Witless Bay Chickens - HELP our 3 Hens get their Home Back!
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My name is Gideon Barker. My wife, Jaclyn Humphries, and I are a young couple with a simple dream: to live a quiet rural lifestyle focused on raising our three hens in a clean and respectful manner. We have had chickens for several years while living in St. John's, however, my wife and I wanted to enjoy a more peaceful and rural lifestyle in which to raise our three birds. After considerable research, we decided to move to Witless Bay as their regulations allow for hobby farming at the discretion of council. As well, before purchasing our home we saw another family on our street with a chicken coop with multiple hens, a farm across the main road, and many other houses in the community with animals including chickens, goats, sheep and horses.
We applied to relocate our 4' x 4' coop from our previous home in St. John's to our new home here in Witless Bay in June of 2017. Unfortunately the council was in disarray and they were not able to hold a quorum to approve our application. After waiting 3 months, and with no sign of a council being in place, we had to move our coop from our previous home that new tenants had already moved in to. We had no intention of breaking any rules. We were under the impression that the application was merely a formality given the insignificant size of the structure.
By mid September 2017 a council was put in place by acclimation and our coop was placed on discretionary notice. A sign was put up in the corner store advising our application had been put in. Three complaints were made regarding concerns of contamination of wells and attraction of rodents. At the following October meeting, our application was on the agenda. We were in attendance of that meeting where we spoke up in defense of us having our coop. Council motioned to defer their decision in order to contact the appropriate provincial government departments for input. The following meeting the council voted unanimously to issue a removal order for our coop as we had erected the coop without a permit (there was no reference to contacting anyone from government). We were given the removal order by mail and we immediately filed an appeal. After 1 year, our appeal took place on October 17, 2018 in which the appeal board sided with the Town of Witless Bay on the basis that we had erected the coop without a permit.
We have argued since the first meeting in October 2017 that there is no risk of rodent activity from three hens given our cleaning practices and that there are multiple other homestead operations where this is apparently not an issue. As well, all residents have garbage bins at the end of their laneways, posing a greater risk to rodent activity. Our coop was located on top of our septic field. Our septic tank was installed in 2011 and grandfathered in to allow for the tank to be in the location it is. Our tank would pose a considerably more dangerous risk to wells than three chickens ever could, however the tank is clearly allowed.
Since the decision by the appeal board, the town has now stated in a typed letter "The Witless Bay Council wishes to clarify that a removal order was issued for a structure that was built, without a permit, on an undersized lot that had exceeded its maximum lot coverage prior to the structure being erected."
The Town has now stated we have exceeded our lot coverage, something that was never mentioned in the reasoning for the removal order. They are basing this off development regulation amendments that define minimum lot size in the residential zone as 1/2 acre. This lot size backstop was put in place as of 2013, and was based on the lot size used in new subdivisions in and around town. The traditional, smaller lot sizes of many properties in Witless Bay do not comply with this amendment, but as any other pre-existing development parameter would, is grandfathered in. The argument that we are exceeding our lot coverage (due to smaller lot size) does not make sense, and is being applied incorrectly as an excuse, as council made no mention of it when they initially received the application and put it through to discretionary notice.
My wife and I have taken down our coop in accordance with the removal order; however, we are reapplying at the March 2019 meeting. We are taxpayers, respectful citizens, and honest members of the community who have gone through all the proper channels to have our coop. We are hoping the council will see reason and that we are within our rights to have the coop.
All we are looking for is to be treated fairly, as there are many other families in the community and on our street who keep chickens on their residential properties, in coops, with no repercussions. A misplaced concern is no reason to deny someone an application. Witless Bay Town Council has the discretion to allow us our coop and therefore we are asking for their approval as our coop poses no actual threat or nuisance to anyone around us.
We need your support. If you agree that the Witless Bay Town Council should allow us to have our 4' by 4' chicken coop, please make your support known to the Town of Witless Bay, Department of Municipal Affairs, and the local MHA - Keith Hutchings, by signing this petition.
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