GARDINER — A proposed ordinance change that would allow small livestock in residential areas will get its first public reading in two weeks now that city councilors have decided to push the controversial issue forward.

The council’s unanimous decision Wednesday night to consider making a change to city rules came three weeks after the Planning Board didn’t recommend doing that.

Some residents have complained because city officials are allowing one family to raise two pygmy goats, which violates a city ordinance.

Deborah Willis, chairwoman of the Ordinance Review Committee and the Planning Board, said this issue has elicited the most passionate and polarizing response she’s dealt with in her 17 years of service to Gardiner.

“This is a very heated issue for the city,” she said.

City Manager Scott Morelli said officials are waiting until the council rules on any changes before enforcing the current ordinance. He’s directed the city staff to work with a consultant to prepare the draft for the council to consider at its March 20 meeting.

The council plans to hold two public hearings before a final vote.

Councilors haven’t said whether they would pass the ordinance; but proceeding with it shows they, unlike the Planning Board, are open to allowing small livestock such as pygmy goats in residential areas.

“I think we need to take a stand now instead of kicking the can down the road and hoping this goes away,” said Councilor Phil Hart, although he expressed concern about the enforceability of any new rules.

It’s likely some restrictions in the draft, including minimum setback requirements, will be altered before the public hearing. Morelli told councilors to speak with the city staff before the meeting about changes they would like.

Councilor Robert Logan Johnston said he would support changing parts of the draft, but he doesn’t see why they can’t find a way to allow small livestock if the city lets residents raise chickens and own large dogs in residential areas.

The Ordinance Review Committee worked on the draft over several meetings from October to January before passing it on the Planning Board for review.

However, the Planning Board refused to make any recommendation at its Feb. 12 meeting. One board member, Pam Mitchell, made a motion to proceed with the issue, modify it as they saw fit and send it to the council. No one seconded the motion, so the meeting adjourned without any action.

Willis, the board and committee chairwoman, told councilors during her presentation Wednesday night that Planning Board members thought the ordinance change accommodates only a few people and doesn’t warrant the board time needed to discuss and prepare it for the council.

Willis said a few residents expressed interest in raising small livestock in areas of the city where they are banned, but most public comments during the committee’s meetings concerned the family raising two pygmy goats on Plaisted Street.

Chandler and Marcina Johnston got the goats over the summer after speaking with city officials and thinking it was allowed, Marcina Johnston said.

Willis said the committee wrote the draft with the entire city in mind and without regard to whether it would work for particular residents, such as the Johnstons.

Now the draft ordinance calls for 30-foot setbacks from abutting properties and 50-foot setbacks from other homes. It probably would allow the Johnsons to continue raising the goats with modifications to their pen area, but Marcina Johnston said she’s hoping for less restrictive setbacks.

Opposition to the ordinance has included concern about decreased property values and a worry that the city would be opening the floodgates to widespread livestock raising throughout residential neighborhoods.

One resident who spoke at the Planning Board meeting, Robert Rapalus, expressed concern that allowing small goats and sheep in residential areas could set a precedent for allowing other livestock down the road. He said he’s concerned about the effect on the entire city but doesn’t have a stake in any individual cases.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]