Neighbour sticks up for Burnaby resident's backyard chickens

A pair of women have come forward to advocate in favour of allowing backyard chickens in Burnaby, including the neighbour of one family that currently has chickens.

The city’s social planning committee received two pieces of correspondence from Margaret Nellaney, the neighbour of Sherri Benjamin, and R. Brunswick, who also cited Benjamin’s fight with the city in their letter.

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“A large number of our local municipalities already allow for backyard chickens and have for many years. I was shocked to find out that Burnaby has not yet updated its bylaws to follow suit,” Brunswick wrote.

“As a Burnaby homeowner, resident and voter I am strongly in favour of allowing families to keep backyard chickens.”

In her letter to the city, Nellaney said she lives two doors down from the Benjamin family and said her “family fully supports having backyard chickens.”

“If anything, living through this pandemic has taught us that food security, community and getting back to the basics in life are so important. We have heard opinions about an increase of rats and noise; we have found none of these to be true, and we have lived in our home here … for 35 years,” Nellaney wrote.

For their part, Brunswick cited a number of benefits, including a supply of fresh eggs, fertilizer, natural pest control and teaching responsibility to younger children. Brunswick also cited “all of the positive mental health advantages that come with owning a pet.”

“Given the current global situation with people at home more than ever, facing income losses, and struggling with their mental health being able to have the option of keeping chickens as both a stable food source and a pet for families seems like a decision that should be supported by everyone,” Brunswick wrote.

In a note below Brunswick’s and Nellaney’s letters, staff pushed back against the idea of allowing backyard chickens.

“The keeping of hens in residential neighbourhoods may be of interest to some residents, however concerns regarding noise, odour, spread of disease, and risks to public health and safety have been raised by the community, which resulted in limiting the keeping of backyard chickens to agricultural properties where similar uses are permitted,” staff wrote.

“In general, residential properties in an urban setting do not have adequate lot area to provide the required setbacks from neighbouring properties to minimize anticipated noise concerns which can be a recurring issue.”

Staff also pointed to the work involved in eliminating odours, which may be passed over by some chicken owners, as well as the challenges in getting rid of unwanted chickens.

“Permitting backyard chickens in urban residential neighbourhoods requires a detailed review and public input as the community’s concerns are more significant when it comes to the keeping of chickens as a pet, compared to other animals typically associated with pets,” staff wrote.

Brunswick urged the city both to reconsider its bylaws and to look at waiving its fines against the Benjamin family.

Benjamin is facing a $400 fine after an extended grace period, offered by the city to allow the family time to get rid of their chickens, lapsed in mid-July. The family had until Aug. 5 to respond to the fine and had full intentions of challenging it.

Coun. Joe Keithley, the lone Burnaby Green Party representative on council, pushed a motion in the spring to have the social committee look into the issue of backyard chickens as a food security matter. That motion was unanimously endorsed by council, though it’s still unclear when staff will return to council to report on the matter.

Follow Dustin on Twitter at @dustinrgodfrey

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