For years, backyard chickens have happily pecked away inside a corralled space in the enviously large backyard behind a Topham Boulevard home.
But after a complaint about the birds this past January and a subsequent a visit from the City of Welland, their days as a Welland family’s feathered friends are numbered — they must fly the coop by March 31, or face the consequences.
Standing by the coop last Thursday, Ray Haymes and his partner Alicia Bedesky spoke of how their eight laying hens not only provided eggs but also valuable education for their children, five-year-old Sawyer and three-year-old Eloise.
“This is just a few pets in our backyard,” Haymes said.
Not so, says the city.
“All residential areas within the urban boundary of the city don’t permit agricultural uses,” said Welland’s interim planning manager, Rachelle Larocque.
Though the city’s Comprehensive Zoning By-law 2017-117, which dictates how landowners can use their property, doesn’t actually address backyard chickens, it does say property can't be used in a way not clearly spelled out.
That could change in the coming year as the city reviews its official plan and explores allowing backyard chickens, Larocque said.
The city’s bylaw and planning departments work together when complaints ring in about backyard chickens, something Larocque says is becoming common.
During the past six months, some form of chicken inquiry comes in on a weekly basis, she said.
In dealing with a complaint, the planning department confirms zoning allowances and a bylaw officer investigates.
After their visit, Haymes said he received a letter from the city saying the birds had to fly the coop by the end of March.
Bedesky started the “Backyard chickens Niagara” Facebook group and an online petition to illustrate neighbouring support for the hens, which had nearly reached its 500 signee goal as of Feb. 28.
“We believe that every person should have the right to keep hens on their own property as long as they are doing so responsibly,” the petition reads.
Chris Sowton and Jennifer Thompson, who belong to Bedesky’s Facebook group, had to get rid of their hens after a neighbour’s complaint and a bylaw visit.
“We have a huge yard, it’s 1.3 acres, there’s plenty of room for chickens,” Sowton said from his Dain City home. “They’re wonderful pets, they’re actually quite lovely creatures.”
Haymes has reached out to city staff and their ward councillor, Adam Moote, who told Niagara This Week that while he supports allowing backyard chickens, regulations would be needed to ensure they wouldn’t become a nuisance.
Ultimately, Haymes wants to see the rules amended. Even a permit process would be better than prohibition, Bedesky said.
Haymes has sought legal advice and will file a freedom of information request to dig into the complaint itself, which he suspects originated from a single neighbour whose feathers are ruffled for reasons he can’t understand — the chickens don’t smell or make noise, and they’re well taken care of, he says.
If the hens aren’t gone by March 31, the city can lay a charge under the Provincial Offences Act, summoning the Haymes family to court, explained Ali Khan, Welland’s bylaw supervisor.
It’s a process Haymes says he’s willing to see through.
If multiple complaints were coming in, Haymes might understand, but he says their petition speaks for the neighbourhood: “There are a lot of people that feel the same way.”
“It’s just something we believe in,” he said.
“We’ve kind of been accidental advocates for the whole urban farming thing,” Bedesky added.
Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week