Plans to build a hobby farm near Person Lake in Wascott were defeated Wednesday, Oct. 13, when the Douglas County Zoning Committee denied a zoning change to Craig and Christine McNeil.
The couple planned to have up to four horses or foals, and 6-10 hens on a five-acre parcel on Pine Oak Road, north of Person Lake.
“My husband and I cared for some of the abandoned horses at a stable in Omaha while we lived there ... to give them the best care and love possible until they could be adopted out for a forever home,” Christine McNeil wrote about the couple’s goals. “When we were able to move back home, we knew that horses would need to be our purpose in our retirement.”
The McNeils own two Mangalarga Marchadors, the national horse of Brazil, that were purchased as foals and are currently boarded in Scottdale, Arizona.
The couple’s plan included breeding the mare and selling any foals that exceeded four. However, the property is currently zoned as residential recreational. To make their dream a reality, the property would need to be zoned as residential.
They sought a zoning change from Wascott officials and received it. The county zoning committee also weighs in on proposed changes, which is how the issue came up at Wednesday's meeting.
The proposed plan didn’t sit well with neighbors.
Ten cabins are adjacent to the property in a span of 470 yards, said Rick Gondik, who owns a cabin two doors away from the McNeils.
“You’re going to put the smell of horse manure wafting through the neighborhood when you’d like to smell the water and all of the nice country-type smells that you have at a cabin on a lake,” Gondik said.
Knute Pedersen, who owns property across from the five-acre parcel, said he should have gotten a letter as an adjacent property owner when the Wascott Plan Commission met on the issue. He learned about the meeting because a friend discovered the posting at a local store 24 hours before the meeting.
“I would recommend that this not be rezoned … that would be my request of the committee,” Pedersen said.
Shannon Jorgensen, who owns property on Crystal Lake, said, “They knew what the zoning was when they purchased the property or it was transferred, and to change it so they can change the nature of a community or the neighborhood just doesn’t seem appropriate to me.”
Julie Kimmes, who bought her lake home in Wascott in 2020, said she never received notice of the town meetings. She said the issue has created animosity and tension in the neighborhood.
“There is no validity to this zoning change,” Kimmes said, adding that a hardship hasn’t been demonstrated.
Lynn Koalska, chair of the Wascott Plan Commission, said she was surprised that the proposed hobby farm wasn’t in a more remote location when she visited, and she believes that with additional information, the commission might have come to different conclusion.
“It will affect the other property owners,” Koalska said. “While it is legal to rezone, but when you rezone you need to consider that there are neighbors that are going to be unhappy with it … Common sense tells us we should consider the neighbors and what it’s going to be used for in the end.”
The zoning change would be inconsistent with Douglas County’s Comprehensive Plan, said zoning coordinator Tessah Behlings.
Wascott Town Board chair Jan Jenson said the town board, which gave final approval, didn’t believe they had legal grounds to deny the zoning change.
After a motion to approve the zoning change failed with a 2-3 vote; the Douglas County Zoning Committee voted 4-1 to deny the change.