SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Wednesday night gave first approval to changes governing off-leash dog access to Willard Beach and final approval to a flea market near Buttonwood Street.
Both measures, which were tweaked prior to the council’s votes, previously generated opposition from residents.
Willard Beach dog rule discussions have filled the council chambers in the past. But that opposition was not evident Wednesday night, perhaps indicating residents are resigned to the prospect of a citywide referendum on the issue.
Peggy Stewart, a member of the Dog Owners Group, said the group does not support a citizen referendum because it will only further divide the community.
“We’re going to do our best to prevail,” she said.
Nonetheless, the council will take a final vote Feb. 2 on proposed changes to the ordinance regulating dogs on Willard Beach. If approved, dogs would be allowed on the beach from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. May through September, rather than from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Dogs would still be allowed to run off-leash during daylight hours from October through April.
Councilors unanimously supported the rule changes, calling the proposal a compromise and the council’s best effort to resolve the ongoing dispute between dog owners and residents who don’t want dogs on the beach.
The original proposal before the council would have extended the summer restrictions to include the month of April, when some councilors said they begin receiving complaints about dogs on the beach.
But Councilor Jim Soule suggested keeping the restrictions in place from May to September to allow dog owners more daylight walking time.
“I found out that dog owners would be walking around in the dark at that time,” Soule said, “and that would not be beneficial from a safety standpoint.”
Councilors Linda Boudreau, Maxine Beecher and Jim Hughes opposed the changes.
“My experience has been that April is not a good month,” Boudreau said. “There is conflict in that month.”
The proposed changes would establish a three-tiered fine scheduled for ordinance violations – $100 for the first offense and $250 and $500 for the second and third offenses.
It also strengthens the definition of voice command, requiring dog owners to demonstrate immediate control, meaning the dog comes at first calling if requested by the animal control officer, who would issue summonses for noncompliance.
The proposed changes also require dog owners to receive permission before letting their dogs pass within 10 feet of someone else on the beach. If the person being approached appears to be under the age of 12, that permission must come from a parent of guardian.
Dogs are also prohibited from running off-leash in Mill Creek Park, and dog owners are prohibited from disposing of dog feces in the city’s storm water system.
“I think the public needs to speak on this issue,” Boudreau said of a possible November referendum. “If the public speaks, then future councils will be very reluctant to overturn that vote.”
The council also approved a proposed flea market proposed by Louis Maietta for the former Yerxa’s Lawn Care building on Buttonwood Street, near Broadway.
Maietta convinced the council to loosen proposed restrictions, saying that some vendors have suggested they would not set up shop at his weekend market because of restricted hours.
He originally proposed allowing vendors to set up their wares as early as 6 a.m., but most councilors said that such an early start on the weekend would not be fair to neighbors. Some councilors tried to push that load time to 9 a.m., but they ultimately settled on 7 a.m.
Vendors and operators, with the exception of second-hand dealers already licensed by the city, would have to receive a license from the city to participate in the flea market.