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SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents may see goats being used for vegetation control in the city as soon as this summer if an amendment to an animal grazing ordinance is approved by the City Council May 21.
An amendment that tweaks setback requirements in the West End Neighborhood District Zone also passed scrutiny at the meeting Tuesday, May 7.
Councilors showed strong support and enthusiasm for the grazing proposal, voting unanimously to approve the first reading of the amendment.
“This is yet another example of how our city can be a model for sustainability going forward,” City Councilor Katherine Lewis said.
Prescribed grazing would allow businesses and residents to use goats and sheep as alternatives to pesticides and gas-powered mowing equipment.
“Landscape is one of the most overlooked sources of greenhouse gas,” Energy & Recycling Committee member Andrew Capellutti said. “Some people may be intimidated by this idea, but it’s something we’ve been doing for hundreds of years, and this is a great way to recognize that history.”
Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach said bringing in goats can help clear invasive plant species, such as poison ivy, while sheep would be brought in to trim the grass. She hopes to bring in goats to graze at the solar landfill if and when it’s allowed.
“Communities really like this idea, because who doesn’t love having cute animals take care of problematic issues like invasive plants?” Rosenbach said. “We don’t have to do it with pesticides and it’s healthy for the environment. It’s a win-win.”
Rosenbach said the idea came to be after eight goats were contracted to rid Yerxa Park of invasive knotweed and bittersweet in September 2018. She said the goats were incredibly efficient at clearing out the foliage enough to access the location.
Animal owners would have to obtain a permit and notify abutters before the grazing commences. The ordinance also establishes a maximum number of animals and limits the duration, depending on the size of the site.
“Homeowners or businesses interested in using goats would simply reach out to owners of prescribed grazing animals, like Scapegoats for example, and that goat business will complete the application,” Rosenbach said. “Sheep are a little trickier. I don’t know if there are any other places in Maine that have a professional business to rent or lend out sheep. That’s something we’re still working on.”
Besides the $25 permit fee, there is no annual fee associated with the ordinance and it includes up to two permits a year per parcel of land.
In a memo from Sustainability Program Coordinator Lucy Brennan sent to city council members on April 23, the stocking rate — the number of animals in an area of land over a period of time — must be used as a management tool to help avoid environmental consequences of overgrazing and undergrazing.
“Goats will eat almost anything,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. “If you have things growing in there that are not good for the environment or for you, bring the goats in. They’ll take care of it.”
Under the West End amendment, Avesta Westbrook Street One LP proposes to revise the front yard setback from 5 feet to zero feet for the West End Neighborhood Center District, according to supporting documents on the city website.
This means that the property line out front – everything along Westbrook Street – can be built up to the boundary line, whereas before they would need a 5-foot setback.
According to the city’s website, the revisions are meant to “better align the setbacks with the city’s original intent of the recent West End Master Plan to promote the development of a new pedestrian-friendly urban village.”
Community Planner Justin Barker said the goal is to make the West End a vibrant neighborhood center.
After seeing the amount of thought and attention to detail that was put toward this project, Councilor April Caricchio said she would love to see it become a magnet for community activity.
Karl Coughlin, deputy director of South Portland Parks and Recreation, feeds Gerry and Succotash a sprig of knotweed Sept. 5, 2018, during a trial run for the animals. The city may allow sheep and goats to graze as an alternative to pesticides and gas-powered mowers.