Nfld. & Labrador

Couple says witless reasons at root of order to tear down chicken coop in Witless Bay

They just wanted to raise three chickens, but the town council and a family of complainants had other ideas, says a couple in Witless Bay.

Appeal denied as board rules Town of Witless Bay right to deny coop

Gideon Barker and Jaclyn Humphries were compelled to move to Witless Bay for a rural lifestyle in a town they believed embraced homesteading. (Submitted by Gideon Barker)

There ain't nobody here but three chickens — McNugget, Bean and Lentil, to be specific — but the Town of Witless Bay has ordered their little, yellow coop must go.

Gideon Barker and Jaclyn Humphries say illogical, backwards thinking has put a damper on what was supposed to be a quiet, peaceful move to the town, which sits 30 minutes outside St. John's.

The couple has been ordered to remove their chicken coop — a neat, four-by-four structure outside their home, a decision that's now been backed by an appeals board. 

"It's very frustrating. We're a little bewildered. It really took us by surprise," Gideon Barker said on Tuesday.

McNugget is one of three chickens living in a four-by-four coop in Witless Bay. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

The couple and their three chickens carefully decided to make Witless Bay home after researching which municipalities embraced homesteading. 

Witless Bay does allow for hobby farming under its bylaws. In fact, Barker said, there are two other chicken coops on their street.

Barker said they applied to build a coop in June 2017, a time when the Witless Bay town council was in turmoil.

Its mayor had resigned, council meetings went off the rails, and council matters weren't able to be dealt with because of a lack of members.

"The council was in disarray. They weren't sitting whatsoever. So, they weren't able to hold a quorum to be able to approve our permit," Barker said.

"We waited three full months and when the weather was beginning to change and our coop was still at our previous house that we had completely moved out of, we were pretty well pressured to bring our coop here."

The couple built the coop without the proper permit. Soon after, a new council was acclaimed.

This four by four chicken coop has become a point of contention in the small town of Witless Bay, a community 30 minutes outside of St. John's. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Once the coop-building began, the town received three complaints from the public over a possible increase in rodents due to the chickens, and concerns over possible water contamination. 

"We, of course, at the following meeting contested this point and we argued it, saying that the whole point is a little ridiculous, considering we're talking about a couple chickens here," he said. "We're not talking about some crazy farming operation. That seemed to have fallen on deaf ears."

Appeal doesn't fly

Barker believes all three complaints came from the same family. One of the addresses listed as home to a complainant is actually a vacant house nearby, Barker said.

Neither Mayor Rene Estrada or Deputy Mayor Maureen Murphy responded to CBC's requests for an interview.

Lentil, Bean and McNugget lived in two properties in St. John's, including this one in the downtown area. St. John's allows residents to own three chickens. (Submitted by Gideon Barker)

Barker and Humphries appealed to the Eastern Newfoundland Regional Appeals Board after the town denied their permit. The board's decision came back last week, upholding the town's denial.

In the decision, the board states the couple did not have a proper permit when they built the coop — and therefore, it must go.

We have also met some of the most backward-thinking individuals in our entire lives.- Gideon Barker

Barker is frustrated by the decision, since he believes there was no way to get a permit from the tattered remains of the town council at the time the coop needed to be built.

When asked if he would consider filing an application for a permit and starting the process all over again, Barker said he had little hope, given the opposition they've had so far.

"We were under the full impression that this would be just such a fantastic community to live in and to the credit of the people here, we have met some of the most amazing people in our entire lives in this community," he said. 

"We have also met some of the most backward-thinking individuals in our entire lives. We just cannot comprehend why this is such an issue and yet, for this council, and for the couple people who we unfortunately live near, this is a big issue."

'Not discouraging livestock'

Meanwhile, the town is standing by its decision, saying the coop was built without a permit, on an undersized lot. 

"The town did receive submissions from neighbours who opposed the application for the proposed chicken coop, council reviewed the submissions, and made a decision based on the concerns addressed within them," said a statement provided by Witless Bay town council Wednesday.

The council is adamant Witless Bay is not "discouraging livestock," but it has to be operating within the rules.

Jaclyn Humphries feeds her three chickens at the controversial coop outside their home in Witless Bay. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

"It is an unfortunate situation, not unlike others that municipal councillors have to deal [with] across the province on a daily basis."

Meanwhile, Barker said lot size did not come up when the town moved forward with the discretionary notice. 

He said the issue should be able to be dealt with through compromise.

"Erecting the coop without a permit is an extremely flimsy excuse as we had made every attempt possible to get the permit while the council was not sitting," Barker said in a followup email.

"It appears this council does not want us to have these chickens and they are using every excuse they can find to deny us from having them."

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About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

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