There are chicken coops in Cochrane, remnants of days past, but there are no chickens and it will remain that way for now.
By a close 4-3 vote, Cochrane town council has turned down the proposal to establish a two-year "Urban Hens" pilot program that would have seen a maximum of 72 chickens kept securely in people's yards.
Though she did not make a presentation, pilot project advocate Jennifer Walden went to the council meeting with a glimmer of hope the new council would be more receptive to the concept because it's rooted in promoting sustainability. But she left frustrated and believes council took a major leap backwards.
"Honestly, I thought this new council had more insight into a sustainable future for this town," says Walden. "When we went in last night, it was like starting from scratch again."
"I think maybe the new councillors don’t realize we’re not the only community proposing this. This is something that is rampant."
It's the fifth time she's gone to council in a year and the third vote and she has no intention of presenting again in the near future, especially following Mayor Genung's fireside summary of the council meeting aired on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
"The way he put it was so you can count on no chickens in Cochrane anytime soon. That to me says they have made a decision and they’re not willing to even look at again or to negotiate or learn about it."
Councillors opposed to the pilot program had varied reasons. Councillor Morgan Nagel, who had voted in favor of moving the project forward for discussion last time, was now opposed largely because he saw it as a major administrative headache. Patrick Wilson, too, seemed to be concerned about related administrative costs. Alex Reed is opposed to encouraging agricultural activities in an urban centre and believes the rights of the few shouldn't supersede the major outcry of opposition. Marni Fedeyko was concerned neighbours would not be able to voice opposition to an application and believes it would infringe upon their rights.
Those in favor believed the research completed answered any concerns they may have had and believed establishing 18 pilot sites was not a big issue in a community the size of Cochrane.
Mayor Jeff Genung says his mom doesn't support his position, and he has no intention of adding chickens to his backyard but he supported the pilot project, saying if it fails it can be withdrawn. He also believed it ties in with the community's agricultural roots.
Extensive research on the proposal was completed by town planner Nicole Tomes and included consultations with wildlife officials and a number of municipalities with existing programs. She reviewed the bylaws incorporated by municipalities, including the cities of Edmonton, St. Alberta and Red Deer and several towns including nearby Okotoks.
The bylaw prepare has extensive rules and regulations and licensing requirements as well as penalties and enforcement protocol.
Walden says it is largely based upon a successful program in Okotoks.
"Most of the communities around us allow chickens and now even Airdrie does. The only ones that don’t are Cochrane and Calgary. Communities are now adapting it without going to a pilot phase at all."
"We’re talking about 72 chickens in a town of 30,000 people. It's just been blown way out of proportion, It’s just crazy."
She believes keeping chickens in Cochrane in the past was not that uncommon and permissible until 2005, although the town won't grant her access to archived bylaws. She believes it was changed to align with the ousting of chickens by the City of Calgary.
She finds irony in council rejecting the idea the same night they were talking about smart cities as a route to sustainability for Cochrane.
"We do they these things to be smart, but at the same time, part of being smart is being sustainable. I don’t think we should separate the two really, it should all be a discussion together."
She found it odd to hear concerns over allowing agriculture to crept into an urban setting when Cochrane's roots are agriculture and we have a celebrated bronze of the chicken lady in our Historic Downtown.
"We're sitting in the chambers next to all these horses and we’re arguing that we’re not an agricultural town. I don’t think anyone is trying to make it an agricultural town, it’s about responsible pet ownership. No one is saying they want to breed chickens in their backyard. We’re talking about four chickens, maximum, like, it blows my mind."