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North Perth council nixes urban chickens

NORTH PERTH – Following several months of urban chickens being the talk of the municipality, council decided on Oct. 19 that North Perth will not take any action to allow backyard hens in the area and poultry will only be permitted in agriculture-designated areas.

The discussion surrounding whether the zoning bylaw should be amended to allow urban chickens began on July 6 when council heard a delegation from Catherine Soehner requesting chickens be permitted in residential zones. Over the next three months, council was inundated with reports from staff, comments from the public, a delegation from Denise Lantz requesting the extension of Homing Chickens in residential zones and another delegation from Al Dam, provincial poultry specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs presenting his view on backyard chickens.

When the issue finally came before council again on Oct. 19 there was a thorough report compiled by multiple staff members in several departments. It was accompanied by a recommendation from staff that council should not proceed with any changes to the current bylaw and chickens continue to not be allowed in urban areas of the municipality.

Coun. Allan Rothwell asked why the municipality did not seek advice from Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth medical officer of health.

Clerk, Pat Berfelz, said she was able to do her research at the Huron Perth Public Health website without bothering Klassen during the COVID pandemic.

“It certainly is explicit there that the greatest concerns were as stated earlier in the presentation from Mr. Dam there is a concern for disease, there is a concern for children being around the livestock, there is a concern for how you are going to discard the manure, there was a concern for animal welfare… the comments would have been very similar,” she said.

Coun. Matt Richardson was the only council member who remained in favour of starting a pilot project for keeping backyard chickens in the municipality. He continued to do his research throughout the time the plight of backyard chickens was being debated by the community.

In other communities such as the Municipality of Georgina, there has been mandatory training and a mandatory inspection.

“I’m just wondering… why staff would be recommending additional inspections possibly at six months,” he said. “I’m just thinking if mandatory training does go forward people will have an awful lot of skin in the game. I’m just wondering why additional inspections would be required.”

Berfelz said the number of inspections would be up to the discretion of council. Staff felt there would need to be an inspection at the beginning.

“Because it is a new pilot project and to make sure everything is happening the way North Perth would want it to be I deemed the fact that having an inspection six months into a new pilot project would be necessary only in making sure everything was compliant,” she said.

Coun. Behrns said she would support the resolution as it stood denying chickens in urban areas because backyard hens are not compliant with the County of Perth Official Plan.

“One of the motherhood statements in the Perth County Official Plan is to serve and protect our agricultural community by protecting our agri-food network and I believe that as people who live with the farmers should be doing,” she said.

Coun. Dave Johnston said North Perth is a world-class agricultural community.

“We have some of the province’s best poultry farms… and some of these farmers have millions invested in those farms,” he said. “They do a great job of raising those chickens, raising those eggs and with the safety of those families and those flocks in mind tonight, I’m putting the farmers first and I will not be supporting any urban chickens.”

Richardson brought the focus back to the results of the community survey which showed support for urban chickens. He said some education would be needed but they were going to be providing it with a program put together by Dam.

“With proper education a lot of the… disease… can be mitigated,” said Richardson.

He said he was still in full support of starting a limited pilot project.

“There’s an awful lot of checks and balances which need to be in place to go forward properly,” he said. “I do believe the time has come that even on the heels of being a world-class agricultural hub, I agree 100 per cent, I just don’t think by having … legal chickens within the municipality of North Perth, of which we all know some exist already.”

He emphasized education on proper animal husbandry could make a pilot program a success.

“Of all the municipalities which have initiated pilots there is only one which has declined to adopt a legal framework after the pilot project,” said Richardson.

Mayor Todd Kasenberg said it’s arguable whether the municipality is an urban centre and he said if it is that would only include Listowel. He agrees the area is more of an agricultural centre.

“So for me, the risk to the many outweighs the wants of a few,” he said. “The pilot system proposed is inadequate in my opinion to the task of recovering the full cost of the education and the inspections warranted which should be more frequent than what has been proposed in my opinion. Should we allow urban hens we would want all costs incurred recovered from the owners and I am quite opposed to asking for any subsidy from the whole tax base for this particular hobby.”

He said many people have moved to residential areas in North Perth with the understanding they would not be living next to those with chickens and the risk of other visitors, smell and management issues and he suggested farms with free-run chickens could be a source of education for children.

Richardson was the only councillor who did not support the resolution which puts the issue of urban chickens to rest.

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.