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Discussion of ordinances governing chickens and public nudity took up most of the Human Services Committee meeting on June 7. The chicken ordinance remained in committee where it has been for the past few months. Just in time for the opening of the beaches on Friday, the committee approved a definition of “public nudity” and forwarded it to City Council for approval.

Chickens

During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, residents spelled out for the committee members present – Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward; Mark Tendam, 6th Ward; and Jane Grover, 7th Ward – their feelings about allowing residents to raise between two and six backyard chickens in Evanston.

Some cited fears about diseases borne by the fowl; others were concerned about the possibility of an increased presence of rats, attracted by the chickens and their feed. Others said they felt the benefits of fresh eggs contributed to both the health and sustainability of the City and that cleanliness, care and well-tailored ordinances would address other potential problems.

“Chickens are very nasty animals,” said City Clerk Rodney Greene, as he listed several diseases, as cited by the Centers for Disease Control, that chickens carry.

“‘Chickens have a P.R. problem,’” said Ellen King, saying she was quoting the Wall Street Journal and adding, “‘A few cared-for hens are cleaner and quieter than a big backyard dog.’” She is chair of the Evanston Backyard Chicken Committee and cited several public policies, including Evanston’s climate action plan, that would support a chicken ordinance.

Questions by Ald. Fiske and Ald. Jean-Baptiste focused on the additional burden such an ordinance would place on residents, who might be bothered by the smell or the noise, and on City staff: zoning (for siting the coops), law enforcement and the animal warden (who would have to see to the care of abandoned hens).

Ald. Tendam said, “A lot of things said tonight are simply not supported. … The CDC tends to over-write. They should be more concerned about antibiotics and growth hormones.”

Ald. Grover said, “We have the ability to regulate [these concerns].” She asked that City attorneys draft ordinances that would “alleviate concerns” about the siting of the coops, making them rodent-proof, licensing the chickens and penalties for violations of the ordinance.

The committee may address the chicken ordinance at its July meeting.

Nudity

Although the City has outlawed public nudity for years, it is just now getting down to defining what “nudity” is. A draft ordinance approved by the Human Services Committee states that nudity is the “showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic areas or buttocks or female breast with less than a fully opaque covering … below the top of the nipple.”

A memo from City Attorney Grant Farrar, who drafted the ordinance, said it did not dictate a dress code. Evanston resident Betty Esther said that Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes had suggested a community discussion about the proposed ordinance. She said, “This ordinance is getting to dictate what people wear and how they wear their clothes.”

Ald. Grover said she thought the ordinance dictated “what should be covered, not how it should be covered.” She also said she thought it addressed what would be proper beach attire.

The committee members unanimously approved recommending the ordinance to City Council. When asked if the new ordinance would help the police, Police Chief Richard Eddington said he thought it would be “of some assistance” and would “add some clarity.”

Other Matters

Committee members also agreed to recommend for Council approval a three-year temporary public art exhibit about the Emerson Street YMCA, as proposed by Shorefront and the McGaw YMCA. Metallic photographs depicting the history and activities of the Emerson Street Y would be posted in the Emerson/Elgin/Maple/University area of town.

Concrete poetry for the library will also be considered soon by City Council. Five short poems, each written by an Evanston resident, will be stamped into the concrete in front of the main library, pending approval by City Council.