Horse ordinance sent back for more work

Horses, the keeping of horses, that’s what the ordinance concerns. What about donkeys? Sheep? Llamas, bison, pigs? How about “all hooved animals” — would that cover it? Well, there’s poultry, too.

“Do you know how many complaints I get about roosters?” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the hearing crowd.

Once rural and agricultural, Ridgefield is now a suburb of lots and lawns, large and small. Amid the houses there are still horse farms and fields as well as wetlands and woodlands — some with riding trails. Varied voices spoke for many aspects of that mixed landscape at a rambling two-hour public hearing on a proposed horse ordinance Wednesday, Sept. 27.

The draft ordinance will need to be re-worked, the selectmen concluded.

“We should go back, regroup and redraft,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said at the end of the hearing.

“We’ll put something together and we’ll have another public hearing,” Marconi agreed.

A major focus of the selectmen’s re-examination will be a specific limit to the number of horses allowed. The draft taken to hearing — which applies only to properties of 1.5 acres or less — didn’t say how many horses would be too many.

“How many horses are you talking about?” said Donald Hulnick of Golf Lane. “Can you put six horses on 1.5 acres?”

A horse owner said the number of horses would be limited by the size of a barn that could be built on an acre and a half.

“I think that’s a loophole you could drive a team of horses through,” said Hulnick.

The selectmen seemed to accept the idea of limiting the number of horses.

“Would it satisfy everyone, one horse per half-acre of usable land?” asked Selectman Bob Hebert.

Other ideas the selectmen seem likely to examine include whether to expand the ordinance so all “hooved animals” are regulated and whether to include Conservation Commission recommendations of 100-foot setbacks to watercourses and 75-foot setbacks to wetlands.

About 25 people attended the hearing in town hall, among them both horse owners and people concerned about horses — including some neighbors of the three, now removed, horses that had caused problems in the Manor Road neighborhood, triggering the selectmen’s attention to the issue. Half the people at the hearing — 12, not counting members of the Board of Selectmen — spoke.

They debated the pros, cons, and many possible alternatives to the horse ordinance put forward by a committee that had worked under the auspices of First Selectman Marconi. The committee had been formed in May, after a raucous public hearing found an earlier draft regulation wanting.

Tom Pesce of Lewis Drive, who’d served on the committee and was a leader of neighbors concerned about the Manor Road horses, said the draft now being proposed was less strict than regulations in other towns.

“It is by far the most liberal document of any community around,” he said.

“There’s a reason why places like Greenwich and South Salem have all these restrictive laws, but they’re still great equestrian places.”

Pesce grew frustrated with the defensiveness of the horse owners.

“We’re going to grandfather all of you,” he said. “So, in essence, nobody’s affected.”

Pesce was among the advocates of broadening the law to cover a wider range of animals.

“This should not be defined as just horses,” he said. “Somebody comes back here with a donkey, a pig …

“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say ‘good horse keeping’ is also ‘good hooved animal keeping.’”

Dr. Jeffrey Hubsher of Ridgebury Road had doubts.

“I think there’s a big difference between horse care and pig care, and llamas and ponies,” he said.

“The ordinance was meant for horses. It doesn’t include donkeys, sheep, bison,” said Paula Schmidt of Parley Road, a horse owner who had served on the committee and defended its efforts. “This is not the task we were given.”

Hubsher also questioned the Conservation Commission’s recommendation that there be setbacks of 75 feet from wetlands and 100 feet from watercourses.

“I think you’re talking a manure problem rather than an animal problem,” he said. “Certainly, people have dogs. They can walk them anywhere. Dog poo is nasty stuff compared to a lot of these ruminants.”

Kitsey Snow, a member of the Conservation Commission, supported the setbacks and the concept of reasonable regulation.

“This is about being good neighbors,” she said. “It’d be nice if you could just say everyone will be a good neighbor, but they’re not. …

“The more clear you can be in a guideline, the more clear it is for neighbors and the town.”