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J-HENS weighs in on chicken debate

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Updated: July 13, 2013 6:08AM

Betty Lorch agrees that there are too many chickens running loose in Joliet. The answer, she says, is to make it legal to raise hens in town and regulate it.

“If you have people who really know how to take care of them and what the city codes are, you wouldn’t have such illicit chicken raising,” said Lorch.

She and other members of a group called J-HENS gave their side of the chicken debate to The Herald-News after a case was made at last week’s city council meeting against loosening city codes to let chickens in town.

Opponents said there are too many chickens in Joliet already, saying you could see them running loose at times and you can smell them in the neighborhood.

Lorch said she does not doubt the reports of loose chickens but says it’s time to try a new approach.

“The city, whatever they’re doing, isn’t working,” she said. “If you do have a populace who wants some chickens, you have to teach them how to raise chickens responsibly.”

Many cities and villages have put in regulations that allow chickens to be raised, accommodating people who want the fresh eggs. Joliet does not allow chickens. City officials last week said many Joliet lots are too small, and the city does not have the staff to regulate chickens.

“It does not seem that they have the staff to enforce ‘no chickens’ either,” Lorch said, noting the problems pointed out at the city council meeting.

The city, however, did force Lorch to give up six chickens she was raising last year at her Joliet house. Lorch said the current city ordinances are confusing and suggest that chickens are permissable.

The very existence of J-HENS, an acronym that stands for Joliet-Healthy Eggs in Neighborhoods, suggests that this debate has been going on for awhile.

Indeed, J-HENS representatives met with a city planner in the fall to explore legalization of chicken raising. Now, Lorch said, they meet with city council members individually to make their case.

Jennifer Grammer, who spoke to the city council last week and is a member of the Cunningham Neighborhood Council, said she was aware of the efforts underway to allow chickens in Joliet and wanted the council to know about the problems that exist already.

Grammer listed diverse spots around town where chickens have been spotted. She was joined by neigborhood leader Georgene Williams, who told The Herald-News that she did not expect their appearance before the council would settle the matter.

“This will be a big fight,” Williams said.

J-HENS members were ready with counter-arguments to the case made against chickens at the council meeting.

Gini Lester said she does not buy the argument that lots are too small in the city to allow for chickens.

“Joliet is a very large area,” Lester said. “Sure, some places are too small. Other places are not. So, you can’t make a blanket statement that the lots are too small.”

Their biggest argument is that J-HENS wants to promote responsible chicken ownership.

Tom Jasinski recently attended a University of Illinois Extension class on chicken raising. He said such a class could be made a requirement for those who want to raise chickens. And, a city ordinance would likely limit the number of chickens anyone can have.

“I come from a chicken background,” said Jasinski, who grew up in the 1950s in what was then rural Mokena where his parents raised 25 chickens. “I learned how to raise them and feed them. I’m well aware of what it takes to raise chickens.”

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