Plans hatching to raise urban chickens

There's interest brewing in Whitehorse for chicken. Not for fried chicken or chicken wings, but live birds that squawk and flap and lay eggs. Recently, residents have begun asking the city about the feasibility of raising chickens in their backyards, either for eggs or for meat.

There’s interest brewing in Whitehorse for chicken. Not for fried chicken or chicken wings, but live birds that squawk and flap and lay eggs.

Recently, residents have begun asking the city about the feasibility of raising chickens in their backyards, either for eggs or for meat.

During the first and second phase of the 2009 Official Community Plan review several residents expressed interest in backyard chickens.

“We held meetings in 15 neighbourhoods around Whitehorse and a resident in Granger said we should look into it,” said Mike Ellis, the city’s senior planner.

“It wasn’t something I had ever considered before, but then as we kept meeting with other neighbourhoods we realized there were more and more people interested in the idea.”

Fifty-eight per cent of 290 respondents to a survey said they were in favour of “allowing backyard chickens, but no other agricultural pursuits, in urban residential areas.” The survey was part of the official community planning process.

It was something that surprised Ellis at first.

“It was interesting that more people said yes than no (in the survey),” he said. “But then again, the city’s sustainability plan specifically talks about being locally self-sufficient and this would fall right under that.”

In the United States it’s fairly common to find chickens raised inside city limits. Chickens can be seen running around in people’s backyards and on the porches of high-rise apartments in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

In Canada, keeping fowl as pets is a more recent trend.

In early March, Vancouver’s city council voted unanimously in favour of letting people keep these birds in their backyards. The communities of Surrey, New Westminster and Victoria also allow chickens, with varying restrictions.

Currently in the Whitehorse region, chickens are only allowed in areas that are zoned country-residential.

But Ellis can see room for change in the current bylaws.

“We allow dogs in backyards; are chickens really that much more of a nuisance?”

Cleanliness and noisy roosters were some concerns raised during the official community plan meetings.

“This is obviously something that needs more research,” said Ellis. “We’re not just going to jump into this right away.”

But some people in the city are doing just that.

Erin Corbett is one resident in favour of having chickens.

She’s a downtown resident who’s been asked by a woman in the city to distribute chickens to people who are interested in raising them.

“I was asked not too long ago and I’ve already had two or three people say to me they want chickens and about three more who are interested and just unready to do it.”

She says she can easily see chickens being raised in neighbourhoods such as Copper Ridge, Riverdale and even downtown.

“If people can do it in New York City without getting noise or smell complaints then we should be doing it here.”

Corbett says that having chickens allows people to better connect with the food that they’re eating.

“People can get fresh eggs daily and they can also get the immediate satisfaction of taking care of these animals,” she said.

At a neighbourhood meeting in Riverdale Thursday evening the issue of chickens surfaced once again.

Jack Kobayashi of Kobayashi + Zedda Architects unveiled a draft neighbourhood plan that his architectural firm was asked to draw up.

In their community consultations they found there was a slight majority of people in the community who were in favour of keeping birds in their backyards.

Kobayashi even researched chicken coops that would make neighbours more amenable to the idea.

“There’s products on the market to help people take care of their chickens and to keep smells down and keep things clean,” he said.

One resident at the meeting said she was there because she was in favour of seeing the chicken issue take off.

“I’ve asked everyone who lives around me what they think of the idea and they all really support it,” said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified. “And these are people who come from all walks of life, they’re not all like me.”

If the city rejects the proposal, she plans to flout the bylaw and get chickens anyway, she said.

Even if the city finds there is an overwhelming desire for chickens once the official community plan has been finished, it might take a couple years for the bylaws to go into effect, said Ellis.

“Right now there’s not a huge need for looking into the issue, it’s a bit of a luxury to dedicate staff time to.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com.

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