By this summer, some Pentictonites could be waking up to the sounds of chickens clucking and fresh eggs for breakfast.
Penticton city council has directed staff to begin the process of setting up a trial program that would allow participants to keep up to five hens in the backyards of urban-sized lots.
The raising and keeping of chickens is already acceptable in limited areas of the city, zoned for agricultural or country residential uses. But the push to bring hens into the backyards of other areas in the city came from a 150-name petition Chris Remington, head chef at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, brought to the city’s agricultural committee last fall.
Signers of the petition supported the idea of the city allowing residents to keep up to five backyard hens for the purpose of egg laying, with no roosters or meat birds. Though fresh eggs are nice, Remington said his goal was in education, helping both children and adults to understand where their food comes from.
Along with education, other communities that allow backyard hens — Terrace, North Vancouver, Saanich and Esquimalt — cite benefits like an affordable local food source, a good source of compost for gardens, bug control and providing companionship.
“An increasing number of communities across Canada and within B.C. are allowing residents to raise a small number of hens on urban-size lots,” said Anthony Haddad, director of development services. Those communities, he continued, have not reported any adverse effects on surrounding neighbourhoods. However, other communities have not been so forthcoming, including Castlegar, Calgary and Kelowna, citing concerns over pests, predators, noise and odour, waste disposal and SPCA space for surrendered chickens.
Council was just as divided when it came to making the decision.
Coun. Judy Sentes said she was surprised by the lobbying she was receiving, both from people that wanted to keep hens, and those that were already doing so.
“They tell me there is no more issue that some neighbour’s dogs or cats,” said Sentes. Others, like Coun. Helena Konanz, didn’t think allowing hens was a good idea, noting that as Sentes said, there were already some people keeping hens secretly.
“We live in an area where we don’t need to actually have them in our backyard,” said Konanz. “I think that it is opening Pandora’s box. We live in an area that you can ride your bike down the street a mile from here, two miles from here, and buy eggs from someone who lives in an area that allows it.”
Haddad put forward two proposals, to either move ahead with allowing backyard hens through changes to zoning bylaws and animal regulations or conducting a pilot project by issuing temporary use permits. Regulations would be needed, he said, for number of hens, size and location of coops, and care of the animals.
A pilot program, Haddad said, might be preferable and suggested that it run for an 18-month period, allowing a maximum of five hens per property along with other appropriate guidelines for those applying for a temporary use permit to meet.
“One of the conditions of going through that program would be to get the endorsement of the properties to either side before they become part of that pilot program,” he said.
Haddad and city staff will now begin discussions with stakeholders and interested parties to set up the pilot program, and hopes to have a plan to present to council in six to eight weeks.