CLAYTON — The future of a nonprofit that helps children with disabilities is hinged on the approval of the town council who will decide Monday if Reins from Above gets to stay in its current neighborhood, after angering residents there, who have threatened to sue the town.
Reins From Above is a therapeutic horseback riding center that works with people with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis (MS). It started operations at the end of a private road, Ryans Lane, in December without obtaining the necessary special use permit from the town.
The case has been brought before the town’s planning board which recommended last Monday night, that the town council approve the permit, but there are some roadblocks still ahead. . Several residents on the road say they are worried about increased traffic, and decreased property values. The decision will go before the town council on Monday during a public hearing.
“We bought these houses here because it’s a dead end street, and it’s privately owned, so our kids can bike and run in the street and now these cars are going up and down the street and the safety of our children is at stake,” said Abraham Sari, who was one of the first residents on the street when it was developed. He has lived there since 1999. Sari feels the town council is “rushing” the approval of the permit.
Last week, Sari sent an e-mail to the town’s planning board with a list of items that he thinks the board should require the non-profit to meet. And, he wrote, if the council does not take into consideration the neighbor’s concerns, and add these guidelines, “we will have no choice but seek remedies from the courts.”
The guidelines Sari wants imposed include limiting the number of horseback riding sessions to three days a week, limiting the number of horses and other animals to one animal per acre, and limiting the number of attendants to 18 per day.
He also wrote that each attendant and volunteer of Reins from Above should have a background check and be cleared by the Clayton Police Department, and that the non-profit should provide a certificate of liability in case of any traffic accident on the road. He said the attendants should try to reduce the number of their vehicles by car-pooling. Lastly, he thinks the non-profit should provide a guarantee document to pay their share of per acre road maintenance costs according to the covenants of the subdivision.
“If there’s no limit on the amount of animals they can keep on the property, then we’re concerned about the environmental side effects, such as stuff leaking into the creek and streams,” said Sari. He asked that the council delay their public hearing on the matter until June so neighbors could arrange their own neighborhood meeting and address their concerns. He has not gotten a response to the e-mail.
Maintaining the road
Another resident of Ryan’s Creek Lane, Zach Hilton, said he is worried about his property value decreasing because of the new traffic.
He said he did not know Reins from Above was operating on the street until about a month ago when he received a letter from the town, notifying him there would be a neighborhood meeting to address neighbors’ concerns prior to the formal planning board meeting.
“We’re an advocate for Reins from Above but we have to consider our street and a business moving into our street,” said Hilton. He said he believes the non-profit should be responsible for the cost of maintaining Ryans Lane.
The issue of who would pay to keep up the road has been unresolved since the developer left the subdivision six years ago. Since then, no one has paid to maintain the road, and it’s noticeable.
“Why would you expect the new tenant coming to the subdivision to bear the cost of maintaining the road?” said Dana Pounds, a member of the town’s planning board, who believes the council should approve the permit.
Pounds said that Ryan Lane is already a “substandard road” that is cracked, and has several potholes, and she said the issues started long before Reins from Above came to the area.
“Unfortunately they got left by a developer and they are not on a state-maintained road,” said Pounds. She said the town does not have the jurisdiction to moderate private road maintenance, or make it a contingency on the approval of a permit.
Pounds thinks the issue of the non-profit moving into the area has precipitated the need for the residents to come together and decide how they will share the duties and the cost of maintaining the road.
The non-profit reported to the town that the amount of traffic it has brought to the road includes four cars on one day, six cars on another, and 14 cars on Saturdays.
Started in 2005, Reins from Above currently provides therapeutic riding lessons three days a week to students with a range of disabilities from attention deficit disorder to cerebral palsy.
Owner Stacy Ryder is trained to teach horseback riding to people with disabilities. She said with each step of the horse, the rider has to counter balance, leaning in the opposite direction, which improves balance and awakens muscles in the body and mind. Ryder instructs the students to do special balance and coordination exercises while riding. She said that children with attention deficit disorder who come can be noticeably more focused after riding. Children with cerebral palsy break their tendency to bend their legs forward because they’re forced to stretch their muscles outward to stay atop the horse.
Since it started, Reins From Above has been forced to move twice from its previous locations where it was renting property.
According to Kelly Senter, who brings her 19-year-old daughter to Reins from Above, the weekly opportunity to go to the horse barn is something the families and riders look forward to and rely on all week.
For many of the riders, coming to Reins from Above is their one chance to be a part of something, since they are otherwise prevented from taking part in sports teams and clubs because of their disabilities.
For them “this is their fun time,” and it boosts their self-esteem, said Ryder.