Natalie Martinisko was the youngest speaker before the county’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Feb. 14.
“I’ve tried a lot of other sports besides horseback riding and I have not liked them as much, so we decided to look for barns. The only ones we could find were about 30 to 45 minutes away,” said Natalie.
She told the 10-member Board of Supervisors she wanted to ride with one of her friends whose family owns horses. “I think it would be great to let people train at their houses,” said Natalie.
But the county’s zoning ordinances prohibited home occupation lessons and her friend’s mother couldn’t give Natalie lessons.
“There are many kids that don’t fit into the traditional sports model of soccer, basketball, lacrosse, swimming or dance. I know because my daughter tried most of those sports and none really clicked for her,” said Natalie’s mother, Mary Martinisko.
“Being that she’s always been animal oriented, I signed her up for summer camp at at Frying Pan Park,” said Mary Martinisko “Over time, she said horseback riding was all that she really enjoyed.”
The Board of Supervisors passed a change to the zoning ordinance on Feb. 14 that will allow “small scale horseback riding lessons as a home occupation subject to specific limitations designed to minimize the impact of the lessons on surrounding properties.”
Specifically, the proposed ordinance would allow residents to conduct riding lessons at home like piano lessons, tutoring, or other private instruction activities.
“My girls have taken tennis at other people’s houses, they have taken soccer, they have taken swimming and basketball at other people’s houses, but they haven’t been able to take riding,” said Kim Karanik, of Great Falls. “I hope this gets looked at and passed tonight.”
Supervisor John Foust received 17 letters or emails in support of the proposed amendment, Sharon Bulova received 15, Pat Herrity received 11, “all in support,” he said.
“Clearly, there’s a shortage of opportunities,” Herrity said.
The board passed the zoning amendment unanimously.
NOT ALL SPEAKERS spoke in favor of the zoning amendment.
“Well, I was the only person in opposition to these proposed changes at the Planning Commission hearing in January,” said Anne Huffman, of Great Falls. “This set of proposed changes are too intense for people, environment, streams and the horses themselves.”
(See Huffman’s letter to the editor in the Feb. 22 issue of the Great Falls Connection.)
“Horses have a high impact on land,” said Huffman.
Penny Gross acknowledged one of Huffman’s objections, regarding manure and its impact on the health of local streams.
“Manure can be a significant issue,” said Gross.
She remembered years ago, when two students wrote her, asking for special exception permission to allow their horses to be boarded underneath the decks at their houses.
“I wrote back and explained why that wouldn’t be such a great idea. Their parents have thanked me ever since,” said Gross.
Huffman spoke before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
“This type of applicant needs to be given public scrutiny. There’s a huge difference between indoor piano lessons and outdoor horseback riding instruction,” said Huffman, asking who will monitor care of the horses and the amount of activity that takes place.
No special events will be permitted, she was told at the Planning Commission hearing.
“Good luck enforcing that,” Huffman said.
CURRENTLY, A SPECIAL PERMIT to teach riding lessons requires a $8,180 application fee, just to start the process.
“While evidence is anecdotal, the equestrian community has seen a long-term decline in the number of riding programs available in Fairfax County, as property owners and horse trainers are concerned about the consequences of potential zoning violations associated with the board of more than three horses or with offering any riding lessons,” according to staff reports.
“This has garnered so much support from the riding and equestrian community,” said at-large Planning Commissioner Janyce Hedetniemi at its public hearing on Jan. 12. “It has been encouraging to those of us who love horses here in Fairfax County.”
Beverly Dickerson, of Oakton, is president of Fairfax for Horses.
“There is a large unmet demand for riding lessons in Fairfax County as you are hearing. Long waiting lists in the existing stables, few places to go, and as Natalie just said, ‘Not every child is interested in team sports,’” Dickerson told the board.
“We need to provide good recreation for a wide range of children and adults,” said Dickerson.
Equestrian sports need to be passed down from other riders, said Lisa Mulville, of Vienna. “I grew up here in the county and I have had a horse since I was 14 and the responsibility it taught me was incredible,” she said.
“We’re losing a lot of revenue in this county because as stables and horse folks leave so do the vets, so do the blacksmiths, so do the local tack shops,” she said.
Sarah Kirk, owner of the Saddlery in Great Falls, moved to the county in 1981, and to Great Falls in 1998. “I had three ponies and nowhere to put them,”
“It is disappointing to see small operations moving, and the people that teach riding going to Loudoun County and Maryland,” Kirk said. “We believe passionately in this sport.”
“EVERY OTHER SPORT, you’re allowed to do at your home,” said Karanik.
According to Planning Commission documents, hours of operation would be limited from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to minimize impact on surrounding neighbors; and all horses for riding must be kept on the property and can’t be transported or ridden to the property for lessons. On lots sized between two and five acres, the maximum amount of instruction is eight students in one day and no more than two students can be given lessons at any given time. On lots five acres or more, a maximum of four students can be taught at any given time.
“The amendment would increase the maximum number of horses or ponies that can be boarded by right on a property from three horses on any lot, to up to five horses on lots containing a minimum of two acres and less than five acres, and up to eight horses on lots containing five or more acres. The maximum number of horses that may kept, boarded or maintained shall not include the horses owned by the resident of the property,” according to planning documents.
Karanik gave credit to Foust for helping her navigate the zoning process that prevented home riding.
“What I am trying to fight for is continuing the equestrian sport in the community. We felt the importance of bringing the sport to children,” said Karanik.