Earl Bickford and his daughter, Audrey Tripp, listen to Auburn city councilors Monday night debate a change in the ordinance that has led to the city telling the Tripp family they must get rid of their pet dwarf goats.

AUBURN — City councilors on Monday were not in favor of amending Auburn’s zoning rules regarding farm animals, despite a recent city mistake that could lead to a family on Merrow Road losing its two pet goats. 

The Tripp family has attended a number of City Council meetings since April, when after receiving initial permission to keep the two goats on their property, they were told by police that they were in violation of city ordinance. Family members also made an emotional plea to city officials two weeks ago. 

Eric Cousens, deputy director of planning and code enforcement, said he gave the family permission based on guidelines that are used by the Planning Department, but had overlooked a separate section of city code regarding animal control. 

While one ordinance allowed smaller livestock on smaller lots, another expressly forbade goats on anything less than an acre. 

An amendment to the city’s ordinances was proposed by Cousens during a workshop Monday, which would allow smaller farm animals on lots less than one acre but larger than half an acre. Councilors argued that the language goes too far, and would create more nuisance complaints that would require more city resources. 

Most said that while they’re not in favor of an ordinance amendment, they’d like to find another way to allow the Tripps to keep the pets. 

Audrey Tripp and her husband, Nathan, have spent about $2,400 on the goats so far. After receiving approval, they purchased the Nigerian dwarf goats for their children, 7-year-old Adele and 8-year-old Elijah. 

Audrey Tripp’s father, Earl Bickford, has spoken publicly on the issue several times, and has gone door-to-door in surrounding neighborhoods to poll support. Police came to the Tripps’ because of a complaint over noise and odor, but the Tripps have refuted that the animals cause either issue.

Cousens said the amendment is designed to consolidate the ordinances into one set of standards. He said the two separate ordinances are what caused the confusion in the first place. 

Bickford said he’s more concerned with the city correcting its mistake, and that the family didn’t specifically advocate for an ordinance amendment. But, he agreed, the ordinances as written are what caused the mix-up. 

Police Chief Phil Crowell told councilors that the Police Department has always operated under the ordinance used by the Planning Department. He doesn’t believe that if an amendment was made, the city would be overrun by residents looking to keep farm animals on their smaller lots.  

“If we’re not fixing this ordinance, we’re not fixing the problem,” he said. “There’s conflict in this language that eventually needs to be resolved.”

Cousens said there have been 30 nuisance complaints since 2012, mostly regarding chickens at a small number of properties. He said the changes proposed Monday would not have resulted in different outcomes in those cases. 

Councilor Andrew Titus said his concern is the guidelines could create a larger citywide problem, and that it isn’t specific enough to goats. 

Councilor Adam Lee, who was elected last week, said he understood the amendment to mean that he could have a horse or sheep at his house, which is under an acre. The city would only be able to control it if there’s a nuisance complaint, he argued. 

Cousens said the rules would apply to certain zones in the city. 

Councilor James Pross said, “I don’t know that solving this problem the Tripps have by amending an ordinance is the best approach. There have to be other ways for us to address the mistake without doing something with wide-ranging effects to the city.” 

Most councilors said they were still optimistic a solution will be found. No one from the Tripp family spoke during the workshop Monday. 

Crichton said the council will take up the issue at another meeting. 

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Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell addresses the Auburn City Council on Monday about an ordinance concerning pet goats.

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, left, listens to City Manager Peter Crichton during Monday’s City Council meeting.