The last regular meeting of the 2018-2022 Pelham Town Council occurs virtually on Nov. 7, 2022. TOWN OF PELHAM/YOU TUBE

The last chapter of the 2018-2022 Pelham Town Council came to a close on Nov. 7, with members deferring a polarizing issue to the next governing body, set to be sworn in Nov. 21.

Mayor Marvin Junkin and Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt— along with outgoing councillors Lisa Haun, Ron Kore, and Marianne Stewart — voted to defer the issue of urban hens until the new council convenes. Councillors John Wink and Wayne Olson voted against, hoping to uphold a ban on the backyard cluckers.

Following numerous citizen complaints, council heard during its Oct. 3 meeting that Pelham already bans chickens and ducks on urban zone properties, but councillors instructed staff to provide a report on dealing with such matters in the future. That staff report, released for last Monday’s meeting, recommends allowing residents to keep such birds under a licencing structure.

It recommends permitting a maximum of six hens on lots less than two hectares in size, with up to 20 permitted on rural lots greater than two hectares, all including mandatory licencing fees.

It remains to be seen how the new council will vote on the matter, but Wink adamantly stressed he remains against the idea of urban hens.

“The density requirements have been put on us because of the province, and I’ll fight this tooth and nail,” the re-elected Ward 2 councillor said. “How can we turn it over at this point in time when we essentially approved the [existing] bylaw.”

CAO David Cribbs said the Town is approaching the matter from a purely legal perspective, and pointed out that this is the fifth municipality in which he’s dealt with the issue.

“We are suggesting not changing the zoning bylaw, but however carving out an area — if it is the will of the majority of council — to allow chickens in backyards and do it through a licencing regime,” the CAO said. “No matter what our personal thoughts are, whether it’s a good idea or not, I think we’re all in agreement that licencing would be the way to do it, if that’s the will of council.”

Junkin admitted his thoughts have evolved on the matter. After he cited the concern of chicken feed attracting vermin during the Oct. 3 meeting, the Mayor now says he has consulted with owners of larger backyards and is aware of a growing citizen petition to allow the fowl.

“To cover it all with one blanket, I just don’t agree with that,” Junkin said. “The situation we had in East Fonthill was intolerable for the neighbours,” he added, citing complaints of multiple chickens being kept on a small lot.

Either way, it’s set to cause fireworks on the next council given polarization among residents regarding the issue — something outgoing Councillor Lisa Haun alluded to.

“There is a lot of social media back-and-forth and some name-calling happening now too, which is kind of upsetting to hear,” Haun said. “It’s good to have debate, but I don’t think anybody needs to be glued to an opposing view.”

Fellow outgoing Councillor Marianne Stewart went a step further, voicing support for the backyard birds.

If the City of Toronto can manage to have urban hens, I don’t understand why it would be impossible for us

“If the City of Toronto can manage to have urban hens, I don’t understand why it would be impossible for us,” Stewart said. “We’re not talking about putting it on a townhouse lot … to the point of the chickens attracting vermin, so what’s next, we’re going to ban backyard birdfeeders, because they attract more than birds. You’ve got squirrels, chipmunks, mice and rats, they’re all hungry.”

Haun, Kore and Stewart will be replaced on council by Shellee Niznik, Brian Eckhardt, and Kevin Ker, respectively.

Staffer: Ford’s bill “disruptive”

In a somewhat related matter that also promises to be controversial in Pelham, council touched on Premier Doug Ford’s recent “More Homes Built Faster” Bill 23, which is already being fast-tracked through the Ontario Legislature. Approval is a mere formality at this point, and the bill will likely be one of the most significant pro-development actions in the province’s history. Among other features, the bill will allow the province to override municipalities on the subdividing of lots and is set to remove development charges on new builds.

The latter will come at a substantial financial cost to communities like Pelham, something Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson asked Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens about.

“There will be a number of impacts on the Town,” Wiens said. “It’s very disruptive at this time.”

Wiens added she is hoping to have a staff report ready on those impacts next month.

Ford’s bill has also come under fire from environmental groups given the plan to expand development into the province’s Greenbelt — something that will affect Niagara, specifically Grimsby to start. Additionally, Ontario anti-poverty advocates have said that the plan only pays lip service to the affordable housing crisis, something Wiens touched upon.

“[The province is] about building more houses faster. Whether or not those houses will be affordable or not is still another question,” she said. “Government does not and cannot influence the price of housing. At this point in time a lot of the details have not been released. There’s a lot of unanswered questions here.”

Not enough fields

As part of its 2023 budget open house, the Town heard from various delegations looking for more money next year. One of them was the Pelham Soccer Club, which said it doesn’t have enough fields for its growing youth and adult membership. The club asked the Town to prioritize construction of a planned third soccer pitch at Fenwick’s Centennial Park, currently included in the Master Plan for 2024. The organization is also hoping to include a new shared-use clubhouse at the site.

While available funds are finite, smaller Canadian municipalities such as Pelham have always lagged behind many similar-sized U.S. communities in terms of updating community sports infrastructure, something Wink pointed out.

“I don’t want to be too negative on this, but I know when my kids played sports, a lot of the facilities, whether it was soccer or baseball, those facilities were much, much better than the facilities that we have in town,” Wink said. “And I know we’ve got limited resources, but we’ve got to work towards some type of solution to making our fields better.”

Wink inquired if the soccer fields that were next to the old arena on Haist Street could be resurrected after redevelopment was complete, but Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay said they could not because the requisite parking is gone.

In terms of improving existing soccer fields, Public Works Manager Ryan Cook said that would likely come with a similar request regarding Town baseball diamonds — which, if combined, at certain specifications, would cost about $80,000 per year. He added that converting the surfaces to artificial turf would double those costs.

Cribbs summarized the discussion by saying that staff is “not deaf to concept” of new sports fields.

Odds and ends

Public Works Director Jason Marr said that additional reconstruction work on Sulphur Springs Road was “proceeding well” and that it was expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Reading from a prepared statement, Kore was the only outgoing representative to address the end of the council term, wishing the new group well. “It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the residents of this wonderful community,” Kore said. “I wish the new council all the best, and I hope they continue with the great work that we started.” After Kore’s remarks, Mayor Junkin opened the floor to similar sentiments, but none were forthcoming from outgoing Councillors Haun or Stewart.