Managing the Clark County divide between rural concerns and encroaching urbanism will require, one might say, a little horse sense.
As issues surrounding the county code and the needs of equestrian facilities in rural areas becomes the latest battleground for the region’s urban-rural chasm, Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring effectively sums up the situation.
“The council will talk about this, but I’m pretty sure that we’re probably going to come together and say, ‘We need to look at the code,’ ” Quiring said last week at the end of a tense public comment session during a council meeting. “But the other way to do, to address that, is form some task force or something where we can work together.”
Indeed, working together will be essential for balancing the rights of rural land owners and the council’s obligation to adequately manage the changing nature of the county.
That issue came to head at last week’s council meeting as several horse owners made their feelings known at what The Columbian reported was a “lengthy, sometimes emotional public comment period.” While this particular discussion is about how county officials deal with equestrian facilities, in truth it is emblematic of larger conflicts that will help define growth in Clark County.
A letter from county officials, sent Dec. 24, triggered the latest issue. The Community Development office informed a property owner that they were operating an equestrian facility that had not received county approval. “All commercial use and/or equestrian activities, other than your personal use or use by members of the public who board their horses on your premises, providing that collectively this does not exceed five horses, must cease immediately,” the letter reads. The property owner was warned they could be subject to daily fines and liens for noncompliance.
County officials have a right — in fact, a duty — to regulate businesses under their purview. Ensuring appropriate permitting and safety measures for commercial enterprises helps protect consumers and neighbors. If the county is merely trying to enforce the law, land owners should advocate for changes to that law rather than suggesting it should be ignored.
On the other hand, adequate communication is necessary, rather than subjecting property owners to a labyrinth of bureaucracy.
Roger Sturdevant, owner of R&R Recreation Center in Woodland, testified that he initially was told by county officials that he would need one permit to operate his business; later, he was informed that more expensive upgrades would be needed to adhere to the county code. If his assertion is accurate, county officials must work with Sturdevant to mitigate the problems and to more effectively interact with the public.
That interaction is reflective of changes in Clark County. As pasture land and farmland gradually diminish, and as rural areas are increasingly populated by residents who want to live in the country but continue to work in the city, conflict is inevitable. For example, County Code Administration Director Mitch Nickolds said four notices have been issued to equestrian facilities since 2018, each of them initiated by neighbors.
As Quiring suggested, it is time for county officials to form a task force and look at regulations regarding horses in Clark County and how those regulations are enforced. When it comes to effectively managing rural areas, all residents have a horse in this race.