The Town of Comox will allow residents to have up to six hens on their property, but only for residents with a minimum lot size of 1,500 m2.
At the Nov. 17 council meeting, council voted four to two in favour of an urban agriculture rezoning application bylaw.
In September, council passed second reading of Comox Zoning Amendment Bylaw 1987 which also includes urban produce production and produce stands.
Following a public hearing in early November, Coun. Stephanie McGowan said the public opinion appears to be overwhelmingly in favour of backyard chickens.
“When we were mid-pandemic, food security was at the top of everyone’s minds. Food security is just as precarious (now) as when things were shut down.”
Coun. Maureen Swift noted the issue is “highly charged” and is a polarizing topic within the community. She added the limited lot size seems to make many people unhappy, and that individuals who currently raise hens spoke about education and regulations – something the town is not set up to provide and would have to rely on outside organizations.
Because Comox uses a complaint-driven bylaw system, Swift said it can be hurtful and embarrassing for someone when a complaint is filed.
“I believe when we are agreeing to live in a neighbourhood, we are agreeing to a social contract about how to live agreeably together … The other choice is to live unhappily, as we’ve seen in some of the correspondence.”
She added the benefits delivered to the few do not outweigh the detriment brought to the many surrounding neighbours.
Citing that the town has only received 10 complaints throughout the past 10 years while some people have been raising hens for some time, Coun. Nicole Minions supported the motion but noted the large lot requirement is a challenged and encouraged council to re-think the bylaw.
Coun. Ken Grant explained bylaw enforcement would be a massive and costly undertaking for the municipality, and agreed with Swift the issue of backyard chicken is divisive and causing problems.
“Basically what we need is enforcement and our bylaw department is busy beyond belief. We won’t be enforcing it – we’d have to hire another person and that could be up to $100,000 a year. Who’s going to pay for that and who’s going to do the education? Now that you bring in rules and regulations, you’re going to have to enforce them. It’s going to be more of a problem than we had in the first place.
“We should leave well enough alone.”
Couns. Minions, McGowan, Alex Bissinger and Mayor Russ Arnott voted in favour of the motions while Couns. Grant and Swift were opposed.
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