Egged on by backyard-hen proponents, St. Albert council approved an 18-month pilot project.
But while as many as 20 households will be able to apply for permits to have as many as four hens, neighbours will effectively have veto power over coops in a 60-metre radius.
Council approved the pilot project at the Sept. 26 meeting, with only Mayor Nolan Crouse opposed.
Coun. Cam MacKay threw his support behind the project after council approved his amendment that would require unanimous consent of all neighbours within 60 metres before a resident was given a permit to build a coop and house the birds.
His amendment was approved 5-2, with councillors Cathy Heron and Tim Osborne opposed. Coun. Osborne noted the notification requirement for other small developments like sheds was only 30 metres.
But MacKay noted the potential impact on quality of life, and said it was crucial for him to know neighbours would support a nearby coop as well.
“If everybody nearby is fine with it, I’m fine with it,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to for me.”
In addition to the 60-metre radius, the pilot project includes several conditions for would-be hen owners. No more than four hens, which must be four months or older, and no roosters will be allowed. Hens must be kept in coops from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and must be in an enclosed run when not in their coops. Coops must be well maintained, and home-slaughter is prohibited. For the pilot project, only 20 residents will be allowed to keep hens, and only for non-commercial purposes.
Despite the added restriction, several councillors spoke glowingly of the project’s potential – including local food production and educational opportunities.
Several residents also spoke to council in favour of seeing a pilot project. Donna Salzwedel said she has lived in St. Albert for 43 years and is excited about the possibility of keeping hens.
“They’re cute, cuddly, lay eggs and keep chickens out of feeding operations where they’re so confined,” she said.
Pierre and Christle Myner said they just moved to St. Albert from Edmonton, where they kept chickens. They see it as a good opportunity for this city.
“Three to four chickens, it’s not a huge farm,” he said. “You can barely hear them.”
Coun. Sheena Hughes, although she ultimately voted in favour of the pilot project, said she was concerned about what increased density targets would mean for future urban agriculture. She also expressed concern that city planner Lenore Mitchell provided little information about Edmonton’s pilot project, and answered several councillors’ questions with references to learning along the way.
The pilot project will be split into four phases. The first phase from October 2016 to December will involve city staff setting up courses for staff and participants, and developing the administrative procedures required to accommodate the project.
During the second phases from January to May next year, courses will be offered and the city will begin accepting applications.
The third phase, which will see participants granted permission to purchase hens and include three site inspections during the year, will run from May 2017 until August 2018.
The fourth phase, taking place in September 2018, will be administration presenting a report to council including recommendations for the future.
Participants will have to understand they can’t count their chickens before they hatch – if council chooses not to continue with the project after the pilot.
Coun. Bob Russell said his main concern was that potential hen owners would be required to wing it without any supports. He said he would like to see a volunteer organization created where hen owners could support and educate each other. The residents who spoke to council all confirmed they would be pleased to take part in such a group.
Council approved motions to approve administration spending $15,000 on the project, providing regular updates to council, and reporting back in October 2018 about the project.
“We’re going to need some really detailed information to come back on this,” MacKay said. “While not a large dollar value, this is something that has huge potential to impact people’s quality of life.”
Crouse was visibly annoyed about a procedural error that had the pilot project brought to council before any motion actually directing the pilot project to be created.
“I was quite upset on the weekend when I saw this,” he said. “We shouldn’t actually be voting on this tonight.’
Heron’s motion to recommend the pilot project was initially debated Nov. 2, 2015, but was tabled until Feb. 1, 2016, and then again tabled to come back this fall.
Yet even without an approved motion to create the pilot program, administration undertook the work regardless. Interim city manager Chris Jardine took responsibility for the error.
“We lost track that this hadn’t passed yet, and we brought it forward as if it had passed,” he said.