Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

Terrence L. Nyhous, Chairman, Center District Supervisor


January 14, 2010


Staff Lead:


Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Sections 3-300, 5-900, 5-1800 and 15-300 Related to Equestrian Facilities


Topic Description:

The text amendment reclassifies equestrian boarding and instruction from an “Outdoor Recreation” use to an “Agricultural Use,” making boarding and training involving up to ten (10) persons per week by-right uses in every district where horse farms are allowed.  The amendment also classifies more intensive instruction activities, and up to 4 accessory equestrian events as “Agriculture Use,” allowing them by-right in Rural Agricultural (RA) districts and with approval of a special permit in other districts allowing horse farms, except that any property with a non-common open space easement would require special exception approval. More extensive equestrian events continue to be categorized as “Outdoor Recreation” uses, with approval of a special exception required under the Class A, B or C use categories. Properties in non-common open space easements are not eligible today for Class A, B and C uses and would continue to be ineligible for the larger event uses.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

Conduct a public hearing and consider adoption of the attached Ordinance.


Staff Report:

Section 2-705.1 of the Zoning Ordinance, related to non-common open space, limits uses on properties with non-common open space to those listed as Category 18, Agricultural Uses, in Section 3-318 of the Ordinance.  Recorded non-common open space easements contain this explicit language limiting uses on the property to those identified in Section 3-318 of the Ordinance.  

An issue recently arose where a property owner, Reta Rodgers, sought to hold equestrian events at Eastwood Farm, located on Old Auburn Road directly across from the Fauquier County Fairgrounds.  The property has a non-common open space easement that was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2005.  Under the existing Zoning Ordinance regulations, the proposed type of equestrian events could potentially be authorized under either the Equestrian Facilities or Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events uses in Category 9 (Outdoor Recreation) of the Zoning Ordinance:

3-309.8            Equestrian Facilities (boarding and instruction) (non-spectator);

3-309.9            Equestrian Facilities (boarding and instruction) (spectator facilities);

3-309.14          Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events (Class A);

3-309.15          Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events (Class B);

3-309.16          Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events (Class C).

In each of the use categories listed above, approval of any equestrian event would require a special exception.

However, because the Rodgers property is in a non-common open space easement, these Category 9 uses are not available to the property.  The request raised the issue of whether or not equestrian activities, including boarding/instruction facilities and equestrian events such as horse shows, steeple chases, etc., should be allowed on properties in a non-common open space easement.  It further raises the question as to the amount and extent of equestrian related events allowed under each of the existing categories in Section 3-309 of the Zoning Ordinance, as the different use categories and standards do not clearly establish a distinction.

While it appears that the intent of the Ordinance may have been to allow a lesser level of equestrian events on smaller properties utilizing the Equestrian Facilities category, the existing standards do not actually accomplish this.  It is also possible that the intent was to utilize the Equestrian Facilities category only for events that are held in conjunction with boarding or training. 

Regardless of whether or not the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors decide to allow equestrian uses of any sort on non-common open space parcels, staff would suggest that all related definitions and standards for the existing Equestrian Facilities use categories be clarified so that the extent and scope of events allowed under these categories, as opposed to the broader Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events categories, is clear. 


Consideration of whether Equestrian Facilities should be classified as agricultural uses and, therefore, allowed on parcels restricted by non-common open space raises a variety of issues from both the Zoning Ordinance and the easement perspectives. 

Should equestrian-related uses, including equestrian events, be classified as agricultural uses in the Zoning Ordinance?

For purposes of zoning, a Horse Farm is considered agriculture.  This category would typically encompass the keeping or breeding of horses for sale.   Certainly horse boarding facilities seem an appropriate extension of this allowed use, and possibly appropriate for properties that are preserved for agriculture, which includes maintaining property in pasture.  Instruction activities are less clearly agricultural in nature, but are certainly an important accessory activity on many horse farms in Fauquier County today.  Equestrian events are also much less clearly agricultural in character.  With the exception of farm wineries, which have special status under the Code of Virginia with respect to events, all other agricultural uses in the County would be required, under the existing Ordinance, to secure special exception approval for any events held in conjunction with the agricultural operations.  For example, Cows and Corn, in Midland, holds a special exception for the various activities they hold.   Typically, these activities are not considered agricultural uses and are authorized with special exception approval through the Spectator and Non-Spectator Field Events use category (outdoor recreation).  

Are equestrian related uses, including equestrian events, consistent with the terms and intent of the non-common open space easement?

The intent of the non-common open space easement is to preserve land for agricultural use, minimizing construction of structures on the property, and preserving existing land forms and vegetation. Therefore, another issue is whether the three Equestrian Facility uses (boarding, instruction, and events) are consistent with this intent.  There would be little purpose in relocating the Equestrian Facilities use to the Agricultural category if the uses are otherwise in conflict with the intent or terms of the easements.    Of the three types of Equestrian Facility uses, facilities for boarding would seem, on their face, to be compatible with the currently allowed agricultural use of Horse Farm, requiring no improvements beyond those typical for any horse farm.   Facilities for instruction could potentially be more impactive, depending on the number of riders being trained and the areas where training occurs (i.e., within a ring or on trails in the area), but in many cases the facilities utilized may already exist on a horse farm.   The third type of equestrian activity, events, raises additional compatibility issues within non-common open space areas, as they can be highly intensive and may require substantial infrastructure improvements, potentially conflicting with other goals of a non-common open space easement (i.e., the preservation of existing land forms). 

There is also a question of whether the Equestrian Facility uses conflict with other standard provisions of non-common open space easements.   Instruction and Spectator events would typically be considered a commercial activity, and would typically occur outdoors; the County’s non-common open space easements prohibit outdoor commercial activities, via the following language:

Industrial or commercial activities except farming, silviculture or horticulture are prohibited except as can be and in fact are conducted from the residence house, shop, toolhouse or other permitted buildings without alteration of the external appearance of the same.


The initial draft of the text amendment initiated by the Board of Supervisors proposed shifting both Equestrian Facility categories from Category 9, Outdoor Recreation to Category 18, Agriculture, continuing to allow boarding and training by-right and requiring a special exception for any spectator facilities.  This process would allow evaluation of events on a case-by-case basis and the Board could consider, as part of this review, the extent to which the proposed facilities would be contrary to the broader goals of non-common open space. Boarding and Instruction would be allowed by-right in the RA district and by special permit approval in the RC District except where RC property was in a non-common open space, in which case those uses would also require special exception approval. 

After extensive consideration of public input, the Planning Commission made multiple changes to the proposal.  The current proposal:

1.   Allows boarding and limited training (maximum of 10 people per week) by-right in all districts where a Horse Farm is allowed (RC, RA, RR-2, V, R-1).  This is accomplished by creating a definition for Horse Farm which includes boarding and the limited training.  

2.   Allows more intensive instruction (over 10 people a week) and up to 4 equestrian events per year by-right in the RA district and with approval of a special permit in all districts where Horse Farms are allowed, except that a special exception is required where property is in non-common open space.   (Note:  The Special Permit requirement automatically becomes a Special Exception requirement where property is located in non-common open space, pursuant to Section 5-001.4.B.)

3.   Leaves Equestrian Events to be approved under the Outdoor Recreation Class A, B & C use categories, with approval of a Special Exception.

The chart below summarizes the effect of the proposed changes in each zoning district and within non-common open space, highlighting in red where more flexibility is given for equestrian activities, compared to today’s Ordinance.  Staff would note that IN NO CASE would the regulations for any property be more restrictive under the proposed regulations compared to today’s regulations.

                                X=Not Allowed, P= Permitted By-Right, SP=Special Permit, SE=Special Exception




RA/RC    Non-Common OS

RR-2, V and R-1

C-2, C-3, I-1, I-2

Raising, Breeding, Selling, Training Horses






Boarding Horses


From SP to P

From X to P

From SP to P


Riding Instruction up to 10/students week


From SP to P

From X to P

From SP to P


Riding Instruction more than 10 students week





From X to SE



Equestrian Events up to 3 per year

From SE to P

From X to SP

From X to SE

From X to SP


Equestrian Events more than 3 per year






Overall, the revisions provide substantially more opportunities for equestrian activities relative to current regulations, particularly on non-common open space parcels.  However, the proposed regulations do not create an opportunity for more than 4 events per year on any property in non-common open space.


The Board of Supervisors initiated the proposed text amendment on August 13, 2009.  The Planning Commission held public hearings on the issue on September 24, 2009, October 29, 2009 and December 9, 2009 and unanimously recommended approval of the proposed amendment on December 9, 2009.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.

Identify any other Departments, Organizations or Individuals that would be affected by this request:

Agricultural Development Office

Land Owners

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