The great chicken debate in Squamish is on and a Valleycliffe home is at the epicentre.
Mark Willmot and his family have seven chickens that they keep on their Clarke Drive property in Squamish.
The family used to have a goat but they returned it to the original owner after being told by the bylaw office in Squamish that the goat and chickens had to go.
The two sides see the animals quite differently. The Willmots believe they are pets. According to District of Squamish (DOS) Bylaw Enforcement Officer Loletta Smith, the animals are livestock.
"Your property is zoned RS-1 where the keeping of livestock, an agricultural use, is not permitted," Smith wrote in a letter to Willmot on Feb. 27.
Smith's letter was in response to a letter from Willmot a month earlier, a letter he wrote after being ordered by the DOS to remove the goat, named Elliott, and the chickens.
Willmot argued that Elliott was a pet just like the family dog.
"Elliott would travel in the car with us, we would take him down to Nexen Beach for walks with the dog," wrote Willmot. "He would wait patiently in the car while we would pop in to grab a coffee."
Willmot said he refused to give up the chickens because Weesey, Maloona, Sunny, Jobe and three others are pets that produce eggs. He noted the chickens are not being kept for breeding or to be slaughtered and eaten.
Willmot said he believes the bylaw banning chickens in residential neighbourhoods is under review so he should be allowed to keep them until the review is completed.
According to Smith, that wasn't the case.
"The zoning Bylaw is the bylaw that regulates the keeping of chickens and is currently not under review," Smith wrote. "It was reviewed, re-drafted, and adopted late last year. The provisions that address the keeping of livestock did not change."
Smith gave the Willmots until March 27 to clear the chickens out. She informed Willmot that she would inspect his property on March 28.
If the chickens are still there the Willmots face fines of up to $10,200 a day.
The members of Squamish Council voted at a meeting on Tuesday (March 6) to back the bylaw department but also voted to debate the larger issue.
Councillor Patricia Heintzman proposed directing the bylaw department to hold off on taking action against the Willmots until the issue is debated, but Mayor Rob Kirkham and Councillors Ron Sander, Ted Prior and Doug Race voted against that idea.
Robin Arthurs, the General Manager of Corporate Services, told council that changing the livestock policy would be a significant project.
"It is a cascading suite of amendments involving everything from our zoning bylaw to our wildlife attractant bylaw to the building bylaw," she said.
Councillor Bryan Raiser asked DOS staff to report back to council outlining bylaw implications and costs associated with keeping chickens, bees and goats in residential neighbourhoods.
Race said the last council reviewed the issues and he didn't want to go through the exercise again.
"To have staff go off and spend time and resources looking into this again to me is a waste of staff time and resources," said Race.
Prior said he wants council to debate the bigger issue. Councillor Susan Chapelle said she agrees with Prior.
"The community wasn't really allowed to come forward and express their views," she said of previous discussions on the topic.
Heintzman said she, too, felt the previous council didn't have a full debate on the issue.
Sander argued that attractants like livestock feed could become problematic if people don't store it properly.
"We don't need to turn the district into a petting zoo," he said. "We have some adequate places where that can happen on rural land."
Sander and Race voted against the council motion moved by Raiser to have staff review and report on the bylaws that prohibit chickens and other livestock from being kept in residential areas.