," she said. "For whatever reason, I think it never came to a vote because the council personally didn't like chickens."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.