Tazewell County could be ready to experiment in late October with zoning changes that would allow residents in unincorporated areas to have backyard chickens, though with strict limitations that advocates of the change say go too far.

The county’s land use committee Sept. 11 supported a change that would allow residents in low-density R-1 residential zoning to apply for a special-use variance to house chickens in their backyards, as long as they live on a plot of at least 1 acre. Also, they must be in unincorporated areas not subject to municipal zoning codes.

The committee had debated simply permitting the ownership of backyard chickens. That would have negated the need for a potential chicken owner to pay a fee and apply for a special-use variance, but the committee decided in August that the option also took away the power of any neighbors to object.

As a compromise, the code changes cut the cost of a special-use variance in half — from $300 to $150 — for people applying for one in order to have chickens.

The code change also would limit the number of chickens that can be owned on a plot.

A 1-acre plot can house four chickens, a 2-acre plot can house five chickens, a 3-acre plot can house six chickens, a 4-acre plot can house seven chickens, and plots from 5 to 9.99 acres can house up to eight chickens.

For people such as Henry McGlothlin, the code changes are still too restrictive.

McGlothlin lives on a 1-acre plot near Spring Lake, where he has nine chickens in his backyard.

“I’ve got enough space that I could have 25 chickens if I wanted, without getting in the way of anybody,” McGlothlin said.

With his nine chickens, he gets four or five eggs per day, McGlothlin said. That handles breakfast for his family, which is a big help since he has been laid off from work.

Also, the total in cost of permits including the special-use variance and a building permit for the fence will cost more than $200, enough to pay for a year’s worth of eggs, at least, he said.

McGlothlin said he can’t believe that while living “out in the country” he has more restrictions on keeping chickens than he did when he lived in Pekin.

Even among land use committee members, support was not unanimous for a special-use variance.
Ultimately, though, the committee unanimously decided this is an experiment worth pursuing, and the county could always make changes as needed.

The zoning code amendment will go before the zoning board for a hearing in October. Then it will be referred back to the land use committee, which will decide whether to recommend it to the full County Board for its October meeting.