Cumberland mulls dog leash law, OKs zoning change

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CUMBERLAND — The town is considering requiring dogs to be leashed on public lands.

The Town Council on Monday sent a proposed town code amendment to a committee for further study.

Councilors also approved a partial change in one of the Rural Residential zones.

If approved, the code amendment would require that people who have dogs on public land can have no more than two of them under voice control; any more would have to be kept on leashes.

Town-owned lands include the Twin Brook Recreation Area, the Town and Rines forests, and the Val Halla Golf Course and Recreation Center.

“We have had … requests from the public to do something about the packs of dogs that are showing up on public land,” Town Manager Bill Shane told the panel. He added that the town does not have regulations in place, only Town Council policies that are not enforced by any type of summons or fine structure.

Shane also said “invisible leashes” – electronic devices that can control dogs at their collars, functioning like training collars – are a new development to be considered.

The Town Council sent the leash rule to the Ordinance Committee for further consideration, which may include use of those devices in proposed code language.

Anne Stickney, who has walked dogs for a living since 2011 and uses an invisible leash for each dog, said she picks the canines up at people’s houses and walks them for an hour on town lands. She normally walks between eight and 10 dogs, which she compared to bringing a group of children to a playground.

“They’re all well-behaved dogs, they’re socialized dogs,” Stickney said, adding that she picks up after her dogs and others. “I want this to stay an open, clean, public facility.”

She asked the council “to consider, if you are going to limit, that you look to the invisible leash being considered the leash, because if I could only take two dogs off leash, you’re going to have more problems with dogs on leashes than you do off leashes, because dogs are more defensive when they’re on a leash than off a leash.”

Denny Gallaudet of Range Road said he runs on Twin Brook’s trails regularly and likes dogs a lot, “but I would say that I get jumped on the trails close to half the time. … It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with in some way. I don’t know how you do it; I don’t think a leash for everybody is appropriate, because there are quite a few dog owners that do, in my experience, have their dogs under control. But there are a small percentage that don’t.”

Gallaudet suggested signs be posted with clear instructions, to make patrons more aware of what the town means by having dogs under control.

“We’re trying to solve a problem that has been brought to our attention,” Council Chairman Bill Stiles said. “We’re not trying to discourage the use of dogs in any of these facilities; we’re trying to keep them under control, so that the whole population is happy.”

Councilor Shirley Storey-King, who serves on the Twin Brook Advisory Committee, noted that some people would like dogs banned from the recreation area.

“It’s an annual battle,” said the councilor, who also sits on the Ordinance Committee, calling the proposed change “a nice compromise.”

Storey-King noted that dogs in a group could be alternated off-leash two at a time.

The Town Council voted 4-3 to table the matter, with Storey-King, Tom Gruber and Michael Edes opposed.

Zone change

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted 5-2 to rezone a piece of Cumberland’s Rural Residential 1 zone to Rural Residential 2. The change allows a two-acre minimum lot size, as opposed to the four-acre minimum in RR1.

The change affected the RR1 zone north of power lines at Wilson Road to Mill Road, and south of Route 100 from power lines to the Maine Turnpike. A family living there requested the change in order to divide its property.

The Town Council unanimously approved updates April 14 to the Comprehensive Plan, but the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee’s recommendation that the four-acre housing lot minimum in RR1 be reduced to the two-acre minimum already specified in RR2, and that the zones be merged, will be discussed by a new short-term land use committee.

Concerning the change approved Monday, Shane noted in March that it “appears many of the homes in the surrounding area are in RR2 anyway, or in a contract zone with (half-acre) lots, (so) the change seemed not to have much impact to the land uses already occurring in the area,” and the power line “provided a natural break between neighborhoods.”

Several residents spoke Monday in favor of having the new land use committee study changing the whole of RR1, with nothing being cut out of it and changed beforehand.

“It seems like you should allow your new committee to handle this,” Peter Rubens of Blanchard Road said. “… We should allow them to meet, and follow the Comprehensive Plan, and change the Comprehensive Plan if it needs to be (done).”

“This thing’s been kicked around for two years now, and for us to say ‘OK, let’s just combine it back in with this new formulated Comprehensive Plan,’ … is just kicking the can down the road,” Gruber said. “… This is a specific property that is different from the rest of that whole RR1-2 area that we’re going to be looking at.”

Storey-King, who voted with Edes against the motion, said she does not oppose the change, but prefers the matter go through the full land use review process.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.