The Town of Qualicum Beach is looking at a licensing system to allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards. (Black Press file photo)

The Town of Qualicum Beach is looking at a licensing system to allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards. (Black Press file photo)

Qualicum Beach council again revisits issue of allowing backyard chickens

First reading given to bylaw that would set specific ground rules

Town of Qualicum Beach council has given first reading to a bylaw that would set ground rules for residents wishing to raise chickens in their backyards.

Director of planning Luke Sales presented council bylaw amendments that were based on a review of five other jurisdictions that permit backyard chickens. They include Saanich, Squamish, Vancouver, Parksville and Campbell River.

“The system that you have today would have a licensing system that would require property owners that want to keep backyard poultry to take out a licence from the town on an annual basis,” Sales explained. “When this licence is first taken out, then someone would go and inspect the property to make sure that the size requirements and the food and those types of things are looked after. And it would be renewed annually like a dog licence.”

Other regulations include three-metre setbacks for the chicken which must be in the rear yard of the property and only be permitted on residential properties larger than 1,000 square metres. A smaller configuration of properties larger than 700 square metres was also suggested.

Sales said if the threshold was assigned at 1,000 square metres it would only apply to 44 per cent of the homeowners as there are approximately 1,400 properties that fall under this category in town. If it was established at 700 square metres, the number of eligible residential properties go up 88 per cent.

Coun. Scott Harrison wants staff to review that impact on selecting 1,000 square metres over 700 metres. He feels not all property owners in the community who want backyard chickens are on big lots and might be deprived of the opportunity.

“I think if we make that hard rule now, it might be contradictory to the intent,” said Harrison, who wants a report done before council could give the bylaw second reading.

Residents would be allowed a maximum of six hens, chickens or ducks but no rooster. No slaughtering is allowed on-site or sales. There is also regulation of food and manure storage to keep away vermin and wildlife.

Coun. Anne Skipsey asked if the bylaw would go before a public hearing to give residents another opportunity to weigh in on the issue. Sales indicated no, but pointed out council can direct staff to hold one if they desire.

The town has done a major outreach on backyard poultry, holding a survey from Sept. 21 to Oct. 11 last year. The result showed a small majority of the community in favour. Mayor Brian Wiese indicated council should move forward on an issue the public asked for.

“It was closer than I thought it would be but nonetheless it was for backyard chickens,” said Wiese. “And democracy is democracy.”

Coun. Robert Filmer remained in opposition, believing it will draw more bears to the town and could result in them being euthanized by conservation officers.

Skipsey, who supports this mainly due to the importance of food security, wants to make sure the quality of life for residents will not be negatively impacted by those who opt to have chickens. She cited a letter she received from a constituent who caught 18 rats.

“I know rats can come from different reasons and they’re around all the time. I get that,” said Skipsey. “But these people didn’t have problems with rats. The chickens arrived and now they have a problem with rats. I think it’s pretty easy connection to make.”

Sales pointed out the proposed bylaw requires chicken feed to be securely stored in containers. He said the objective is to reduce those things that attract rats. Council, he indicated, could also require residents to feed their chickens in a container rather that toss them on the ground. There’s also a mechanism in the proposed bylaw, Sales said, that will penalize chicken owners for not adhering to the bylaw.

“The purpose of a licensing system is if we do have a property owner that repeatedly steps outside the boundaries of these regulations they won’t have their licensed renewed as they would be in violation of the bylaw,” said Sales. “They won’t be allowed to keep the chickens. We do have a way to take this away.”

The bylaw must go through second and third readings (dates to be determined) before it is adopted.

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