Years ago horse facilities were plentiful and nestled in peaceful country settings. In recent years, however, “urban sprawl” has permanently changed this scenario. What were once riding stables and trails have become subdivisions and shopping centers. Many horse facilities now find themselves very close to large developments, and the new neighbors may not appreciate horses.
If you sense that your community is becoming more resistant to horses and is exploring possible zoning changes, can you do anything now to maintain things as they are? Yes. Your strategy might not be a costly, lengthy legal battle but rather a way of life designed to avoid one. Instead of an open checkbook, you will need energy and positive action.
Your Own Horse Protection Strategy
I personally undertake my own “strategy” every day in my own community of Franklin, Michigan, which is a small, rural-like village situated 15 minutes north of Detroit. Affectionately called “the town that time forgot,” Franklin is bordered by busy cities and major highways. However, totally unique to its suburban location, Franklin has a respectable number of two and three acre lots that stable horses of many breeds. The neighborhood grocer will hold your horse at the sidewalk while you shop for lunch.
In 1991, the Franklin government considered changing Franklin’s ordinances to make it harder to stable horses. As a concerned horse owner, I led a group of horse supporters who successfully blocked the measure.
Let me share with you some easy, practical suggestions on how you might address this issue in your own community:
- Get Active in Your Community
Actively participate in community groups that sponsor worthwhile events. Every community has several. The goal is to meet others and show them that you’re a reasonable, likable person who shares their concerns for keeping the community beautiful and maximizing property values. Also, remember that these groups often serve as “feeder” groups for community government. These people could, sooner or later, end up on your City Council, Planning Commission, or Zoning Board of Appeals. They’ll remember you. You might become one of them. To my surprise, I became one of them about a year ago, when my village appointed me to serve on its Planning Commission. I now help my village government evaluate new land use ordinances.
- Keep Your Horse Facility as Neat and Clean as Possible
Who would argue that a neat, properly-maintained horse facility threatens property values or the safety and health of the community? Opponents of “horse-favorable” zoning eagerly seek visible examples of why horses detract from property values. Don’t even give them a chance. Start with your own facility. The opportunities are endless: remove horse droppings from the road, paint the barn, clean out all rubbish, relocate manure piles away from view, plant grass seed, add flowers, touch up the fencing.
- Keep Your Non-Horse Neighbors Happy
Who typically leads the battle against horses in suburban communities? Disgruntled neighbors who have never owned a horse. The day may never come when they share your love of horses, but you cannot ignore them. Make your neighbors comfortable with your horse facility. Consider sharing with them your plans to install fencing or structures near property borders, even if you have no legal obligation to do so. Be reasonable with them. Try to understand their concerns.
In my experience, after negotiation with a neighbor I relocated part of my new pasture fencing. The loss of pasture space was a very worthwhile long-term investment. My neighbors happy, they have enjoyed my horses, and they respect — and have never forgotten — the fact that I accommodated them.
- Be Responsible
If you live in a community like mine where horse facilities are not common, remember that you’re in the public eye every minute. Respect others’ property and privacy. For example, don’t trample or cut across someone’s property without permission. Set an example for other horse owners in your area.
- Get Organized
Without a doubt, in any battle involving horses and zoning there is strength in numbers. In Franklin, horse owners like me know that the struggle to keep horses in the community could repeat itself in the future. Therefore, the slightest hint of trouble should find you actively seeking out your allies, whether they are horse owners or horse admirers. Why wait? Drive (or ride) around the community to find properties stabling horses. Introduce yourself. Exchange phone numbers. Share information on local government candidates known to have “anti- horse” leanings.
All of these suggestions are designed to start you on your way to protecting and defending the presence of horses in your community. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice. Although I am a practicing attorney, I firmly believe that common sense solutions, when properly implemented, can prevent a legal battle from occurring. Use them well.
Julie I. Fershtman, Esq.
About the Author
Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC
One Northwestern Plaza
28411 Northwestern Hwy., Ste. 500
Southfield, Michigan 48034