Society Hill moving to limit couple’s livestock
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Society Hill Town Council is moving against a couple who, town officials say, have set up what amounts to a livestock farm on their 44 acres of land inside town limits. But the couple, Joanne and Dwayne Duke, counter that the whole dispute is a petty personal vendetta fueled by the fact that Dwayne Duke plans to run against Society Hill Mayor Tommy Bradshaw this fall. After a second Town Council meeting turned crowded and tense last week during discussions about the property owned by the Dukes, council voted 4-1 to have Bradshaw draft an ordinance that would restrict all town residents’ “livestock” to no more than two horses and six chickens no matter how much land they own. Opposing the plan was councilwoman Carolyn Oliver, who “seemed to think they should be allowed to keep what they have,” Bradshaw said. The Dukes “have overstepped their propriety,” the mayor said after the April 13 meeting. “ … They’ve made their own bed. … If they sleep in a hard bed, they’ve made their own bed hard. … Do their rights supersede the rights of the other people in the neighborhood and Society Hill? We say not.” Bradshaw added: “My point was that we were the governing board of the town, and that we had been entrusted by the people to make these difficult decisions, and to not shirk our responsibilities. … This is a business decision about the future of our town.” “We’ve got to decide whether we’re going to let this kind of thing go on or not, and it’s come to a head, and we’ve got to make a decision,” he said. “You’re not going to please everybody.” Joanne Duke earlier told the News & Press that the Dukes keep a small number of farm animals on their land – a cow and her calf, two horses, four goats and four sheep. (Bradshaw believes there are more.) For years, she says, the Dukes have been letting troubled children visit and bond with the animals. They also run a bed-and-breakfast from an historic home known as the Enoch Hanford House. All the Dukes want is to be allowed to keep the animals they have, Joanne Duke said. But many Society Hill residents heard rumors that the Dukes were planning a “zoo” on their land and became concerned, leading the Dukes to deny any zoo plans during a Town Council meeting last month. During that meeting, Bradshaw expressed concern about “this farm, or ranch, or zoo, or whatever you want to call it,” and its possible impact on the small town of 560 people. He said last week that cows recently escaped the Dukes’ property and wandered around for a while – “roaming down the road, into people’s yards” — and cited that as one of the impacts he was worried about, along with “the odor and the noise.” Joanne Duke said cows did escape the property, but only because “someone opened the gate” to further stir up controversy. She said this is not a legitimate political issue that Town Council should be concerned about, but a “personal” feud. “It’s totally personal,” she said. She denies the mayor’s contention that the Dukes’ animals have caused numerous complaints to town government. She said the Dukes will no longer be able to host therapy sessions for troubled youths if the town limits them to two horses and a few chickens. “We are the only tourist attraction in town, and he’s killing us,” Joanne Duke said of Bradshaw. Society Hill already has a 1970s ordinance on its books banning “livestock, swine, horses, donkeys, poultry or fowl” within town limits. (Some residents keep horses, but Bradshaw said they’ve been left alone because no one has complained.) Bradshaw said that, based on all the discussions he has had, town residents and Town Council do not want anything resembling a livestock farm in town limits, and the ordinance he is working on would block any chance of that. It would also force the Dukes to remove most of their existing animals, but Bradshaw said they would be given a six-month “grace period” to deal with that. “They’d have plenty of time.” The mayor said he expected the new ordinance to be ready by the time council holds its next regular meeting in May. If the plan gets first-reading approval then, it would be back before council in June for second and final reading.