Ridgefield voters approve “horse ordinance”

RIDGEFIELD — Almost 200 people packed a room at the library Wednesday night to vote on a proposed “horse ordinance.” After an hour of discussion and two recounts, the law passed by an estimated 2-to-1 majority.

The ordinance was drafted by a committee created after neighbors complained about three horses kept in “squalor” behind a home on Manor Road. The horses have since been removed.

The proposal initially created stricter rules for keeping horses on 1.5 acres or less. But, after some people argued in a public hearing that other large animals could create the same problems as horses, it was expanded to apply to all “hoofed animals.”

Many at the town meeting Wednesday, though, said the ordinance should have remained horse-specific. They argued “hoofed animals” was too broad a term.

“Yes, one horse per half-acre of usable land makes sense, but grouping bison, goats and sheep as part of this does not make sense,” said Whitney Freeman, owner of Henny Penny Farm.

The law passed requires residents on 1.5 acres or less to have a half acre per hoofed animal. Residents must also provide fencing and an enclosed structure, collect manure frequently and keep manure piles at least 15 feet away from property lines.

Those who have “successfully” cared for animals for five years or more are exempt from some of the new regulations.

Freeman and others said smaller animals, like pygmy goats or teacup pigs, should not have the same restrictions as large bison or horses.

“Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow, and everywhere Mary went the lamb was not allowed to go,” resident Laura Stabell recited, explaining that the regulation would deter her dream of rescuing animals at her small farm.

A few residents suggested amending the ordinance to exempt the smaller animals, but moderator Ed Tyrrell told the crowd the change could not be made at this point in the process. Only non-substantive changes could be made once the ordinance goes to a town meeting, he said.

The ordinance had been drafted over several months of horse committee meetings and has faced two public hearings.

Those in favor, many who lived near the horses that prompted the committee, said the new rules would ensure the situation on Manor Road would not happen again.

“We tried to work it out with our neighbor first,” Manor Road resident Steven Cooke said. “We talked to the town…there was nothing the town could do because it had no rules about it.”

He explained that the manure smell around Manor Road became so bad it prevented neighbors from going outside. One neighbor, Cooke said, found that his well had become contaminated with E. coli due to run-off from the horses’ manure.

“I’m paying the same taxes as everyone here and I want to be able to enjoy my property,” said Allison Brush, another resident in the Manor Road area. “To have my lifestyle restricted because someone is not as responsible as some people here…that is where I feel that a law needs to be put into place.”

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