In spite of the changes Melissa Heatherington Mower has made to her property, the Creston City Council denied her request to keep horses inside the city limits during its regular meeting Tuesday at the Creston Restored Depot.
City attorney Marc Elcock explained that variances do not actually fall in the jurisdiction of city councils. In order to allow exceptions to an ordinance, they can either amend their ordinance or send the matter to the board of adjustment, which has the authority to make such decisions. He also cautioned that granting a variance would open the council up to more similar requests.
“You don’t want to get in the habit of people coming before the council to request special permission to do something,” Elcock said. “If you are saying you want to allow ... the horses with Miss Mower, you are saying you want to open up your current ordinance and make it more liberal ... and anyone else who falls under the current parameters of her property could also have horses.”
Mower’s original request to the board was tabled two weeks ago to give time for her to speak to her neighbors. Council member Jocelyn Blazek has also told Mower in a previous meeting that the council would be more open to hearing her request if she had come to them with the property improvements already in place.
Although Mower said she believed she had an appointment with the council because of the tabled matter, the agenda did not reflect this.
Instead she spoke during public forum, listing the items she has accomplished to help eliminate the problems with smell and run-off that her neighbors complained of — including the relocation of one of the two horses, moving a fence and clearing trees to make more usable pasture. She then asked the council for 30 days to find a temporary placement for the second horse. Mower said she planned to finish the improvements to her property and come before the council again.
Mower said that she attempted to contact her neighbors during this time, but they were unwilling to speak to her.
Neighbor Eric Anderson spoke to the council saying that this was not a dispute between neighbors, it was instead a dispute between Mower and the ordinance.
“Following the last city council meeting, I was left a little astonished that this issue was left as if it was a dispute between neighbors and that we should come to some sort of agreement,” Anderson said.
He said that he did not want to speak to Mower privately because of the things she had previously said to the council about him and her other neighbor, Bruce Baker.
“After the last time I talked to her, she came up here and, unfortunately, (gave) false statements,” Anderson said.
Anderson maintained that no one pressured Mower to sign away her rights to their shared septic system. Instead, he said there was an agreement in place that she is not upholding.
He also provided information to the council regarding the amount of space needed for a horse according to the University of Minnesota Extension, which recommends at least two acres of usable land per 1,000 pound horse.
Mower’s property is slightly more than one acre in total. According to Anderson, only .9 acres of the property is usable for pasture.
Anderson also spoke to the council about the effect this matter has had on his personal and professional life, saying he has gotten comments such as, “You’re the horse hater.” He said he does not have a problem with horses or animals. In fact, he was raised on a farm and participated in 4-H.
Council member Terry Freeman renewed the motion to require Mower to move her horses out of city limits, changing the time limit to 30 days instead of the 15 days previously included by council member Rich Madison.
Council member Brenda Lyell-Keate questioned the council about Mower’s efforts to clean up her property.
“Since she’s tried fix everything, there’s not going to be a way to let her keep them?” Lyell-Keate said.
Freeman said it would set a “bad precedent” to allow the horses.
“I think if you want this type of scenario to happen on a weekly basis where we have neighbors in here arguing,” Freeman said. “The ordinance is pretty clear. I think we should follow it.”
Madison added that even if there were no other problems, the property is not big enough to support even one horse.
The motion passed 6 to 7 with Lyell-Keate as the sole “no” vote.
After the meeting Amber Neisemeier responded for Mower, referencing a previous decision by the council to allow animals within city limits: “They said they didn’t want to set a precedent ... they did that in October with the donkey.”