By Jessica Wilkinson
SMITHFIELD—Kris Monson, a City Councilwoman for 10 years, stood before the Planning Commission Wednesday night to propose modifications to Smithfield’s animal rights ordinances. “I’m just going to propose an idea,” Monson said. “If you don’t like this, I’m not going to work very hard.”
Monson’s presentation was an introduction of her ideas to assess the support she could expect during the course of her pursuits.
“If you have the right size property,” Monson said, “you should be able to apply for and receive an animal rights permit from year to year.”
Commission Chairman Rick Vernon disagreed. Due to ordinances passed in 1972, property owners are only permitted animal rights according to specific zoning regulations. So long as one’s property has been occupied by a certain species continuously since 1972, one’s animal rights permit is active and legal. In the event of a temporary absence of that species, the property owner’s permit is permanently suspended. Proof of the animal’s existence and habitation of the property is required if the permit is ever challenged, and permits are specific to species.
Property owners who purchased land after 1972 cannot obtain animal rights permits without proof of continual animal occupancy from former owners.
“It’s a trade-off,” Vernon said, about observing ordinances. Someone will always be upset, “but you have to follow the rules.”
Vernon explained the original intent of the ordinances was to begin industrializing Smithfield, albeit quaint and rural. The regulations were created as a filter to separate areas of agriculture from areas of urbanization. The goal was to allow the opportunity for either lifestyle, independent of one another.
Vernon recalls the intent of dividing the two; Monson hopes to encourage integration.
“I want to appeal to those people that want a little more back-to-basics kind of life,” Vernon said. “It would be nice for kids to learn where their food comes from.”
Commissioner David Price also opposed Monson’s idea. He specifically referenced open lots within Smithfield’s city limits that were big enough to accommodate large animals, and recognized that agricultural opportunity as the exact situation the ordinances regulated. He found it potentially problematic to amalgamate designated zones that kept animals away from suburban neighborhoods.
“That’s not something we want in the city, I don’t think,” Price said.
Monson’s request for reconsidering animal rights regulations was supported by the majority of the commission. Five of the seven commissioners agreed the issues Monson presented were worth her research and that her proposals were worth investigating.
“I feel like these ordinances were put in place to urbanize our town, but why can’t we keep that flavor?” Monson said. “I can have a garden, but I can’t have an animal if I want to. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The issues will be discussed further at February’s meeting, Vernon said.