Fighting for a rural right
WHITE CITY — When she moved onto her 2.5-acre rental property six years ago, Lakeview Drive resident Karyn Campain was relieved to have plenty of room for her two horses.
Having known the previous tenants of the rental house, and that having horses had been a draw for them as well, Campain said she didn't give a second thought to having animals in what seems like a rural area of the county.
But two years later she was served with a warning from Jackson County code enforcement officers, who told Campain that horses were not allowed. Campain said she and other neighbors have since lived with the fear they would be cited or made to get rid of their animals.
Learning that many of her neighbors are in the same predicament, Campain has launched an online petition that has collected just over 300 signatures and she plans to appeal to county commissioners for a zoning change that would allow livestock in the residential area.
Tucked between Highway 140, Avenue H, Atlantic and Highway 62, the White City Urban Residential District is in the unincorporated county, but it allows for housing densities more similar to a city than typical rural property.
County officials say they sympathize with residents wanting to have bigger livestock animals, such as horses, but that zoning regulations, enacted in 2004 and in place for more than a decade, are intended to ensure livability for all residents.
Campain and her neighbors, who hope to appeal the zoning to county commissioners, maintain that "more neighbors than not" have horses and other animals that are prohibited in the special zone.
"I was told it's about noise issues. Well, it says you're allowed to have chickens but not roosters, but everybody in the area has roosters, and the hens can be noisier than roosters when laying eggs," she said.
"It also says no sheep, but goats are OK. No full-grown horses, but miniature horses are OK. If they were going to have a ban, then ban farm animals. But why have it where certain ones are OK and certain ones aren't? If our animals are taken care of and they're not bothering anyone, what's the problem?"
Campain said county code enforcement officers have issued a number of verbal warnings but have not followed up on threats to fine residents.
"They only seem to give us deadlines or warnings when a new complaint is made," she said. "And our last deadlines have passed and neither one of us has heard anything lately."
Campain, who shares use of her horses with special-needs children, said she would be forced to move or pay to relocate her animals if she's faced with steep fines.
Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly A. Madding said she sympathized with residents wanting to have livestock on their properties but said the zoning restrictions are nothing new.
"Basically, around 2004, White City was rezoned to allow for urban densities, and that's when the laws around agricultural practices changed," Madding said. "If you look in any city, they have limits on agricultural practices because they become conflicting uses ... when you're dealing with dust and smells and flies.
"If you didn't know White City wasn't an incorporated city and you drove through, I think most people would say, 'Oh, that's a city.' Because it looks like a city."
While all livestock animals were previously banned, Madding said zoning changes were made around 2011 to allow smaller livestock animals such as chickens and miniature horses. She said warnings about violations are complaint-driven.
"We understand that we have people that want their animals. What they have to understand is that we are not just arbitrarily enforcing ordinances. We do things on a complaint basis," said Madding.
"There may be people who have horses that we don't know and that we've never done anything about because we haven't had a complaint."
Neighbor Heather Jackson said she will fight alongside Campain to keep her own two horses close to home. Having boarded the animals much of her adult life, Jackson bought the 4-acre parcel as a trade-off to giving up boarding expenses and allowing her two daughters, ages 3 and 5, to grow up with horses in their lives.
"We just bought this house in November, and we've had our horses here since January. Everything was fine and all of a sudden a couple months ago the county pursued us and said we were in violation and weren't allowed to have our horses here," Jackson said.
"What's the difference between a mini horse and a big horse? They both poop the same. I've got almost 4 acres for two horses. It's not like I have 10 horses and I'm running it down. We had been looking for rural property where we would be able to move our horses out of a board facility. I wanted to have them home."
Madding said residents have the right to appeal the zoning to county commissioners. If a formal hearing were held, neighbors included in the special zone would all be notified.
Madding emphasized that code enforcement officers were responding only to complaints, "not out looking for violations."
"If you have a horse in White City, we probably wouldn't even know about it," she said.
"Unless it's become a nuisance to your neighbor."
Campain's petition is online at www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/501/207/188
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.