Backyard hens ruffle council feathers

Councillors trade barbs as they approve backyard hen pilot project

After a 4-3 vote at city council this week, urban hens rule the roost in Penticton.

It was an impassioned debate over an 18-month backyard hen pilot project. A 3-3 tie vote caused the project to fail last year when it was first brought before council, but this time Mayor Garry Litke was able to supply the deciding vote in favour of implementing the trial.

“I would like to be able to set this issue to rest, to give it a chance,” said Litke.

“If it fails, I will be the first one to say pull the plug. But I think we need to give people a chance and a choice.”

The discussion got tense when Coun. Wes Hopkin made a foul comment insulting Coun. John Vassilaki.

Vassilaki, an opponent of the trial project, was telling council chickens can be noisy and dirty, listing the large number of animals he had grown up in close proximity to.

That prompted Coun. Wes Hopkin to quip “which one were you?”

“You are an ass. Grow up.” Vassilaki told Hopkin in quiet tones while the mayor called for order.

Coun. Judy Sentes was the most passionate defender of the pilot project.

In her view, the hens would be no more a nuisance than a barking dog, or a cat turned loose to roam the neighbourhood.

Neither of those, she said, require special permission from a neighbour, which the pilot project would under temporary use permits.

“Some of the reasons … for opposition are not based on fact, it is based on fear more than on understanding.,” said Sentes. “A pilot project would allow all of these things to be proven or not.”

Coun. Helena Konanz was equally passionate in her opposition.

“We don’t have the manpower to monitor it,” she said, pointing out that Penticton’s small bylaw enforcement department is already busy.

“They are out there, looking after those barking dogs, when they can.

“I think it is going to be tough to stretch them to look after chickens also.

“I just don’t think it fits into our community and I don’t think council should have to work on this, and staff, anymore.”

Coun. Katie Robinson didn’t see the need for the pilot project, preferring to use existing zoning.

“If people want to raise hens in their backyard, why don’t they buy property that is country residential? It is for people that want to live in the city, but feel like they are living in the country,” said Robinson.

“I guess I am a city girl at heart, but I don’t want chickens next door to me.

“We do have noise bylaws in place for parking dogs, and I hope we don’t have to put them in for chickens as well.

“I think our bylaw officers are busy enough as is.”

For his part, Hopkin said he wasn’t interested in backyard hens, but it seemed the community is in support of the concept.

“It may be sort of frivolous that we spent an hour and God knows how much time talking about chickens, but it is what people want. You have to listen to that,” said Hopkin.

The vote passed with Robinson, Konanz and Vassilaki opposed.


Penticton Western News