Months of planning, both by city staff and interested community members, fizzled away Monday as the backyard chicken pilot project died under a tie vote at city council.
The idea of allowing Penticton residents to keep up to five hens first came before council in January. The narrow vote that night mirrored this one, with the exception of the swing vote held by Mayor Dan Ashton, now on a leave of absence after being elected MLA for the Penticton riding.
According to some councillors, the pilot project, which was to run for 18 months, drew considerable attention from the community. Coun. Judy Sentes was often asked about the possibility, and said the calls didn’t stop after the pilot project was given planning approval.
“Now the anxiousness is ‘when are we going to get the chance to go forward?’” said Sentes. “We are not groundbreaking with this. There are many other cities and communities that are much larger than Penticton that are already successfully doing this.”
Coun. Helena Konanz remained firm in her opposition to the project, citing concerns over what would happen if the project were cancelled because of complaints. Participants in the project would be allowed to keep their hens in that case, but not replace them as they die.
“Those people that build those hen houses will be grandfathered to keep those hens, yet they are the ones that are going to have the neighbours that are complaining,” said Konanz.
Other communities, along with Interior Health and the SPCA, were just some of the research paths followed by staff as they designed the project parameters.
“There are a number of issues that will come out of this, that is why we are having a pilot program,” said Anthony Haddad, director of development operations.
Acting mayor Garry Litke also cited community support, as well as questions of food security and the desire of people to follow trends like the 100-mile diet.
“There has been a huge request, I think, from our community to take on this initiative. Our staff has worked very hard at anticipating everything that could happen,” said Litke. “I think it is incumbent on us to listen to our constituents who want this, to at least give it a chance to run it as a pilot project.”
Even after Litke’s admonishment, the result was a 3-3 tie, meaning the motion to move the project forward failed.
“Unfortunately, that means that this cannot happen. I apologize to staff for all the hard work they have done to make this happen, I apologize to the community as well for creating the anticipation out there,” said Litke.
Council will have the option to reconsider the vote after a byelection for the mayor position has been held.