The Bangor City Council will continue to weigh two questions after they received tentative support during a two-hour public forum on Tuesday night: whether residents should be allowed to raise chickens in residential parts of the city and whether local businesses should not be allowed to use polystyrene foam products.
However, three members of the City Council were not present at the special meeting — Councilors David Nealley, Dan Tremble and Cary Weston — and those who were present agreed that both matters should again be discussed by the full council at later times.
Of the two proposals considered at the public hearing, the allowance of chickens in residential areas was more controversial. Two residents opposed it on multiple grounds, including that they could attract predators, create sanitary problems, be hard to enforce by the city and create a nuisance for neighbors.
“No one will want to live next to an unkept chicken coop,” said a woman who identified herself as Peggy Gardner. “Would the city [be able to enforce this] by court action? Does it have the resources to do this?”
Several other attendees supported it, including a 10-year-old boy who said that his family used to have chickens at its house in the vicinity of West Broadway. Someone in City Hall reportedly told his family they were allowed, the boy said during his public comment, but they were later informed that was not the case and had to relocate the animals.
Right now, Bangor ordinances only allow residents to keep chickens — and numerous other kinds of livestock — in the rural and agricultural sections of the city.
“We had them for almost a year when we got a knock on the door saying they weren’t allowed,” the boy, Aiden Doughty, said while reading from prepared remarks. “When you did take the most valuable thing in the world from me, I sure was devastated.” He proceeded to describe numerous advantages to having the animals, including the food they produce and the therapeutic benefits of interacting with them.
Councilors offered a few comments supporting the proposal to allow backyard chickens in residential areas, but they also said that more research was needed on what types of restrictions would need to accompany that allowance and how allowing them has affected other Maine towns and cities.
After the councilors agreed that further discussion was appropriate, they decided to hold a tentative vote on moving ahead with the proposal at their next regular meeting. If that vote is affirmative, city staff would do further research on the measure.
The six members of the nine-person council who attended the meeting were Council Chairwoman Sarah Nichols and Councilors Clare Davitt, Gibran Graham, Gretchen Schaefer, Ben Sprague and Laura Supica.
That group was mostly clear in its support of banning the use of polystyrene foam products by local businesses on the grounds that they are harmful to the environment. But one of them, Sprague, said that while he supports the concept, he wants to see whether a bill now before the Legislature would ban polystyrene containers across the whole state before considering it locally.
A handful of citizens — including a climate action group from Husson University — spoke in favor of the ban on the foam products, often referred by the brand name Styrofoam. No speakers opposed it.
“On the Styrofoam, I say go for it,” said Scott Lynskey, a Bangor resident. He pointed out that it can take hundreds of years for polystyrene foam to break down.
Tuesday night was not the first time that the council discussed either issue.
It last considered allowing chickens in residential areas in 2010, but at the time, councilors tabled a vote on the proposed change. That proposal would have let residents keep up to six hens in a residential zone with numerous restrictions, such as keeping coops at least 20 feet from neighboring properties and prohibiting the slaughter of fowl.
In the fall of 2017, councilors voted 6-3 against a proposed ordinance that would have banned establishments from selling food or drinks in containers that include polystyrene.
During that meeting, the council also voted down a proposed prohibition on plastic bags at stores. Both bans were meant to reduce pollution of the fisheries and the production of fossil fuels, which are used to make polystyrene and plastic.
But opponents argued the bans would have been too expensive for small businesses. Trade groups for the state’s restaurants, grocers and other industries have opposed statewide polystyrene bans.
Several Maine communities already have banned polystyrene, including Freeport, Portland, South Portland and Brunswick. The state Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is scheduled to consider multiple proposals to ban disposable food containers Thursday.
Multiple councilors at Tuesday night’s meeting said that if Bangor does the same, it could be a model for even more Maine communities to follow.