Therapist plans to apply again for variance to keep goats at Beacon Falls home

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Susan McDuffie, a therapist, and her two goats stand in front of her home being built at 12 Timber Ridge Lane in Beacon Falls on Jan. 20. McDuffie was denied a zoning variance to keep the goats at the home and plans to apply again. –ANDREAS YILMA

BEACON FALLS — A local therapist is planning to reapply for a zoning variance to keep two goats at her soon-to-be home on Timber Ridge Lane after the Zoning Board of Appeals denied her application and a request for a rehearing.

Susan McDuffie, a licensed marriage and family therapist, sought a variance to have two goats at her home that is being built at 12 Timber Ridge Lane. A three-stall barn is also being built on part of property. She plans to run her business out of the home. She uses the goats, which she says are her pets, as therapy animals for a small part of her practice.

Her property on Timber Ridge Lane is 1.85 acres, according to land records. Zoning regulations don’t allow livestock on properties that are less than 5 acres.

McDuffie applied for a variance, which the Zoning Board of Appeals took up in December.

In a letter to the board, attorney Steven E. Bryne, who represented McDuffie and was the town’s former land use attorney, argued the regulations are vague and don’t sufficiently define livestock. He contended the animals will be used as therapy animals and therefore should not be considered livestock.

Attorney Vincent Marino, a land use attorney for the town, advised the board that an applicant for a variance must show that because of a characteristic of the property the strict application of a zoning regulation would result in an unusual hardship.

More than 30 residents in the Timber Ridge Lane area submitted a petition to the board against allowing the variance, citing concerns that included noise and possible animal smells.

Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 to deny the application because some members said the variance was for business purposes and the land itself did not create a hardship, according to meeting minutes.

McDuffie, who is practicing out of a temporary office on South Main Street, keeps the goats as well as a horse and mini horse at a barn in Cheshire. She currently meets clients that she feels would benefit from the animals as part of their therapy at the barn.

McDuffie said the hearing wasn’t fair and the application deserved another one. She said she wasn’t given the opportunity to fully explain the role of the goats. She said that board member Tony Smith should have recused himself from the vote after missing part of her testimony during the hearing.

McDuffie also argued that First Selectman Gerard Smith has hard feelings toward her over comments she made during his campaign in 2019. She contends that he had sway over the board and that his son, Ben Smith, who sits on the board, should’ve recused himself from the vote.

Gerard Smith said the zoning regulations are clear in this matter. He added that if it starts with goats it could lead to other things being allowed.

“It doesn’t meet the requirements to grant the variance from the ZBA,” Gerard Smith said.

The board discussed the matter again at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Attorney Barbara Schellenberg, a land use attorney for the town, told the board she didn’t see any basis for a rehearing.

“I think that the board properly denied the variance here. There simply is no basis for granting a variance unless it has to do with peculiar characteristics of property,” Schellenberg said. “Ms. McDuffie was speaking of variance to have animals on her property due to her business need and that just is not a basis for a variance.”

McDuffie told the board she has no issue stating the fact that the goats are her pets and that she’s going to also use them for her business.

“I had no issue to speaking to both of those things and why I thought there was hardship for each of them,” McDuffie said. “For the livestock issue, I have lived in this town for 20 years and there have been people all throughout the town, through all those 20 years, that keep various animals, mini horses, goats, pigs and etc.”

Chairman William Mis said financial loss or hardship is not sufficient reason for granting a variance.

“This has always been the number one rule with the Zoning Board of Appeals that financial gain is not a reason to allow a variance,” he said.

McDuffie did not file an appeal in Superior Court with 15 days of notice of the board’s vote and missed the window to do so. She can apply again to the board, which she said she plans to do, after six months.