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Town Council Denies Goat Ordinance

Proponents said property owners should have the right to do as they please; opponents said urban areas are not the place for farm animals.

Herndon resident Kathe Barsotti lost her application for a zoning amendment that would allow her to keep her miniature pet goats, such as the one in this photo. (Photo Courtesy of Kathe Barsotti)
Herndon resident Kathe Barsotti lost her application for a zoning amendment that would allow her to keep her miniature pet goats, such as the one in this photo. (Photo Courtesy of Kathe Barsotti)
After six months of debate and deliberation, a zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA) proposed by a town resident that would allow her to keep miniature goats as pets in her backyard lost with the Herndon Council Tuesday night.

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.


TELL US - What do you think of the Council's decision to deny the amendment that would allow residents to keep miniature pet goats with certain restrictions? Tell us in the comments below.


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The Convict December 12, 2013 at 10:47 AM
I'm not opposed to them as pets any more than I would be opposed to a neighbor with a big dog. I think the real problem is that, culturally, dogs aren't a food animal, whereas goats are. If this ordinance were to pass, I could see a time where some would start raising them as food animals: kept outside full-time with the occasional slaughter. I don't mean to imply that Ms. Barsotti would do that, but she has opened the door by stating that she at least wants to milk her goat.
Shawn Ayers December 12, 2013 at 10:51 AM
This is ba-a-a-a-a-a-d. Goats be-e-e-e-e-long in ba-a-a-a-a-ckyards.
N.C.A December 12, 2013 at 11:54 AM
What's the point of buying a house? If you can't do anything you want to. . I think this lady should have the GOATS in her back yard.
Paul Morris December 12, 2013 at 01:37 PM
Not that posting here will have any effect, but I think the Town Council has made a "ludicrous" and "absurd" mistake. What expert or rule maker has determined that miniature goats are farm animals any more than dogs or cats or guinea pigs. And even if they are so determined by authorities who are no doubt credentialed to make such a determination, so what if they are "farm animals?" Where's the beef?
Colleen Ward December 12, 2013 at 02:28 PM
The Convict said "If this ordinance were to pass, I could see a time where some would start raising them as food animals: kept outside full-time with the occasional slaughter. " Pet pigs have been allowed in Herndon for many years, yet I have not heard of even one case where they were slaughtered. Moreover, I have not heard of any complaints of pet pigs in Herndon which leads me to believe that residents are more responsible than perhaps we give people credit for. None of the neighbors reported any noise violations, smells, or any other issues related to the goats. They just seemed to not want them there out of principle, but did not advance any factual reason for them to not be allowed.
Sean Moran December 12, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Personally, I think it depends on where you live. I personally wouldn't want goats in my neighbors yard, because it would lower my property value. If I lived in a farm area, then goats are cool and I like the idea. If I live in an area where homes are very expensive, then I would be concerned about property values. Question for anyone who knows, is there an ordinace against keeping wild birds cooped up in your back yard?
Mike December 12, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Next hunting season, we should gut and clean any deer in the yard of each council member. Make sure they are home for the show. I am sure their pretentious yuppie sensibilities will appreciate that.
Colleen Ward December 12, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Sean, do you have any evidence that pet miniature goats in your neighbors yard would lower property values? What if your neighbor legally had large dogs in their backyard? Or a pot belly pig? Those are all legal. You realize that pet goats are smaller than some dogs and that they keep lawn looking emaculate.
Lisa December 12, 2013 at 06:01 PM
There are a number of dog breeds that are substantially larger than miniature goats, yet no one questions having them in a house on a quarter acre lot. I've also lived next to neighbors who had badly misbehaving dogs and no one questioned their right to have them. People are used to having dogs and cats as companion animals, and have difficulty seeing other types of domesticated animals as pets. Really, it should be a question of responsible pet ownership.
Grace Han Wolf December 12, 2013 at 09:54 PM
The keeping of animal pets such as cats and dogs in the Town of Herndon is governed by Fairfax County zoning - we pretty much use the County's zoning rules for dog and cat ownership. You can find all the specifics at the FxCo website: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/zoning/petsanimalsres.htm In short: "There are limitations on the number of animals that can be kept based on the size of your lot for: dogs, livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, llamas, alpacas and other similar domesticated animals), domestic fowl (chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese), honeybees and pigeons. The Zoning Ordinance does not regulate the number of cats that can be kept. The keeping of commonly accepted pets is allowed as an accessory use on any lot, provided such pets are for personal use and enjoyment, and not for any commercial purpose. The keeping of livestock or domestic fowl is allowed as an accessory use on any lot of two (2) acres or more in size. The keeping of wild, exotic, or vicious animals is not permitted except under some limited circumstances as provided for in Chapter 41 of the Fairfax County Code. Accessory structures associated with the keeping or housing of animals are subject to certain location regulations set forth in Part 1 of Article 10 of the Zoning Ordinance. The number of dogs permitted as an accessory use must be in accordance with the following: Number of Dogs - Minimum Lot Size 1 to 2 - No requirement 3 to 4- 12,500 square feet 5 to 6 - 20,000 square feet 7 or more - 25,000 square feet plus 5,000 square feet for each additional dog above 7 For additional information, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. For information regarding additional legal aspects of animal ownership and additional information regarding the keeping of wild, exotic or vicious animals, contact Animal Control at 703-830-1100, TTY 711." If you live in a townhouse, you can have 1-2 dogs. If you live on a standard R-10 single family residential lot, you may have 1-2 dogs. In order to legally have more than 2 dogs, you must be in residential lot bigger than our standard R-10 zoning. There is no limit to the size of the dog. Interestingly, there is no limit to the number of cats allowed and no ruling at all on bunnies.
Colleen Delawder December 12, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Having been a goat owner before, I personally can say that I am more inconvenienced by the dogs in my neighborhood, whose owners choose not to take responsibility or sufficiently take proper care of their animals. It's sad to see such close-mindedness when it comes to this issue.
Colleen Ward December 13, 2013 at 07:04 AM
As Grace Han Wolf (council member) stated, Herndon goes by Fairfax County rules, so living in Herndon is really exactly the same as living in the rest of Fairfax County, except you get to pay higher taxes!!
Walter Hadlock December 13, 2013 at 09:37 AM
I would much rather look at a couple of dwarf goats in one of my neighbor's backyard instead of the pile of junk around their backyard shed. Also, the goats would probably make short work of the English Ivy encroaching our backyard.
John Strother December 13, 2013 at 10:33 AM
In Arlington County and Fairfax County, a pet is something you don't eat, either the animal itself, nor what it produces. Milk is consumed, so therefore it isn't a pet.
Barbara Glakas December 13, 2013 at 02:40 PM
In this case the Town of Herndon does not have to go by the County zoning rules. The Town Of Herndon controls its own land use and has its own zoning laws. The Town Council has the power to write zoning laws that may be different than the county’s zoning laws, which the town has done before. So in this case, with regards to the goat application, the town council could have elected to pass a zoning amendment to allow these two miniature goats, but they opted not to. The county zoning laws do not preclude us from doing this.
Isis December 14, 2013 at 06:33 AM
This is nuts. Goats are awesome, quiet pets, they are great for keeping a yard clean, and they are as sweet as can be. I have had goats for pets for years and I can't think of a single negative.
Colleen Ward December 16, 2013 at 11:33 AM
Had a great dinner this weekend dining OUTSIDE of Herndon! I typically enjoy a meal in Herndon, even though I have to pay additional sales tax, but since the Herndon Town Council said that the opinion of residents living in Reston and "the other side" of Herndon are not worth a "grain of salt" (you can listen to the meeting to hear for yourself), I decided to take my business elsewhere. I even had to drive farther to go to another store that is in Herndon, but it felt so much better to spend my money in other locations. I'm sure they will not go under from my mere business, but it made me feel a lot better to not support the town with my dollars. It should be noted that the town Zoning committee did recommend the zoning change, so there are forward thinking people in Herndon, just not the current town council. I'll be supporting with fundraising dollars those that voted for this ordinance, and those running against candidates that voted against it.
Colleen Ward December 16, 2013 at 11:48 AM
John Strother, the goats in question have never given milk. Does that change your opinion? In Virginia, the clarification of "not raised for human food or fiber" is specifically written in regards to rabbits - not for dogs, cats, or even goats. Though, the law refers to them as "companion animals" not "pets".
John Strother December 17, 2013 at 03:06 PM
colleen ward, stay on the facts, the owner stated she uses the milk as dairy products. your point is mute and not in reality.
John Strother December 17, 2013 at 04:19 PM
If a house was for sale next door to a goat owner, I would look some place else to buy. This woman admitted she uses the dairy from these goats. That isn't a pet, but live stock. If someone wants farm animals, then isn't it proper for them to live on a Farm to have them? This woman is using her goats to provide Dairy products for her and her family. If she spayed the goats, I still see many problems with goats. As the picture shows, goats love to climb on things and rest. I would hate for my car to become the resting place of a goat. Like I said before, If a house was for sale next door, I wouldn't buy the house even if it was sold at half it's value. Go live on a farm where goats are allowed. If not then don't try to own them and call them pets. A horse is a companion animal, a goat is a food source.
Colleen Ward December 18, 2013 at 10:50 AM
John, you are not aware of the facts of this case. The owner says she uses goats milk, but not from her own goats. Her goats have never been bred, and therefore do not give milk. She would at some point in the future like to breed her goats and get milk from them, but at this point, that is not the case. So by your definition, at this point, they are pets. Have you taken her up on her offer to see her goats? You will see these are very small goats, not the full size ones you may imagine. Your car would never be a resting place, there were amble fencing requirements in the ordinance that would prevent the goat from getting out of the fence. The ordinance also prevented items from being in close proximity to the fence to allow the goat to get climb and get out. The Zoning commission did a thorough job on addressing your concerns. I would buy the house next to her at twice the price. I would know from the way she keeps her animals that she is a compassionate person with plans to stay for a long time. Herndon has lots of problems with transients, so that would be a good thing.
John Strother December 18, 2013 at 11:52 AM
The article stated she had used the milk from these animals, now if that isn't the case then agreed I wouldn't had known rather these animals were producing milk or not. However when you point out that she would like to breed these animals and then use the milk, it points out she should be living on a farm and that these animals would then be used as a food source. No matter how you try to hide this fact, it is still her intent to do more than just have these fine creatures for anything other than a pet. Sorry you have lost this augment, since I hear the idea of a zoning change did not pass. Others feel the way I do and they are on the Herndon Board. Goats do climb on things, yes they do. Don't assume that I know nothing of goats as you do, I was raised around goats all my life. Yeah they can be quite however they can and will eat anything. People are fools when they think farm animals can be pets. They maybe companion animals until they are used as a food source. I guess its has become a world where normal standards are being challenged by the I want, I need, I deserve something different generation. Yep the ones that think they are better than the rest. comply to the normal, if someone wants less government in lives move to where there are less people. Laws govern people so there is some kind of civil shared interests. Goats are not a shared interest. Unless you are talking about a roast.

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