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City council plays chicken over backyard coops

Some say they would be eggs-cellent; others concerned about them crossing the road
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20170617 chicken walton
The puns were flying fast and furious Tuesday as city councillors spent close to an hour debating the merits of allowing backyard chicken coops in urban areas. (Supplied)

The puns were flying fast and furious Tuesday as city councillors spent close to an hour debating the merits of allowing backyard chicken coops in urban areas.

At issue was whether to accept a report from staff recommending against any changes to the current rules, which limits coops to areas zoned rural or agricultural.

The report said allowing urban coops would attract predators, vermin and neighbour conflicts, as well as increasing the city's bylaw enforcement budget by as much as $100,000 a year. 

But Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh was disappointed with the report, saying she was hoping for information on what rules cities that allow them have in place, and what can be done to mitigate problems.

She also disputed the $100,000 estimate, since bylaw officers “don't remove the hens by themselves.”

Brendan Adair, who runs the city's bylaw department, said the increased costs would come from site inspections, enforcing bylaw requirements and dealing with stray chickens who flee the nest, so to speak.

“Bylaw staff do not have training or equipment to capture hens,” Adair said.

“Nature takes care of chickens,” McIntosh responded. “You don't have to catch the chickens -- something else will take care of that.”

There are already between 200-250 illegal urban coops in the city, McIntosh said, and they're not causing big headaches for the bylaw department.

“I don't see a whole lot of people running out to raise chickens in their backyards” if they are legalized, she said. “(So) I don't quite get the $100,000 for bylaw.”

She suggested lot size be the determining factor, rather than zoning, That way, only people with enough land to have a coop would have one. 

“In municipalities that have it, how have they made it work?” she asked. “I'd like to see a way to make this happen.”

“You can't count your chickens until they hatch,” quipped Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini. “I never thought we'd be debating chickens at our last meeting.”

Adair said there are 3,924 lots right now zoned to allow coops in the city, and said expanding that number would impact bylaw. The city already gets more than 2,000 complaints a year for dogs and cats.

“We would forecast complaints from neighbours who would be impacted,” he said.

There would be a lot more complaints, said Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, whose ward includes farms that sell fresh eggs. 

Montpellier, who sits on the police services board, said they once received a 1,000-name petition calling for a police officer to be charged with murder for putting down a bear.

If this is approved and people begin slaughtering chickens, people will be complaining to bylaw, he said.

“Chickens belong in the country.”

But Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan said that with the 200-250 illegal coops in place now, bylaw receives less than 10 complaints a year. He also doubted that a change to the rules would lead to a massive surge in backyard coops. 

He supported deferring a decision until staff gets more information on how other cities handle problems associated with coops, and for public consultation.

“And then the next council can decide if they want to do it or not.”

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said many people in Gatchell have had coops for years without problems, so he saw no harm in at least consulting the public.

“We need a lot more information,” agreed Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer.

Councillors deferred a decision until Dec. 11 – the first meeting of the new city council – to allow for more consultation with the public and information gathering from other municipalities.




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