Kathe Barsotti began lobbying the Council around six months ago to pass an amendment that would allow residents to keep miniature, dwarf or pygmy goats as pets both for the love of the animals as well as to be able to enjoy their fresh dairy and brush-clearing abilities. She gained much support from other residents as well as groups like the Herndon Environmental Network, and spearheaded a letter-writing campaign that garnered letters from as far as Florida in her favor.
However, it appears some of Barsotti's neighbors, as well as several councilmembers and animal experts from Frying Pan Farm Park, do not agree that goats make good pets, as they spoke out during Tuesday night's public hearing.
Tuesday night's hearing was introduced by Town Zoning Administrator Mark Holland, who said that the amendment was proposed with a number of conditions prospective goat owners such as Barsotti would have to satisfy, including the buying of a permit that could be revoked if the Town saw fit; criteria such as lot size and type and height of fences; restrictions on structures such as coops, sheds or cages; restrictions on the number and types of goats allowed to be kept by a homeowner; and more.
Holland said that while the Town staff and the majority of the Planning Commission was recommending the approval of the amendment, that a few individual Planning Commissioners were not in favor, and said they would have preferred other restrictions such as the right to keep goats being by special exception—meaning the Council would have to individually approve each application—and the inclusion of a more clear system of enforcement, possibly by an outside animal control body. Another Planning Commissioner even wanted leash laws to apply, such as they do for dogs in the town, Holland said.
A handful of residents of Virginia Avenue who said they live near Barsotti spoke out passionately against the ZOTA during the public comment portion of the meeting.
One woman even went so far as to threaten the Council, promising that if the ZOTA passed, she would withdraw all current support of the Town including donations her family makes, her family's participation in Town activities, and voting for the Town Councilmembers in any future election.
Another male neighbor spoke up and suggested that Barsotti's passionate advocacy of this issue had upset many on their street.
"Alienating four neighbors is a high price to pay for a few goats and a bunch of chickens," he said, also referring to Barsotti's support of another ZOTA she has been advocating for that would allow the keeping of chickens, which the Council is expected to hear in early 2014.
Another neighbor said she felt the fact alone that Barsotti has kept her goats for a long time despite it being against current zoning laws should prompt the Council to deny her application, and also questioned how the enforcement of the restrictions and criteria in the ZOTA would be enforced, to ensure neighbors' rights. She called the ZOTA and the general concept of urban farming "trendy" and "ludicrous."
Still, others spoke out in favor of Barsotti's application, saying Herndon residents should be allowed to live as they want on their own properties, especially since they felt goats posed no threat to neighbors' quality of living.
One resident of the Legacy Pride neighborhood argued that the amendment should pass because the goats in question pose no danger, are loving animals, and many other municipalities allow the keeping of pet goats through well-thought-out ordinances like the one before the Council.
Active community member Barbara Glakas also spoke out in favor of the rights of residents like Barsotti to do as they choose on their own property.
"All Herndon residents deserve the right to live their own lives, in their own homes, and on their own property, as long as their activities do not endanger the health, safety and welfare of others in town," Glakas said. "But along with that freedom comes responsibility. And you have well laid out your expectations in this amendment, with the safety valve that says the permits can be revoked. So I urge you to pass this amendment and ask you to let people live their lives."
When it came for the councilmembers to weigh in, they were divided over the issue.
Councilmember Charlie Waddell spoke first, and immediately proposed the ZOTA application be denied. Councilmember Grace Han Wolf seconded his motion.
"This is one of the toughest issues we’ve had recently, and we’ve had some tough issues," Waddell prefaced. "There are a lot of facts, a lot of emotions and a lot of passion, and I understand that."
Among Waddell's biggest concerns were the fact that there appear to be no licensed veterinarians closer than a 45-minute drive away that treat goats, and that he thought other common animals such as skunks, raccoons and rats could pose a problem with the goats.
He also expressed the opinion that between 10,000 to 15,000 square feet—the minimum lot size according to the ZOTA that an applicant would have to have in order to be granted a permit to keep goats—was not enough space to adequately care for and keep such an animal.
"A small lot in an urban neighborhood is not enough space," he said.
Councilmember Wolf agreed.
Wolf said that, although she appreciated those that had spoken in favor of the ZOTA, her bigger concern lied with those neighbors who said they would be directly and adversely affected, and were against it.
She also said she had personally spoken with animal keepers at nearby Frying Pan Farm Park to get their opinion on the issue, and that they had told her they were "vehemently against" the idea of goats as urban pets, out of concern for the animals' welfare, being kept on a small lot not designed for farm animals.
Wolf said she might have supported a ZOTA that allowed the practice by special exception, but was not comfortable with it by-right.
Councilmember Dave Kirby said he was completely against the idea and found it "ludicrous."
"Goats belong on a farm, they don’t belong on a 10,000-square-foot, quarter-acre lot with a house, a deck and sheds in the back. So I’m totally against this," he said.
Though in the end she voted against outright denial of the application, Vice-Mayor Connie Hutchinson also expressed concerns over the ZOTA as written.
She said she also worried that between 10,000 to 15,000 square feet was not enough space to raise goats without disrupting neighbors, and said she would also have preferred the application be by special exception and not by-right. She said, if it were by special exception, each application could be evaluated with the specific feedback of neighbors who live closest to the applicant.
A slight shift in the wind came when Councilmember Sheila Olem spoke.
Olem said she could not believe that three current councilmembers, whom she did not name, were speaking out against allowing goats when, just five to six years ago, they voted in favor of allowing Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, after a town resident applied for a ZOTA in much the same way Barsotti was.
"I’m a little shocked to see that we just want to throw this out," Olem said.
She added, several years ago during the pot-bellied pig hearings, a neighbor of that applicant whose fence butted right up against the applicant's spoke out passionately against it—yet the ZOTA passed unanimously, 7-0.
"We opened the door when we went with hooved animals. If [opposition from neighbors] didn’t matter before, I don’t know why it matters now," she said.
Olem also said she thought it unfair that dogs and their owners were given so many rights that goats and goat-owners were being denied. She said, if a dog is allowed to roam free in a yard with no fence whatsoever as it stands currently, she didn't understand why goats couldn't exist under all the restrictions and criteria the ZOTA before them included.
"I’m a little disappointed that we would start down this road, and say 'OK, we’re going to allow hooved animals [like the pot-bellied pigs], and there are people here who supported that, and now we’re not going to support goats. I don’t understand that," she finished.
The last to speak was Mayor Lisa Merkel, who said that she struggled with the decision, but in the end could not support it as-is.
"I don’t think this is cut and dry, and that’s why we’ve spent a long time on this; six months is a long time this has been going on," she said. "I struggle with this because I want us to be a sustainable and progressive community, but I think we need to approach that in a broader and more comprehensive way."
In the end, Merkel said, "The greatest concerns I’ve heard are from people who are directly adjacent, and they already have concerns from dealing with goats in their neighborhoods."
The ZOTA was denied, in a vote of 5-2.
In support of the denial were Councilmembers Dave Kirby, Charlie Waddell, Melissa Jonas and Grace Han Wolf, as well as Mayor Merkel. Those opposed to denying Barsotti's application were Vice-Mayor Hutchinson and Councilmember Sheila Olem.
Following the meeting, Kathe Barsotti told Patch she planned to immediately look into the possibility of an appeal of the Council's decision. However, she said she was informed Wednesday evening that no appeal could be sought.
Barsotti said she has been given 30 days by the Town to remove her goats from her property.
"I have no regrets," she said. "I know goats would be good for Herndon, and if the Town Council would have voted with their constituency, they would have been allowed to stay."
As for those who spoke out against her application, she said, "I have no hard feelings for the opponents of the goats. I just wish folks could have taken the time to educate themselves fully on these beautiful pets."
Barsotti said he plans to consult a lawyer to see if she has any other legal options in the matter.
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