YARMOUTH — Residents will vote next month on a controversial ordinance that would prohibit certain registered sex offenders from moving near schools.

The proposed ordinance would prevent registered sex offenders convicted of felony crimes against anyone younger than 14 from establishing residency within 750 feet of public and private elementary, middle or secondary schools. If enacted, the ordinance would create an exclusion zone around Yarmouth schools and North Yarmouth Academy that would include most of Main Street and a residential area near three of the town’s schools.

Offenders who lived in the area prior to the ordinance would be exempt and it would not apply to licensed nursing homes or other medical facilities.

Three registered sex offenders live in Yarmouth, according to the Maine Sex Offender Registry.

Proponents of the new restrictions say it is a common-sense solution to keep students safe from sexual predators.

“I am just appalled that we don’t have an ordinance that prevents this,” said Alison Hinson, mother of a Yarmouth student, who is campaigning for the ordinance.


Even though Yarmouth is an affluent and well-educated community, it isn’t immune to problems such as sex offenders among its residents, Hinson said. The ordinance provides a reasonable buffer that is good for everyone involved, she added.

“Whatever is going on, let’s put that boundary right around the schools so anyone convicted of those crimes that would affect children cannot live near those schools,” Hinson said. “If you have been convicted of child pornography, probably a healthy boundary for you is to not be near a school.”

She has not been actively campaigning, but most people she has talked to have said a restriction makes sense, Hinson said. Hundreds of people signed a petition in favor of the ordinance earlier this year.

“The phrase most people use is ‘this is a no-brainer, I thought we had this already,’ ” Hinson said.

Other Maine communities, including Biddeford, Saco, South Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Falmouth, have implemented similar residency restrictions. Maine has no state law restricting where sex offenders can live, but it allows towns and cities to enact ordinances like the one considered in Yarmouth.

But opponents say there is no proof that limiting where sex offenders live makes children safer.


“These ordinances are not effective, there is no evidence, no studies to indicate these work at all,” said David Craig, a town councilor who is campaigning against the referendum with a group called Vote No Against Yarmouth 1. “Other than the emotional, gut-level reason, there is really no good rationale for this.”

On its website, the group says the ordinance is merely “feel good” legislation that doesn’t keep children safe and makes it harder to monitor offenders and help them get the support they need. The Yarmouth Police Department already tracks registered sex offenders in town and makes sure they don’t violate the terms of their release, Craig said.

“We believe that is actually very effective and this ordinance is not needed,” he said.

The Yarmouth School Committee hasn’t taken a stance on the issue, but in a letter to town councilors this spring Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said he had concerns with the ordinance, including whether it would create a more harmful situation for students farther away from school, where there is less adult supervision.

A residency restriction ordinance has been debated since last October, when Dolloff informed parents that a sex offender had moved to Glen Road, near the town’s high, elementary and middle schools. The council discussed the issue this winter, but there was not enough interest on the council to move forward. Councilors voted to put the issue on the November ballot after receiving a petition with more than 750 signatures in favor a vote on the ordinance.


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