Leaders vote to ease livestock rules

CHESTER -- Chester leaders hope to attract homebuyers who want at least 5 acres and livestock.

City Council members took their first vote this week on changing an ordinance that prohibits people from owning animals such as horses, cows and mules within city limits.

Under the proposed amendment, city residents can house livestock if they meet certain criteria:

-- They must own a tract of at least 5 acres.

-- Each animal must be contained in a pen of at least 900 square feet, kept in an enclosed stable or connected to a rope or chain that's at least 20 feet long.

-- The pen, stable or chain cannot be closer than 60 feet to a well or home.

Monday night's vote was unanimous. Another vote is required for the change to become permanent.

Chester Mayor Mitch Foster said the space guidelines restrict the number of animals on a piece of city property and will keep people from housing livestock on plots that are too small.

He proposed the change after a landowner told him about a problem she encountered trying to sell property on the fringe of the city limits.

Elisa Hedgpath said she put her family's Center Street Georgian Colonial on the market in March. She got several offers from people who were interested in putting horses on the property's pasture.

But when a buyer asked if the city's zoning permitted horses, Hedgpath was stunned to learn it didn't. City Council members also were shocked.

"What do you mean you can't have horses out there?" was the reaction Hedgpath said she heard from council members she called. "There's a barn and pasture."

The land was actually once a dairy farm, Hedgpath said. Her family moved there in 1966. Hedgpath said the city's zoning was done in the 1980s, and apparently, her family's farm was overlooked.

After hearing about this problem, Foster found three other sites in the city that could be marketed to homebuyers who want to raise livestock and still get city services.

Some of the places the mayor found have much more than the required 5 acres, but he said the land could be divided into smaller plots and sold.

Along with offering options for niche buyers, Foster said the presence of cows or horses on the way into Chester down U.S. 321 adds a bucolic touch to a city entryway.

"It creates a pretty, pastoral scene that would be very complementary to the city," he said. "I think it would be a beautiful entrance."

City Councilwoman Linda Tinker echoed those thoughts. She also agreed that the move would give home buyers another option.

"City feel with a country outlook," she said. "It's absolutely wonderful."