October 2, 2012

Hens approved for Waterville

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Expect to see chickens in some backyards after city councilors Tuesday voted 6-0 to allow people to have up to six laying hens in the residential zone.

click image to enlarge

EAT UP: James Bannen feeds chickens leftover table scraps in a coop at Jean Rosborough’s home in Vassalboro on Saturday morning.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The decision overturned one made two years ago when councilors approved the chicken request and then-Mayor Paul LePage vetoed it.

Before Tuesday night, the only place chickens currently were allowed in the city was in the rural residential zone, which is primarily south of Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport.

Resident Scott Workman urged the council to approve the chicken request. A former Kansas resident, Workman said henkeeping was popular there. He commended City Planner Ann Beverage and Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins for devising proposed changes to the city's zoning ordinance regarding chickens and the proper keeping of the birds.

"I think they've done due diligence in drafting this," Workman said.

Councilor George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, asked that a rule requiring henkeepers to have 10,000 square feet of property -- a little less than a quarter of an acre -- be changed to 7,500 square feet. An acre is 43,560 square feet. Workman had recommended the decrease.

Myers said requiring 10,000 square feet excludes many property owners from being able to have hens.

"It's almost like we're making a class decision to back people who are fortunate enough to have larger property, and that's a stickler for me," Myers said.

Beverage said 55 percent of property owners would qualify to have hens if the 10,000-square-foot minimum requirement were in place.

The amendment didn't pass after councilors deadlocked 3-3 on it.

Myers and councilors Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, and Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, approved the proposed change; Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, and councilors Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and John O'Donnell, D-Ward 5, opposed it. Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, was absent from the meeting.

Thomas said the 10,000 square foot requirement will allow the city to have time to assess the situation.

"This isn't the end of this discussion," he said. "This is just a start, to see how it goes."

Anyone wanting to house chickens must get a permit from the city and follow strict regulations. Henhouses and pens will be inspected by Collins for a $25 fee.

Stubbert asked Workman if he had any idea how many people in Waterville are interested in having chickens.

"Probably five," Workman said.

"I'm wondering how we're going to accumulate any data if nobody does it," Stubbert said.

Meanwhile, O'Donnell revealed that at least one city resident -- Heather Merrow -- houses laying hens in the prohibited residential zone.

"Heather already has chickens, I'm told," he said.

Merrow piped up from the back of the room, "Heather's harboring illegal chickens, yes," she said, to giggles from the audience.

Winslow apparently also was aware of Merrow's fowl activities.

"I can attest to one thing, though," Winslow said. "They (Merrow's eggs) make a terrific, terrific quiche."

Her comment drew more laughter.

Earlier in the meeting, Merrow announced she will take part in a turkey roundup Saturday at Elm Plaza and will be dressed like a turkey. She said she and others involved in the event will raise money to buy turkeys for area food banks.

"So, every ticket purchased for $5 will put a turkey on somebody's table for Thanksgiving," she said.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

acalder@centralmaine.com

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