Essex Approves Horses on 4-Acre Properties in the Town’s Village District


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ESSEX — The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted on Tuesday to allow horses on properties four acres or larger in the town’s village residential zone, paving the way for at least one couple to bring their horses to Ivoryton.

The change in zoning would apply to six properties in town, including 2 Main Street, Ivoryton, where Deep River-based engineer Thomas Metcalf and his wife are interested in purchasing part of a 10-acre property to build a house and keep their two horses.

Metcalf said he increased setbacks for stables in his proposed regulations to at least 75 feet from neighboring property lines, and at least 150 feet from any neighboring home, after neighbors raised concerns at two earlier public hearings about the potential nuisance of manure near their properties.

In his proposed regulation, Metcalf also addressed concerns raised earlier by some members of the commission by adding a requirement that anyone who wants to have horses on one of the few properties where it is now allowed will have to apply to the commission for a special exception, which would include submitting a management plan for the commission’s review.

John Guszkowski, consulting planner for Essex, said the value of the special permit process and submitting the management plan is not for the commission to judge whether the plan is appropriate, given that most members have no experience managing horses. The value, he said, is in having an objective document that a zoning officer can use to judge and enforce whether those practices are being followed.

Commission Chair Russell Smith said he supported the application because he felt Metcalf went out of his way to accommodate the changes the commission had asked for, including increasing the minimum acreage from 3 to 4 acres, increasing setbacks and including a best management plan in the special exception application.

“As it’s written, there would be notice to the abutters of the special exception process, and they would have the opportunity to participate in a public hearing,” Smith said. “It also enables preservation of land in the village residential zone by establishing a minimum acreage.”

The existing village residential zone covers the residential area surrounding Main Street in Essex, and along the residential portions of Main Street in Ivoryton and Centerbrook.

Commission member Jeffrey Lovelace, who said he and his wife once kept horses outside of Kansas City before moving to Connecticut, was one of the two votes against the proposal. He said he thought four acres was too little of an area to keep horses, and that the new rules could end up with people riding horses through the town.

Is it spot zoning? Does it matter?

David Rosengren, an alternate member of the commission who did not vote on the application, said that Metcalf’s application would change regulations regarding livestock — which are allowed in the rural districts that cover a large part of the town, but were specifically excluded from the village zones by previous commissions.

Rosengren said he thought the application, which in effect makes an exception for Metcalf, amounted to spot zoning, and did not advance a “general public use” given the change would be limited to just a few properties in town, and in practice appeared limited to one property.

“What I hope this board will do is simply to deny the application to allow one person to change our general zoning laws, for no other purpose than that one person wanting to keep horses on land in our town where we have decided that livestock should not be permitted,” Rosengren said.

The commission’s attorney Larry Shipman said the proposal did not amount to spot zoning because it would apply to a number of properties. 

Guszkowski agreed that the rule did not qualify as spot zoning because the new language changed regulations in a way that other property owners could potentially use.

“If you were interested in acquiring your neighbors property such that you could accumulate four acres of land, you absolutely could do it,” he explained.

Guszkowski also said that spot zoning had become less of a concern in Connecticut given that the legislature has authorized special development districts.