IW considers horse zoning changes

Published 10:39 pm Thursday, August 12, 2010

When Isle of Wight horse owner Pinky Hipp started her farm a few years ago, she opted to put a 20-foot buffer between her pasture and her neighbors.

“I fenced my property in a way that my horses would never bother my neighbors,” Hipp said.

But not all county horse owners have done so, and as a result, residents have complained about too many horses and too much odor.

Now the county is thinking of changing its zoning ordinance to prevent complaints in the future. Meetings to solicit public input on the proposed changes are planned for Tuesday, Aug. 17. The first meeting begins at 3 p.m. and the second at 6.

The county formed an Equine Task Force in 2007 to serve in an advisory capacity to county staff in response to complaints and confusion about what was or wasn’t allowed under zoning ordinances.

The result is a number of proposed changes to the county ordinance, which would require new horse owners to work with Soil and Water Conservation District officials to formulate a waste management plan, adjusting the number of horses allowed per acre and requiring a 35-foot buffer zone between the owner’s property line and where the horses will be pastured.

If approved, the proposed changes would not be retroactive, and “previously appropriately permitted operations” would be grandfathered, or considered legal non-conforming uses, said Rachel Chieppa, the county’s rural economic development manager.

Chieppa said the process of developing the proposed changes was “definitely long thought out, debated and discussed.”

“We spent about 18 months to two years working on the various components of it,” she said.

Hipp, a task force member, said some county horse owners have voiced concern over the proposed regulations, but they’re actually meant to protect the horse community.

“Nobody’s going to make you go out into your pasture and pick up the poop,” she said. “These were all things to protect the horses and the homeowners in the future as the county grows,” she said.

Chieppa agreed that the proposed changes would protect against “nuisance complaints.”

“Right now, I don’t think (horse owners) see it that way,” she said. “They see it as another government regulation, which is unfortunate.”

Hipp said the proposed changes could persuade “knowledgeable” horse owners to come to Isle of Wight.

“We’re trying to promote the horse industry,” she said. “We don’t want so much regulation that they go ‘oh my gosh,’ but we want them protected.”