New Dunn County zoning code almost said ‘no horses’

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — The new zoning code proposed for Dunn County came very close to not allowing horses as an agricultural business or for recreation.

The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee held a public hearing on the proposed zoning code revision September 10.

Mark Warner, chair of the Town of Otter Creek and owner of the equestrian business, Otter Creek Farm, wondered about provisions in the new zoning ordinance for equestrian businesses as an accepted agricultural use.

“I would like certainty that it would be considered as an ag use,” Warner said.

Otter Creek Farm hosts a number of horse shows throughout the spring, summer and fall, including dressage shows and eventing.

Karen Lee, owner of Hay River Equestrian in the Town of Hay River, also wondered about the new zoning code.

Bob Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the PR&D committee, said that in his opinion, horses would be no different than other livestock animals, such as cows, as far as the zoning code was concerned.

Walter also is an attorney.

The intention is not to exclude horses as any different than other livestock, Walter said.

The new zoning code, however, did not specifically include horses as an accepted agricultural use.

Other committee members wondered about people living in the country with five or ten acres who wanted to keep horses for recreational purposes.

The new agricultural zones must be certified by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and according to an e-mail from DATCP, only animals that qualify as part of a business may be kept in agricultural zones.

According to the e-mail, agricultural districts must be for the purpose of earning a livelihood or a living, said Cleo Herrick, Dunn County zoning administrator.

Under the current definition, a family horse cannot be kept in Primary Agriculture, she said.

The new zoning code has three agricultural districts: Intensive Agriculture; Primary Agriculture; and General Agriculture.

The definition of earning a living by agricultural activities is $6,000 per year or $18,000 over three years, Herrick noted.

“The whole county has a lot of hobby farms,” Walter said.

If the new zoning code, as certified by DATCP for agriculture, does not allow horses, “we would need to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

The PR&D committee has been working on a revising the zoning code for several years.

Walter called a 15-minute recess in the PR&D public hearing to allow Herrick time to contact the DATCP office.

Herrick eventually was able to reach someone at the state level.

The zoning code must include a statement related to income and earning a living in relation to the Intensive and Primary Agricultural Districts, she said.

In the agricultural districts, horses, goats and similar animals can be listed as accessory uses that are incidental to the main farm operation, Herrick said.

Being included as “accessory uses” to a main farm operation does not mean that horses are an accepted agricultural business and it does not allow horses to be kept for recreational purposes, PR&D committee members said.

Walter and the other committee members at the public hearing agreed to include language stating that all animals not regulated by the state’s Department of Agricultural, Trade and Consumer Protection or by NR16 are allowed as a permitted accessory use for recreational purposes in the agricultural districts and as a use consistent with farm businesses and economic activities.

The intent is to allow horses as a business and for recreation, Walter said.

The PR&D committee unanimously approved the clarifications for the new zoning code.

In addition to Walter, county board supervisors Gary Bjork of Colfax and Kitz Cleary of Colfax serve on the PR&D committee and attended the meeting.

Tom Quinn of Downing and Alec Kirby of Menomonie serve on the PR&D committee as well but were absent from the September 10 meeting.

The Dunn County Board is expected to consider the new zoning code ordinance for a first reading at the September 18 meeting.