Originally created 07/14/01

Horse owners fear law changes



Tussling the dark hair on top of Little Joe's head, Kim Sams used the young pinto as an example.

"If I had to ask someone to leave, how could I ask this guy to go?" she said, hugging his head close to her chest.

The 16-month-old horse is one of 18 the Sams keep at Knob Hill Farm - 20 acres of pasture, barns and riding areas in Columbia County. They offer boarding for horses and riding lessons for children and adults, with riders ranging in age from 8 to 75.

The Sams family is worried that proposed changes to Columbia County's laws could force them to remove some of the horses.

"You ought to come see these young boys and girls with their horses," Bill Sams said. "They love them. They care for them. They are not out getting in trouble."

A preliminary proposal presented by county officials this week would linkthe number of horses allowed to the amount of acreage. For example, one horse would need at least three acres. Additional horses would require additional acres. Columbia County's preliminary plan is based on similar restrictions in Aiken.

But those plans have been temporarily abandoned while officials meet with residents to find an alternative solution.

"We want to make this more reasonable," said Planning Commission Chairman Steve Brown.

Columbia County leaders first began looking last month at changing the laws covering keeping livestock on residential property, after residents of Northwood and Deerwood Acres subdivisions complained about a neighborhood horse farm. Commissioners said the zoning law permitted it.

Since then, county planners have been working on revising the zoning ordinance to put restrictions on R-2 and R-3 zoning designations, but not the R-1 and R-A (residential agricultural) classifications. They focused on R-2 and R-3 because the lots are typically smaller than the other residential designations.

Members of the county's horse community said the issue shouldn't have anything to do with zoning. There are other ordinances, such as nuisance laws, animal cruelty laws and agricultural rules, that should effectively control horse owners, they said.

"I've got enough government control in my life," Perry Burton said. "I don't need any more."

Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Browning said the changes are not aimed at responsible horse owners.

"But there are other people that just want a horse and don't know anything about them," he said.

The issue is endemic of the changes in Columbia County since zoning laws were written 20 years ago. Land that has been thought of as being "in the country" for years is now covered by subdivisions. Old horse farms are now surrounded by bedroom communities.

The changes have led to complaints about smells, safety and aesthetics.

But horses lovers say they are a misunderstood lot. Horses are herbivores - animals that eat only plants - so their manure doesn't actually stink, they say. And putting a uniform set of restrictions on farms and residential property just isn't right.

"Each concept should be different for each farm," said Mary Leach, who managed Shenandoah Stables for several years and still owns horses, including a 31-year-old mare housed by the Sams. "Unless you know horses, you can't put down a set of rules."

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.