MACKINAW — Cindy Ragon could have chickened out. But she didn't, and Tazewell County has new rules regarding backyard chickens kept in residential areas.
Ragon became the first Tazewell County resident to be granted a special-use permit for backyard chickens under the new rules earlier this month at a zoning board of appeals meeting.
"Some people said I should shut up, don't do anything and keep the chickens we bought, even though we were violating the county's rules at the time," Ragon said. "But I thought, why not do it correctly?"
Doing it correctly meant joining with Jenifer Joliff, another rural Mackinaw resident living in the Heritage Lake subdivision, to ask Tazewell County officials to make changes in the county's backyard chicken rules originally adopted in 2012.
Working with Kristal Bachman, the county's community development administrator, Ragon and Joliff endured a three-month process of making a presentation to the county's land use committee, and waiting for committee members, the zoning board of appeals and ultimately the county board to approve the new rules June 27 by an 18-2 vote.
Now that it has a special-use permit, the Ragon family can enjoy its six full-grown female chickens without worrying about having to get rid of them.
"I think my daughter Keslyn is the happiest of all of us," Ragon said. "As for my sons, well, they think I'm insane to go through all that for chickens."
Almost each Ragon family member is connected to a family chicken. Keslyn, 9, has Lily and Snowflake. Ben, 11, has Night Wing. Paul, 17, has Hei Hei. Cindy has Buffy. Ron, her husband of 31 years, has Goldene.
Jake, 15, isn't a fan of chickens, according to his mother. Zac, 28, is the U.S. Army, serving in South Korea.
Five of the Ragons' chickens were purchased last year. Snowflake came recently from a family member.
A shed was converted into a coop for the chickens, who have a 10-foot-by-10-foot fenced run.
"Our chickens eat chicken feed, cracked corn and they love mealworms as a treat," Cindy Ragon said. "It's cool to go into their coop in the evening and see how many eggs they've laid. During the summer, there are as many as four a day.
"Oddly enough, our chickens love to be petted. And sometimes they'll jump on your back and shoulders."
Tazewell County's rule on the number of backyard chickens that can be kept on a lot was the biggest concern for Cindy Ragon and Joliff after they discovered they were in violation of that rule when their families purchased chickens in March.
Now, six chickens is the maximum for a lot between 10,000 square feet and two acres. A lot between 2.01 and 5 acres can have eight chickens, and a lot between 5.01 and 9.99 acres can have 10 chickens.
Cindy Ragon and Joliff and their families each lives on a lot that is about a quarter-acre. Previously, the county required a minimum one-acre property to have backyard chickens.
Several county backyard chickens rules have remained in place, like chickens can be kept only in a single-family home that is occupied full-time and a special-use permit is required from the board of appeals.
The application fee for a special-use permit for backyard chickens was increased from $150 to $300 to bring it in line with other county special-use permit fees.
Other new county backyard chicken rules require coops and fenced enclosures for chickens to be at least 30 feet from most structures on an adjoining parcel and prohibit the sale of chickens or eggs on the premises.
The zoning board of appeals could lengthen the minimum distance of coops and fenced enclosures from structures as a condition of an applicant getting a special-use permit.
Bachman said she reviewed backyard chicken rules adopted by nearby counties comparable to Tazewell County before making her rules recommendations.
Cindy Ragon said Joliff plans to apply soon for a special-use permit for her backyard chickens and the Heritage Lake Association board has adopted Tazewell County's backyard chicken rules.
"It will cost me $25 for a backyard chicken permit from Heritage Lake," Cindy Ragon said. "Looking back, the process with the county wasn't too bad. Kristal (Bachman) was fabulous to work with and the county board members who had concerns were very respectful with their questions."
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.