Horse ordinance: Mixed committee making progress

Folks bucking to get a horse ordinance in town can rein in their complaints.

A committee of people on both sides of the issue has been working toward an agreement on a proposed ordinance that could be considered by the selectmen and, if they like it, put before voters at a town meeting.

It will likely take the form of an expansion of a current ordinance on keeping of animals.

“In ’07 we added ‘article two’ for hooved animals in the downtown areas — you need so much land, etc.” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi Monday, July 24.

“So, now, due to the Manor Road issue, people are asking for an ordinance that will cover property 1.5 acres or less, residential property. So that’s what this ad hoc committee has been working on.”

There was already one proposal put forward, and withdrawn.

“We had a public hearing a couple of months ago. The neighbors who were there, and the horse advocates who felt the proposed ordinance during the public hearing was far too restrictive ... have formed a volunteer committee to address the issue,” Marconi said. “And over the last several months they, have been been meeting, I have been meeting with them, and they have submitted a draft which is now in the hands of town counsel.

“Once counsel has reviewed it, and has made any necessary legal modifications, it will be brought to the Board of Selectmen. If the selectmen approve, then a public hearing must be called, to be followed by a town meeting for adoption.”

Ridgefield does less than many other communities to regulate horse ownership.

“During our research we found that we’re one of a number of very few municipalities that do not have an ordinance pertaining to horses,” Marconi said. “Every community that surrounds us, including South Salem and North Salem (both in nearby New York state), have very strict ordinances. And that is one reason why people who advocate for horses love Ridgefield — it’s because we don’t have strict ordinances.”

Several issues are addressed in the draft ordinance that the committee has put together, according to Marconi.

“Any property under 1.5 acres would need to meet several conditions concerning manure storage, setbacks, fencing, amount of usable acreage,” Marconi said.

The requirement is for at least a half acre of land “usable” by the horse or horses, Marconi said.

There is also “a provision within the ordinance to grandfather current owners who have had horses for at least five years to be exempt from the ordinance.”

The ordinance is being drafted to address ownership of horses, and there are suggestions it should specify “ponies” as well, Marconi said.

Although the committee is made up of both neighbors concerned about the three horses kept on a one-acre lot off Manor Road, and also horse owners who turned out to oppose tight regulation of horse ownership, they appear to have reached some consensus on the draft ordinance.

“They had a vote — informally, but they did have a vote — and it had support from both sides,” Marconi said.

“So that’s where we are at now, it’s in the hands of the attorney.”

The matter will probably come up for review by the Board of Selectmen at its Aug. 23 meeting, he said, and if the board supported it, the ordinance would then go to a public hearing and, after that, a town meeting.

Marconi didn’t say whether he had a position on the proposal himself.

“If the people support it,” he said, “it’s my job to address the people’s concerns.”