Las Vegas Sun

May 19, 2019

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Northwest valley farm, a family favorite, fears closure if Las Vegas annexes property

JR Pony Farms

Wade Vandervort

Holly, 7, and Kenny, 8, assist with feeding the goats at the J.R. Pony Farm in the northwest Las Vegas Valley, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

JR Pony Farm

Blaise, 3, hesitates to pet a chicken at JR Pony Farms, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Launch slideshow »

As Las Vegas tallies annexation protest letters from more than 1,200 residents in unincorporated Clark County, the owners of J.R. Pony Farm worry they may have to close their doors.

The annexation plan, impacting 1,553 property owners in 10 islands of unincorporated Clark County, would require significant changes at the farm, located near Decatur and Lake Mead boulevards, from reducing the number and types of animals there to replacing a new septic tank with sewer hookup, said owner Judith Roberts. The city is currently tallying protest letters from residents to see if they met the threshold to block the plan for at least a year.

Roberts, who has been on the land for 40 years, and her daughter Kathleen Meehan, say they want rural preservation status so the city cannot attempt to annex them again. The two run the farm for visitors, including school groups, mommy-and-me classes and birthday parties, to learn about where their food comes from.

First-grader Frankie Lorr, who comes to the farm with his mom and siblings to learn about the animals, said during a visit Wednesday that he didn’t want the farm to close.

“I like this place so much,” he said. His favorite part about the farm is “everything,” including feeding and petting the animals, especially the “soft bunnies.”

Roberts said they recently installed a new septic tank to satisfy county code, though the old one was working properly. The cost of hooking into the sewer system and complying with the rest of the city code could put them out of business, they say.

“Financially devastating,” said Meehan, who spoke against the plan in front of the city council. “We wouldn’t be able to do it.”

The property is home to seven ponies, including a one-eyed rescue who is at least 30 years old, one rescue horse, one donkey, three sheep, one llama, three peacocks, a duck and six goats as well as more than a dozen chickens.

“They would come in here and close us down, I’m pretty darn sure,” Roberts said. “We have already gone through all this stuff with the county.”

Regulations differ for business owners as well as when it comes to city and county rules about pets. The county does not require that people license their individual pets and pay a fee, but the city does. After complaints over the city's pet registration fee, Councilwoman Michele Fiore said she has two unlicensed dogs in the city.

“Just because there’s rules on the books doesn’t mean they’re enforced,” Fiore said, noting at a later county commission meeting that she’d registered her animals according to city code.

Councilman Bob Coffin, after a resident opposed to the annexation read him the city’s policy and pricing on pet registration, said he didn’t know what the county charges. In response to complaints about the city encroaching on residents’ rural lifestyle, Coffin said the reverse was also true.

Residents who have spoken out against the plan during city and county meetings have mentioned increased property taxes in addition to new animal rules as concerns.

Council members in a previous public hearing noted that many of these residents pay some of the lowest property taxes in the state.

Supporters of annexation say these residents benefit disproportionately from city services that they do not pay for, while those who oppose the plan say the same is true for city residents who benefit from certain county resources.

County Commissioner Larry Brown said at the Feb. 12 hearing that he doesn’t know whether the city or county would win in a fair share debate.

The county is slated to lose about $3 million if annexation is successful, and impacted residents would see property tax increases.