IXONIA -- About 40 community members filled the Ixonia Town Hall Wednesday, most of them in support of Sara Manzke's request for a zoning variance and conditional use permit to keep her emotional support goats and geese. The Ixonia town zoning commission voted to deny the request.
"It gets me right here," said commission member Don Loppnow, tapping his heart, "but I have to follow what's here," and he tapped the zoning law document on the table in front of him.
At issue is a zoning law prohibiting farm-type animals to reside on less than 2 acres of land. Manzke owns 0.9 acres on County Highway E in the town of Ixonia.
Manzke was the first to address the commission, explaining that she had a debilitating, chronic disease. In searching for a holistic way to treat the symptoms of the disease, she came across Nigerian Dwarf mini goats.
About the size of a small dog, the goats were obtained at a young age to "ensure their friendliness and therapeutic qualities," according to a letter from Manzke on Feb. 6.
"The calm, therapeutic nature of the animals helps me," she said, "so I don't require anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants or addictive pain medications."
Manzke said when she purchased the property last year, she was aware of the Fair Housing Act, which allowed for support animals as long as they were not considered exotic animals. She had a pair of geese at the time, which she said could easily be considered fowl or poultry much like chickens and should be allowable.
Then when she found out mini goats could be a holistic alternative to medications, she purchased four young goats so that two could go with her when she went somewhere, and two could stay together on the property.
When she is feeling anxiety or stress, the goats are trained to lean into her to relieve her stress. She said taking care of them also helps keep her anxiety at bay.
"Denying my request would be denying me the only treatment that helps me," Manske said.
After contacting local government officials, she finally consulted the Fair Housing Act regarding her rights.
She said many of her neighbors have rallied in support of her and would rather see her have her animals than collect disability.
Plan commission member June Herman pointed out that discrimination under the Fair Housing Act is a different issue than zoning. She said the act addresses landowners and renters, not zoning laws.
Seven neighbors and family members spoke in support of Manzke's request. Tracy Judge, a neighbor four houses away, said the Fair Housing Act includes single-family residences and suggested Manske could file a grievance with the federal Housing and Urban Development board.
Richard Judge said he had lived in the area about 38 years and his mother had owned the property Manske purchased. He said there had always been farm animals on the property. He went on to give several examples of Pipersville area neighbors in Ixonia township taking care of each other.
"That's what Pipersville is all about," he said. "Pipersville is a good community, which is why I chose to build here."
He urged the commission to look at the issue sensibly.
Another neighbor who lives next door to Manzke, Eugene Kramer, said the goats are no problem at all. They are fenced in and Manzke takes good care of them.
Martin Genz, who also lives next door, said he is not necessarily looking for zoning changes but that the commission needs to consider what is happening to Manzke's health.
In a letter to the commission, another neighbor down the road, Chris Erickson, expressed support and said the Fair Housing Act covers emotional support animals.
Manzke's sister, Summer Manzke, addressed the board and reminisced about when her sister was undiagnosed and in pain, and then when she was finally diagnosed and heavily medicated. She said the therapy goats cut her sister's reliance on medications in half and made her more positive, energetic and "awake."
After neighbors spoke in favor of Sara Manzke's request, commission chairman Perry Goetsch called for those against the request to speak. He read a letter from Bradley Koeppel, who asked the request be denied because approval of it would be setting a bad precedent.
Martine Koeppel, a neighbor across the street from Manzke, said she is against farm animals in residential communities. She said when she purchased her home 30 years ago, she did not expect to have farm animals across the road. She said the geese honk "hysterically" whenever the garage door is opened.
She said, for a variance to be granted, a hardship must be proven due to the property, not the property owner.
Koeppel gave four reasons to deny Manzke's request:
-- No one forced her to purchase property in a residential area.
-- The federal government does not recognize emotional support animals as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
-- The Fair Housing Act is not applicable to county zoning laws.
-- Jefferson County has a limit of one animal unit allowed per acre, and Manzke's property is less than 1 acre.
"This request is just a landowner realizing she made a poor decision in purchasing the property," Koeppel said, "and wants to change the zoning laws."
Manzke's fiancÃ© Josh Pernot showed the board photos of the property and explained the animals are kept inside.
Goetsch explained that Jefferson County's zoning laws do not allow the commission leeway for farm-type animals on the size lot that Manzke has. He said she needs to get a variance before seeking a conditional use permit.
Herman added a variance can only be granted due to a problem with the property.
Pernot argued they cannot afford to move and they did not know when they purchased the property that the holistic treatment involving goats was going to work for Manzke.
After more back and forth discussion, Herman finally said, "It's nice that the community is behind Sara, but we're here to deal with zoning laws."
She then made a motion to deny the variance, which was seconded by Loppnow. The motion to deny passed with commission member Mary Rupnow casting the one dissenting vote. Commission member Curt Pernat abstained from the vote.
With the variance denied, the conditional use permit is a moot point.
After the meeting, Manzke's friends and neighbors gathered around her making suggestions, such as bringing the issue to the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Adjustment or bringing a lawsuit against the township. Manzke did not say what her next step would be.