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Proposed Scarborough ordinance allows backyard chickens, eliminates 'piggery' prohibition

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Proposed Scarborough ordinance allows backyard chickens, eliminates 'piggery' prohibition

SCARBOROUGH — There's good news for people looking to raise chickens or grow vegetables in their backyards.

The Town Council voted unanimously last week to send a list of proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance to the Planning Board for review. The amendments would ease restrictions on farming in residential districts and create new definitions for commercial agriculture in rural residential and farming districts.

The amendments were drafted by the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee as part of its mission to bring the town's ordinances in line with the 2006 voter-approved Comprehensive Plan.

"The committee has been working on this for a year," Planning Director Dan Bacon said.

The proposed changes would allow hobby farms and some farm animals in residential zones within a specific set of restrictions.

Up to five chickens would be allowed in lots smaller than 10,000 square feet, 10 would be allowed in lots up to 40,000 square feet (about 1 acre), and larger lots could have an unlimited number of chickens.

In smaller lots, the chickens would have to be enclosed and kept in a hen house at night. Small animals such as goats, sheep and geese, would be allowed in one-acre or larger lots, and horses, cows and pigs would be allowed in two-acre or larger lots. Permits for keeping animals would not be required.

The changes would also specifically allow personal-use gardens in all zones, something Bacon said is not clear in the current ordinance.

For commercial farms, the changes make a distinction between commercial agriculture, such as crop farms, and commercial animal husbandry, such as dairy or beef farms.

Bacon said the existing ordinance prohibits "piggeries," something that originated to keep South Portland's once-ubiquitous pig farms from moving into Scarborough. The pig prohibition has been eliminated in the updated version of the ordinance.

The new ordinance would allow commercial animal husbandry farms to process products on their property, which they are not currently allowed to do. This would allow dairy farms to pasteurize their own milk, or cattle farms to slaughter their own beef.

The changes also will allow for bed-and-breakfast establishments and day camps on farms.

"This is to foster an interest in agricultural tourism," Bacon said, adding that the practice of visiting and working on farms is quite popular in other regions of the country. Structures to house farm employees would also be allowed under the new ordinance.

The committee made adjustments to ease restrictions on farm stands, so those with hobby or commercial farms can sell their vegetables and animal products on their own property. It also defines the difference between a small farm stand and an agricultural marketplace, which is more like the Flaherty Farm market on Payne Road.

The changes define agriculture in three ways: as an accessory activity in conjunction with a home or business, for personal use or consumption, and commercial agricultural activities.

"If you look at where we were 15 years ago, this is a big turn-around," Councilor Ronald Ahlquist said. "We're recognizing the value of the rural parts of Scarborough."

Councilor Judith Roy echoed that sentiment, remarking that it was ironic that when she moved to Scarborough in 1952 she lived on a farm and much of the landscape was farmland.

"Now we're trying to save it," she said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net