Comox is taking a step forward to allow its residents to raise chickens within the town.
Following a lengthy discussion at the Sept. 8 regular council meeting, council voted 4-2 in favour to instruct town staff to prepare the necessary amendments to permit raising chickens on larger lots – the size to be determined by staff.
Jordan Wall, the town’s chief administrative officer, noted a proposed bylaw would include a suggested lot size but will also include alternatives to make changes as council sees fit.
The topic of urban agriculture and food security was acknowledged as an important one for council; however, some councillors spoke to the downside of chickens in urban areas.
“I have to say at the beginning of this process I was actually in favour of allowing people to keep a few chickens on their property but I realized that I came from the city and I really didn’t know much about raising chickens and it was kind of an idealistic place that I was coming from,” explained Coun. Maureen Swift.
Swift noted food security as the upside but noted there are many downsides, such as manure, smell, carcasses, the unethical treatment of animals, ammonia smell and vermin such as rats which need to be considered.
Additionally, she said bylaws are complaint-driven and if one neighbour has to complain about another it could disrupt the harmony of a neighbourhood.
“Please consider the community as a whole and ask yourself if the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Coun. Ken Grant agreed with Swift and added that based on a recent municipal survey, a lot of people are not in favour of backyard chickens and that it “pits neighbour against neighbour – nobody wants to phone bylaw on their neighbour they’ve known for 20 years.”
More than 600 responses from an online survey from May 18 to June 7 conducted by the town indicated that 67 per cent of respondents supported raising hens, with the majority of respondents indicating they had concerns about standard nuisance issues.
Participating in the Comox Valley Food Policy Council, Coun. Stephanie McGowan said that with proper education and support, having backyard chickens within the town would be a positive move. She added chickens are a lot less intrusive than many people think and cause a lot less noise than dogs.
She also cited that many other municipalities – both in the Comox Valley and across Canada – have been working with urban agriculture and have not had any issues.
Mayor Russ Arnott suggested amending the motion – which also included bylaws on regulating farmstands and front yard greenhouses – to restricting residential hen keeping to large lots, as defined by staff.
The motion on regulating farmstands was removed from the original motion and a report will return to council on any possible bylaw amendments.
An additional motion to allow front yard greenhouses within the town did not proceed as it was tied 3-3 when called to a vote – leading the motion to fail.
Coun. Alex Bissinger noted she is in favour of backyard chickens and added it could be helpful if staff could get information from the City of Courtenay, which allowed residents up to six hens in residential lots within the city in July.
Cumberland also allows up to six hens in the rear yards of most properties within the village.
Grant noted the issue doesn’t rest with the size of the lots.
“People who know what they’re doing can do it on smaller lots, but it’s going to be the people who don’t know what they’re doing – (that’s) going to be the problem.”
When called to a vote, Couns. Minions, Bissinger, McGowan and Mayor Arnott voted in favour of the motion with Grant and Swift opposed. A report will return to council with the bylaw amendments for review at a later date.