WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Fairytale Farm Animal Sanctuary is a refuge for abused and neglected donkeys, goats, rabbits, ducks, and more. The sanctuary is also the home of Kimberly Dunckel and her family. But when the Dunckels invite visitors to their home, they risk being cited by city officials for running afoul of the zoning code.
Winston-Salem’s zoning code would allow the Dunckels to operate a home day care or teach music lessons. But because operating a nonprofit animal shelter is not explicitly allowed, the city says that the sanctuary cannot have events, teach classes, or host groups of volunteers. Because engaging the community at their home is critical to supporting Fairytale Farm, the Dunckels teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit in state court challenging the restrictions on visitors.
“Winston-Salem’s zoning power does not trump Kimberly Dunckel’s right to use her property to serve the community,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Anna Goodman. “She’s not hurting anyone, she’s only helping. And the city cannot prohibit her and her family from using their property as an animal sanctuary just because it was not creative enough to consider that potential use.”
In 2017, Kimberly and her husband Art began searching for a property that would serve both as a home and a place to host the Winston-Salem community. After purchasing and restoring their 3.3-acre lot, they started caring for animals, many with special needs and some referred to the sanctuary by the local government animal control. In 2021, they registered Fairytale Farm as a non-profit. They hosted groups of Girl Scouts and homeschoolers, held themed events for people to meet with the animals, and welcomed groups of volunteers to help with care and upkeep of the sanctuary.
But earlier this year, the city ordered the Dunckels to close the sanctuary completely. After an outpouring of community support, the city changed its mind but gave the Dunckels new and confusing restrictions on the visitors they could host at their home. Those restrictions have made it difficult for the sanctuary to fundraise, threatening its long-term sustainability.
“We hoped that the animals we invited to Fairytale Farm would have a happily ever after, but the city’s senseless restrictions are making it difficult to care for these rescues that have already been through so much,” said Kimberly. “We’ve been operating for over a year without complaint and taking in animals that local shelters don’t have a place for. It seems like we’re being singled out for doing something good that doesn’t fit neatly into the zoning code.”
Zoning codes in the U.S. often seek to prohibit people from using their property in safe, reasonable ways. IJ is currently defending a Texas mother seeking to operate a home daycare, a Texas mechanic required to provide an impossible number of parking spots before he can open his shop, and an Idaho woman who can park her tiny home on wheels in her town but is banned from living in it.
“Your ownership of property becomes little more than a name on a deed if you cannot use it to improve your life and the lives of your community,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing. “Zoning codes have to be applied fairly and for health and safety reasons. Americans should be allowed to use their private property in ways that help their community and don’t harm their neighbors.”