Chatter about a proposed update to Hillsboro’s zoning code that would limit the number of household pets to a total of four began making the rounds on social media this week, prompting local pet owners and city officials to share their thoughts prior to a public hearing on the matter set for Monday.
The 99-page zoning code update, drafted by the Hillsboro Planning Commission over the past year with the help of an outside consultant, contains a section prohibiting residents from keeping more than four pets, including dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits, on properties within city limits.
Hillsboro City Council will consider the draft for the first time on Monday following a public hearing.
Council member and Zoning Committee Chairwoman Wendy Culbreath said while the measure was designed as a means to enforce complaints filed against residents with nuisance pets, she believes it should be removed from the code update.
Culbreath said she’s concerned residents who have interpersonal problems with local pet owners could use it as “retaliation.”
“It lends itself to grumpy, disgruntled people saying, ‘Yeah, well, I know Hillsboro only lets you have four dogs, four animals, and I’m going to go in and complain,’” she said. “It becomes retaliation for people.”
Culbreath, who has two pets herself, added that she doesn’t believe government should dictate how many animals residents can own.
“It’s kind of like the gun laws,” Culbreath said. “You shouldn’t take away the freedom of the people who are law abiding and responsible just because there’s a few people who aren’t responsible.”
Hillsboro Planning Commission Chairman Tom Eichinger said the city’s consultant, Liz Fields, who is familiar with zoning codes in similar communities, presented “a number of different ways we could look at the animal situation.”
“This is the one we chose,” he said. “It’s not used to have someone go around and count dogs and cats. It was more to have some way for the city to take some action if there was a complaint, if it was a legitimate issue.”
Eichinger said the city already has ordinances in place that deal with nuisance animals, but “they’re very old, just like the zoning code, and they’re not very specific.”
Culbreath said she’s still in favor of striking the rule.
“I think they should just strike it right out and use the laws and ordinances they have on the books to take care of domestic animal problems,” she said. “Why be redundant?”
Councilman Justin Harsha, who also sits on the Zoning Committee, said there is a provision in the code update that would allow residents who already have more than four pets to be “grandfathered in,” unless their property is vacant for more than 180 days after the code is approved.
“If someone had 10 pets now, they would have been grandfathered in anyway,” he said.
But, Harsha said he, too, is in favor of striking the rule.
“Since there’s been so many people talking about this and worried about it, it might be something that will just be pulled out of the zoning code,” he said. “I’m in favor of striking it.”
Harsha said if council wishes to strengthen its nuisance animal ordinances, “we could always look at that later.”
Highland County Dog Warden Cathy Seifer said while the rule won’t necessarily affect the local dog pound, she feels it’s not a common-sense measure.
“I can’t imagine it affecting us at all,” she said. “The only thing we would be responsible for is making sure they’re all licensed.”
But, Seifer said, “I have more than four (pets), and it would be really upsetting if I was told I could only have four. I think a lot of it should be based more on the care, and that they don’t allow them to run loose in the city.”
Seifer said while she does not live in the city, she will attend the meeting to voice her opinions.
A call seeking comment from the Highland County Humane Society was not immediately returned.
Leslie Lightner, a Hillsboro resident who owns five dogs and four cats, some of which she rescued, said the rule “absolutely infuriates me.”
“I’m outraged to think they feel it’s necessary,” she said.
Lightner said while she understands the enforcement aspect of the rule, she believes it will deter pet owners from seeking residence in the city.
“What incentive would there be for anybody to move into the city if they have more than four animals?” she said, adding, “I fail to see why you need an ordinance just to respond to complaints. I really do.”
Lightner said she plans to attend the meeting with other pet owners to speak up against the change.
Eichinger said if it’s “a large issue,” the rule can be taken out and the rest of the code update approved, adding, “Let’s not blow this thing out of proportion… We’re going to hear what people have to say, and council will make a decision as to whether it stays or is changed.”
Culbreath said the zoning code update itself is still necessary, and applauded the planning commission for paying close attention to its drafting.
“It hadn’t been looked at since the 60s,” she said. “The planning commission did work hard… it was a huge undertaking, and they did a great job for the most part. It just needs a little tweaking.”
The hearing, a joint meeting between the Hillsboro Planning Commission and Hillsboro City Council, will be held at 6:15 p.m. Monday, April 9 in the Municipal Courtroom at the Highland County Justice Center, prior to council’s regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.