Qualicum Beach Town Council gave first reading to a bylaw that would provide licensing and regulations for residential backyard chickens.
Under the proposed bylaw, owners would need to pass an inspection before receiving their licence. After this residents would be able to renew yearly similar to dog licensing, according to Luke Sales, director of planning.
Chickens would need to be kept with 3 m setbacks from the side and rear lot lines and from windows and doors. No slaughtering or sales on-site would be allowed. Residents would be permitted to keep up to six chickens or ducks.
A survey last fall found a slim majority of residents are in favour of allowing backyard chickens. The suggested rules are a result of council directing staff to examine bylaws in other municipalities and report back.
Coun. Anne Skipsey’s amendment that the minimum size requirement for keeping backyard chickens be increased to 1,000 square metres from 700 square metres was passed.
There are around 1,400 residential properties larger than 1,000 square metres (42 per cent) and about 3,000 residential properties larger than 700 square metres (88 per cent), according to Sales.
“I’m really torn on this issue and I think that was shown in the results of the survey, that people are also torn on this issue. They’re either strongly for or against it,” Skipsey said. She added she is in favour because the bylaw promotes food security and better quality of food.
Skipsey said she is concerned about the chickens attracting pests, such as rats, and mentioned a letter from a resident who caught 18 of the rodents. “These people didn’t have a problem with rats, the chickens arrived and now they have a problem.”
Coun. Robert Filmer said he is worried people keeping chickens in town could attract bears and also expressed skepticism town bylaw could enforce the rules.
“Our one bylaw officer is not going to be able to poke his head into every backyard to make sure people are feeding their chickens properly,” Filmer said.
Sales said if a licensing system was implemented, the town could deny renewal to people who repeatedly break the rules.
Coun. Scott Harrison said he would like staff to review the impact of raising the backyard size requirement to 1,000 square metres. Harrison said he supports the bylaw because it will help residents deal with rising food costs.
The bylaw will need to pass a second and third reading before it can be adopted.
The town launched a backyard chickens pilot project in 2017, which ended in 2020. Council initially planned to end the project, but reconsidered and instead launched a survey to gauge opinion on keeping backyard poultry.