Horse owners tee off on proposed ordinance

Jackson committee
seeks to tie number
of animals to acres

By joyce blay
Staff Writer

Horse owners tee off
on proposed ordinance
Jackson committee
seeks to tie number
of animals to acres
By joyce blay
Staff Writer

Angry Jackson horse owners and their Republican supporters, incensed over the agricultural section of a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of horses they may keep on their property, vented their fury at Democratic Township Commit-tee members during the public hearing of the ordinance’s second reading at the committee’s meeting Monday night.

The proposed ordinance is an amendment of the Municipal Land Use and Development Code, and revises the commercial portion of the town’s master plan. The revised section stipulates that the raising of livestock (i.e. horses, cattle, swine, goats and donkeys) for agricultural purposes will be relegated to 1 acre for one animal; 20,000 square feet per animal for two through 100 animals; and 10,000 square feet per animal for more than 100 animals.

Residents who would be affected by the ordinance said they were unaware of what the governing body was proposing until they were informed by a network of friends and associates who had explained its significance to them just before the meeting.

"Jackson is historically a rural community, and this change would be disastrous," said Vicki Rickabaugh, a former Republican mayor who was the first to get up and speak during the public hearing. "(The ordinance) is intended to encourage development and discourage farming."

Stung by Rickabaugh’s accusations, committee members quickly denounced her charges as political partisanship.

"Why did you wait until now to protest the ordinance?" Commit-teeman Michael Kafton asked her.

The meeting room immediately erupted in angry demands by residents that the committee members state how they voted two weeks ago when the ordinance was approved on its first reading.

"I would like to know who had you limit farmland and say ‘no’ to agriculture," said Rickabaugh.

As she sat down, the room exploded with applause, amid repeated demands by residents wanting to know how committee members voted on the ordinance the first time.

Republican Committeeman-elect Josh Reilly got up to speak next. He said he had been unaware of the section regarding limitations of the number of animals farmers in Jackson could have under the ordinance. That comment brought angry expressions of shock from committee members who reminded Reilly that he had been present during the first reading of the ordinance.

After several heated exchanges between the residents, former Republican administration supporters and committee members had sufficiently subsided, Reilly addressed his next question to township attorney Kevin Starkey.

"If five horses are sold, can a farmer replace all five under this ordinance?" Reilly asked.

Starkey confirmed that the ordinance could be grandfathered, which would allow a farmer to replace all five horses if sold.

At that moment, Committee-man Joseph Grisanti asked Reilly once more, "Where were you two weeks ago?"

That prompted one woman to shout out, "What difference does it make?"

"Can we just hold off on the politics, please?" said Kafton. "We created this ordinance to be friendly to our farmers and if this ordinance doesn’t do that, this committee has no problem addressing it. We are not here to hurt the farmer."

Reilly was brief in his suggestion to the committee on how best to rectify the matter.

"I suggest you table this — and that’s all I have to say," he said.

Starkey confirmed that the matter could probably be tabled. But politics continued to be the rule of the evening, with horse farmers the staunch allies of those they felt had supported their interests.

"Vicki Rickabaugh might be a politician, but she’s also a farmer," said Alan Poling. "I have 20 horses and I run carriage rides, but I’m not giving it up to kiss anyone’s butt. We do almost $100,000 a year in business and that’s the reason I moved from Howell to Jackson, to stay in it. We don’t want that grandfather crap; just keep things the way they are."

That brought loud and enthusiastic applause once again. Then Bill Dodds of Once A Dream Farm got up to speak.

"I have my farm up for sale as a horse farm. I (wasn’t) going to sell it to developers, but if the next buyer can’t grandfather it as a horse farm (to keep as many horses on it as I did), then I’ll sell it to the two guys in Lakewood who are developers," said Dodds.

His comments brought a hushed silence to the residents.

Finally, the committee members agreed to table the ordinance to the next meeting on Dec. 23, but they also suggested that a meeting might be scheduled a week earlier so that many people who complained it was too close to the holidays could attend. The committee members also said they would have the town planner present at that time.

However, in a subsequent telephone conversation, Rickabaugh was skeptical that the municipal planner’s presence would make a difference.

"Who pays the planner?" she asked. "They do. So the committee wanted that section inserted, and it was not done with the advice of the planner, as they suggested last night."

Rickabaugh said she was also unimpressed by Starkey’s argument during the meeting that the offensive section could not be removed at that time and the rest of the ordinance voted on without it.

"Now they’ll have to have two more readings on it if they remove it and that will run past Jan. 1 anyway, despite their protests that tabling the ordinance to next year was impossible (because there would be a new committee)," she said.

"About 17 years ago, the administration at that time, also a Democratic majority committee, tried to do the same thing — one person/one animal. It failed then, too, because there are thousands of horse farms in Jackson. If you are a horse farmer and you are restricted in the number of animals you can have, you’ll sell your farm to developers, and that’s what I think they wanted then and what they wanted now," the former mayor said.