Supervisors approve tiered equine ordinance
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Issue 39, Volume 17.
The supervisors’ 4-0 vote Sept. 11, with Greg Cox out of town due to California Coastal Commission activity, certified the programmatic Environmental Impact Report while amending the county’s Zoning Ordinance to create a four-tiered system.
"This item will go a long way to benefit the equine industry," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
The tiered ordinance allows for up to three horses not owned by the property user to be boarded by right. A maximum of 10 horses per usable acre or 50 horses total will be allowed with a Zoning Verification Permit, which is a ministerial permit issued by the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) for the purpose of verifying that a particular use or structure complies with all appropriate Zoning Ordinance regulations.
A discretionary Administrative Permit, which requires public review but is granted by the PDS director and only requires a hearing if any party requests one, will be required for 51 to 100 horses if there are no more than 10 horses per acre. A discretionary Major Use Permit, which involves a county Planning Commission hearing, will be required for more than 100 horses or for more than 10 horses per acre.
"These revised regulations will eliminate the need for a discretionary permit for smaller operations," Jacob said. "In the end these changes equate to a streamlined process."
The supervisors amended the recommendation of county staff and the Planning Commission, which on June 14 recommended approval of the tiered ordinance on a 4-0 vote with one abstention and two members not present, to allow riding lessons to be conducted under the first tier if three or fewer horses are involved.
"I really appreciate the effort the county’s done," said San Diego County Equestrian Federation president Michell Kimball, who owns a stable in the Eden Valley area of unincorporated Escondido. "It really addresses all of our needs."
The county’s initial equine regulations were incorporated into the Zoning Ordinance in 1978. The regulations consist of horsekeeping, which allows for private use on properly-zoned parcels, and commercial stables. Commercial stables include boarding and breeding operations, which do not involve visitors from the general public, and commercial stables also include public stables which provide riding lessons, trail rides, equestrian events, and other activities which include members of the public.
The revised ordinance combined public stables and boarding and breeding stables into a single use type, horse stable, and also stipulates that an Administrative Permit or Major Use Permit can allow a specific number of competitions or horse shows which are considered an Outdoor Entertainment Event under the Zoning Ordinance.
The ordinance did not change any allowance for private use, including commercial use for such activities as horse racing and rodeo provided that no commercial activity occurs on the property. Areas where zoning allows commercial horsekeeping by right are also not affected. The ordinance also grandfathered four facilities which operated prior to the creation of the equine zoning regulations in October 1978 provided that they do not exceed the maximum number of horses allowed or change the use.
In March 2011, the county supervisors directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to work with the county’s equestrian community and other interested parties to investigate options which would protect and promote equine operations throughout unincorporated San Diego County and to report back to the Board of Supervisors within 120 days.
In July 2011, the county supervisors directed county staff to update the county’s equine regulations using a tiered ordinance while appropriating $350,000 tocover staff time and the programmatic Environmental Impact Report. The equestrian community was supportive of a tiered ordinance which would streamline the process for small equestrian businesses while ensuring the protection of neighbors’ interests.
The program EIR assumes that every possible property would utilize the maximum number or horses, which would create potentially significant impacts including aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, noise, and traffic. The EIR included a statement of overriding considerations.
A ministerial permit does not require public review, but it is not a true by-right permit as it is granted upon completion of conditions on a checklist. The equestrian community did not oppose permits themselves but expressed concern about the time and cost of discretionary permits. Either a ministerial or a discretionary permit requires compliance with best management practices for the various impacts. Properties must comply with odor, manure management, grading, stormwater and watershed protection, fire protection, vector control, equine living facilities, signage and outdoor lighting, and setback regulations.
"There are air quality laws, there are water quality laws," Jacob said. "People need to comply with the rules."
The ordinance also requires one parking space for every five horse corrals, paddocks, or stalls, and one loading space for every three required parking spaces.
"I look at this ordinance change as a positive for horse property owners as well as for those of us who live next to horse property owners," said Valley Center Community Planning Group chair Oliver Smith.
The Valley Center Community Planning Group had asked for a maximum of seven horses per acre for the second and third tiers, and other public speakers also called for a limit of fewer than 10 horses per acre, but it was clarified that the maximum of 10 horses per acre is based on acreage usable for equestrian activity and not total acreage of the property.
Smith believes that the compliance requirements will protect neighbors. "Equine zone locations are public knowledge, and it is the property owner’s choice on where to live," he said.
"It is the right governmental tool for the job," said Jim Whalen, who represented the San Diego County Equestrian Federation.
The county modeled the tiered ordinance after its tiered winery ordinance, which streamlines the permit process for small wineries. "The county seems to be getting the hang of tiered ordinances," Whalen said.
Teri Cagle and Bill Donaldson own Hoof Haven Farms in Fallbrook. "I’m thrilled," Cagle said. "I’ve been waiting for this since I bought the property in ‘05."
Hoof Haven Farms includes 15 horses which have been retired from their past activities. "I bought this to be a place for my horses to retire, but at the same time needed to fund their retirement," Cagle said.
Cagle funds the care of those horses through an entity called Pony Express Riding School.
"Glad to be able to have the opportunity to run our business like any other business," Donaldson said.
"I’m just glad we’ve got to this stage," said Supervisor Bill Horn.
Horn noted that the ordinance was only for business use of horses and not for personal horses. "I’m happy with this," he said. "Horses are important."
Jacob noted that equestrian activity supports feed, tack, and other businesses in addition to the stables themselves. "It’s not just about horses," she said. "It’s also economic benefit to the region."
"I’m very proud of my county Board of Supervisors and staff for making my first government experience a very positive one. I could not be happier with the equestrian zoning ordinance outcome," Kimball said.
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