By JENNIFER HILL & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
CHERRY VALLEY – The good news is: Romeo will not be banished.
Beyond that, it appears likely the Village Board at its next meeting, Monday, Aug. 19, will likely ban farm animals within village limits.
The way Mayor Lou Guido sees it, chickens will stay, but roosters will go. Romeo is “grandfathered” so can stay but, when he eventually passes to that pasture in the sky, owners Lew and Sue Warner won’t be able to replace him.
Horse owners won’t be asked to pick up their mounts’ droppings, but will be encouraged to be neighborly and do so. “We have laws on dogs and cats,” Guido explained. “If your dog poops, you clean it up.”
In advance of whatever law may pass next month, “guess what? They can have them right now,” said the mayor. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs – act immediately or forget about it.
What’s become a localized controversy surfaced at the village trustees’ June meeting, when the idea of a farm-animal ban was first aired.
The pros and cons were muddied when a crowd turned out at this month’s meeting on July 15 to hear a trustee say the new law was aimed at the Amish community, the one growing agricultural sector around here.
“I was kind of shocked,” said Lew Warner, Romeo’s owner. I was sitting right behind him, and thought: ‘Dude, that’s discrimination’.”
The mayor said the trustee misspoke and is mistaken. Rather, the novelty of the Amish is welcomed here, he said – he and wife Jo Ann have bought hitching posts, one at NBT Bank, the other at the library, to accommodate horse-drawn buggies.
Not wanting to pit neighbor against neighbor, Guido was a little oblique in explaining how the developing “Local Law #1” came about. He was invited into “someone’s backyard,” where a rooster was crowing on one side and a horse was neighing on the other.
And the smell. “I can’t sit back here,” the neighbor told Guido, and the mayor understood.
The law that will be considered Aug. 19 hasn’t just been pulled out of the air, said the mayor. The farm-animal part is adapted from the Village of Richfield Spring’s law; the rooster piece comes from the Village of Fonda.
Romeo’s owners are relieved their steed, an 18-year-old (middle-aged) thoroughbred rescued from the Finger Lakes track, won’t be expelled. When the couple and their daughter moved here in spring 2018, they were told, “Oh, you can have a horse; the previous owner had a horse.”
Lew, director of maintenance at the Guilderland Library – his boss is Tim Wiles, former Baseball Hall of Fame research director renown locally for his rendering of “Casey At The Bat” – has been active in Civil War reenactments since the early ‘90s.
A horse – first, Yellow Star, who died in 2002, and now Romeo – added another element of realism to reenactments. There’s a McClelland saddle in the barn, developed by the future Civil War general in 1859 and used by the Army until World War II.
Once the family settled in Cherry Valley, the Warners brought Romeo out of boarding in Altamont, and – striking bedrock just beneath the ground – built a “pig low, cow high” fence that sits on the ground. It’s used out West, but rare around here.
Since, Romeo became part of the community, Sue and Lew said. Some people call it “The Village Horse.”
When it escaped from the barn last winter, neighbors called to alert the owners, and Sue ran up snowy Main Street in her PJs to retrieve him.
Memorial Day, Lew and Romeo, in their Civil War trappings, rode in the village’s parade, joining horses people had ridden in from surrounding farms.
A new law would change none of that, at least for a while, said Mayor Guido, adding that many of the people who object live, not in the village, but in the surrounding Town of Cherry Valley; they aren’t his constituents.
“The area is agriculture,” he observed, “but the village is not. It’s 2019. It’s a different day and age.”
The proposed ban began like this: At a Main Street resident’s request, Guido stopped
Romeo is a rescued thoroughbred
The bad news is, future Romeos may be – or at least horses named Romeo or other names that smell as sweet. Romeo’s owner, Lew Warner, a Civil War re-enactor, has kept the thoroughbred at his VOCV house since 2008, and learned the Village Board had proposed a law banning residents from owning farm animals. Warner worried Romeo was the reason for “Local Law #1,” especially because his wife, Sue chased their horse down the street in her pajamas last February when he escaped from their fenced-in back yard.
But Romeo was not the culprit.
“In the Village’s June meeting, [Trustee] Conway Bishop said the law wasn’t because of me; it was because of the Amish,” said Warner, who was sitting behind Bishop in the meeting. “I thought, ‘Dude, that’s discrimination.’”
He and another person at the June [ ] meeting, Lisa Hershey, a Town of Cherry Valley resident, both said Bishop denied saying the Amish were the reason for the proposed ban when audience members questioned his statement.
“Conway said ‘other people’ said that about the Amish coming in,’” Hershey said. “But we heard him say it.”
[Trustees’ response here]
The COCV Board took up Local Law #1, which prohibits people from keeping, harboring, or sheltering “any farm animal or fowl within the Village of Cherry,” at its July 15 meeting last Monday. Twenty people showed up to discuss it and ask the Board questions about it. At the end of the meeting, the Board tabled the law, to be taken up again at the Aug. 18 meeting.
“The law was confusing and ambiguous. We wanted to gain clarity on the new law,” said Hershey, who attended the meeting. “If you apply for a waiver, the mayor gets to decide whether you get one or not, and there are no criteria for it.”
While Local Law #1 states the Village Board, not the mayor alone, decides on the waiver, it does specify exceptions it would grant or offer an appeal process, regardless of whether the Board accepts or rejects a waiver application.
Hershey also thought the penalty for keeping a farm animal – a $250 fine and up to five days in jail – was too stringent.
“Our current law is comprehensive and has worked for decades,” she said. “Why are they changing it?”
In a phone interview last Friday, COCV Mayor Lou Guido did not cite a specific incident, such as a Village resident recently acquiring farm animals, that had prompted the proposed farm animal ban. But he had heard “numerous complaints.”
“It’s a preventative measure,” he said. “You don’t want to have six pigs living next door to you. It will get smelly very quickly,” he said.
Guido indicated he and the Board were reworking parts of the law.
“Village residents would be able to own chickens,” he said. “It’s really for hooved animals – sheep, goats, pigs, and cows that we’re concerned about. And the individual’s horse would be grandfathered in and not affected by the law.”
Both Warner and Hershey said they hoped the law was not aimed at Village and Town Amish residents, who they say are reviving the Village by buying dilapidated structures and turning them into livable and usable dwellings and businesses.
Lew Warner also worried that the new law could negatively impact him in the future.
“If Romeo dies and the law says I can’t keep another horse, it will affect my Civil War re-enactment,” he said. “I’ve invested a lot of money in it.”