SOUTH PORTLAND — Forget about lawnmowers and pesticides.

The city is clearing a path for livestock to be a primary means of vegetation control.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach presented proposed ordinance amendments that would allow and regulate the temporary use of goats and sheep for prescribed grazing.

The council also unanimously adopted amendments to zoning that could result in more dense residential neighborhoods flanking Ocean Street in Knightville.

Last September, the city hired a company called Scape Goats to deploy goats in Yerxa Park to rid the 1-acre lot along the city’s Greenbelt of invasive vegetation such as knotweed and bittersweet.

“It was a fantastic job on all accounts,” Rosenbach said Tuesday. 

The effort was part of a larger project to improve public amenities for the park, while also demonstrating invasive plant management practices consistent with the city’s Pesticide Use Ordinance.

The ordinance establishes organic land care methods as the primary means to maintain lawns, gardens, athletic fields, parks and playgrounds.

Some city staff, however, questioned whether using Scape Goats violated provisions of the city’s zoning ordinance that prohibit “the keeping of farm-type animals, including but not limited to horses, ponies, cattle, pigs and fowl, except pet chickens.”

They interpreted that to mean that farm animals, including goats, cannot be kept anywhere in the city, even temporarily.

“So we wanted to make sure that, going forward, this is permitted, and create standards around it,” Rosenbach said. 

The proposal would allow the temporary use of goats or sheep for a specified season and intensity to meet specific vegetation management goals, by adding them to the list of animals permitted for prescribed grazing in the city ordinance.

It would not allow people to keep goats and sheep on a permanent basis.

Rosenbach said city staff would like to use goats again for knotweed suppression in Yerxa Park this spring.

The proposal’s legality will be assessed before it comes back to the council for formal readings. It will also have to be reviewed by the Planning Board.

Councilor April Caricchio asked that the city consider a cap on the number of days grazing could take place, as well as the number of animals that could be used at one time on a single property. 

Knightville zoning

The proposed amendments to Knightville’s Village Residential and Village Commercial zones are the result of more than two years of work by the city’s Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.

The basic thinking behind the Village Residential zoning amendments, according to Planning Director Tex Haeuser, was to bring the space and bulk requirements closer to the design of the original subdivision in which the lots were laid out – in keeping with an urban village – while being careful to maintain protections for abutters.

Amendments include allowing a minimum of two residential units per lot and then another unit for each additional 10th of an acre, as well as reducing the minimum lot size from 7,500 to 2,500 square feet.

As proposed, the maximum building coverage limit on each lot would remain at 33 percent, but allow up to 40 percent when counting sheds, garages and other accessory buildings.

Among various amendments proposed for the Village Commercial zone is one that would require any building or portion of a building within 50 feet of the residential zone to be no taller than 40 feet – the residential zone’s limit – rather than the current 50-foot limit.

Another amendment would add live-work units as an allowed first-floor use. An additional change would add a maximum total building footprint of 10,500 square feet per property to discourage large new developments.

That means a building the size of the Mill Cove Landing condominiums at 72 Ocean St., with four ground-floor commercial units and 27 residential units above and behind, would no longer be allowed.

The amendments passed 6-0, with Councilor Kate Lewis absent.

“I appreciate the bottom-up approach to this. I think we all do better when the law comes from the people,” Councilor Misha Pride said. “Nothing but praise for this committee.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

The South Portland City Council is considering allowing and regulating the use of goats and sheep as land-care tools.