After nearly a year of debate over a city ordinance that would regulate hobby farming in Westbrook, city councilors sent a proposed ordinance back to the Westbrook Planning Board Monday.

The city’s Committee of the Whole, which consists of all seven city councilors, continued Monday to work through the details of the proposed ordinance to allow certain farm creatures on urban property.

The ordinance would allow hobby farming in residential zones and rural zones, but in two residential zones the hobby farming would be restricted to fowl and bees. Hobby farming is the keeping of farm-associated animals, such as chickens, swine or horses, as pets or for personal uses like collecting fresh eggs. Hobby farmers are limited to $500 a year in profit from their farm animals.

Councilor Drew Gattine felt the proposed ordinance was too restrictive at its first reading, on July 2. The current ordinance does not allow any hobby farming. Gattine further explained his concerns at Monday’s committee meeting, suggesting that hobby farming should not be a land-use issue, but a nuisance issue like a barking dog. He recommended that hobby farming be permitted under special exception in all zoning districts.

Council President Brendan Rielly added a recommendation that the need to go to the full planning board for a special exception to conduct hobby farming be struck. Instead, he suggested that neighbors be notified of a resident’s intent to hobby farm, and the case would end up at the planning board only if a neighbor expressed concern.

The debate over hobby farming began last fall, when one chicken keeper and one beekeeper in Westbrook were put on notice that their operations were not permitted. The planning board came up with the ordinance presented to the council in July, which received strong support from the few residents in attendance, including Mark Leclair, the beekeeper.

The ordinance as it was presented to councilors in July included zoning ordinances that regulated where hobby farming is permitted in the city, as well as general ordinances regulating how to keep fowl and bees.

The zoning ordinance allowed special exceptions for hobby farming in Residential Growth Areas 1, 2 and 3, though restricted the practice to the keeping of fowl, poultry and bees in areas 1 and 2, and in 3 if the resident’s lot size was less than the zone’s minimum lot size. Hobby farming in rural districts is permitted without exception.

The general ordinance outlined a basic standard of practice to ensure the hobby farming would not be a nuisance to neighbors. The fowl rules, for example, include provisions for fencing in the animals, the confinement and disposal of manure and set a maximum of six birds for a 10,000-square-foot lot, or 12 for a 20,000-square-foot lot.

Councilor John O’Hara was concerned that Gattine was being too carefree by opening all areas to hobby farming of all animals, noting that there was no ordinance designed to limit the number of goats, sheep or horses someone may keep in residential areas.

“We’re not opening a Pandora’s box here, are we?” O’Hara asked Eric Dudley, the city engineer.

Gattine suggested there may be a need to craft general ordinances akin to the fowl and bee ordinances.

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