Letter to the Editor: Riding/Boarding Stable Definition Changes: Citizen Vigilance Now Necessary

Letter to the Editor: Riding/Boarding Stable Definition Changes: Citizen Vigilance Now Necessary

On Feb. 14, the Board of Supervisors voted to change the definition of riding/boarding stables and to add teaching horseback riding to the list of allowable Home Occupations not needing a Special Permit. Prior to the vote, lots containing two or more acres could have only three horses “by-right” (not exceeding a ratio of three horses per acre). “By-right” means no permits are necessary and no reporting to the County is required. If a lot had four or more horses, it was defined as a riding/boarding stable.

Now two-acre up to, but less than, five-acre lots are allowed a maximum of five horses or ponies to be boarded “by-right” and a maximum of eight horses to be boarded “by-right” on lots containing five or more acres, but the ratio of three horses per acre remains. Now, the definition of a riding/boarding stable for which a Special Permit is required is on a property that exceeds these numbers.

I opposed these changes at the Feb. 14 Board of Supervisors public hearing because of the impact on people; the environment; streams; and the horses themselves. Here are the arguments I made:

  1. Horses need pasture. Pasture and trees are incompatible, but trees play a very important role in soil and water conservation and preservation. The Horse Farm Management section of our County’s website says that even a single-horse stable in a backyard should have a Soil and Water Conservation Plan. Even though the County staff claims Soil and Water Conservation Plans would be required, that requirement is only if a Home Occupation permit to teach horseback riding is obtained. In other words, if lessons are not being given, no soil and water conservation plan is required. Even when required, County staff admitted that there would be no enforcement unless complaints were made to Code Enforcement. Complaints can only be made by persons “with standing”, typically a neighbor.

  2. Responsible manure management is imperative to protect the environment and streams, but there are no requirements in the Ordinance to use “Best Management Practices” on these properties where they can now have so many additional horses “by-right.” The County’s Horse Farm Management section says one horse produces nine tons of feces and urine per year. The increased number of horses allowed “by-right” will have a major impact on the environment and streams without a responsible manure management plan, but that is not a requirement. The odor from these properties will be unpleasant. Runoff into streams is likely. The Chesapeake Bay will take a hit.

  3. The drastic increase in the number of horses allowed “by-right” may result in animal abuse and we citizen neighbors need to be on the lookout for this. Pasture requirements for horses greatly exceed the number of acres that might be available with the higher intensity of use. There are differing opinions on minimum grazing acreage per horse, but the County’s Horse Farm Management section recommends “that horses obtain 70-100 percent of their feed from pasture and/or hay. A significant reduction in feeding cost will be realized if horses get the bulk of their feed through grazing. The exercise they get while moving around during grazing is essential for their digestion. Horse farms with high density of animals per acre commonly have over-grazed pastures.” Inadequate pasture is bad for the environment and the horses.

  4. Before the changes to the definition to riding/boarding stables, owners with more than three horses were required to obtain a Special Use Permit at a fee of over $8,000. Their applications had to be presented to the Board of Zoning Appeals during a Public Hearing where neighbors and other “affected parties” would get the opportunity to explain any pros and cons about having this use in the neighborhood. The BZA normally imposes required conditions of their approval that reflect the concerns of neighbors and places limitations on the applicant.

Now, after the changes, you could wake up one day and find out all these additional horses are in your neighborhood with riding lessons going on from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with lighting permitted in the evening; seven days per week; 365 days per year and there is nothing you can do about it because you have lost reasonable rights to restrict these activities.

Teaching horseback riding lessons now falls in the class of Home Occupations by paying $50 for a permit. Supposedly, a Soil and Water Conservation Plan would be required, but without inspections to enforce the plan, there is no recourse except complaints to Code Enforcement by parties “with standing.” We usually think of piano lessons or language lessons as Home Occupations. There is almost no impact from those Home Occupations. Those teachers aren’t “required” to have a Soil and Water Conservation Plan.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with new ordinance language if you have horse properties in your area so you can sound the alarm to protect the environment, your neighborhood, and horses by complaining to Code Enforcement and the Board of Supervisors. If problems come with this increased intensity of land use, perhaps the Board of Supervisors will have to re-visit this drastic expansion in the number of horses permitted “by-right” and the enormous amount of time lessons can be taught, which will probably spoil your outdoor time on the weekends.

Ann Huffman

Great Falls