Whoa, Nelly! Horse complaints divide Stonebrook

Published 8:27 pm Sunday, May 3, 2009

Those driving by Jim and Kathy Parks’ house in the Stonebrook subdivision of Helena might see an unusual sight: two horses, one large and one small, grazing peacefully with the words “Don’t be a hater” painted on their sides.

Kathy Parks intends those words, painted with colored hair gel, to be a message to her neighbors, with whom she has been involved in a two-year dispute over her horses.

“It’s really the people that moved in next door. He just does not like horses, and he complains that he can smell them, which is really impossible,” said Parks, who has lived in Stonebrook for four years. “If you don’t like horses, then why would you move out here?”

Next-door neighbor Robert Milam Jr. has a different view. He contends that although the houses are two acres apart, his family can still smell the horses, especially when it’s warm or when the wind is blowing.

“I don’t care if they have 10 horses, but it stinks,” Milam said. “If I would have moved in next to a dairy farm or something like that, I don’t think I’d have any right to complain. I moved into a neighborhood that has covenants to protect you from something like this.”

Milam, who has lived in Stonebrook since May 2006, said he first noticed the odor problem in late 2007. At that point, he spoke with the Parks about it, and they agreed to try to keep the property as clean as possible to minimize the smell. However, Milam claims he later told the Parks that the odor was still a problem, and at that point, communications between the neighbors broke down.

Milam has complained to the city about the odor numerous times.

“Part of the problem is the density of horses,” Milam said. “(The Parks) don’t have enough land to support that number of horses.”

On their four acres, the Parks have two horses as well as a mini-horse, which weighs about 150 pounds. The Parks are in violation of a city ordinance that states houses must be on three acres to raise a horse, and then one and a half acres for every additional horse.

Councilmember Cris Nelson said the city is actively investigating the concerns.

“Most of the residents that had come (to the council meeting) and have horses said they would find a way to work around the ordinance,” she said. “Some of the people out there have more horses than what is allotted for their acres, which is presenting a problem for the neighbors.”

Parks said she plans to apply for a variance for all the horses to stay on the property, even though there have been complaints.

“(Horses) don’t do well if they’re alone. They’re not emotionally content if they’re alone,” she said.

Paula Carroll said problems are created for horse owners in Stonebrook.

Carroll, who has lived in Stonebrook since 1992 and owns four horses, said her property has been vandalized because of her horses.

She claims on the night of April 26, someone opened all three of the gates designed to keep her horses in. One of the three gates, which was automatic, had its mechanics completely destroyed. The horses found their way out into the neighborhood, prompting neighbors to make a complaint to City Hall.

“I was so upset, thinking who would come on my property and let my horses out,” Carroll said. “If someone let my horses out, I shouldn’t get in trouble for them getting out.”