Sometimes dilemmas involving people’s lives, properties, neighbors—and animals—require regulatory board members to consider the facts and then move a bit further afield to render decisions.
Such a case came before the zoning board of appeals this week. It involved the keeping of sheep and wandered onto fresh ground about whether the wooly mammals should be defined as pets or livestock.
At a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, February 9, neighbors on Brant Hill Road were arguing about whether three sheep—Alice, Linus and Ralph—should be allowed to be kept in a shed just off the adjoining property line.
The owners of the sheep, who live at 9 Brant Hill Road, and the complainants, who own the adjoining property at 11 Brant Hill Road, were each represented by well-known town attorneys—Jonathon D. Fitch and Brian J. Wall, respectively.
Although remote, the hearing took on a courtroom atmosphere, the attorneys’ eloquent legal arguments ranged from Sandwich’s zoning regulations governing setbacks to how sheep should be defined.
Here’s a quick summary of how the case came before the ZBA:
Last March, Peter G. Lemire Sr. and his wife, Cassie M. Lemire, obtained a building permit to build a shed on their 1.4-acre property to house three sheep. It was located about 20 feet from the side yard’s lot line.
Neighbors Corrina M. Johnson and Stephen Austin objected, saying the shed was too close to their property and it was not a shed but a barn for livestock, which is not an allowed accessory building for a single-family dwelling in a residential neighborhood.
Ms. Johnson and Mr. Austin filed an appeal of the building inspector’s determination that the new outbuilding was a shed.
At the public hearing on the matter Tuesday, attorney Wall argued that based on definitions in Sandwich’s bylaws, sheep should be considered livestock, even though they are not specifically listed as such.
If the animals involved had been chickens, for instance, the building inspector and the ZBA might be more willing to categorize them as livestock, Mr. Wall said.
“Sheep are more cuddly, but they bring all the consequences of livestock,” Mr. Wall said.
His clients did not object to the sheep per se, Mr. Wall added, but their presence had drawn rats to the paddock area and into the basement and walls of his clients’ home.
Ms. Johnson herself also addressed the ZBA and asked that the members reconsider the decision of Building Inspector Brendan Brides.
“We are animal lovers,” Ms. Johnson said. “We are not asking them to get rid of the sheep—just move them.”
Ms. Johnson, who owns a pot-bellied pig, said her family has lived on the property at 11 Brant Hill Road since the early 1900s and has lived there herself for 24 years.
Attorney Fitch argued that the Lemires’ sheep are pets, not livestock—which are raised for commercial or utilitarian purposes.
The Lemires purchased the sheep to interact with an autistic grandchild. They have become beloved members of the family, Mr. Fitch said.
“I had four goats when my children were growing up. I prefer goats,” Mr. Fitch said. “Clearly the sheep are pets.”
In addition, Mr. Brides’ finding that the accessory dwelling was within the lot line regulations was “perfectly legitimate,” Mr. Fitch said.
Mr. Brides himself—in a letter to Mr. Wall, which was included in the ZBA’s information packet—also zeroed in on the pet definition.
“The sheep, by the very nature, might be considered ‘livestock,’ ” Mr. Brides wrote. “However, in a discussion with the Lamires, it is abundantly clear that the family views the sheep as family pets. This proposition is bolstered further by the fact that the sheep in question have actually been given names...Having grown up in agricultural environment I can assure you that no one EVER names their livestock. The family pets, however, are all referred to on a first-name basis.”
He also defended his finding that the shed was an accessory structure and, as such, was well within setback requirements.
After a few questions and a brief discussion, the ZBA agreed with attorney Fitch that the building inspector’s decision should stand.
“The ZBA made the right decision,” Mr. Fitch said in an email after the hearing. “The sheep really are special to the Lemires and their shed home is spotless.”