AUGUSTA — A proposal to change zoning rules to accommodate a potential new tropical fish-breeding business has some worried about what the new zoning could bring to a large part of the city.

The Planning Board recommended aquaculture be allowed as a conditional use in all zones where agriculture is allowed after the City Council asked the board to take a look at the proposal. That would include at least six zoning districts that together cover about two-thirds of the city’s land area, according to Matt Nazar, the city’s deputy development director, .

Aquaculture is not allowed now in any zoning districts in the city.

Some councilors and residents expressed concern that the change could open up residential areas of the city to business development, particularly because aquaculture is a relatively new and unknown industry in Augusta, about an hours’ drive from the ocean.

Councilor Patrick Paradis said while raising tropical fish sounds relatively harmless, allowing aquaculture business in so many areas of the city could also bring less desirable operations to neighborhoods.

“We’re explaining this ideal use of aquaculture as some sort of indoor, goldfish breeding facility, wonderful,” Paradis said. “Then, a year later, a gentleman from Rockland wants to take fish and seaweed and mix it, and he’d like to sell it. We’re not here, at least I’m not, thinking we want to turn away a potential new endeavor in the city. But we have plenty of industrial areas where this could work, they’re just not in this gentleman’s backyard. We don’t have to open up rural residential areas for such an endeavor.”

Others are concerned that rejecting proposed zoning changes to accommodate potential new business could turn away jobs at a time when they’re desperately needed.

The issue arose in response to Joseph Sutton’s proposal to start a business breeding tropical fish and processing live imported mussels for resale, and possibly also cleaning clams of red tide, on land he owns surrounding Uncle Henry’s, a classified advertising publication, on Route 17. Sutton also owns Uncle Henry’s.

Sutton has not submitted a formal business proposal to the city, but Jim Coffin, of Coffin Engineering, spoke on his behalf Thursday.

Coffin said the business would be in a to-be-built 7,200-square-foot, single-story building, on a private septic system, and employ between seven and 10 workers. He said the business could likely produce an odor similar to that at a seafood market in a city.

Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau suggested allowing aquaculture in the zone where the business would be located, but in no other zones.

“There’s no sense putting aquaculture everywhere if this is the only applicant,” he said.

Nazar said the city doesn’t consider the mussel-processing aspect of the potential new business to be aquaculture, just the tropical fish breeding part. The live mussel processing would be regulated as light manufacturing under the city’s zoning regulations.

Currently neither aquaculture nor light manufacturing such as mussel processing are allowed in the primarily residential zone in which the potential new business would be located.

Councilors debated the issue for about an hour Thursday. No votes were taken.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]