August 22, 2014

EDITORIAL: Blazer the horse should be allowed to stay

We don’t envy the decision the Gardner Planning Commission will be asked to make. They’ll be asked whether the Souter family can keep their miniature pony, Blazer, in the backyard of their subdivision home.

We don’t like the idea of livestock in the middle of town, but Blazer appears to be a quiet pet as opposed to a barnyard animal, and until quite recently, Blazer had a permit.
At least two neighbors complained to city council members about the miniature pony’s offensive odor, but Gardner News staff didn’t notice it – not in the neighborhood or in the Souter’s yard.

Animal control officials must not have noticed the smell either. They visited the home several times and made inquiries with neighbors before granting a special permit that allowed Blazer to live within city limits.

Animal control officials with the police department changed their tune and revoked the permit only after neighbors complained to the city council. The timing smacks of a political game, rather than following the rules the department already had in place.

It was only then that city officials realized they had two separate areas in city code that deal with animals like Blazer. Animal control had codes that would allow police to grant the permit. Planning Commission codes say otherwise. They stipulate that in order to have a horse of any size within city limits, the horse must reside on a lot that is at least three acres.

That’s not the case in Parma where the Souters live, and so, they’ll be asking for a special use permit, or exception, from the Gardner Planning Commission.
We hope they get it.

The Souters did everything correctly. They notified animal control and went through the months-long process to keep Blazer.

They talked to several of their neighbors about their pet and appear to have made a good faith effort to keep Blazer in a clean and quiet environment. Blazer truly is only slightly larger than an extra-large breed dog and he makes less noise.

He’s also housed in a large yard – by today’s subdivision standards – and is invisible to virtually all of his neighbors courtesy of a tall privacy fence and large trees.

We’re not advocating a city code that would allow everyone in town to keep a miniature horse in their backyards. The codes should be changed to alleviate the conflict between animal control and planning; the clean-up should probably disallow such pets in the future.

However, there’s no reason Blazer shouldn’t be given a special dispensation when his family followed all the rules. When in doubt, public officials should always err on the side of protecting personal property rights.

If the subdivision and neighboring yards smell as clean as they did when we visited, Blazer should be allowed to stay.

Comments

  1. Skeptic says:

    Have you revisisted without an appointment now that it is in the 90′s to smell the area?

    Did you not notice the mud yard that you think is great for a neighborhood?

    What are they doing with the waste? What about the trash company that is handling this waste if it is just going out in bins or bags?

    Personal property rights also affect the neighboring houses.

  2. A horse is a horse says:

    No matter how you look at it Blazer is still a horse and falls under the category of a barnyard animal which is against Gardner’s code. It is a bad situation and everybody screwed up, but the fact remains Blazer should not be in the neighborhood. I have been around horses all my life and I do not care how much you ‘clean’ up you are still going to have a smell, especially when it is hot, humid and wet. An enclosed area will only make it worse. Also, if you allow Blazer then you are going to start seeing other ‘barn yard’ animals appear since the precedent would have been set.

  3. GardnerPride says:

    I agree with ‘a horse is a horse’, we can’t allow this exception to set a precedent. I feel sorry for the family, but this isn’t a situation where the resolution will make everyone happy. I know the article said that the family did everything right, but if I remember correctly, they brought the animal home before requesting the special permit. Pardon the pun, but that may have been putting the cart before the horse.

  4. Abe Frohman says:

    First it will be a miniature horse, then chickens, ducks, goats, and Wilbur the pig … before you know it someone has a menagerie of petting zoo animals who don’t cause anyone any harm. Where will the exceptions stop?
    I agree with the previous posts, but reluctantly.

  5. I’d rather have a mini pony in my neighborhood than 4 pit bulls anyday!

  6. Confused... says:

    If you read one of the previous articles right out of the horse owners mouth… they got this horse first as a “Christmas Gift” for the family… THEN they went out Mid-January 2011 and asked for permission after the horse was already set up in the back yard. Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission I always say.

    I am in complete agreement with all of the other comments on this article except for Sylvia’s. Each of you made very validated points regarding this horse.

    You just can not approve one person/family request for a farm animal and not allow it for anyone else to raised chicken, goats or have a mini petting zoo…

  7. Abe Frohman says:

    If Sylvia has 4 pit bulls (FOUR!?!) living next door to her she has reason for concern. Why would anyone have 4 pit bulls unless they were filling their kennel fighting dogs?

  8. Confused... says:

    The City Planning Commission voted to deny a special use permit to the family that hoped they would be allowed to keep their pet miniature horse, Blazer, in their Parma backyard.

    The members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously to follow the staff recommendation, which cited odor complaints, landscaping upkeep and stormwater as concerns related to housing the horse in a residential neighborhood. Allowing the horse to remain at the family’s residence could also set a bad precedent for future situations of keeping farm animals in residential areas, as the family’s circumstances and property are not exceptional enough to merit a special use permit, City Planner Amy Kynard said in the staff presentation to the commission.

    An odor complaint is what jumpstarted the controversy. One neighbor from Valerie Lane – the street behind the Souter family’s backyard where Blazer was once kept – spoke at the commission’s meeting and said she smelled a foul odor one day in the spring; her home is situated so that she can see into the Souters’ backyard and she knew they kept a horse there, she said.

    She called Animal Control, and the officer who came out to check on the situation said he smelled the odor, too, she said.

    “He said they knew this would be a problem,” the neighbor told the commission, adding that the odor could negatively impact property values. A second Valerie Lane resident echoed this complaint.

    Two other neighbors voiced concerns that it would be difficult to monitor the upkeep necessary for Blazer’s health, as well as to ensure that the odor did not persist. Though the staff presentation included a list of recommendations in case the commission voted to approve the special use permit, Kynard said during the presentation that they are not staffed to check on the situation regularly.

    Ultimately, Commission Chairman Jason Burnett said there were better options than keeping Blazer in the Souters’ backyard, while Vice-Chairman Greg Godwin voiced concern that the lot was not big enough to contain the horse.

    During public comment, Ryan Souter said he would have preferred that his neighbors consulted him about the odor – something that other neighbors have denied smelling, he said – before going to the City. “It’s something I wish would’ve been brought to my attention,” he said.

    He told the Gardner EDGE after the decision that most of his neighbors on their street have been supportive of Blazer and the family, and that he was disappointed that “two comments can sway a whole decision.”

    Flor Souter was not surprised by decision, but it still disappointed her and her family, she said.

    As reported last week, Blazer was relocated weeks ago to a farm outside of the city limits. The Souters still plan to keep him there and stop by to visit with him when they can, as per the agreement with the farm owner

  9. Confused... says:

    PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF REPORT NEW BUSINESS ITEM NO. 1 MEETING DATE: JUNE 28, 2011 STAFF CONTACT: AMY KYNARD, PLANNER
    PROJECT NUMBER / TITLE: SUP-11-01 Cedar Street Miniature Horse
    APPLICANT: The application is filed by Flor and Ryan Souter.

    Conclusion
    Due to the lot size and proximity to other residences, staff believes the odor could be a significant issue for surrounding properties, even if measures are taken to keep the odor to a minimum. Additionally, the property would be unlikely to maintain compliance with landscaping regulations pertaining to sod if the horse is allowed, and downstream properties could potentially be adversely impacted as a result of this. Due to these concerns, as well as the precedent that would be set for future applications if this special use permit is approved, staff recommends denial.

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