By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on September 8, 2022.
Medicine Hat won’t see a repeat of the 2014 urban hen debate soon as council members voted against staff evaluating the issue on Monday night by a 5-4 vote.
Those opposed cited a potentially small number of applicants tying up city resources as the reason, while those in favour said that after eight years, other cities have designed workable systems and the practice would beneficial.
Coun. Alison Van Dyke, who promotes local food security in her private career, said raising hens for egg production has benefits for the community.
“It’s a hot topic and there have been considerable changes since it was last discussed,” said Van Dyke, who is the executive director of the Medicine Hat Community Foods Connections Association.
She said it may be easy to “discount” in public opinion, but “I don’t have a dog, but that doesn’t mean that I think nobody else should have one.”
Coun. Ramona Robins said for the relatively few people who might take part, staff resources could be better allocated on other projects.
“When I look at the cost benefit analysis, I think it comes down as a cost,” she said. “I have nothing against chickens, or people who want to raise chickens, but our staff has more important things to do.”
Coun. Cassi Hider agreed.
“We’ve come out with an answer previous to this,” she said, while others voiced support.
“I really don’t understand the rationale of not looking at the information,” said Coun. Allison Knodel.
The motion would have asked staff to update information done in 2014 when a proposed bylaw would allow up to 100 residents licensed to keep four egg-laying hens in residential areas for personal food production.
At that time, council requested the bylaw, but it was defeated by a 4-4 tie vote when council members disagreed on whether neighbouring properties could be given “veto” power on applications.
That was something the city’s legal department and councillors felt could be contentious. The pilot would have limited the number of hens, barred onsite slaughter or sales, and required inspected coops to be set back from property lines.
On Monday, council members defeated a motion that would have directed staff to study how pilots or full-fledged licensing in other urban centres of the province had proceeded.
They would have also created options to consider toward creating a local pilot for council to approve separately in the new year.
Calgary awarded its first 100 licences on a lottery system this year, two years after Edmonton lifted a cap of 50 licences and now processes all applications.
Red Deer has allowed 100 permits to raise four hens (no roosters) since 2014.
In Grande Prairie, residents can apply for an exemption to the city’s livestock bylaws specifically for chickens.
Strathmore, Cold Lake, Innisfail, Leduc, Fort McMurray and Okotoks also allow urban chickens.
“This is an example of where, if another community has done the work, we can copy that,” said Mayor Linnsie Clark.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Eventually, votes for were registered by Clark, Van Dyke, Knodel and Coun. Andy McGrogan, while Couns. Robert Dumanowski, Hider, Darren Hirsch, Robins and Shila Sharps were opposed.
Dumanowski said during the discussion he had no problem with staff determining how other centres were doing with their bylaws, but generally felt the permitting process would be too onerous on applicants.
McGrogan said he felt out-of-town bylaws would be easily transferable without much need for exhaustive local consultation.
“Chickens are chickens, and I don’t know if they’re much different down here,” he said.