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Cape council OKs more flexibility for farms, agriculture

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Cape council OKs more flexibility for farms, agriculture

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council Monday night unanimously approved changes to the agricultural portion of the zoning ordinance.

The changes have been in progress for more than two years, and were vetted by local farmers, the Ordinance Committee, Planning Board and members of the Cape Farm Alliance.

Councilor Dave Sherman, chairman of the Ordinance Committee, said the process was a culmination of many years of hard work by the community.

"The goal is to make Cape Elizabeth a more viable community for farming operations to succeed and thrive," he said.

Town Planner Maureen O'Meara said when the 2007 Comprehensive Plan was updated, there were 91 recommendations. Thirty-three were classified as high priority, and were to be completed by 2010.

The agricultural amendments are the third of five zoning amendment packages. The council has already adopted shoreline zoning and business district packages.

The goal of the agricultural and forestry zoning package is to support farming and management of woodland areas by working with farmers to provide financial rewards and land preservation.

Changes include updates to the town agricultural profile, more flexibility in farming regulations, and ongoing education about open space and tree growth.

Specific changes include defining minimum lot sizes for fish and farm markets, agriculturally related products and uses, and how to incorporate non-farm items and non-local items into farm markets.

There is a new agricultural definition that would more broadly define agriculture to include riding stables, and would allow farmers to be creative in their use of agriculture for revenue. 

Another change would allow up to 50 percent of items sold at a market to be non-farm related, up from 25 percent. In addition, items could be sold at farm markets from any farm in Cape Elizabeth, not just from the owner's farm.

Cape resident Carol Jordan, a member of the Cape Farm Alliance subcommittee for the amendment changes, said the collaborative effort has created positive changes for the town and the farming community.

And Frank Strout said other farming communities observing this process have been excited and impressed by the town's involvement. 

"It is in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan," he said. "We are trying to make Cape Elizabeth farm friendly and farm viable. These are businesses in our town and we really need to support them."

In other business, councilors said they will discuss the creation of a more effective communications strategy at their June 15 workshop. The proposed strategy includes suggestions to create more space for the public in Council Chambers, more easily accessible meeting rooms, a cohesive brand for the town and a way for the public to discuss town business without posting e-mail correspondence on the town's website.

Councilors also approved advisory language to accompany the upcoming school budget validation referendum that will allow voters to say if the budget was too high or too low.

The council will hold a public budget meeting Monday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecster.net