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Town Council moves to ban roosters from small lots

Roosters are no longer allowed on Cape Elizabeth properties smaller than 40,000 square feet.

By a 5-2 vote, the Town Council ended a yearslong series of disputes between owners of roosters and neighbors who complain about the noise. An amendment to the miscellaneous offenses ordinance adopted by the council on Nov. 6, 2014 prohibits roosters on properties of less than 40,000 square feet, slightly less than one acre.

"In my opinion roosters just simply do not belong in residential neighborhods where lots are close together," said Councilor David Sherman, who voted for the ban with the majority of the council. Voting against the ban were councilors Caitlin Jordan and Jamie Wagner.

While most councilors saw the ban as a restriction whose time had come, Jordan said she saw it as an attack on Cape Elizabeth's rural way of life. "We are going to lose the hold on being a rural community that we have been so proud of - it is basically iron stamped into our comprehensive plan that this is going to be an agricultural community, with its history in farming and fishing. Rural is written all over our comprehensive plan," Jordan said. She called for councilors to step back, realize how many residents the ban would effect, and to look for an alternate solution. "There is no reason to push this forward tonight," she said.

The council's ordinance subcommittee recommended the ban after Joe Gajda, a resident of Farm Hill Road, this summer complained about noise from a rooster on a neighboring lot. The rooster, however, has since been sent away because it was attacking the family dog.

This is the second time the council has considered regulating roosters in response to citizen complaint. In 2012 councilors dropped a proposed amendment to the animal-control section of the miscellaneous offenses ordinance because the offending rooster went away.

This time, however, the council took action. "This is going to keep popping up," said Councilor Sherman. He said he supported raising backyard chickens, but, "if you have neighbors that are being affected by a rooster crowing, it seems to me that the rooster loses in that equation," he said.

Council Chair Jessica Sullivan said it was time for Cape Elizabeth to join other communities that have outlawed roosters on small lots. "Even though Cape Elizabeth has a very rural character and history, we have many homes that are on tiny lots, I think therein likes the issue," she said. "The problem isn't going to go away, and I think that the solution here is reasonable, it's a staring point. You have to draw a line somewhere."

Most of the speakers at the public hearing opposed the ban, pointing again to Cape Elizabeth's farming heritage. Opponents also said that neighborhood conflicts should not be managed by a "blanket" ordinance.

Young Lane resident Beth Angle said that her daughter started learning about animals with 4H in Cape Elizabeth and now works for a major dairy industry in Wisconsin. She said she believed outlawing specific animals will change the agricultural nature of Cape Elizabeth. "The issue here is, are we going to throw the baby out with the bath water? You get rid of roosters or chickens on lots of 40,000 square feet or less, what is going to be your next animal?" she said.

Crystal Kennedy, Farm Hill Road resident and the owner of the rooster that prompted this latest proposal, said that allowing roosters only on large lots was discriminatory. "Unless you have a lot of money you are not allowed certain rights," she said. Even though the family's rooster Elvis is no longer on the property, she said she did not see the ban as a good compromise.

Long Point Lane resident Leona Fitzgerald said she opposed an outright ban but asked if an exemption might be established for properties like hers, less than 40,000 square feet but surrounded by woods and no nearby abutters.

Supporting the ban at the hearing were the original complainant Joe Gajda and his father, also named Joe, who lives on Spoondrift Lane. The elder Gadja said he agreed with the reasoning offered by Police Chief Neil Williams, including a rooster's general nature to crow, and the difficulty of enforcing regulations based on noise.

But Councilor Jordan, also business manager of her family's Alewives Brook Farm, argued that the ordinance was too far-reaching. "I truly believe we are just going with the easiest answer here," she said, suggesting the council reconsider noise regulations, establish a tiered infraction schedule, or consider establishing a volunteer mediation program to help settle neighborhood disputes without enacting townwide legislation. Her move to table the ordinance amendment for further study was seconded by Councilor Wagner but failed 2-5.

Councilors favoring the rooster ban said it is not directed at Cape Elizabeth farms. The ban applies to 2,800 properties, which is 60 percent of residential lots but 11 percent of land in the town.