Clark County to form community task force on equestrian facilities code


The goal is to simplify things so more horse-related business owners can be in compliance with the law

CLARK COUNTY — It hasn’t exactly been a gallop, but Clark County is moving ahead with plans to address concerns raised by members of the equestrian community.

At a council meeting this week, Code Enforcement Director Mitch Nickolds detailed feedback from an Oct. 7 public hearing.

“There was a large interest in redefining public versus private facilities,” Nickolds summed up.

Horses in a North Clark County field. Photo by Mike Schultz
Horses in a North Clark County field. Photo by Mike Schultz

The issues go back a few years when several complaints prompted the county to look into some equestrian facilities, and follow up with notices that they were out of compliance with regulations.

Getting into compliance, however, would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, many of the business owners pointed out, prompting backlash and, eventually, a series of heated public meetings.

“We heard from a lot of supporters of the industry saying, ‘hey, this is unfair to us,’” Nickolds said this week. “And when that became a crescendo, they approached Council and asked for assistance in looking at reviewing the codes to make them clearer.”

There are anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 horses in Clark County, many of which stay on hundreds of smaller farms, often repurposed from former dairy or agricultural facilities.

“Over the past three years, we’ve only had seven or eight complaints about equestrian facilities,” Nickolds pointed out. “For the most part, folks who have these facilities are managing them properly.”

Still, pointed out Councilor Gary Medvigy, most of those facilities are technically operating without legal permits.

“It doesn’t tell me that they’re wrong,” he added. “What it tells me is that the code is so onerous that everyone wants to avoid it, and not get dialed into it. So we need to improve all of it.”

Clark County is looking at ways to help equestrian businesses get in compliance with the law by simplifying the code. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County is looking at ways to help equestrian businesses get in compliance with the law by simplifying the code. Photo by Mike Schultz

Councilor Julie Olson echoed Medvigy’s sentiment, saying the code needs to be simplified and made clear, so everyone feels comfortable they’re complying with the law.

“It’s simply our really onerous and expensive permit process for very simple structures, and the cost associated with this process,” Olson said. “And if we look at that, as it relates to both the ag structures and the equestrian code, I think we can do some really good headway here for our community.”

The council instructed Nickolds to reach out to stakeholders and form a community taskforce to examine the issue more closely.

While most equestrian-related businesses operate without complaints from neighbors, Nickolds added, the process shouldn’t ignore their concerns, including traffic volume on narrow streets, and potential damage to roadways from equipment.

Overall, the council appeared heavily committed to finding a path forward that helps keep horses a key part of the area’s rural communities.

“The equestrian community is in the DNA of Clark County,” said Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien. “I mean, the numbers are phenomenal.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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