Planning board suggests county step back
Union County needs to stop regulating rodeos. That was the recommendation handed down by the county planning board Tuesday Nov. 1, as the group voted, with Jim Howie in opposition, to follow state statutes when it comes to dealing with horse farms.
“If state law supersedes anything Union County does, then by golly, let’s get out of the business (of regulating),” planning board member Frank Aikmus said. “We don’t need to be dictating what these people can and can’t do. Get the heck out of the way.”
Throughout the three hour discussion, planning board members asked why the county felt a need to regulate horse farms in the first place.
“Are we having complaints about rodeos?” planning board member Jim Thornton asked.
County Zoning Administrator Lee Jenson said not exactly, but he was still obligated to check out what comes in.
“I wouldn’t say people are beating down my door,” Jenson said. “If I receive a complaint, I’m required to respond to it. There’s nothing in the table of uses that addresses rodeos.”
Planning board member Jeff Gerber asked Jenson what the county’s policy was, in regards to rodeo regulation, since it didn’t show up in the table of uses. Jenson said for something not defined in the table, he tried to regulate it by finding something similar, to compare it to.
“So we shut down two businesses and didn’t have a policy in place?” Gerber asked.
Planning staff members attempted to get responses from the Farm Bureau, the Institute of Government and the Cooperative Extension, for help in defining the county’s authority over agritourism and rodeos. Planning director Dick Black said none of the three provided information by the time of Tuesday’s meeting.
Wingate resident and rodeo owner Jay Brown outlined several different operations throughout the county, that have been allowed to continue business, without any zoning enforcement.
“Can someone explain to me why the two of us have been singled out?” Brown asked. “There’s probably 60 to 70 horse shows in this county. I’m shut down over what?”
In January, the county ordered Brown’s Cross Creek Arena, 1916 McIntyre Road in Wingate, shut down for not following North Carolina’s commercial building code. Once state lawmakers addressed that issue, the county also cited Brown for failing to request a conditional use permit for each of his rodeos.
Marshville farmer Thomas “Pinky” Marsh meanwhile has been in and out of court over the last four years with the county, arguing they don’t have the authority to regulate the Mexican-style rodeos he staged at his property. The difference between the two is Marsh went to the county to request a special-use permit and was granted one to hold four rodeos a year. In multiple court rulings, judges came back to the fact Marsh had requested a permit, stating that act gave the county definite jurisdiction over the events. Brown on the other hand never approached the county, with an investigation only taking place after an anonymous complaint was filed. Marsh lost in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Sept. 21.
When planning board members asked Jenson about the other farms and why he hadn’t regulated them, Jenson said he wasn’t aware where they were.
“That has been brought up in the past,” Jenson said. “I keep asking for specific addresses and that has not been provided to me.”
State beats county
Black read a letter to the planning board from county attorney Jeff Crook, stating that North Carolina law always takes precedence over county regulations. With that in mind, Marsh asked the planning board to let this go back to county commissioners to decide.
“You have no authority,” Marsh said. “You don’t need to be making any more rules up. You’re trying to figure out a way to regulate when you have laws already in place.”
A bill that became law in this year’s session of the General Assembly, HB168, specifically says what it takes to be considered a working or “bonafide” farm. Such farms are exempt from county zoning ordinances, according state officials. “A ‘bonafide farm’ is generally exempt from county zoning and certain aspects of building code enforcement,” North Carolina School of Government official Rich Ducker wrote in an Aug. 17 letter. Horse farms qualify for the exemption, Ducker wrote. He stated that “an agricultural activity pursued purely for pleasure, like raising horses, rather than for profit would still qualify and so too would related incidental activities.”
In order to classify as a farm, a property owner has to show one of five things; a farm sales tax exemption certificate issued by the Department of Revenue, a copy of the property tax listing, a copy of the farm owner’s most recent federal income tax return, a forest management plan or a Farm Identification Number issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Board members voted to send the issue back to county commissioners, with the recommendation that the county step back and let the state handle regulation of rodeos and horse farms.