BELFAST, Maine — Belfast city councilors will postpone — for now — a ban on smoking on sidewalks and city-owned parks, after critics decried the plan as governmental overreach.
The proposed amendments to the city code were sharply condemned by some members of the public who asked city leaders on Tuesday night to reconsider them.
“These over-reaching amendments move Belfast over the line into being a nanny state,” said Steve Ryan, who is the head of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce but spoke as a private citizen. “This overly restrictive law doesn’t send a welcoming message to visitors.”
The slate of proposed amendments would also prohibit unleashed dogs, dog waste, alcohol, marijuana and unauthorized camping on city property, as well as the disposal of household and construction waste outside of the Belfast Transfer Station. Persons caught disregarding the ordinances would face fines of $50 and as much as $250 for repeat offenders.
Abby Gilchrist, owner of Fiddlehead Artisan Supply in Belfast, said while she isn’t a smoker and doesn’t like secondhand smoke, she’s worried about the message the ordinance would send to Belfast visitors.
“I think it’s going to offend a lot of people,” she said. “It’s going to give us bad press.”
Most councilors appeared to step back from some of the proposed rules but seemed to agree that smoking in city parks was not acceptable.
“It would appear that we would be the first community in the state of Maine to outlaw all smoking on city property,” Councilor Paul Dean said. “I look at this as government overreach.”
The city considered cracking down on these nuisances after some citizens complained this summer about groups loitering, smoking, littering, being noisy and more at the city-owned parking lot at Bridge and Pierce streets.
City Manager Joe Slocum said Tuesday night that instead of addressing such complaints individually, Belfast was aiming to establish some common rules.
“We knew this would be controversial from the outset,” Slocum said. “These are not proposed with religious vehemence. They are proposed as ideas.”
Councilor Mike Hurley said it would be an overstep to ban smoking on all sidewalks, but consideration of it came from a place of “genuine concern” for public health. He acknowledged that times are changing and said he remembers when he used to smoke at banks, grocery stores and airplanes.
“You can’t do any of that anymore, because smoking is bad for you,” he said, adding that the scope of the changes may make them impractical to uphold. “The minute we start having to police people smoking on the sidewalks, we’d lose our minds, I think.”
One person who did not back down from the proposed ban was Mayor Samantha Paradis, who argued passionately in favor of it.
“We have the opportunity to be a leader,” she said. “I respectfully ask that we take that step forward and ban smoking on sidewalks for the benefit of the greater good.”
The mayor, who is a nurse practitioner, said that even brief contact with secondhand smoke can be dangerous. She said that she is very sensitive to cigarette smoke, which gives her migraines, and has to cross the street if a smoker is walking toward her on the sidewalk.
“I truly believe that our sidewalks are a public park,” she said.