Council leaves next step to chicken owners

Chickens are not officially coming to Lake Cowichan backyards any time soon.

Chickens are not officially coming to Lake Cowichan backyards any time soon.

Town councillors, at their Sept. 8 finance and administration committee meeting, decided that if people in the town want hens they need to make an application themselves to change the bylaw.

Coun. Tim McGonigle, committee chair, didn’t want the town taking the lead on the issue.

“If it’s implemented by those with the backyard chicken owners, I feel that there’s ownership taken on that process. If it’s a council initiative, there’s a sense of entitlement,” he said, adding that he had no problem himself with backyard fowl.

Both Mayor Ross Forrest and Coun. Bob Day agreed that they didn’t want to see council acting for a special interest group.

Forrest said, “It’s not that I’m against chickens, because I’m not, but if people want us to change the bylaw to benefit them, I don’t think the taxpayers should be paying for it. That’s where I have an issue: there’s going to be a cost to us.

“I’m all for the taxpayers paying if it adds value for the community but I don’t think this is an issue that benefits the whole of the community. I think if they want chickens they should come forward with a proper application.”

Lake Cowichan CAO Joe Fernandez said the presentation made to council on Aug. 11 by Becca Sheers was similar to one made in 2013. Changes in the Zoning Bylaw and the Animal Control Bylaw would be required if council wanted to permit chickens in residential zones.

Fernandez firmly told councillors that passing bylaws that can’t be enforced may not be the way to go, noting that at the previous meeting the delegation suggested that permit fees could be set up for those wanting to have chickens.

“The establishment of fees and regulations may be the easy part. If we assume that the implementation of bylaws and regulations would simply result in better compliance and controls, we need to think again,” he said.

Fernandez said that enforcement “often comes at a steep price” and fees would not cover the expenses of enforcing the bylaw.

“We only need to look at the difficulties we often face with infractions relating to dogs and cases of irresponsible dog owners. It may come as a surprise that these very regulations are flouted by the very people you would expect to be law abiding and who may be requesting that chickens be now legally allowed.”

The CAO warned that making the illegal legal “may not be the panacea for the Town or the majority of its residents. Those who blatantly flout town bylaws and regulations will continue to do it unless the Town is willing to expend greater resources to ensure compliance with that which it permits in its bylaws,” he said.

Without enough town staff to patrol the problems, complaints end up on Fernandez’s own desk, he said.

“A lot of communities have taken this on. But the fact is they have capable people to deal with that and we don’t. There is a cost to it. You can do something but you have to decide what it is,” he said,

McGonigle said, “I would most definitely invite those that are for this to perhaps start this process, to get the public meetings going and perhaps see what actual support there is. I don’t think it’s quite fair that it’s put on the table for council to make a decision for perhaps 40 people when we’re talking of approximately 1,800 registered voters.”

McGonigle then called for some reply from council members.

“I think we should put it to bed so it doesn’t keep coming back,” McGonigle said.

The mayor said he thought the reply should “state that this is not something that council is initiating and leave it at that. If they want to initiate an application themselves, that’s up to them, without us going out and asking them to do it.”

The others agreed.