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First step taken in Woolwich to consider allowing backyard chickens

A survey of Woolwich residents found most (70 per cent) support the idea of allowing people to raise a few chickens in residential areas. The informal poll was carried out by the township as it looks at changing its bylaws to allow backyard coops.

To do that, the township will have to change its current comprehensive zoning and animal control bylaws. The first step in that process came at a public meeting held Tuesday night by video conference.

Current plans call for allowing up to four chickens, all of which must be hens, to be housed in a backyard structure that must be fenced to keep the animals contained to a defined space.

Manager of planning Jeremy Vink presented preliminary findings of an online survey – the township is taking input until November 1 – filled out by 149 residents thus far. Seventy per cent of respondents support the idea, though most (88 per cent) favoured restricting approvals to single-family homes; there was less support for semi-detached homes (40 per cent) and townhouses (24 per cent).

Maintaining space between neighbours was a concern, with 43 per cent of respondents saying the setback requirements should be as large as possible, and just 16 per cent suggesting there should be no setbacks, said Vink.

Picking up that issue, Coun. Patrick Merlihan said the township has already heard concerns about the proximity of chicken coops to neighbours’ homes, suggesting any new bylaw could perhaps set out that the structures should be closer to the owners’ homes rather than to neighbouring houses.

Other concerns likely to be addressed in any changes to the bylaws would be prohibiting the sale of eggs and manure, as well as the slaughter of animals on the premises, an issue raised by the Region of Waterloo Public Health department, Vink noted.

Tuesday’s public input session featured just one delegation, Elmira couple Voicu Goga and Victoria Steadman, who spoke in favour of allowing chickens to be kept in residential areas.

Addressing concerns raised about potential odour issues, Steadman noted Elmira has a history of such problems. She suggested people raising chickens would tend to the animals like pets, avoiding any problems with smell.

Complaints and problems related to chicken coops prompted the City of Waterloo to reverse its approval for the practice, Vink noted, though the practice continues in Kitchener and Guelph, for instance.

This week’s meeting was strictly an input session. Councillors won’t be making any decisions until planning staff reviews all feedback and drafts a recommendation report for council’s consideration.

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