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Belleville follows Metro East trend by lifting decades-old ban on backyard chickens

 This file photo shows a Barred Rock chicken in a backyard near Belleville
Tim Vizer
Belleville News-Democrat
A Barred Rock hen in a backyard near Belleville. A new ordinance will allow chickens within city limits.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Up to 50 homeowners in Belleville will be allowed to keep chickens in their backyards under an ordinance adopted by the City Council on Monday night.

It was a victory for a grassroots organization that formed seven months ago to persuade Belleville officials to follow the lead of Metro East communities such as Edwardsville, Swansea, Collinsville and Shiloh and end the city’s decades-long ban on chickens.

The new ordinance includes five pages of rules and regulations related to the placement, housing, upkeep and control of “urban chickens,” which will be limited to hens only. Roosters, known for their loud crowing early in the morning, are still prohibited.

“There had to be some give and take, but I think their restrictions are reasonable,” said Andrew Tufto, 40, of Belleville, one of the organization’s leaders. “We’ve always understood that there were going to be restrictions. It’s not going to be a free-for-all.”

Andrew and his wife, Amber Tufto, are two of three administrators of a Facebook page called Belleville, IL Backyard Chickens. It was created in February and now has 580 members.

The Tuftos live in a home built by Andrew’s grandparents on an acre of land near St. Augustine of Canterbury Catholic Church. They’re avid gardeners, and they like the idea of having farm-fresh eggs.

“I’m all about self-sufficiency and healthy food, and I want the best for my family,” Andrew Tufto said. “The (COVID-19) pandemic gave us a little scare with empty shelves, no toilet paper and prices going through the roof.”

Referendum overruled

This summer, three aldermen proposed the idea of allowing Belleville residents to vote on the chicken issue in a non-binding referendum, but they were overruled during the committee process.

On Sept. 12, the Ordinance and Legal Review Committee voted to send the proposed chicken ordinance to the full City Council, which approved it Monday night. Ward 4 Alderman Kent Randle voted “no” both times.

One of his concerns was that the ordinance requires chicken coops to be inspected each year when permits are renewed, but it raises little revenue and provides no additional funding for the city’s health, housing and building department to do inspections.

“That leaves me thinking that the ordinance will be enforced with the same tenacity that we approach the now-repealed vacant housing ordinance,” Randle said.

He also asked what will happen to chickens too old to lay eggs, given that the ordinance prohibits slaughtering them.

Randle said several residents had contacted him to express their opposition to the chicken ordinance, with some worried that enclosures and hen houses could create eyesores in their neighborhoods and increase the number of raccoons and other nuisance animals that like eggs.

Ward 4 Alderman Raffi Ovian and Ward 5 Alderman Ed Dintelman also opposed the ordinance change.

Ovian called it a “big mistake.” He told the City Council that he cleaned chicken coops as a teenager and took two showers a day but still couldn’t get the smell of the “nasty animals” off his body.

“This is the city,” Ovian said. “This is not the country. The country is where you raise chickens.”

From left to right, Andrew Tufto, Amber Tufto and Louis Holm smile and pose for a photo outside the Belleville city council chambers.
Teri Maddox
Belleville News-Democrat
From left to right, Andrew Tufto, Amber Tufto and Louis Holm are co-founders of a grassroots organization that spent the past seven months working to persuade Belleville City Council to approve an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens in their backyards.

Ordinance at a glance

Here are major provisions of Belleville’s new chicken ordinance:

  • Chickens will be allowed only on properties with single-family dwellings.
  • People who want chickens must get permits that cost $25 a year.
  • Permits require inspections by health, housing and building officials.
  • Each permit allows up to six chickens, all hens (no roosters).
  • Selling eggs and other commercial purposes are prohibited.
  • Fighting, breeding and slaughtering chickens also are prohibited.
  • Chickens must be kept inside a sturdy wire fence or other enclosure at all times.
  • They must be secured in a hen house or chicken tractor at night.
  • Enclosures must be clean, dry, odor-free, neat and sanitary.
  • Hen houses must provide 4 square feet of space per chicken.
  • They must have adequate ventilation, sun and shade.
  • They must be impermeable to rodents, wild birds, dogs and cats.
  • They must be made of uniform materials and no taller than 6 feet.
  • They must be 10 feet from homes, churches, schools or businesses.

“Odors from chickens, chicken manure or other chicken related disturbance shall not be perceptible beyond the boundaries of the permitted tract of land,” the ordinance states.

“Noise from chickens shall not be loud enough beyond the boundaries of the permitted tract of land at the property boundaries to disturb persons of reasonable sensitivity.”

Motivated by egg prices

A proposal for allowing chickens in Belleville came up in 2015, but it didn’t even make it out of the City Council’s Public Health and Housing Committee. Collinsville lifted its ban the same year, followed by Swansea in 2016, Shiloh in 2017 and Edwardsville in 2018.

In February, Belleville resident Louis Holm stood up at a City Council meeting and reintroduced the idea of changing the ordinance. At that time, he was motivated by the skyrocketing cost of eggs.

Today, the public seems more open on the chicken issue than in the past, and other metro-east communities have reported few problems since lifting their bans, according to Scott Tyler, Belleville’s director of health, housing and building.

“As long as you keep the roosters out of the equation, waking everybody up, you’re OK,” he said.

Tyler said he isn’t concerned about coop inspections putting too much of a burden on his department because he doesn’t think that many Belleville residents will want to spend the time and energy it takes to care for chickens.

In addition to approving the new ordinance, the City Council amended the existing ordinance on “animal care” so that it no longer prohibits chickens. Still prohibited are goats, pigs, sheep, cattle and other farm animals and ducks, geese, guinea hens, pigeons and other fowl.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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