Debra and Harry Stonecipher are fighting the town of Biltmore Forest’s pet ordinance limiting animals to three. He was ousted from Boeing in March 2005 after the disclosure of his affair with Debra, nee Peabody, whom he later married.

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BILTMORE FOREST, N.C. — 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, both former Boeing executives, 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 it 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 would be 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.”

Harry Stonecipher was ousted in March 2005 as president and CEO at Boeing after the disclosure of his longtime consensual affair with another company executive, Debra Peabody. She resigned soon after. The two later married.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the Stoneciphers purchased the Biltmore Forest home in September 2014, prompted to move to Asheville where they found a facility that could care for her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

The two bought a residence known as the Knight House, completed in 1927 for a founding director of the Biltmore Estate Co. The town and its 1,400 residents are just south of Asheville and east of the Biltmore Estate. Homes there have a median value of about $900,000.

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.”

A trial date has been set for June, though the Stoneciphers hope a mediation will occur long before that date. They and their “tribe” will remain in a Buncombe County home.