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Woolwich looks at making it easier to keep chickens in residential areas

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Why did the chicken cross the road? To escape the bureaucracy involved in keeping a few laying hens in the yard, apparently.

A Conestogo-area resident looking to keep a few hens in a barn on her property ran afoul of regulatory red tape appearing before Woolwich council Tuesday night. Sarah Pupols discovered it would be fine to keep some chickens in her home, but not in a barn designed for livestock.

The circumstances are due to a quirk in a township zoning bylaw, which sets rules that gave councillors, seemingly willing to grant Pupols an exemption, no wiggle room. Currently, Pupols’ only recourse would be to launch a lengthy and expensive (some $4,000, not chicken feed) process to change the zoning on her residential property.

While councillors appeared ready to turn a blind eye to the situation if chickens did appear on the property – other residents are keeping chickens, some of them note – formal permission would require jumping through some administrative hoops.

As it stands, the zoning bylaw allows Woolwich residents to raise chickens on residential properties, as long as they’re kept in the house or attached area such as a garage. They can’t be kept in a separate shed or chicken coop.

“The zoning bylaw does prohibit them (chickens) in accessory structures,” manager of planning Jeremy Vink told councillors meeting by video conference.

He noted the provincial Planning Act is very clear, requiring a full review process, including public input on any changes to the zoning bylaw. The township’s animal control bylaw would also have to be changed to reflect the practice.

 “The Planning Act is very strict and rigid in how you process applications,” agreed Mark Pomponi, director of development services, noting other municipalities have gone through the process to allow for the keeping of hens.

“Often when you deal with chickens in urban areas or residential properties they can be quite contentious at times.”

Councillors voted to launch a review of the zoning bylaw that could clear the way for keeping chickens in residential areas, though the process could take  months even without any objections.

“We do live in an agricultural community,” pointed out Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who made the motion to look at a township-wide policy for the keeping of chickens. “Let’s hear from the public.”

In the meantime, those already raising chickens under such circumstances can probably expect little in the way of enforcement, as councillors alluded to in talking with Pupols.

“I don’t see a big issue,” said Coun. Murray Martin, noting there’s a barn on the property for a reason.

In response to a question from Coun. Larry Shantz, Pupols said she has talked to her closest neighbour about the plan.

“They’re quite excited to see the hens … and perhaps a few eggs here and there,” she said, adding that a previous neighbour kept laying hens, but has since moved away.

The development of a township plan, including changes to the zoning bylaw, will probably get underway later in the summer or in early fall.

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