The question of whether to allow backyard chickens in Chilliwack reared its squawking head again at city hall Tuesday.
The last council discussion was 2014, when it was decided to restrict the practice to ag land.
Council debated and then approved a ‘temporary use permit’ for a Yale Road couple who live in a rural area, but not on ag land, to keep two hives of bees and three chickens — with the chickens contained in a coop.
Since the property is zoned R1-A, or One Family Residential, chickens and bees are not allowed, so a TUP was proposed, due to the temporary nature of the permit and the ability for council to revisit the issue in three years and monitor it.
The applicants also sought and obtained signatures from supportive neighbours before applying for the permit, which was noted by council.
The TUP passed unanimously, but not before Coun. Sam Waddington raised several objections, which he called “cautionary flags” about the larger issue of living in agricultural community where it could put the poultry farms at risk.
While “fully in support” of the TUP itself, Coun. Waddington said after researching the modes of transmission of Avian Influenza with provincial experts and talking to his father, a biosecurity expert, it raised some red flags for him around disease transmission issues — for humans as well as fowl.
He said he feared smaller chicken flocks could be the “gateway” to disease, as they were in previous AI outbreaks, and later admitted that while biosecurity issues were not “sexy” they were crucial to consider.
“I walked into this conversation with every reason to support backyard chickens, but I walked out with serious reservations,” he told council.
Council voted in 2014 to maintain its practice of only allowing backyard chickens on agricultural land, with Coun. Jason Lum as the lone dissenter at that time, arguing the benefits of backyard chickens might outweigh the risks.
This week Coun. Lum said he supported the permit, but had some concerns around the cost of having to go the route of a TUP, which costs $400 to apply for.
“As it is the only avenue to legally do this at this point, I am in support, recognizing the financial impact. I welcome the opportunity to look a formal policy,” he said.
He asked for any scientific evidence of the additional risk posed by backyard chicken flocks in rural residential areas, versus where they are allowed, on ag land.
Coun. Sue Attrill said she wanted to point out the chickens would be kept in a coop.
The Agricultural Advisory Committee sent forward the TUP application to council without comment, and also suggested that council consider a formal policy on keeping chickens and bees for properties outside the urban containment boundary, meaning more rural properties.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz noted that issues around epidemiology were very important “in a community that has poultry as one of its mainstays.”
Having said that she also noted this is as “perfect property” as it could be, considering it’s a large narrow parcel, in a rural part of town, for this pilot effort.
The TUP gives the community some assurance. If there were issues arising down the road, council could readdress the permit.
“It’s going to be sweet to watch,” the mayor said.