Voters approve horse ordinance governing all 'hooved animals'

Neighbors annoyed by horses — the manure, the smell, worries they might escape — outnumbered horse and farm owners, and passed the much-debated “horse ordinance” at a town meeting that nearly filled the 160-seat capacity of the library’s program room.

The ordinance extends town regulation not only of horses but of all other “hooved animals” — ponies, pigs, goats, cattle, donkeys, mules, even bison and camels are included. Much discussion at the Dec. 13 Town Meeting questioned why rules drawn up for horses kept on small lots should apply to less troublesome animals such as goats, sheep or little pot-bellied pigs kept as pets.

“I definitely believe this law is flawed,” said Laura Stabell of Lake Road. “I’ve been farming since I was 19 in town. As a farmer, it’s very difficult. I’d like to make it easier for people to farm. …

“Now I couldn’t even keep a small number of goats in my back yard.”

Backers of the regulation said odors from horses kept in small-lot neighborhoods could ruin outdoor activities.

“I’d love to have barbecues in my back yard,” said Allison Brush of 15 Lewis Drive. “My kids say, ‘Mom, I can’t go outside to play basketball.’”

The motion to approve the ordinance passed on a standing vote that meeting moderator Ed Tyrrell judged to be “two-to-one” in favor of the regulation.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi described the proposal’s origin.

“Many months ago a group of neighbors came in from the Manor Road area concerned about several horses kept on a property,” Marconi said. “It was three horses on about an acre.”

Finding middle ground

An initial proposal drew vehement opposition at a public hearing last spring. So a committee of eight to 12 people on both sides of the issue was formed, and worked hard to come up with an ordinance acceptable to both camps.

The ordinance to “regulate the keeping of livestock on small lots in high-density residential areas” governs many aspects of keeping horses and other livestock — fencing, manure storage, run-in sheds.

The new regulation applies only to lots of one and one-half acres or less. It requires “a minimum of one-half acre of usable lot area” devoted “solely for the keeping of hooved animals.”

A grandfather clause in the ordinance exempts properties that “have successfully maintained hooved animals for five or more years” from most requirements — minimum lot size, fencing, sheds. However, rules for manure storage and removal aren’t part of the grandfather clause exemption, so they apply.

Goats and sheep

The evening’s debate prompted suggestions that smaller hooved animals — goats, sheep, pigs, and the like — be excluded from the law.

But meeting moderator Tyrrell ruled that such an amendment was too great a change from how the meeting had been advertised, after Marconi had shared the town attorney’s advice that only “non-substantive” changes could be made.

“This law should not say ‘hooved animals’ — it should be equine only,” said Whitney Freeman, who keeps sheep at her Henny Penny Farm on Ridgebury Road.

“Yes, one horse per half-acre makes sense,” she agreed. But applying the limit to many other hooved animals “makes no sense,” she said — especially the clause requiring another half-acre for each additional animal.

“Goats and sheep have much different manure management than horses. One hooved animal per half-acre is far too restrictive,” she said. “They’ll be lonely.”

“The law is way too broad,” said Reggie Griffith of Sharpe Hill Lane. “It covers pigmy goats, teacup pigs.”

“I think our town is special,” said Jeffrey Hubsher, who has a farm in Ridgebury. “We have farms, we have horses, we have goats, we have pot-bellied pigs.”

Hubsher called the proposed ordinance “a sweeping attack on our ability to have livestock.”

Supporters said the rule is needed to protect homeowners.  

“Laws and ordinances get put in place when someone’s been irresponsible,” said Stephen Cook of Manor Road.

Three horses on one acre had caused real problems in his neighborhood.

“We’ve got a neighbor who’s got E. coli in his well,” Cook said. “The water ran right through the manure to his well water.

“This has been almost a year and half,” he said. “We tried to work it out.”