Chickens and bees were on the agenda at a recent committee of the whole city council meeting.
Reacting to questions from the community about keeping backyard chickens and bees, city planner Liliana Dragowska presented city councillors a report on the city’s current policy regarding keeping them within city limits.
The report also included information on recent trends and interests of permitting both bees and fowl in residential areas, and was intended to obtain information for bylaw review.
Although currently prohibited in Williams Lake, some backyard hens and beehives are already kept on residential properties and many other residents have expressed interest in these local food sources.
In recent years, many communities across B.C. and North America have amended bylaws to allow for the keeping of backyard hens and beekeeping, such as Vancouver, Saanich, Terrace, Vernon, Kamloops and many others around Canada and the U.S.
City staff recommend that the bylaw include regulations addressing things like maximum number of hens and restriction of roosters; design and construction guidelines for chicken coops, such as size and accessibility to pests; disposal requirements for dead chickens; minimum lot size requirements; appropriate setbacks from lot lines and permits, associated fees and fines.
The report listed ‘pros and cons’ for keeping both hens and bees, including local food security and sustainability, healthy food sources, reducing municipal waste and insects and reducing greenhouse emissions.
Concerns included public health risks, nuisance from noise, smell, pests and predators, neighbour complaints taking bylaw enforcement staff time, as well as animal welfare and human conditions.
Local resident Carole Bjorkman attended the committee of the whole council meeting as someone very interested in keeping backyard chickens in Williams Lake.
“I would certainly keep chickens if I lived on property outside of Williams Lake, but I don’t,” Bjorkman said.
“I think it’s fantastic — I like everything about it. I like the idea of knowing where my food comes from, knowing what I’m feeding my chickens and knowing how happy they are.”
Having chickens means she would have a supply of fertilizer for her garden, she added.
“You feed them kitchen scraps and you get high-quality, high-nitrogen manure.”
Overall she was pleased with the comments and reactions from members of city council at the meeting, and said Dragowska’s report was excellent.
“I was quite happy with the way things went — most of the councillors were very supportive. I expected to hear strong opposition, but it wasn’t like that,” Bjorkman said. “I came out feeling cautiously optimistic.”
She said that the one councillor who seemed “adamantly opposed” to the idea of backyard chickens was Ivan Bonnell, stating that he made a humorous comment that if people want chickens, they can go to KFC.
Bonnell said the comment was in the context of chickens in a commercial setting, adding that he’s had experience with backyard chickens and bees in a municipal application.
“I recognize that the city has changed over the pat 20 years, and that there is value in some of these ideas. If we’re talking about non-commercial usage and designing what areas are appropriate, then I think we should give it some consideration,” Bonnell said.
“Creating a rural environment in an urban setting can be done with larger lots so that you don’t intrude on the neighbours or have complaints coming in.
“There is a lot to this if you’re going to do it right,” Bonnell continued.
“I’m certainly willing to listen to public comments and continue the discussion.”