Allowing backyard chickens within the urban containment boundary in one instance took the City of Chilliwack into “uncharted” waters this week, as a city councillor described it.
That didn’t stop city council from approving a temporary use permit (TUP) for three hens Tuesday night for Yale Road applicant Cheryl Cavanaugh.
City staff had been recommending that council deny the application given the current rules excluding properties zoned R1A, but council chose instead to approve it in this case, but with a list of conditions like the limit of three hens, and no roosters allowed. There were also conditions about location of the chicken coop, animal control regulations, and more.
Cavanaugh described her extensive food gardens, and the hens, explaining that as a single parent, she produces “literally thousands of pounds of food” every year without chemicals, and takes in women in recovery into her home.
The chickens are crucial for pest control. There been a sudden, huge increase in pests destroying gardens, especially stink bugs, in the past three years, which she attributes the onslaught to a type of bee-killing pesticide having been banned. She doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides, but many do.
“My chickens, though, will take a stink bug over a raspberry every time,” Cavanaugh pointed out.
“It’s not that I want them. I need them,” she said about her hens, adding that they forage all winter and are fed very little.
The need to go through the TUP process was in part because her property measures just under a quarter-acre, and was not the minimum half-acre required.
Coun. Harv Westeringh asked about the complaints from the neighbourhood.
Cavanaugh said there was the one, and that’s why she had to apply for the TUP, but she also brought five letters of support from her immediate neighbours, and another five had been sent to city hall.
One complaint had been received, but she said it was due to the noise caused by a former chicken she had that would sing “off-key opera” early every morning.
Coun. Jeff Shields asked how she would deal with the manure, and the answer was disposal with an industrial composter.
Coun. Jason Lum said it would be no surprise to hear he was in support of the backyard chicken proposal, telling Cavanaugh she had made a “compelling case” for approving her TUP application.
“I would like to see more of this around the city,” Lum said.
Mayor Ken Popove said he’d been by the property and never knew the chickens were there, but said he was a little concerned about the new neighbours she would have soon.
“This is new, uncharted territory,” Coun. Shields said. “Maybe it’s time to take a chance.”
If anyone was going to be a “responsible, urban farmer,” it would be Cavanaugh.
Coun. Westeringh underlined he was not in favour of a bylaw change, since there were “lots of opportunities for people” to have chickens on larger or agricultural properties. But he said Cavanaugh was a good “contender” for the use of the TUP process in this case.
Coun. Bud Mercer said he believed the applicant would be “a good steward” of her property and the neighbourhood.
Coun. Lum praised the TUP process that allows council to support applications like this one on a case-by-case basis.
He appreciated the applicant “taking steps to grow healthy food, regenerate the soil and deal with pests in a permaculture way that is healthy for the environment. I’m glad to see it.”
Mayor Popove said he would “cautiously support” it, as it took council into uncharted waters, but added that he does support “out-of-the-box-thinking.”
Eryne Croquet is a member of ‘Support for Backyard Chickens in Chilliwack,’ a group founded by Nicholette Devenney, and she was in council chambers at the time of the vote.
“By approving the TUP, Chilliwack City Council recognized that Chilliwack is changing,” Croquet said. “Their approval gives hope to future chicken keepers that they will be able to legally keep hens in urban areas of the city.”
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