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Board balks on backyard chickens

Don't count your chickens before they hatch, and maybe hold off on building that chicken coop.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch, and maybe hold off on building that chicken coop.

The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has shelved plans to amend zoning bylaws in the rural areas to make it easier for residents to keep chickens and rabbits in their back yards.

Last Thursday, June 10, the SCRD planning and development committee voted down a proposal to allow for chickens on properties zoned R-1 after getting mostly negative feedback from the area advisory planning commissions (APC), citizen groups that help direct the board on planning issues. Only the Roberts Creek APC approved of the idea.

As a result, the vote does allow backyard hens in R-1 zones, which make up about 10 per cent of the properties in the SCRD, to be taken into consideration in Roberts Creek's ongoing official community plan (OCP) review. Directors agreed Roberts Creek would be a good test case.

"What I would like to do is include this as part of the OCP review process rather than through public hearings to change the OCP and rezoning and so on just for this topic," said Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar. "We've got a really well-functioning system of poultry producers in the areas outside R-1. It's not a problem - never had a complaint, never had an issue. "

Reasons listed against any proposed changes by the other APCs included concerns over enforcement, noise nuisances with roosters and attracting rodents, coyotes and bears.

Several directors on the committee said they were surprised by the negative reactions from the APCs.

Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr recalled growing up in Vancouver and keeping backyard chickens without problems and said he'd like to see the issue revisited in Halfmoon Bay's upcoming OCP review.

West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull said she believed there is some support for the changes, even in the APCs, and she too would like to include the discussion in her area's upcoming OCP review.

Elphinstone director Lorne Lewis said there seemed to be a disconnect with the APCs and prevailing opinion.

"I think our APCs are out of step with what the world is doing," Lewis said.

Sechelt director Mayor Darren Inkster said the District would soon be looking to change its bylaws to make it easier for residents to own chickens.

The SCRD was asked to review the keeping of poultry by the agricultural advisory committee (AAC) with the goal of increasing local food sources and food security.

AAC member Dave Ryan said he was disappointed by the decision, adding the APC's concerns could have been alleviated if there was better communication between the two groups.

"Maybe that's where this all came from. Perhaps communications weren't as clear as they could be. Maybe we have to re-address all the concerns those folks brought forward. We could do that," Ryan said.

Nadi Fleschhut, a volunteer with the Food Action Network who helped gather more than 150 signatures for a petition and letter of the support on the matter, said she too was disappointed.

"I think it's a movement away from community health, away from sustainability, away from food security and, most importantly, away from people having access to affordable nutritious food," she said.

Fleschhut said she would continue to push for backyard poultry and encouraged others to do the same.

"It's not a completely done issue, and people can contact their area representatives and voice their opinions," she said.

Fleschhut said it was ironic given that Vancouver recently passed its bylaw changes to allow for backyard poultry on much smaller sized lots.