Phil Bofia talks about chickens Monday during a planning board meeting in Waterville. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The Planning Board on Monday voted 4-2 to recommend the City Council change the required lot size for residents wanting to keep chickens from 10,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet and maintain the city’s current setback requirements.

Pleasantdale Avenue resident Phil Bofia, who keeps six chickens, asked the board to change not only the lot size requirement but also the setback requirements, saying they prohibit many people from being able to keep chickens. Currently, the city ordinance says hen houses and pens must be at least 15 feet from side and rear property lines and at least 20 feet from the nearest home.

“I think it’s pretty restrictive,” Bofia said of the city ordinance.

Bofia, whose house lot is 5,000-square-feet, is in violation of the city’s chicken rules. A former city councilor who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the recent election, Bofia told the council Oct. 20 that he didn’t know the city had an ordinance regulating chickens when he got his.

His next-door neighbor, Danielle Bragg, told the Planning Board in an email that she has concerns about his chickens, including the potential for increased predators, the chickens creating a breeding ground for vermin and offensive odors. She said when she bought her home in 2013, the city’s current ordinance was in place, and she would not have expected a chicken coop to be built within 10 feet of her house.

If the council were to approve the recommendation by the Planning Board to change the lot size requirement to 8,000 square feet, Bofia would not be able to keep chickens on his 5,000-square-foot lot, which is the smallest buildable lot size in the city.

Board member Samantha Burdick said she did a lot of reading on chickens, and she thinks Waterville’s rules, which are similar to Portland’s, should remain as they are.  She said she does not think having a coop 5 feet from a property line is enough. Chickens draw a variety of pests, most notably rats, she said, adding that she thought the city’s ordinance was developed with careful consideration of how to humanely keep chickens.

Mayor-elect Jay Coelho said he favors changing the lot size to 8,000 square feet. Board member Bruce White said he thought the issue of lot size is not as important as the issue concerning distance to property line. Board Chairman Paul Lussier said that he grew up having chickens, and a proper coop will prevent the birds from suffering in the winter. Rats, he said, will get to a coop whether it’s 5 feet or 50 feet from the property line.

“It all comes down to proper housekeeping and keeping your chickens safe,” he said.

Bofia insisted regulations prohibiting most people from keeping chickens are too restrictive.

“I’m just saying we should include the maximum amount of people,” he said.

As a compromise, Burdick moved to decrease the lot requirement to 8,000 square feet but maintain the current setback requirements. Board member Thomas Stephen DePre seconded her motion. Lussier and board member Steve Crate voted in favor of her motion, but White and board member Neal Patterson voted against it.

The Planning Board has authority to recommend zoning changes to the council, but only the council can change zoning rules. Lussier noted the matter now goes to the council, and Bofia will have a chance to present his concerns to councilors.

The City Council voted 3-3 Oct. 20 to refer to the Planning Board for public hearing and recommendation a request from Bofia to reconsider changing regulations in the zoning ordinance regarding the keeping of chickens. Mayor Nick Isgro broke the tie in favor of sending the matter to the Planning Board. Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, voted against referring the matter to the Planning Board. Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, and councilors Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, and Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, voted to refer it to the board.

In other matters Monday, the board voted 6-0 to recommend to the City Council zoning ordinance changes that would allow a $4 million-plus indoor community skating rink to be built by the Alfond Youth & Community Center on city-owned property next to the center at 132 North St. The rink would be housed in a 28,800-square-foot building to be constructed on the site. The lot is between the municipal pool and playground and tennis courts.

The city is requesting part of the North Street property be rezoned from Resource Protection to Institutional Zone; that the shoreland part of the property be rezoned from Resource Protection to Class B Shoreland; and that the building setback be reduced in the Institutional Zone.

The board also considered an informal pre-application for the community ice rink. No vote was required Monday.

City Manager Michael Roy represented the city on the matter; lawyer James LaLiberty represented the Alfond Center and Central Maine Youth Hockey, which is also working on the project.

Roy said the rink has been discussed for a couple of years and officials think the North Street site is the best place to put it where it is accessible to children and others. He said this is the first time in 65 years that there is no indoor skating rink in the city.

Ken Walsh, chief executive officer of the Alfond Center, said the project has garnered $2 million so far and another $4 million or $5 million will have to be raised.

The council Tuesday is expected to consider approving a lease with the Alfond Center for the property, which would enable the Alfond Center to launch a capital campaign to raise funds for the project. If the project is approved in the future, the city would lease the property on which it is built to the Alfond Center. It would be a 99-year lease, like the one the city has for the Alfond Center itself.

Anna Thomas of Roosevelt Avenue said the proposed site is a few hundred feet from her property, and she had some concerns about the project, including where the basketball court will be relocated.

Crate said that, like Thomas, he would like to see where, on the building plans, the basketball court would be relocated.

“When we come back for the final plan review, we will have a spot,” Roy said of the basketball court.

The board also voted 6-0 to recommend the City Council approve proposed rules regarding short-term residential rental units in the city.

The city’s zoning ordinance does not now include regulations for short-term residential rentals. The city started exploring proposed regulations after receiving complaints from people who live next or near to them.

Planning Board members for a few months have been discussing proposed rules, and recently board member Steve Crate volunteered to head up a committee to investigate rules that would be appropriate for such units in Waterville.

In a separate matter, White asked if future board meetings would be held remotely, considering the uptick of COVID-19 cases in the state. The City Council has been meeting in person, but also has the meetings livestreamed for the public, he noted.

“There’s no reason we can’t, if the council can do this,” he said.

City Planner Ann Beverage said she thinks it is a good idea, but she has no budget for doing that. Lussier said he did not think it is Beverage’s responsibility to ensure that happens — that it lies with the city administration.

The council meets in Mid-Day Cafe at the Mid-Maine Technical Center and the equipment for livestreaming is kept in that room because it is a big job to move it each time there is a meeting. The school board also meets in the Mid-Day Cafe, on the same nights the Planning Board meets in another room at the technical center. The city has been looking into possibly moving the livestream equipment to the Children’s Discovery Museum on Eustis Parkway so that both the council and Planning Board could meet there and the meetings could be livestreamed.

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