ELCR.org - Full Article
June 11, 2013, by ELCR
By Jennifer M. Keeler for ELCR
As the nation’s economy continues to struggle, cities across the country face unprecedented budget woes and difficult decisions as to how limited public funds will be spent. But a recent budget proposal in St. Louis County, Missouri laid the groundwork for nothing less than a political soap opera worthy of its own afternoon television time slot. Amidst public outrage, the organized and efficient mobilization of a local horseman’s group played a vital role in preserving the very venues all local citizens depend upon and treasure.
The Wildwood Horse Owners and Acreage Association (WHOAA) was organized in 2005 with a mission to preserve the agricultural lifestyle in Wildwood, a city located on the western edge of St. Louis County, through public education and land conservation. With an area of about 66 square miles (2nd largest city in Missouri by land area) and a population of close to 35,000 people, Wildwood has traditionally been an area for horse lovers and was originally established with an eye towards preserving farms and green space as city sprawl approached. But since 1980, agricultural land has been disappearing in Wildwood at the rate of four acres a day, and WHOAA’s vision is for Wildwood to remain a haven for equestrians and those with a love of the land. As of December 2008, WHOAA was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in Missouri and joined the Equine Land Conservation Resource as a Conservation Partner.
An Idea is Born
The idea for the forming of WHOAA originated from a dispute over construction of an indoor arena. A local horsewoman purchased several lots in a horse-friendly community in Wildwood and proceeded to build an arena for her personal use. Suddenly, once-cordial neighbors objected. As tensions escalated, the city council proposed a new ordinance to place dramatic limits on the building of equine barns and related structures. Paula Sewell, owner of a small farm in Wildwood with her husband David, was caught by surprise. “We had no idea this was going on. One of our neighbors just happened to overhear this during a meeting,” Sewell explained. “We couldn’t let this happen! So I began contacting other area horsemen asking them for support, attended city and council meetings, and even coordinated protests which attracted widespread media coverage. At first the city council didn’t want to listen to us but ultimately we were able to work with the council for a more reasonable solution regarding restrictions on new construction of agricultural buildings. We were darn lucky that we caught this...”
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