Columbia County will be one step closer - or another step further away - from new rules on keeping horses after a Sunday, Sept. 30 study session for planning officials.
Planning and Zoning commissioners will hear from Planning Director Jeff Browning, who will lay out proposals for changing the countys ordinances regarding the keeping and care of livestock.
Its been a contentious issue since it was first raised several weeks ago by Wish Markwalter, an Evans resident who complained that a new neighbor moved in and brought smelly horses with him. County commissioners have sent mixed signals about the problem - chief among them, usually solid Commissioner Jim Whitehead, who at first emphatically said something has to be done, but later chided fellow Commissioner Frank Spears for supporting new rules.
In response to constantly shifting directions from commissioners, Browning proposed a zoning change that would establish a horses-to-acreage ratio: Only one horse on a minimum of three acres, two horse on five acres, and so on. Horse owners bucked that idea, contending that its not the amount of land thats important, so long as the animals are properly cared for.
Tonight, Browning - with County Attorney Doug Batchelor, himself a horse enthusiast - will deliver the newest version of the ordinances. Planning and Zoning commissioners then will take those proposals to a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 4. If approved, the new rules would go to the County Commission for ratification.
The suggested new ordinances are pretty simple - and reasonable. They establish a minimum lot size for livestock ownership - which includes not just horses, but all livestock - and require that all barns and stables be farther from neighboring residents property lines than they are from the animal-owners home. If the rules become part of the countys zoning laws, then county officials would be able to arbitrate disputes between neighbors, rather than a disagreement having to go to court.
Were going to hear what the staff has to say, and were going to hear what the Health Department has to say, and I want to solve the problem, says Planning Commission Chairman Steve Brown. As population increases, as all these subdivisions start butting up to these horse farms, then someone has got to come in to keep the peace. Its not an invasion of property rights.
Remember: the first session, while required to be a public meeting, is not meant to be a hearing on the proposals, Browning emphasizes. This meeting is intended as a study session in which Planning and Zoning officials get to discuss which proposals are on the table.
The public - which, in this case, primarily means horse owners - will get its opportunity for more input Thursday, Oct. 4, in a 6:30 Planning and Zoning Board public hearing at the Evans Government Complex Auditorium.
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