Becca Shears and several other residents were present at a recent town council meeting to request a reworking of the town’s bylaws concerning chickens.

Could Lake Cowichan’s chicken prohibition be coming to an end?

Town council will reopen the discussion on September 8.

A group of residents were present at a recent town council meeting, taking up an issue that’s remained controversial in Lake Cowichan for decades. But as Lake Cowichan resident Becca Shears explained, the opposition may have lost its edge.

For Shears, Lake Cowichan’s “chicken prohibition” first became an issue for her two years ago, when she was forced to get rid of her own flock, six hens, after a neighbour filed a complaint.

“It was a completely unfounded complaint,” Shears said. “Our neighbour just didn’t want us to have them, he was concerned about rats. If you live near the water, rats are going to be an issue. If you take proper care of your chickens and your coop, you won’t attract rats.”

While current bylaws prohibit residents from keeping chickens, they are only enforced by complaint. According to Shears, there are at least 40 households in town currently keeping chickens. The current situation, Shears said, is creating more problems than it prevents, as it presents no guidelines for ensuring chickens are well-kept and not becoming an issue for neighbours. She argued that the most common complaints: noise, smell and rats, could be counteracted through effective regulation.

“There are people who aren’t taking care of their hens, but they could be,” Shears said. “When you regulate something you create accountability.”

The benefits, Shears claimed to town council, are numerous, and include reducing stress on the composting system, reducing insects and other pests and health benefits related to residents having easier access to fresh eggs.

Shears has already gained significant support for the reworking of the bylaw, collecting 400 signatures via door-to-door petition. She estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of the residents she spoke to were in favour of her proposal. According to town CAO Joe Fernandez, the town has only received one or two complaints regarding chickens in the past few years.

This marks the second time Shears has taken up the issue of chickens with council. Two years ago, she made a similar proposal, which failed to proceed to referendum after being voted down three to two by town council. With two new council members joining the table after last year’s election, and with Bob Day and Tim McGonigle, the two councillors who voted in her favour, retaining their seats, she’s confident that the time has come for change.

Shears used Duncan’s Animal and Poultry Regulation Bylaw as an example for Lake Cowichan to follow. The bylaw contains 24 regulations that must be followed in order for a resident to retain their hen license, including keeping no more than six hens, ensuring that each hen remains in a coop or pen at all times, providing adequate perches and space within a coop, keeping each pen and coop free of vermin and debris and storing feed in an airtight container.

Town council will be voting on the outcome of Shears’ request at the next finance and administration committee, which is scheduled for September 8 at 5 p.m.

“I feel pretty confident that we’re going to see a change soon,” Shears said. “Maybe [Mayor Ross Forrest] has changed his mind. It’s a new council — they know it’s time.”