WATERVILLE — City councilors on Tuesday voted 7-0 to allow people in residential zones to keep up to six laying hens under specific conditions.

It was the first of three votes needed to finalize the matter.

It was the second time in two years that the council has considered allowing people to have hens; the last time was in 2010, when councilors approved it but Mayor Paul R. LePage, who now is governor, vetoed the action.

Residents who support having hens in the city say they want to raise their own eggs as a healthier alternative to buying commercially raised eggs. Some also want to educate their children about raising their own food and buying locally grown produce.

Scott Workman, who lives in Ward 3, said he moved to Waterville from Lawrence, Kan., where an ordinance was passed to allow chickens.

But he urged councilors to lessen a restriction on the proposed regulations mandating that hen keepers have at least 10,000-square feet of property. He said that excludes about half of the city’s population.

Councilors ultimately decided to look into that possibility before they take their next vote on the issue in two weeks.

Councilor George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, said allowing chickens seems like a good idea, but asked how the ordinance would be enforced. He wondered if the city’s code enforcement officer, Garth Collins, isn’t already stretched too thin.

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said Collins would inspect sites where people have hens to make sure they comply with ordinance standards.

“After that, it’ll be like anything else — it’s going to be when somebody complains,” Thomas said.

The proposed regulations require hens be kept in enclosed coops at night and may be in outdoor wire pens during the day.

Thomas, Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, and City Manager Michael Roy said that they do not think the hen issue will be a problem, because they don’t think a lot of people will decide to keep them.

“That will play out as time goes on,” Roy said.

Thomas said having hens takes a large investment because standards must be followed. He said he has a friend in Portland who lives next door to someone who has chickens and they don’t pose problems.

“You wouldn’t even know they were there,” he said.

Ward 7 resident Heather Merrow, who supports allowing chickens, said she has an issue with an ordinance requirement that chicken pen wire be 12 inches deep in the ground.

Workman said wire pens in Kansas are such that they may be dragged around on the ground, and some have wheels, so that hens may trim grass and eat bugs in one area and then be moved to another area to do the same.

Thomas, who was a member of the Planning Board the last time the chicken issue was considered, said the wire wasn’t actually to keep the chickens in, but to keep predators out.

“But I’m no chicken expert,” he acknowledged.

Mayor Karen Heck retorted: “We’re all getting to be.”

Merrow said predators don’t bother chickens — that they mostly are interested in trash.

“The only predator that normally bothers chickens is a domestic dog or a cat that might go by,” she said.

No one at the meeting objected to allowing chickens, except Lena King, who was sitting in the back row and at the end of the discussion said, “No chickens.” When asked to go to the podium microphone to speak, she declined.

Currently, chickens are allowed only in the rural residential zone, which primarily is the area south of Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport, south of Kennedy Memorial Drive.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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