CAMDEN — Camden Town Meeting moderator Roger Moody was forced to request a vote count Wednesday night, when the show of hands vote on whether to enact the town’s new bird feeding ordinance came up on the warrant.
Article 16 asked voters to approve an ordinance entitled “Ordinance to Control the Feeding of Wild Animals and Waterfowl,” which came about after neighbors complained to town officials about extraordinary bird feeding that was drawing large numbers of seagulls into residential neighborhoods.
While the initial complaints came from the Chestnut and Bay View streets areas of town, other residents, including Beth Ward of Pearl Street spoke Wednesday night about neighbors who put out a loaf of bread on their lawn daily for birds.
“They put a loaf of bread out, and sometimes meat too,” said Ward. “It’s a problem on Pearl Street too.”
By a count of 112 yes votes to 108 no votes, the ordinance passed.
Before the voting, numerous residents stood up to question the language of the ordinance, the feasibility of enforcement, the breadth and depth, and whether it was necessary or if neighbors should just be talking to neighbors to work it out.
Tom Resek, who lives in near the former tannery on outer Washington Street, questioned the science behind banning the feeding of birds.
He was not given any scientific evidence that it was harmful, but rather Select Board Chairman John French said the ordinance came about after residents complained about the unhealthy conditions of their homes and yards after being visited and perched on by large feeding birds.
Select Board member Don White said that the ordinance was written to not preclude bird feeders for songbirds and other backyard birds.
“We were really looking to prohibit the mass feeding by at least two individuals, causing increases in rodent populations and other issues,” said White. “No, we are not taking away bird feeders, that’s not mass feeding.”
Meg Barclay, a Camden resident, said that the downside of feeding seagulls is that they are very aggressive and overcompete with other birds, like terns, for food.
When Susan Dorr of Mill Street asked about enforcement, French told her it would likely be based on complaints, not police patrols.
Select Board member Leonard Lookner said that feeding birds in public places has also become an issue. He said it contributes to pollution in the harbor and draws rodents downtown.
Resek queried whether the proposed ordinance could be amended to fix the wording, to remove “private property” and add language that directs a violation at “mass feeding,” as opposed to general, low-key bird feeding.
Town Attorney Bill Kelley said that while he can “appreciate the desire to change the wording,” it should not be done in the town meeting forum.
“If you have a significant amendments to make, then the remedy is to vote it down,” said Kelley, adding that then the ordinance could be sent back for further work.
Gian-Angelo Gallace, a Chestnut Hill resident, spoke and said that he was one of the people feeding birds that prompted the ordinance. He apologized for becoming a nuisance to his neighbors, but said that he has lived in the same location and fed the birds the same way for more than 25 years without incident.
“Where I live, it has been very wooded, but now it has been subdivided and the tree line has opened up and the seagulls have found me,” said Gallace. “I have the right to allow gulls on my own roof. And this ordinance now complains about crows, and they have always been there. I can’t pick and choose what birds come to my yard, but it’s always been my commitment not to inconvenience my neighbors.”
Micki Colquhoun said she was one of Gallace’s neighbors, around the corner of Cedar Street, and said that at times there have been as many as 50 gulls perched on her roof.
“It’s very destructive,” said Colquhoun. “It’s like having someone composting but not doing it right, it’s the equivalent of having a dump in the neighborhood and there are now rats in the neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, Susan Neves on Chestnut Hill, said she doesn’t have a problem with seagulls or rats in her yard, and said that it was wrong to point fingers and create an ordinance because of a personal, neighborhood conflict. And Chestnut Hill neighbor Josh Grodzins said he too did not have a problem with the birds, and also agreed it was an issue that should be settled as neighbors, not through an ordinance.
A final individual spoke in favor of creating a public nuisance ordinance, instead of a bird feeding ordinance, saying that Camden doesn’t have a public nuisance ordinance and could benefit from having one for this and other kinds of problems that don’t necessarily affect the whole town.
In the end, the back and forth led to an extremely close vote. Two attempts to decide the vote by raising hands didn’t reach a conclusion, so the decision was made to count the hands, which proved how close it was.
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