AMHERST, N.S. - Amherst is saying no to backyard chickens.
Council accepted a recommendation from its planning advisory committee to turn down a proposed bylaw change that would’ve allowed for the raising of chickens in residential areas.
“It’s a decision that was not made lightly in any way,” Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie told council’s October meeting. “The PAC had a formal discussion about this about three weeks before the public participation session and we identified a lot of things both pro and con and there was the public participation session and another discussion among council.
“I know a lot of the councillors here have had phone calls and the vast majority were against it.”
Christie said that while there were 18 people at the public hearing and some spoke for it and some spoke against it, the majority of those who’ve spoke to councillors or made written submissions to council are opposed to allowing the bylaw change.
In his report to council, the town’s manager of planning and strategic initiatives, Andrew Fisher, said most people at the public hearing expressed concern about enforcement and compliance and felt the bylaws already in place are not being adequately enforced.
He said some felt that keeping chickens in town is not appropriate and allowing them will create problems.
The town’s land-use bylaws prohibit the keeping of agricultural animals within town, except for three specific parcels of land on Robert Angus Drive.
Coun. Jason Blanch said he’s disappointed that council is missing an opportunity to make Amherst a welcoming community to younger people who are more creative. It’s these people who will show initiative and create business.
He’s also disappointed because this council was elected on the premise of change, but is missing an opportunity to do just that.
As for enforcement, he said, it’s no different than the difficulty the town is having with enforcing any bylaw it develops for the use of cannabis.
“This council was elected on the expectation of change and we have made some change in many things we’ve done. Allowing urban chickens would be a natural extension of that philosophy,” Blanch said, adding only one person was strongly opposed to the proposal and quite a few spoke in favour. “Some said they weren’t concerned with chickens, but were concerned with enforcement, which was identified by the planning advisory as a concern. I don’t feel that’s a reasonable concern to make a decision against the voice of so many people in our community.”
Blanch said he would’ve liked to see a one-year pilot project. He said this is an urban movement that’s been going on for a couple of decades and attracts people who are young and creative.
He also feels the decision goes against connecting youth with their food and knowing where it comes from. He said it’s also been proven to work in other areas with no significant issues and only minimal concerns that could easily be overcome.
“If we allow backyard chickens, like so many other communities have done, we send a message and that message is we are the future. I like that message so much better than we can’t change because we’re backward because we’re not going to allow backyard chickens and we’re not even going to try it for a year.”
Coun. Wayne MacKenzie said he would not want chickens in his backyard.
“I just think we’d be opening up a can of worms,” MacKenzie said. “Everyone has their opinion and I know the people who brought it to us would be very respectful. I’m not saying they won’t be, but right now I just don’t feel there is a place for it in Amherst.”
Council was asked to change its bylaw after Jill and Jeff Brewster were ordered to remove a chicken coop last year because the raising of agriculture animals is not permitted in residential areas.
When the Brewsters moved to Amherst they built a small chicken coop and run on Derby Street and went about raising a small number of chickens to provide eggs for their young family. Someone complained to the RCMP, the Department of Agriculture and the town because they thought the animals weren’t healthy.
The Brewsters said they took good care of their flock, but ended up giving them to a friend in Pugwash.