December 3, 2012

Gardiner ordinance committee revises proposal for keeping intown sheep, goats

Process will require Planning Board and City Council review, additional public hearings, before becoming law

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

GARDINER -- Intown residents who want to own livestock could keep up to two goats or two sheep, once an ordinance allowing livestock in the city is hammered out.

click image to enlarge

Marciana Johnson is raising goats with her family in the back yard of their Gardiner home, prompting a newly proposed city ordinance to allow goats and sheep to be kept in high-density residential areas.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

But that possibility is still a long way from becoming reality.

The Ordinance Review Committee on Monday finished sketching out an ordinance that would allow small livestock in residential areas. If the city eventually allows farm animals in high-density residential areas, it would be the first such ordinance in the state, according to committee Chairwoman Deborah Willis, who is also chairwoman of the Planning Board.

The committee has yet to draft a proposal, though, and it would also require two public hearings and Planning Board approval before the City Council would make a final decision.

The committee will likely consider such a proposal at its Jan. 7 meeting.

The public will have an additional opportunity to voice opinions, possibly at the Tuesday, Jan. 22, Planning Board meeting. The board will then pass recommendations on to the City Council, and the public would again get a chance to speak, before the council votes on a final ordinance.

"It's a hot-button issue," said Willis.

No Maine municipalities currently allow small livestock in high-density residential zones, she said; most communities where livestock can be raised require landowners to have at least two acres. The committee will likely suggest a miniumum 4,000 square feet of open space for raising livestock.

Some communities elsewhere in the country, particularly on the West Coast, have ordinances allowing small livestock with no minimum lot size requirement, she said.

The committee discussed allowing up to two goats or two sheep, weighing less than 100 pounds each, in residential areas. The animals must be either females or neutered males, dehorned and vaccinated for rabies.

In addition to the 4,000 square feet requirement, the committee discussed requiring a 30-foot buffer between pen areas and property lines, as well as a 50-foot buffer between fencing and any neighboring, occupied homes.

Willis said the review committee has the advantage of being an advising body, while the council must answer to the public for its decision.

The council will have to balance the growing desire of people to eat more local food with people who may not want livestock next door, she said.

"I don't know how they're going to deal with that," she said.

The committee has held two public comment meetings on the issue and crafted the suggested provisions over three subsequent meetings.

Chandler and Marcina Johnson, of Plaisted Street, spurred the ordinance discussion when they began raising two pygmy goats at their house, in violation of city ordinance. The Johnsons raise the goats for milk.

The issue came to the city's attention when neighbors complained about the goats.

City Manager Scott Morelli has said the city will wait until the City Council can review the proposal before enforcing the current ordinance.

Paul Koenig -- 621-5663

pkoenig@mainetoday.com

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