Hobby farmer needs more than two acres to keep chickens, livestock, North Dundas insists

Christina Suffel with one of her chickens. Christina Suffel/Facebook photos

INKERMAN — Christina Suffel must stop feeding her family of eight with nutritious eggs laid by the hens at her rural Eastern Ontario property. The Township of North Dundas says she has run afoul of a bylaw prohibiting the keeping of livestock — including chickens — on residential property.

It has ordered Suffel to remove her eight rabbits, two miniature donkeys, two horses and “large number” of poultry and waterfowl from her Inkerman Road yard by June 12. The family’s three dogs and cat are the only animals allowed to stay, she says.

“The kids love to help gather the eggs. It’s like a daily Easter egg hunt,” says Suffel, a mother of four whose blended household includes her boyfriend and his two children. They also grow a vegetable garden at the property to save additional food costs.

“If I can get food from my own yard, why wouldn’t I? Why would I go to the store and possibly infect my kids [with COVID-19]?” asks Suffel, who is spearheading an online petition she intends to present to township council. Close to 2,500 people have put their names on the campaign to amend the bylaw so far.

According to the township, properties of less than five acres, as well as residential yards carved from their original farms, can’t be used to keep livestock. At a little over two acres, the involved address apparently fails on both counts. Suffel says she grew up at the property when it was part of her family’s then-100-acre farm. However, the bulk of the land was severed and sold off in 2010, fatefully removing farm status from the retained portion. On the ground, of course, nothing has changed: In the family since Confederation, the Suffel place remains a farmhouse and yard amid actively farmed fields.

“The subject property was a surplus dwelling.  Once the severance occurs, the property becomes a residential lot in an agricultural area. In short, it is no longer a farm property,” explains North Dundas Planning Director Calvin Pol, referring to Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement that informs the township’s definition of a residential property in its own bylaws.

The same provincial policy also demands such severances leave only the minimum amount of land required to accommodate a well and septic system for the surplus dwelling — about two acres in the case of Suffel’s property. Ironically, that would have been just enough to have livestock at the site until October 2013, when the township raised the animal-keeping threshold in its zoning bylaw to five acres, about six months before Suffel says she moved back to her childhood home.

North Dundas says it was acting on a complaint in moving against Suffel on May 26. She faces a maximum fine of $25,000 should she refuse to comply and the municipality proceeds to lay charges under the involved zoning bylaw covering the former Mountain Township.

She says Mayor Tony Fraser did visit her property recently with an offer of extending the deadline to remove the animals.

With some bemusement Suffel observes that, in six years, there has never been an issue with her collection of animals, which she acknowledges at one point included a herd of 25 goats. Her troubles seem to coincide with the hiring of a new bylaw enforcement officer at the township this spring, she says.

She’s also been ordered to seek a building permit after four 10-by-10-foot structures — each too small to require a permit — were recently connected with a single roof.

Other feathers have been ruffled recently over backyard chickens in North Dundas.

An anonymous resident told NVN recently that she had to give up her birds, effective May 28 — in that case because of a noise complaint. She did not disclose her actual name or location in the township. However, Mayor Fraser confirmed the action, saying it pertained to another bylaw prohibiting livestock inside the boundaries of a hamlet. That particular rule also ensnared a Winchester resident’s pet pot-bellied pig within the last couple of years.

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