September 20, 2018
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Variances could be the answer to Madison’s backyard livestock ban

Courtesy of Lloyd Cowan
Courtesy of Lloyd Cowan
A small collection of chickens, ducks and goats live on Lloyd Cowan's small, backyard farm in Madison.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Updated:

The future is looking better for farmers and their animals in Madison after the town’s board of selectmen Monday night agreed in principle to adding variance language to the recently approved ordinance banning certain livestock on small lots.

The ordinance, approved by a simple majority of the 65 residents who attended the annual town meeting in June, effectively bans any livestock — including horses, donkeys, cattle, oxen, goats, sheep, llamas, pigs, emus, ostrich, turkey, ducks, geese and roosters — on lots 1.5 acres or smaller.

The ordinance also limits those landowners to no more than 12 chickens and/or 12 rabbits, and stipulates sheds housing any livestock or poultry must be 15 feet away from the property line and 100 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s existing dwelling.

Reaction from some of those affected by the ordinance was enough that the board agreed in late June to consult directly with the Maine Farm Bureau on the ordinance, before requiring residents to downsize or eliminate their flocks or herds.

“After meeting with a representative with the Maine Farm Bureau, I shared some recommendations with the Madison [board of selectmen] last night,” Tim Curtis, Madison town manager, said in an email Tuesday. “The most significant recommendation was to add a variance application for residents who had a number of animals or lot size that was outside the parameters of the ordinance.”

At the same time, the board will also form a small committee of community members to meet with the town’s code enforcement officer to work out the details of the variance application process.

That’s good news for residents like Lloyd Cowan who currently raises a small flock of chickens, two ducks and three goats on his 1.5-acre lot, and who has been actively opposing the ordinance he said took a broad-brush approach to in-town farm animals.

In his email Curtis specifically named Cowan as a community member to work on the variance language.

On Tuesday Cowan said he’d be pleased to represent the “backyarders” — the term he uses for people raising livestock on small lots.

“There seems to be a flexibility now where there was none a couple of weeks ago,” Cowan said. “I think the town was really taken by surprise about the opposition [to the ordinance].”

As far as Cowan is concerned the existing ordinance was “anti-farming,” but that could not be further from the truth, according to at least one member of the board of selectmen.

“The seleceman have been frustrated being portrayed as ‘anti-farming,’” said John Ducharme, vice chairman of the board. “This is a property maintenance ordinance designed to help us with respect to those people who do not take care of their animals or are not housing those animals on an appropriate lot.”

By having a variance within the ordinance, applications could be examined and evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Curtis said, adding nothing is going to happen overnight.

“There is still a ways to go before we have a document ready to go back to the select board,” he said. “But I am pleased with the progress we are making and it’s always encouraging to see residents engaged in the public process.”

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