By Mary Sisk
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Don’t put all your eggs in one basket yet: City Council members could decide on Monday if residents can own hens.
The latest push to allow Rockford residents to own hens started in April, when Alderman Bill Rose put forward an online petition to draw attention to the issue and facilitate discussion.
The subject spurred a nearly 40-minute long discussion this week during the city Code & Regulation Committee. The group eventually voted 4-0 to approve new rules to allow for hens. Aldermen Rose, Gabrielle Torina, Tuffy Quinonez and Mark Bonne supported the measure.
The proposal is to allow people in many of the city’s residential areas to keep a maximum of four hens in an enclosure or coop that can be up to 80 square feet. The coop and hens would have to be at least 6 feet from a lot line and at least 20 feet from a structure. No roosters are allowed.
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Supporters of the measure say permitting hens allows residents to have a sustainable source of fresh eggs, and it can provide an opportunity for children to learn about the responsibility of raising an animal. Critics raise concerns about noise, the effect on real estate values, the look of coops and the potential extra work it would create for the city’s ordinance officers.
“We have a highly burdened code enforcement staff here in the city of Rockford right now,” Alderman Kevin Frost, a 4th Ward Republican, said during this past Monday’s debate.
Cities such as Madison and Milwaukee allow residents to keep hens, which City Attorney Nick Meyer and Community and Economic Development Director Karl Franzen used as a guide for Rockford’s proposed rules.
“I don’t really think we’re a comparable market to Madison,” Frost said.
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Alderman Chad Tuneberg also worried about the hens’ safety during the harsh winters that hit the area.
“These would be living outside, and I know we have some pretty bitter winters,” said Tuneberg, 3rd Ward Republican. “I want these chickens to live in a dignified manner.”
Space in residential areas was a large cause for concern in the meeting. However, Rose said the proposed rules allow for enough of a cushion between neighboring properties.
“I have very few concerns about the spacing,” Rose said. “If Chicago can figure it out, then I’m sure Rockford can.”
While there aren’t specific acreage regulations laid out, Meyer says the lot line and structure restrictions should avoid bothering neighbors.
“Although we haven’t addressed acreage per say, we have tried to make it reasonable regulation so that there isn’t interference with any neighboring properties,” he said during the meeting.
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In the discussion, Alderman Frank Beach, a Republican who represents the 10th Ward, encouraged Rockfordians to voice their opinion on the issue. Rose agreed.
“With cities like Madison where they have 100 applications, it’s really for a small, minute group,” Rose said. “I too would love to hear more from people on this issue, I would encourage them to write their alderman.”
This week’s committee vote moves the issue before the full City Council on Monday.
This article is by Mary Sisk. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram at @maryrrcurrent