Don’t blink or you’ll miss the destruction of the horse industry – and a way of life -- in Larimer County. On May 24, county commissioners will vote on a plan that peels horse facilities off from other agricultural uses, and forces them to comply with new, anti-business land use codes.
No new stable owner in their right mind would want to start a horse business under these conditions, and few post-1988 stables will survive. I say post-1988 because if you were a stable before then, you can choose the potentially-equal agony of our “grandfathering” process.
The vote will settle the question of who gets priority as the county grows, the new “public” or existing citizens.
Amazingly, few people took advantage of public feedback in this process. Word on the street says the stable contingent hid “under the radar”. Others think this issue affects only a few. Those cowards who hid, or the good citizens who trustingly sat back while this 18-month saga
The upcoming vote on horse land-use rules is about government v. the people. Based on a few vague, hush-hush complaints (yes, believe it or not, the county took anonymous complaints), our government proposes to rewrite pages of land use code, in effect discriminating against the horse industry, and unconstitutionally removing more than two decades of permitted land use from its citizenry.
By way of government “for the people, by the people”, the county touts the hard work of a volunteer “working group”, which debated horse land use for more than a year. Membership dwindled as the project wore on. The working group suffered a blow in November when our volunteer, advisory planning commission tabled a vote because the plan lacked “teeth”.
The horse land-use plan on the table today is a voracious beast that can only be fed by a fleet of enforcers, and new taxes masquerading as “fees”. The plan violates Colorado’s Right to Farm Act (Search for CRS 35-3.5-101), Larimer County’s Right to Farm Policy, and abandons Larimer County’s Code of the West.
Ignoring simpler alternatives, our county sells this plan as an improvement over idiotic 1988 rules that required anybody boarding more than four horses to undergo “special review”, another curse inflicted on businesses around here. Few knew about the 1988 rule, and for more than two decades, enforcement was driven by – again believe it or not – those anonymous complaints.
Aside from the insanity of these regulations for new stables, existing stables must now pay for more than 20 years of mismanagement accomplished by the county ignoring its own shameful rules. Boarding stables make little profit. They do support beautiful, pastoral scenery, and millions of dollars in related service businesses. For even a remnant of the local horse industry to survive, the county must grant amnesty to existing stables, period.
The county should be paying people for what is, in effect, a hidden land grab that devalues rural property. Instead, the offer on the table is a 50-percent fee discount, a laughable drop in the bucket of what it could actually cost a stable to “comply”. Boarding stables will now be allowed fewer livestock per acre than any other rural property owner. Another believe-it-or-not: Somebody owning 175 acres will only be allowed to board 12 horses by right.
My sister, an avid Paint Horse exhibitor who moved from here to Texas, wrote after one of my blog posts: “What is going on with Larimer County? Is everybody nuts?”
Everybody is not nuts. Few have the guts to stand up for what is right.
(Karin Livingston is a career 4-H leader specializing in horses, and the author of the young-adult horse novel, Winning Bet. An ad-free version of this blog is available on the Amazon Kindle. Just search for "Hoofprints" on your device.)
Contact Larimer County county commissioners.
Larimer County Board of County Commissioners is set to make a final decision on this issue at a 6:30 p.m. hearing, Monday, May 24, Larimer County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W Oak Street, Fort Collins, 1st Floor, Hearing Room.