I don’t live in Riverview, but if I did, I wouldn’t mind my neighbours having chickens. Not that they’d be allowed to, mind you. Council voted down a motion this month to allow backyard hens in the town. And I just don’t get it.
People were angry about the idea. Angry. Over a couple of chickens. Four, to be exact. The proposal would have limited the amount of hens (not roosters, just hens) that any family could have to four, and it would have required the chickens be cared for responsibly. But it seemed to strike fear into the hearts of many Riverview homeowners.
Saint John and Fredericton have allowed backyard hens since 2013. Moncton voted to allow urban chickens in February 2014. More than 100 cities in North America welcome them. But not Riverview.
I’m not sure a few hens in a backyard coop would be any happier, healthier, or cost-effective than a large brood of free range chickens that can wander through a farmer’s field – which you can find not far from town limits. But I also don’t think there’s any reason to stop the few families who would like to responsibly care for hens from doing so.
A lot of fuss was made over how the Town’s bylaw officer would handle enforcing the chicken rules. I’m not sure any bylaw officer has been overworked by urban hens. Four months after the Moncton bylaw was introduced, no new coops were registered with the city. And that bylaw called for registering hens, meeting coop standards, and gave residents an avenue to complain if they had issues with neighbourhood chickens.
If an issue with odour arises, here’s a thought: you could talk to your neighbour about it. And honestly, their chickens are probably more at risk from your pet dog getting loose than anything else. (I speak from experience: growing up, my neighbours kept chickens. I don’t remember a smell or increased wildlife activity. I recall our German Shepherd pup making a meal of them.)
I’m disappointed that the chicken bylaw was defeated. Then again, this is a town that doesn’t allow families to have outdoor cats. Why should they have chickens?
There is one winner in this debate, though. Citizen engagement. The Town received a petition with 26 signatures against the by-law amendment, and 33 letters expressing objections. Supporters of backyard hens had 51 signatures, and 20 letters. There were paragraphs upon paragraphs shared on social media, from both sides. When was the last time Riverview council received more than 50 letters on any public hearing issue? One councillor stated the usual response is 10 or less. Interestingly enough, the same meeting that included the chicken bylaw vote saw council approve Terms of Reference from a Civic Engagement Committee meant to encourage such passion. This gives me hope.
This debate also showcased another bright spot in local politics. Not only was social media a platform for citizens to voice their concerns, but it was also used by Town Councillors Andrew LeBlanc and Wayne Bennett to broadcast via Facebook live from an urban chicken coop in Moncton, showing residents up close what it could look like in their neighbours’ backyards. These councillors showed their constituents, and the rest of us watching, that they took the issue seriously, did some research, and tried to see various points of view on the issue. Those are the kind of folks I’m glad to see in office. Now let’s see this same level of civic engagement about issues like new business attraction, population growth, and wastewater treatment. (And finding that pesky rooster around town.)