Horse law to receive town vote at library Wednesday, Dec. 13

A Town Meeting vote on new rules for keeping horses and other “livestock” — including poultry as well as “hooved animals,” such as cattle, bison, swine, goats, sheep, llamas, ponies, donkeys, and mules — is expected to draw so many townspeople next week that it has been moved from town hall to the Ridgefield Library.

The Town Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 13, in the library’s lower-level program room, starting at 7:30 p.m.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he decided to use the library, with a larger room than town hall offers, after one advocate said “he’s expecting at least 150” people to attend.

The proposed horse ordinance states that its purpose is to “regulate the management of hooved animals and their waste on properties of 1.5 acres or less.” The rules would actually be an addition to a longstanding town law on “keeping of livestock.”

The new wording sets a “minimum of one half-acre of usable lot area” with “no steep slopes or significant rock outcroppings” for keeping a horse, with additional animals limited to “no more than one hooved animal per half-acre of usable land.”

Sanitation requirements include that “the setback for any manure pile shall be a minimum of 15 feet from any property line” and that “manure shall be collected frequently from all areas and regularly removed from the property to maintain a sanitary condition and minimize odor, dust producing substances and waste …”

There must be fencing, set back at least five feet from the property line, or “alternatively, a solid board fence may be installed on the property line if it is of sufficient height to prevent encroachment by hooved animals on to neighboring properties.”

Under the proposal, properties must have a “run-in shed” to give animals protection from the weather, with at least a 10- by 10-foot area for each horse.

A year later

The proposed horse amendment results from complaints, dating back to December 2016, about a property on Manor Road with three horses on an acre house lot. Those horses were eventually removed, but the momentum for tighter regulation continued.

The proposed amendment would update rules specific to small-lot zones of a half-acre or less, after an Abbott Avenue property owner kept a pony in that tight neighborhood.

Many horse owners turned out last spring for a public hearing on the selectmen’s initial proposal, and it was subsequently reworked by a committee that included people from both sides of the debate.

“The working group had five, six, seven meetings. And Marsha Nichols, I want to thank her for assuming the role of leadership and pulling the group together,” Marconi said. “The resulting ordinance is hopefully such a compromise that it protects both those who have horses and those who have to live next to people with horses.”

He noted that the ordinance wouldn’t apply to the many horse properties of more than 1.5 acres, and added that most existing horse owners on smaller lots are “grandfathered in” and not governed by most aspects of the regulation.

“The property of any owner who has successfully maintained hooved animals for five or more years is exempt” from the “half-acre usable lot size” requirement and aspects concerning fencing and sheds, though regulations on sanitation would still apply.

“Everyone should be made aware that this ordinance does not impact current properties,” Marconi said.

“When you decide to own a horse it comes with tremendous responsibilities,” he said.

“I do understand how our times have changed with the development that has taken place over many, many years. There comes a time when you begin to need regulation of certain activities — fortunately or unfortunately.”