Walworth County Board to vote on allowing chickens in residential zones

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, January 16, 2014

ELKHORN — Rural residents of Walworth County are one step closer to being able to have chickens on their properties.

The county's zoning committee voted Thursday afternoon in favor of an ordinance amendment that would allow people living on property zoned as residential to have up to six chickens in coops in their backyards.

The county board will make a final decision at its Tuesday, Feb. 11, meeting.

Dale Wheelock, a local poultry farmer and Delavan resident, has been working with chicken lovers for about a year to draft and propose the amended ordinance.

About a year ago, he began hearing from people who were keeping chickens on residential properties and were getting flack from neighbors. Twice he heard from people who were turned in by their neighbors for having chickens.

“There are illegal chickens all over Walworth County because people think 'Well, I live in the country, so obviously I can have chickens,'” Wheelock said.

That's not the case.

Walworth County regulates the zoning for towns with the exception of the town of Bloomfield. Cities and villages control their own zoning and ordinances. The Whitewater City Council, for example, voted to allow chickens in backyards in December 2012.

Under county ordinances, chickens are not allowed on residential properties in the unincorporated areas of the county. They are allowed on properties zoned as agricultural.

The proposed ordinance restricts chickens from mobile home parks and would not allow roosters. Chickens would have to remain on the property and live in a coop no larger than 100 square feet.

The structure would have to be movable and be at least 10 feet from side and rear property lines and at least 20 feet from a neighboring residence. 

The ordinance amendment would help make sure everyone is on the same page and following the rules, Wheelock said.

“It will bring a lot of people into compliance who either have chickens on agriculture land ... or residential (areas),” Wheelock said.

Michael Cotter, director of Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management, said the ordinance amendment faced no opposition at the December public hearing, but that doesn't mean some people aren't opposed.

“Just like anything else, I think a large portion of the population will welcome it, and some people won't,” Cotter said.

There are bound to be neighbors who don't like their neighbors raising chickens just as some people get upset about neighbors running snowblowers at 4 a.m., Cotter said.

The topic of allowing chickens in the backyards of residential properties has raised interest for several years.

Supporters of the change have argued the benefits of having coops in residential areas include the opportunity for:

— Children involved in 4-H to have small projects.

— People to have chickens as pets.

— Residents to harvest their own eggs.

Cotter said he doesn't think allowing coops in residential zones would cause problems.

“The bigger issues are the ones in the cities where people are closer together,” Cotter said. “They can be close in townships but not as close as the more urbanized areas.”

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