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County changes mind on horse limit

December 27, 2018

MOMENCE — Wesley Sons, who lives northeast of Momence, has known for a while the Kankakee County government would do nothing to help him with the growing number of cattle on the property next door.

The county maintained it had no power to do so; it was within the state’s authority.

But as recently as two months ago, the county’s zoning department says it could limit the number of horses on properties, citing a county law.

Now, officials have changed their minds.

In a response to Daily Journal questions in October, Delbert Skimerhorn, the county’s zoning official, cited a county ordinance that limited horses to one per acre, suggesting the county had the power to enforce that.

Sons said his neighbor, Manuel Garcia, has had far more than what was allowed under county ordinance. A few months ago, the county’s animal control department counted 21 horses on Garcia’s five-acre property, information the county zoning department says it recently received.

In October, a Daily Journal reporter witnessed six horses, one more than the county limit, but the reporter could not see inside the buildings, where some horses might have been.

In a recent email to the Daily Journal, Skimerhorn said it now was his interpretation that “our zoning ordinance has no effect on this situation.” He said state law clearly states animal husbandry is an agricultural purpose exempt from county zoning when such a purpose is the principal activity on the land.

“I believe animal husbandry is the principal activity on the land and therefore exempt,” Skimerhorn said.

He said he has been told by county board chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, that it would be appropriate to repeal the portion of the zoning ordinance that conflicts with state law because the county lacks jurisdiction.

“It only causes confusion, and I would expect him to take action on this in the future,” Skimerhorn said in his email.

Even though he said the county lacks jurisdiction, he said a county zoning officer has visited Garcia’s property three times since Sons lodged a complaint about the horses on Dec. 1.

“We have just received the reports from Kankakee County Animal Control and will evaluate them accordingly,” he said.

It is unclear why a zoning officer is visiting Garcia’s property if the county’s horse limit has no effect. Skimerhorn, who typically does not do phone interviews, did not clarify, other than to say, “The confusion is why it will be reviewed.”

Garcia’s and Sons’ properties are in an “agricultural estate” zone. Sons bought his property before Garcia came into the neighborhood. Garcia then started his cattle and horse operation after moving in. An estimated 50 cattle live on the property.

Sons has complained about the smell and drainage from Garcia’s property, drainage he fears is livestock waste. He said rodeos take place on Garcia’s land, but the county said it has been unable to confirm that.

Other nearby residents have contacted the Daily Journal to say they, too, have problems with Garcia’s property, where they say rodeos happen.

In an interview, Sons expressed frustration with the county zoning department.

“They don’t want to do anything there,” he said. “They know there are way more horses than there are supposed to be.”

Throughout the last two years, animal control has been called to Garcia’s property at least eight times because of animal welfare issues. In one instance, animal control officers showed up because of a report of a dead cow that had been lying on the ground for days.

A man on Garcia’s property denied it until the officers found the corpse. Then the man said it had only been there for a day, according to county reports. The officers then informed state law requires him to properly disposed it within 24 hours.

Animal control officers also have noticed limping and apparently sick cattle on the land.

Garcia has been cited for dogs on the property that have not been registered and vaccinated. He corrected the problems, and citations were dismissed.

Julie Boudreau, animal control’s director, recently said the property has the appearance of a “feedlot-type” operation.

“In my experience of handling animals, when your population is at capacity, you’re bound to run across more sickness,” she said. “It certainly seems like there are quite a few cattle on a small amount of property.”

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