Backyard chicken coops are now legal in Whitehorse.
City council approved changes to the Animal Control Bylaw on Monday, legalizing the practice within the city.
But that doesn’t mean Kristina Calhoun will be running out and buying new chickens anytime soon.
It was Calhoun who first cried fowl last September after discovering that the coop she had been keeping for over a year in her Riverdale backyard was illegal. She was forced to give up her chickens.
“I’m happy that the city is coming around and seeing the need to allow people to provide food for themselves,” she said. “But it looks like there are still a lot of hoops to jump through.”
Although this is a victory for Calhoun, and locavores like her, it wasn’t really what she had in mind.
“What I wanted to see was a stroke out of the sentence in the original bylaw that said you were not allowed to have chickens,” she said. “Instead what we have here is an eight page document that probably took a team of lawyers and planners, and probably cost thousands and thousands of dollars, and it still provides a lot of hurdles for people to have sovereignty over their own food source.”
In addition to setting out strict rules on the construction of coops and the care of the birds, anyone looking to keep chickens must also apply for a special permit from the city.
To get one, the applicant has to get the permission of at least 60 per cent of their immediate neighbours.
A maximum of six hens are allowed, roosters are still illegal, and if you want to kill one, it has to be done by a veterinarian or abattoir. Slaughtering chickens yourself is not allowed.
Selling meat, eggs or manure is also illegal. Scofflaws are subject to a $75 fine.
While Calhoun feels some of the regulations are a little heavy handed, she realizes that it wasn’t a easy decision for city council to make.
“This felt like a very big step for them,” she said. “It felt like some of them were going in to it reluctantly, and I just want them to know that I appreciate that they’re willing to even give it a shot.”
It wasn’t an easy vote to cast, said Coun. Ranj Pillai.
“Opinion is very polarized,” he said, citing a recent survey that found the city divided 52 to 48 per cent against the measure.
Coun. Dave Stockdale had floated the idea of making it a referendum issue in the upcoming autumn elections, but he backed away from that suggestion Monday night.
“We’ll probably end up with the same result that we’ve got right now, which is 50/50,” he said.
Calhoun finds this polarization strange. “Its funny where the priorities are,” she said. “It’s just food.”
As backyard chickens become more mainstream, Calhoun is hopeful that some of the more severe regulations could be relaxed in the future.
“I think if we appease people by going through all these hoops and meeting all these requirements and we have a couple or three years of no chicken issues, then I hope that eventually it will get easier,” she said. “When they realize that not everyone is going to run out and get chickens and there’s not going to be feral packs of chickens running around the city, I think that they would be more inclined to make some of those roadblocks a little bit less onerous.”
The backyard chicken amendment is part of the city’s broader bylaw rewrites.
Council decided on Monday to defer changes to its zoning, building and plumbing bylaws for two more weeks.
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