Backyard chickens may have come home to roost in Red Deer for good.
On Monday council passed first reading of a new bylaw that would allow up to 65 annual chicken licences permitting a maximum of four chickens.
Council voted 6-2 in support of the new bylaw after a 2-and-a-half year pilot that permitted raising chickens in the city.
Mayor Tara Veer said the emails, surveys, letters to council, phone calls and informal conversations clearly indicate the public is divided on the issue.
Veer referred to the results from the public consultation, which included the 1,850 letters sent out to landowners within 100 metres of a site that had chickens in February 2014. Of the 478 responses, 287 were in support, 170 did not support and 21 were undecided.
An online survey drew 520 responses with 52 per cent in support and 48 per cent against bylaw regulations allowing chickens within city.
Veer told council that now was a time to take a firm position on the issue.
Council landed on a licensing scheme that would allow one chicken licence per every 1,500 persons or 65 based on Red Deer’s current population. It would increase proportionally based on the municipal census.
Urban chicken owners would pay a $23 licence fee per year.
Councillors Lawrence Lee and Tanya Handley were opposed while Coun. Buck Buchanan was absent for the meeting.
Handley said she was concerned about rodents and predators such as foxes and weasels trying to reach the chickens. Handley heard from residents who were concerned about noise and smell. She said enough time and money has been spent on this issue and a permanent decision has to be made especially for the pilot participants.
Administration was asked for the cost of the pilot but no figure was available during the meeting.
“I feel they need to be somewhere they can roam around and not like this bylaw says cooped up in a coop 24/7 in the city,” said Handley. “They need to be where they can roam and far away from living quarters so they do not bother other people.”
Other councillors argued the pilot was a success. Coun. Lynne Mulder said it would have been a different situation if there were more complaints during the pilot.
Mulder, like many of the other councillors, toured the coops and found the owners put a lot of investment into the operations.
Coun. Ken Johnston said he is satisfied that keeping urban chickens is a safe and productive practice after hearing reports and researching the issues that noise, smell and other nuisances were minimal and well below the reality of keeping other pets. He said the critical part for him was the approval from neighbours of coop owners.
Council heard there were four complaints – three related to noise and smell and a fourth of a rogue rooster. Under the pilot and under the proposed bylaw roosters will not be permitted.
There were 30 homes with up to six chickens in the pilot. Existing chicken owners would be allowed to keep their hens for the life of their chickens. If the bylaw does not pass, the pilot participants would have until the end of the year to find new homes for the chickens.
The proposed bylaw contains regulations related to the number of chickens, prohibition of roosters or on site slaughtering, sale of eggs and the care and welfare of the chickens.
Council will consider second and third reading of the proposed chicken bylaw on July 7.