HOPKINTON – A Hopkinton family will be allowed to keep their four alpacas at their residence, according to a Washington County Superior Court decision issued Monday.
Todd and Tina Sposato, of 129 North Road, have kept the alpacas as pets since 2011.
The Sposatos’ neighbor, Amber Preston, “felt aggrieved by the presence of the alpacas” and subsequently filed police reports and complaints with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, according to Associate Justice Jeffrey A. Lanphear’s decision.
In May 2011, the Sposatos received a notice of violation from Hopkinton Zoning Official Brad Ward, claiming that the Sposatos were in violation of a district use code of the zoning ordinance by housing the alpacas on their property.
The Sposatos then appealed the notice of violation to the Hopkinton Zoning Board of Review.
The zoning board subsequently held four public hearings on the matter in October 2011, December 2011, January 2012 and February 2012.
Lanphear summarized the hearings in his decision. He wrote that at the hearings, Ward testified that Hopkinton zoning ordinance prohibits “livestock farms” in a residential district, yet the ordinance offers no definition of livestock, farm, or livestock farm. In coming to his conclusion, Ward said that he relied on the definition of livestock in a state statute regulating livestock dealers.
The Sposatos’ attorney contended that Ward’s definition of “livestock” was misapplied because it related to the licensing of livestock dealers who are in the business of buying, selling and exchanging livestock, as determined by RIDEM.
The Hopkinton Zoning Board had a different statute before it, which provides separate definitions for livestock and pets, and lists llamas, sheep and goats under both the livestock and pet category.
The Sposatos’ neighbor, Amber Preston, testified that she is an abutting neighbor to the Sposato property, and “can smell the animals from her yard in the summer.”
Lanphear further summarized that the Sposatos testified about their relationship with the alpacas during the hearings.
Todd Sposato stated that the alpacas are kept as companions to the family and that he only shears them for health purposes.
Various neighbors also appeared in support of the Sposatos, saying that the Sposatos did not use the alpacas for utility and that they held a “close relationship” with the animals.
Other abutting neighbors also testified that they could not smell the animals from their homes.
The Sposatos also presented expert witnesses in the course of the hearings.
Rhode Island State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall testified that the alpacas were being used as pets because “they were not being used for food, fiber or financial gain.”
At the conclusion of the public hearings, the zoning board voted to overturn the zoning officials decision, based on the fact that the alpacas were being “treated and housed as domestic animals.”
However, the zoning board placed conditions on the Sposatos’ property, ruling that the number of alpacas on the property is not to exceed four and that the right to own alpaca does not come with the land and the next owners would not be permitted to keep alpaca.