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Couple files lawsuit to bring dozen cats into remodeled home

BILTMORE FOREST, N.C. (AP) — A Buncombe County couple is going to court to get permission to keep the 12 cats they refer to as their “tribe” in their refurbished home.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports Debra and Harry Stonecipher haven’t moved into the 6,700 square foot house they recently renovated, and won’t until Baby, Dante, Duchess and the nine other indoor cats can come with them.

A Biltmore Forest pet ordinance limits animals to three. In April, the Stoneciphers asked to have the ordinance waived, but in a unanimous vote, the three commissioners rejected the request without discussion, prompting the couple to file a lawsuit against in May.

The couple said they considered selling the house if their cats are barred, but opted to take legal action after receiving support from community members.

Among the issues the lawsuit raises is the vague nature of the ordinance, which does not define the types of animals it addresses. Livestock is generally not allowed, but it’s unclear if four hamsters would also run amiss of the rule or if an aquarium full of tropical fish are in violation.

“We have the intent. We have the means,” Harry Stonecipher said. “We have the time and the patience to take this as far as we need to take it, so we can live in our home with our family, which poses no threat or disruption to anyone.”

The existing ordinance likely dates to Biltmore Forest’s 1923 incorporation, Jonathan Kanipe, town administrator, wrote in an email. In his research, he can find no citations or enforcement action being taken against residents who have more than three household pets.

He also does not believe a resident has ever approached the board about a waiver, as the Stoneciphers have done.

“I certainly would not attempt to speak for the commissioners,” Kanipe wrote, “but I believe they are comfortable with the town’s ordinance as written and did not wish to grant a written waiver in this matter.”

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