Board: Pet pigs can stay at Chestnut Street West residence

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BRATTLEBORO — A family is allowed to keep their two pigs, Benny and Hamilton, as pets in the residential neighborhood on Chestnut Street West.

"It's not out of character for someone to come into our house and find any of us laying on the floor with the pigs," Sarah Short said Wednesday during a hearing. "They're very affectionate. They love to be pet."

The Brattleboro Development Review Board unanimously rejected Zoning Administrator Brian Bannon's determination that the pigs were farm animals. Bannon said he had made the determination after a neighbor — Lorraine Cotter, who recently died — reported the pigs were being treated like farm animals.

Board Chairman James Valente said Short had communication from the town allowing the pets to be kept as pigs before she bought them, they were trained and kept indoors, and they were not causing a hazard or "lack of appropriateness" in the neighborhood since they were fenced in.

Short's attorney Laurie Rowell said the pigs were initially considered by Bannon to be pets about a year ago. An email exchange between Short and Bannon shows Bannon said the animals could reside on the property after being told they would be small and would mostly be kept inside.

In May, Bannon issued a notice of violation: "I recently observed that you are keeping farm animals on the property without a conditional use permit ... I understand the pigs may have been treated as house pets in the past but they now seem to be managed as farm animals."

Short appealed the determination, arguing the pigs were pets and not farm animals.

"They sleep in the house and they're kept in the same place as our dogs," she said. "They go outside for part of the day, usually when the weather's permitting. They were raised in the house so they don't really like it unless it's optimal weather. They don't go out in the winter really; it's too cold."

Short told the board she works a second shift so she or her boyfriend are usually always home. She said if the pigs are left alone, "it's never for an extended time."

Short missed the last part of the hearing held during a June 18 meeting. She said she had a complicated cesarean birth and could not drive or move around. Rowell said she would have attended if she knew one of the neighbors would be providing testimony.

Bud Lolatte, a neighbor, raised concerns about the smell of the pigs at that meeting. He claimed they were attracting predators such as fisher-cats into the neighborhood and two cats had gone missing as a result.

Short said her home is at the end of a cul-de-sac and Lolatte lives next door. Lolatte works in the advertising department of the Reformer.

The pigs are 2-year-old brothers and "pretty much fully grown" at about 55 pounds each, Short told the board. She said they are Juliana Pigs, "one of the smallest breeds of pigs."

"They're usually kept as pets because they don't produce enough meat," she said. "If you brought them to a butcher, they would just laugh at you."

The pigs were purchased for $300 each in December 2017 and have been neutered, Short told the board.

"I always wanted a pet pig because they're smart, they're affectionate," she said. "It's always been a goal of mine to get a pig."

Through her research, Short said she learned "zoning is often an issue" so she reached out to the town's animal control officer who referred her to Bannon. Short said she worried she would end up losing the pigs to a shelter.

The pigs have "designated areas of the house with pee pads of sorts" and their waste outdoors is picked up promptly, Short told the board. She said they are trained to come to their name, walk in circles and jump. She plans to cremate the pigs when they die and keep the ashes.

Kevin Mills of Brattleboro told the board he likes bacon. "You realize that's not what we're talking about, right?" said Rowell.

Mills called the testimony "pretty well rehearsed."

"It just seems like a lot of this could have been avoided if there had been more communication with the neighbors and everything else," he said, asking what was being done to keep away coyotes and fisher-cats.

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Short said she had not seen any predators since getting the pigs. She described to the board three types of fencing on her land, all of which goes about 5 feet high.

Writing to the board "in honor" of Cotter, the deceased neighbor, Colleen Guidoboni had complained about the sound of squealing pigs.

"Pigs do make noise but it's not any louder than a dog barking or a child screaming and it would only be when they are outside," Short said, adding that she could hear the neighbors talking when they are outside or closing their car doors.

On properties outside of rural and rural residential districts, the town requires permits for the keeping of wild animals or livestock other than fowl. Bannon said Brattleboro's land use regulations do not include definitions of pets or farm animals.

"It's really a matter of treatment and whether they cause a hazard," he said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Maya Hasegawa was in the middle of suggesting that Short keep the pigs in certain space of the backyard when Valente said the board had no authority to put conditions on the approval. Valente said he hates to overturn Bannon's decision "because usually he's spot on."

Board member Nora Dissinger said she did not want property owners to think they could claim any pig is a pet.

"These pigs are pets," she said.

Valente said Short will need to continue showing her pigs are being kept as pets or she could face another zoning violation.

Hasegawa said it would have been more difficult to make a decision if there had not been the initial emails between Bannon and Short.

"You researched and bought pigs," Hasegawa said. "So I think, given that fact, we have to approve them as pets."

Board member Michael Averill said he wanted to get a pig but decided against it "because they're probably smarter than I am."

Another animal application

At the same meeting, the board unanimously rejected a request for retroactive approval from Miranda Neizer-Brown to keep sheep and goats in an existing shed at 53 Ivy Lane. The property is owned by Bob Remy-Powers.

After deliberating, board member Eric Annis said the rejection had to do with the property being in a residential neighborhood. Neizer-Brown was given until Nov. 1 to get the animals off the property. She could not immediately be reached Thursday afternoon.

Bannon said once the DRB decision is signed, Neizer-Brown will have 30 days to appeal the decision in Vermont Environmental Court. If there is no appeal and the animals are not removed by Nov. 1, she can be ticketed with fines or the town can seek a court order to have the animals removed.

Hasegawa said during a site visit, the board found that the shed was too close to a wetland and she did not think there would be enough room to build a berm to contain any stormwater runoff.

Mills said he lives nearby on Country Hill and had visited the home about six times trying to talk with someone about their plans.

"I just worry it's a slippery slope because we do have town ordinances for a reason," he said. "I get chickens. I mean, I have no problem with chickens or eggs — I love eggs. I don't have an issue with that at all but there's a reason we have an ordinance against having roosters in town as well."

Mills said he is not against animals — he has a dog, cat and a bird — but he worries about setting "a bad precedent" for allowing farm animals in residential areas.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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