Finding that goat yoga is more akin to a petting zoo than meditational exercise, the zoning board of appeals on Wednesday night allowed a local farm to continue offering the lucrative sessions.
"I'm very happy with the ruling and I'm happy we can keep goat yoga in the community," Aussakita Acres Farm co-owner D.J. Lupacchino said.
The board voted 4-1 to overturn the zoning enforcement officer's order that the farm's increasingly popular weekend goat yoga sessions had to stop. The central question was: Is goat yoga a farming activity and thus allowed in a farming zone?
Board Chairman Jim Stevenson said local zoning rules lack definitions of farming and agriculture, but in any case, yoga with goats is similar to pony rides and similar activities that farms offer to widen their appeal and survive.
"I don't see this is as yoga," board Secretary Robert Haley said.
Before the vote, Douglas Schwartz told the board that he drove up from Groton after reading about the issue. Noting that horseback academies are allowed in the zone where Aussakita is located, Schwartz asked how people riding on horses' backs could be sanctioned, while goats climbing on people's backs was not allowed.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Jim Davis had issued a cease and desist order on July 26 that said goat yoga was not an allowed use in the "rural residence" zone. The farm was granted a waiver after appealing the order.
Davis held that "yoga classes, with or without animals," fit within either "health and recreation facilities" or "clubs and personal service," neither of which is an allowed use in the rural zone.
Since the spring, guests at the 5.6-acre farm have paid $25 each to do the "downward dog" and other yoga moves while small goats clamber on their backs, nuzzle their faces and occasionally pee on their mats. The farm in the town's northeastern corner has run a total of four, hourlong sessions on weekends, farm co-owner Tracy Longoria said earlier this month.
Responding to the order, Longoria wrote to Davis on July 31 that Aussakita was not in violation, "as we are a registered farm implementing a farm activity that falls under agritourism."
No one spoke against goat yoga during the public hearing held before the board's vote. Several speakers said the town should embrace the activity because it benefits the local economy and gives local farmers another way to survive and keep their land open.
"Agritourism is a vital part of the evolution of agriculture," local chamber of commerce President April DiFalco told the board. DiFalco called goat yoga "a value added activity" that brings people into Manchester.
Goat yoga is "a commercial activity associated with the raising of livestock," and therefore allowed under local zoning regulations, said Michael Glidden, a certified zoning enforcement officer who spoke for the Aussakita farmers.
"Your regulations allow us to do this activity," Glidden said.
Longoria earlier had written in response to Davis's order that "just because 'goat yoga' is a new concept to farming does not dismiss that it is indeed a farming activity, focused on bringing people to the farm to interact and learn more about the farm animals in a fun and interactive way."
Guests on the farm's Facebook page have called the goat yoga sessions spiritual, exciting, fun and therapeutic.