City Council votes to move forward with public consultations on urban hens

By Aaron Mahoney (@Mahones93 on Twitter)
November 13, 2018 - 4:06pm

LETHBRIDGE – How do you feel about backyard hens?

That’s the question the City of Lethbridge will be looking to answer during a public consultation campaign between now and Mar. 31, 2019.

City Council was presented with three options by Regulatory Services Manager Duane Ens at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, to decide what to do about the Urban Hen Review.

- Option 1 was no backyard hens, or to do nothing.

- Option 2 was to hold public consultations over a period of two to three months, develop a communication strategy, and gather public feedback through things like online questionnaires and polls.

- Option 3 was to gather public feedback over the same time period, establish a foundation for an Urban Hen Pilot Program and then present that program to council after six to eight months.

Several municipalities in Alberta have Urban Hen programs or pilots in their cities currently, and some decided against them after deliberation.

Airdrie approved a pilot program in the Spring of 2018, Grande Prairie approved their own pilot program in March of last year, and St. Albert was ahead of both cities in approving a pilot in 2017.

Edmonton and Red Deer have both instituted permanent programs.

On the flip side, city councils in Calgary and Medicine Hat ultimately voted against pilot programs in 2015.

After a long and somewhat winding discussion, Lethbridge council settled on Option 2 by a 7-2 vote.

Mayor Chris Spearman, as well as Councillors Ryan Parker, Jeff Coffman, Jeff Carlson, Belinda Crowson, Mark Campbell, and Rob Miyashiro, voted in favour while Councillors Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen opposed.

Hyggen, speaking before the vote, says his issue was based on a poll conducted in 2012 that showed 52 percent of residents strongly opposed backyard hens as well as the cost.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money to do this, and the difference to make up in support, I don’t believe it’s right to put our taxpayers through this.”

The poll Hyggen referred to was conducted by Lethbridge College’s Farron Ellis, which also showed that only 4.1 percent strongly supported, 20.6 percent were somewhat opposed, and 23.2 percent somewhat supported.

In speaking to the media after the vote, Ens said they will now work with the communications department at City Hall to put some public engagement tools together to see what exactly the citizens of Lethbridge think of this proposal.

“Giving some more detail to it as well, like how many chickens and how many licenses and all those types of things,” Ens added.

While gathering information ahead of today’s presentation to council, Ens says they found that people were very passionate on both sides of the issue.

“There were some people that were very unhappy that we were even considering this, and then there’s a group of individuals that think this is a process that’s happening in other cities and it’s something we should follow. I think council was very circumspect in looking at maybe going out and finding out what their citizens actually think, before making a further decision to come up with a pilot project,” Ens said.

So, to get the proper information to make a calculated decision, what’s going to be necessary?

“What we’re going to do is we’re at least give an outline of what the program would be, probably something similar to what Edmonton and Red Deer have in terms of restricted numbers and no roosters,” he continued. “That’s one thing people were very concerned about, but there wouldn’t be any roosters in this program.

“We’re going to come up with a specific outline of questions, and we’re going to get out there and see if we put more detail into this, whether or not the survey back in 2012 is representative of what the citizens think or whether individuals have changed their minds on this particular program,” Ens stated.

Some of the benefits that cities with pilots or full-time programs in place imparted to staff during discussions were things like sustainable agriculture, companionship, and people love to have their own fresh eggs to have in the morning.

Some of the disadvantages outlined include neighbourhood acceptance due to noise or odour, potential abandonment, improper disposal of animal carcasses, and rodents and other pests being attracted to chicken feed.

Ens says council’s decision to go forward with the public consultations will allow them to gather information before expending any in-house resources to actually put a pilot project in place. 

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