EAST LONGMEADOW The East Longmeadow Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) upheld the recommendation of the town building commissioner and ordered the removal of "Simon," an 11 month-old miniature horse from 22 High Street.
In March, Simon's owner Linda Paquette was notified by Stephen P. Houle, the town's building commissioner, that zoning bylaws required her to have a minimum of 10,000 square feet for a horse. Paquette's property is 9,700 square feet. The letter gave her 30 days to remove the horse from the property.
Paquette's 13 year-old daughter, Brittany, worked odd jobs over the last five years to save up for the horse she planned to use for therapeutic purposes. During Simon's time at the residence, it was not uncommon for Brittany to bring Simon to nearby retirement communities Inward Commons and Quarry Hill to socialize with seniors. Her intention was to bring Simon to children and elderly in hospitals and nursing homes.
In an emotional interview with Reminder Publications, Paquette put out a request for help.
"It's just to the two of us, mom and daughter, fighting against the town, " Paquette said.
An eighth grader at Birchland Park Middle School, Brittany has a weekly job cleaning an attorney's office and last year Paquette matched her daughter's earnings in order to purchase Simon.
"She's really been a hard worker since she was a young child," Paquette said.
In November 2006 they brought Simon home. The mother-daughter team built Simon a shelter with their own hands and a transporting device they attach to a truck so he would be more comfortable when travelling.
She said she even considered putting up a stockade fence for her neighbor's comfort, but said she decided against it because everyone seemed at ease with Simon's presence.
"I try to be a good neighbor to everybody," Paquette said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Not long after, Brittany began bringing Simon out to meet and greet seniors.
"We've all met and established a sense of community," Paquette said. "It's not often a young girl is interested in helping the elderly."
Months later she was contacted by Houle and ordered to remove Simon due to the bylaw violation.
She appealed Houle's recommendation and on May 14 Paquette attended a ZBA public hearing where she argued the difference between Simon and an average-sized horse. After all, Paquette and Brittany are familiar with the equine species, they own a full-grown horse named Skittles which they board at Meadow View Farm.
Paquette said the zoning bylaw that Houle said she's violated, Section 3 Table 3-2, pertained to a stable, not a horse: "Residence C, Private Stable - for stabling one horse, a lot must have a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet. For stabling additional horses, a lot shall have 10,000 square feet of additional space."
"This law is for a big horse. We do not need a stable. There are no definitions for a horse," said Paquette. "It's technically a member of the equine species, but it is more closely related to a dog in size and weight."
She said it was at the public hearing that she learned the initial contact from Houle was in response to a complaint he received from a neighbor. She said the letter was read at the hearing and concerns included fear of odors and flies.
She said that she puts lime on urine to avoid any odors and scoops excrement into a container five times a day. She also explained that she used a fly predator to kill larvae.
Other surrounding neighbors wrote letters in support of Simon staying. But Paquette feels that the ZBA did not take anything into account.
"They disregarded everything everyone said. They kept saying, 'a horse is a horse.' It was over in ten seconds."
She said she was also surprised that Houle did not attend the meeting and said that he has never called or come out to view their property.
Houle said he did view the premises and that he also has the availability of GIS (geographic information system).
"Her argument that she presented was that she is making a determination of how the bylaw read, which is fine. She took the right avenue. It's just unfortunate," said Houle. "I'm the person to enforce the local bylaws ... I have a law, if it's not met, I have to enforce it."
Houle questioned the square footage of the bylaw himself.
"Could this bylaw support a full grown horse? All it deals with is the square footage. It doesn't specify the kind of horse," he said, adding that 10,000 square feet is not adequate for a large horse. "I hope that they look at this bylaw and they do change it. I've run into many situations. Some are really compassionate and they rip your heart out. I would hope that they (the town boards) get together and start looking at their bylaws."
At the moment, Simon's fate is unknown. He's currently being housed at nearby Meadow View Farm with Skittles, which is taking a financial toll on Paquette.
In addition to the $375 she pays for Skittles, she now has to contribute another $100 for Simon and also supply his food.
"If there's any lawyers out there who would like to help us pro bono, we'd be open to that," Paquette said. "Or if anyone has an open field or barn facility that they are not using and would let us use it for free or for a reasonable price. I'm just a tax paying citizen. I don't know anyone or have any connections."