BELFAST, Maine — Chickens, long banned from the downtown of the former Broiler Capital of the World, likely will be squawking there again soon.
Councilors decided at Tuesday night’s regular meeting to have the city planner draft an ordinance to allow residents to have as many as six chickens, and if they accept the ordinance the matter will be discussed at a public hearing.
Councilor Mike Hurley is confident that the chickens — though emphatically not roosters — will be welcomed back to the city.
“We’re definitely going to legalize chickens,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s great. It was a campaign issue for me.”
Many Maine communities, including Camden and Orono, recently decided to allow their residents to keep chickens — which mirrors a national trend, Hurley said.
“We’re like the last place on Earth to have chickens come back,” he said.
Since some residents are raising contraband fowl under the radar already, the city is essentially going to have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the meantime so that the chickens don’t become jailbirds, Hurley said.
Pro-chicken Belfast residents Patty Hopaluk-Gay and John Gay say that they are delighted that the council is moving in this direction. Chickens can help keep pests down in gardens, are great pets and provide delicious, fresh eggs, the High Street couple said.
“We just want all the kids in town to have chickens, if they want,” Hopaluk-Gay said.
In other business, the councilors discussed the possibility of spending $200,000 to purchase the rail line from inside the Route 1 bypass out to the Waldo town line.
The goal of such a purchase would be to pursue a Rail and Trail initiative along the 3-mile span of tracks, where passenger trains could co-exist with a new biking and walking path that would run next to it.
The Coastal Mountain Land Trust would be a partner in the plan, Scott Dickerson, the nonprofit’s executive director, told the council.
“I want you to be very confident that the land trust is ready to be a formal partner with the city,” he said.
But not everyone in town would support this kind of project. Resident Jonathan Clapp, whose High Street property lies underneath a section of the railroad, told the council that never in his “wildest nightmares” did he imagine the city purchasing the railroad and developing it in this way.
“The time is now to put an end to this legalized wrongdoing,” he said. “The railroad has no right to sell land that is not theirs.”
Although Clapp said that he thinks Belfast already has enough open trails and public lands, and that the state of Maine has enough nature trails, one of his major concerns was that increased foot traffic on the railroad would lead to more vandalism and trouble on his property.
“Please stand with me and fight, not just for property rights, but for freedom and our way of life in Belfast, Maine,” he said.
Skip Pendleton of the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, a lifelong resident of the city, strongly disagreed that the Belfast way of life would be jeopardized by the Rail and Trail project.
“When I was a young kid, I could go anywhere,” he said. “That was the way the culture was,
and it is definitely changing. There is value in conserving and preserving land … I strongly support the city purchasing the railroad corridor. It makes ever so much sense.”
The city will hold a public hearing to further discuss purchasing the railroad corridor at 7 p.m. Monday, June 21, in city council chambers.