By Erika Webb
Some DeBary residents will be allowed to keep horses, even if they have less than an acre of property.
The City Council voted unanimously May 1 to amend the city's Land Development Code to delete language restricting the number of horses per acre in the agricultural and rural residential zones.
In the process of reviewing and amending the code, city staff discovered in the rural residential zone, which encompasses the Orlandia Heights subdivision, horses were not expressly permitted.
"Since horses have historically been in the Orlandia Heights as well as other agricultural and rural areas of the city, the council wanted to amend the LDC to specifically allow for horses," according to the administrative request.
The original ordinance to amend the code allowed for one horse per two acres of land in the agricultural and rural residential zones. The two-acre minimum was established by the Growth Management Department, based on the University of Florida Extension recommendation as well as other cities' requirements for keeping horses.
That ordinance passed while providing that all existing properties with horses were grandfathered in.
DeBary Planning Administrator Rebecca Hammock told the council that since that ordinance passed, it had come to the city's attention the majority of lots in Orlandia Heights and in other areas of the city, where horses have historically been kept, are one acre parcels.
Ms. Hammock proposed the code amendment to recognize the historical use.
"The acreage requirement could potentially create an enforcement problem and result in selective enforcement," Ms. Hammock advised. "Since there have been no known code enforcement or crowding issues regarding horses in the city, staff believes it is in the best interest of the city to revise the language with how the code has historically been enforced."
Some of the lots in Orlandia Heights are less than an acre, a realization that raised Mayor Bob Garcia's eyebrows.
"There's no restriction on acreage?" Mayor Garcia said. "You mean a person could have less than an acre and have a horse on it?"
Ms. Hammock confirmed his understanding was correct.
"Agricultural zoning classifications -- all those with the letter 'A' -- already include all agricultural pursuits so it is redundant to list the 'keeping of horses and ponies...' as a permitted use," Ms. Hammock noted in the request document. "Therefore, the language specifically listing the keeping of horses and ponies as a permitted use is being deleted per the proposed ordinance."
In other business CPA Alex Kish with Brent, Millikan & Co., P.A., presented the Annual Independent Audit for fiscal year 2011-2012, commending the council and city staff for weathering the unfavorable economic conditions of the last five years.
Strong surplus funds in the amount of $4.4 million, a drop in expenses greater than the drop in revenue, and obtaining more than $2 million in federal funds this year were among the city's accomplishments.
"You're doing better than your peers," Mr. Kish told the council. "Sixteen cents on every dollar is what it costs to run the City of DeBary."
With a millage rate of 3.095, Mr. Kish said DeBary residents should be more than pleased.
"Yours is the lowest millage rate on the west side of the county," Mr. Kish said.
Mayor Garcia said while the numbers look good he still has concerns about how quickly surplus funds can be gobbled up in the event of a disaster, like the flooding that occurred citywide in 2004 after three hurricanes pummeled the area, and again in 2008 with Hurricane Fay.
"If there's a major catastrophic event that's wiped out," he said of the $4.4 million.
Councilman Nick Koval said major improvements to storm water drainage around the city should not be ignored.
The mayor agreed but said he'd like to see the surplus fund at 75 percent of annual expenditures -- or $5.5 million in reserves -- rather than 60 percent, to be on the safe side.