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Urban hen fans could score coop as Colwood pecks at backyards

Urban chickens would be more than a source of fresh eggs to Keith Encina, who has been pushing Colwood city councillors to change a bylaw restricting the hens from residential property.
Rachelle Smith brings water to some of her charges at her backyard chicken coop in Victoria. Chickens are also permitted in Esquimalt, View Royal, Saanich, Oak Bay, Langford and, as of this week, Colwood.

Urban chickens would be more than a source of fresh eggs to Keith Encina, who has been pushing Colwood city councillors to change a bylaw restricting the hens from residential property.

As the father of five kids between four and 16, it’s an educational opportunity.

“I want to teach my kids where your food comes from,” he said. “We get eggs from the hens and compost from the hens and then it goes back into the garden: It’s a full-circle endeavour.”

It looks as though Encina may get that opportunity, with a public hearing on the topic scheduled Monday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall.

Immediately after the hearing, council is expected to approve the amendment.

Chickens are already permitted in Colwood on properties 4,000 square metres or greater, but the changes would allow up to four chickens on properties as small as 550 square metres. Roosters would be prohibited and guidelines would regulate coop construction and waste removal.

Coun. Judith Cullington said constituents have expressed interest in backyard chickens since she joined council in 2008.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I don’t think there will be a huge uptake, but I certainly know there are people in Colwood who want to have chickens.”

In the capital region, backyard chickens are permitted in Victoria, Esquimalt, View Royal, Saanich, Oak Bay and, as of February, Langford. Staff and council benefited from being slow to the game, she said.

“The nice thing for us is we’ve been able to build on the good ideas and experiences that other communities have had.”

Rachelle Smith, 19, has had chickens in her backyard in Cook Street Village for four years. She said she has had no complaints from neighbours and only two incidents of animals attacking her hens.

“They’re jolly animals to have hanging out in the backyard,” she said. “And also their eggs are delicious. They’re way better than store-bought eggs; they taste fresh and you know what you’re feeding the chickens.”

But not everyone is looking forward to the sound of clucks and chirps floating through their windows.

Coun. Rob Martin said his neighbour in Alberta 15 years ago kept chickens — and it wasn’t as quiet as was promised.

He’s also concerned about vermin.

“I think there are significant issues around chickens attracting things like rats and raccoons,” Martin said. “So for me, it’s an issue of how you control that and also allow it to be a quiet, livable neighbourhood.”

He said allowing backyard chickens would be a step backward in Colwood’s move toward a more urban identity, as population increases.

“I think we need to move past this concept of Colwood as a rural community and having urban chickens doesn’t help us,” he said.

However, Martin said he would base his vote on public opinion.

The hearing follows a year-long process that began in 2012, after residents petitioned staff and council to allow urban chickens, said planning technician Richard Walker.

Staff looked at the ways other municipalities have regulated backyard chickens, when searching for an approach that would be appropriate for Colwood.

In January, about 30 people attended an open house on the subject and 94 per cent of those who filled out a survey said they were in favour of the change.

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