GARDINER — Residents are butting heads over whether the city should allow small farm animals within residential areas.
Members of the Ordinance Review Committee at their Monday meeting voted unanimously to continue discussing the issue in an effort to draft an ordinance to allow some types of small farm animals in residential zones.
The issue arose when some neighbors complained after Chandler and Marcina Johnson of Plaisted Street got two pygmy goats in June. No livestock animals are allowed in high density residential zones, such as where the Johnson’s live.
Hilda Whitmore, 76, who lives diagonally across from the Johnson’s backyard on Clifton Street, said the smell from the goats keeps her from opening her windows and caused visiting friends to ask if she lives next to a dump.
“It’s disgusting,” she said.
The Johnsons also have six hens, which are allowed. They petitioned the city to change the ordinance to allow small farm animals like pygmy goats, according to City Manager Scott Morelli. Two other couples have also expressed interest in having pygmy goats and sheep in zones that don’t allow livestock.
Morelli said the city won’t enforce the ordinance until the City Council can review the issue.
Marcina Johnson said they gathered statements from three of the four abutting neighbors who said they have no problem with the goats.
A few committee members and director of economic development Nate Rudy said they had stopped by the property and didn’t smell evidence of the goats from the road.
The Johnsons keep the goats for their milk. “I believe in eating local when you can, and you can’t get any more local than (your) backyard,” she said, adding that she wants to know what’s being fed to the animals providing milk to her family.
“It’s all about feeding yourself the way you want and having the freedom to do so,” Mercina Johnson said.
During the review committee’s Monday meeting, David Cichoski, Gardiner’s code enforcement officer, presented his findings of the research he did on other Maine cities and towns with ordinances allowing small farm animals in residential zones. Towns with ordinances usually require at least 1 or 2 acres with at least a 30-foot buffer between the animals and abutting property lines, he said.
Committee member John Burgess said he’s concerned the effect livestock will have on the value of property and ensuring the health of the animals. Other committee members were concerned about the potential burden on city resources caused by having to review every property on which the owner wants to raise livestock. Some panel members pointed out that this likely won’t be a very large number.
Committee members agreed that any ordinance allowing certain livestock would require objective regulations for a code enforcement officer or representative of the city to easily enforce.
They discussed possible regulations that included a minimum setback from property lines, required fences and minimum lot sizes for a set number of animals. They also said the wanted to clarify which animals would be allowed under a new ordinance.
Any ordinance changes the committee drafts will be recommended to the Planning Board, which would recommend changes to the City Council for final adoption.
Deborah Willis, chairwoman of the committee, said it’s important to draft new ordinances with the entire community in mind and not just the parties involved in this dispute.
The Johnsons, who have a four-foot-high metal cattle fence for the goats, said they would accept a smaller pen if it was needed to comply with a new code ordinance. But Mercina Johnson said she doesn’t think any changes, apart from getting rid of the goats, would appease the neighbors with complaints.
“I don’t think there’s a single way I can make them happy,” she said.
Whitmore said she’ll only be satisfied if the city ousts the goats, and said they’ve already been allowed for too long.
“I still say they should not be that close to the city,” she said.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663