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Horses Trot Toward Approval in Farmington

Council members approve the introduction of an ordinance to allow the animals, with one official unwilling to amend the city code.

Farmington is one step closer to allowing horses within city limits, but property owner Patrick Thomas isn't counting his chickens before they're hatched. 

On Monday, city council members approved the introduction of a proposed ordinance amendment to allow residents to keep horses, and officials are expected to take up final approval at their Dec. 3 meeting.

Thomas, who wants permission to keep miniature horses, said, "Definitely, I'm keeping my spirits high, and my expectations low." 

He has been working with city officials for more than a year, after the city amended its animal ordinance and defined horses as livestock, which cannot be kept within city limits. Officials in June narrowly shot down a proposed ordinance amendment that would have allowed residents to keep chickens. 

The proposed amendment will affect only four properties in the city that are 2 acres or larger. Among other limits, it requires setbacks of 175 feet from neighboring homes and requires corrals to be set back from property lines, Community and Economic Development Director Kevin Christiansen said. He added, "The intent is not to create a nuisance or impact", but allow for horses on a limited basis. 

Christiansen said the adjacent cities of Livonia, Farmington Hills, Novi and Southfield all allow horses, with specific standards. 

Council member Bill Galvin voted against the measure, after asking city manager Vince Pastue whether changing the city's codes and ordinances for a single resident affected their integrity.

Pastue said the ordinance wasn't being changed for one person. The planning commission found examples in other communities that they deemed reasonable, he said, noting the commission didn't realize only a few parcels were affected until after they looked into the issue.

Christiansen explained that Thomas first went through the Board of Zoning Appeals (ZBA) after city staff determined that horses were not considered "domestic animals" under the new animal ordinance. Following that review, the change in ordinance was requested.

Thomas would have had to prove "hardship" in order to receive a variance, which Christiansen said is very difficult to do. He pointed out that if the variance was approved, "it would be without standards" (which are proposed in the ordinance).

"We've always tried to find a way to work with residents," council member JoAnne McShane said, adding the issue was deliberated through the planning commission. 

After his "nay" vote ("No pun intended," he added), Galvin explained that he likes horses, and his concern was more about amending the city code. "Generally, I am always able and willing to listen to our citizens," he said. "I'm just not a fan of making amendments just because we can." 

Council member Greg Cowley jokingly noted he was shocked by what was missing in the ordinance: a requirement that Thomas' horses be a part of the Founders Festival parade. "In fact, I'm not voting yes unless I get that commitment," he said. 

Thomas said after the meeting he hopes to be able to do that. 

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