Stalls

Horse stalls in a barn on property in Clark County

Clark County is looking to address issues faced by its equestrian community, with county council hosting a virtual meeting to hear testimony from residents on what issues with code that those who have horses have encountered.

On Oct. 7 Clark County Council participated in an equestrian public participation event hosted remotely. Close to 20 county residents testified on issues they have seen with having equestrian facilities in the county, with issues such as burdensome building requirements and a generally unclear code coming to light over the course of the hour-long event.

Interim county manager Kathleen Otto explained it was the first of such public participation events hosted by the county to hear feedback from community members, with an in-person event initially scheduled in March before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a postponement. Though no decisions on potential code changes had been made yet, or were made during the event, chief items addressed were building requirements, such as setback distances, occupancy limits and storm drainage; the difference between standards for public and private use; and operational impacts like noise, odor, traffic and dust.

A number of themes came up in multiple people’s testimony. Scott Ableidinger made a request for clear code language, giving an example of sound standards that pertained to animal boarding facilities but not equestrian facilities, which he said was a distinction unclear in current code.

Roger Morrison, owner of Windhaven Therapeutic Riding, took issue with requirements he believed were more fit for metropolitan areas, such as stormwater, adding covered riding arenas were not currently defined as agricultural structures. He said a current requirement for sprinkler systems may do more harm than good in the event of a fire, later asking for the establishment of a working group with county government and the Clark County Executive Horse Council to address code changes.

Michel Wilcox noted that sprinkler systems weren’t in guidelines for international building and fire codes as equestrian buildings weren’t residential.

Amanda Ableidinger advocated for a code change allowing for private barns with six or fewer horses not owned by the property owner, with small-scale training services being allowed under an agricultural exemption as opposed to requiring land use site plans, though still requiring a business license and insurance.

Tracey Kasten Heil touched on the soundproof building requirement for horse housing, which under animal boarding requirements would have the animals kept in enclosures between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Heil said this went against the animals’ nature and could lead to health problems. She also asked for a change in building setback requirements from 200 feet to 50 feet, which she said was in line with other jurisdictions across the country.

Jamie Howsley, an attorney representing a coalition of members of the equestrian community, lauded the testimony given from the more than a dozen individuals who testified.

“I have done well more than a thousand hearings in my career, and I do not think that I have heard better, more poignant public testimony that’s going right to the heart of the criteria than I am hearing tonight,” Howsley said. Involved with land use in Clark County for essentially his entire career, he added that issues with the equestrian community was a “can (that) keeps continually getting kicked down the road, but the time has come that we need to address it.”

Howsley said the number of complaints to county code enforcement was more indicative of unclear direction found within the code than just a rash of violations. 

For next steps Otto said that written feedback would continue to be gathered through Oct. 16 at equestrianfeedback@clark.wa.gov, which along with testimony given during the event will be submitted to council for consideration.

“It looks like we have some work to do, or maybe even undo” Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien remarked at the end of the event. 

Councilor John Blom noted that the testimony was focused on solutions, which could have gone a different route given the issues the equestrian community has faced.

“There’s been plenty to complain about,” Blom acknowledged.

 

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