Mathews County Animal Control Officer Jean Roberts asked the planning commission Tuesday night to take under consideration a zoning amendment that would require minimum acreage for horses and livestock on private property.
Roberts said that she has seen an increase in cases in which people have moved into the county, put horses “on postage stamp-size yards,” and “run into dire straits” in the winter when vegetation dries up and there is inadequate grazing area available.
Most rural counties in the region have a basic ordinance requiring at least a minimum grazing area of one acre per horse, said Roberts, with increasing area required as more horses are added. While the state’s animal laws don’t require shelter for horses, she said, they do require adequate food and water.
“And they’ve got to have enough acreage,” she added.
Any regulation enacted wouldn’t apply to people already in the county, said Roberts, since they would be grandfathered, but it would help with new residents who want to own livestock.
Planning and Zoning Director John Shaw said in a report that a person can put as many horses as he or she wants on a lot as small as one acre under the current ordinance. The only regulation addressing the matter in the zoning ordinance deals with setbacks for structures that house horses.
A possible text amendment seems warranted, said Shaw, whether its purpose is to make sure animals have enough space and food or whether it deals with health and environmental issues related to stockpiling animal waste.
The ordinance being proposed allows horses in the rural, residential-1 and residential-2 districts. It would require one useable acre per horse, with a maximum of 10 horses allowed if they’re being kept only for personal use. “Useable acreage” would exclude Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Areas, areas occupied by residential structures, and/or wetlands areas, according to the proposal.