December 2015 Issue - page 9

PENNSYLVANIA EQUESTRIAN
December 2015
Page 9
State Sides with Horse Owners, Threatens Suit
State courts have previously
overturned zoning that appears to
draw distinctions that have no ap-
parent relationship to overarching
plans within a municipality. In
this case, the fact that the zoning
distinction is based on whether or
not a horse farm accepts money
for boarding or lessons fails the
test of reasonableness because
the Township has not proved that
there is a rational basis for the
distinction. Instead, the Attorney
General’s office suggests that the
Township address the underlying
concerns that led to the dis-
tinction, such as traffic or other
issues.
Horse training versus
riding lessons:
The Township’s
zoning officer notified the
owners of Laureleye Farm that
they could not advertise the fact
that they offer training at the
farm. Bucknam’s letter points
out that “the term ‘training’ is
not contained under the defi-
nition of ‘commercial equine
activity’ in the ordinance,” and
therefore the ordinance does not
apply. The Attorney General’s
office researched the distinction
between “training” and “riding
lessons,” and found that training
is a common practice at equine
facilities, and is used to maintain
condition and fitness of horses.
Thus it was inappropriate for
the zoning officer to preclude
Laureleye Farm from advertising
and offering training to boarders
at their facility.
As a result of these conflicts
with established Pennsylvania
law regarding agricultural oper-
ations, Bucknam’s letter advised
Township supervisors that “we
are prepared to bring legal action
against the Township pursuant to
Section 315 of ACRE to inval-
idate or enjoin the enforcement
of the Ordinance provisions.”
The letter was partly an effort
to point out the ordinance’s
deficiencies, and partly an offer
to the Township for some kind
of dialog that might alter the or-
dinance so that it complies with
state law.
“What You Did Was Illegal”
Dr. Steven Siepser and
his wife Susannah Small own
Laureleye Farm. Siepser spoke
at the Monday, November 10
meeting of the Newlin Town-
ship Supervisors. He had
expected the ordinance to be on
the agenda, since he and others
had received copies of Buck-
nam’s letter, dated November
5, the previous week. But the
supervisors declined to discuss
the letter or the ordinance. John
Good, the Township solicitor,
was not present at the meeting;
the board’s refusal to comment
on or discuss the ordinance
frustrated Siepser and other
farm owners in attendance.
“Township leaders should
use the expertise of your com-
munity,” he said. “Listen to the
people. We’re not stupid. What
you did was illegal.” When Su-
pervisors Chair Janie Baird said
that they had not reviewed the
letter yet, Siepser was aston-
ished. “So you get a letter from
the Attorney General—do you
get one of these every week?” he
asked.
Laura Shannon, who owns
Heather Hill Farm, asked the
Supervisors whether they were
planning to meet with the state,
and if they were going to rescind
the ordinance. Baird said she
had no comment. “I would ask
the board to please work with us
better,” Shannon said. “Whatever
you wind up doing regarding
open space, it’s important that
we be heard. This is a very good
lesson for all of us.”
Siepser and others at the
meeting were bewildered by
the Supervisors’ response. He’s
incredulous that somehow a
local dispute turned into this
community-wide conflict. “I
don’t have the back story,” he
says. “Why does a community
like this with such skilled people
around, why did they ignore our
input with such disdain?” He
said that the horse industry in the
Township generates millions of
dollars a year. “It’s all clean and
green,” he says, wondering why
the Township would jeopar-
dize this revenue stream with
an ordinance that could drive
some of the horse farms away.
“My concern going forward is I
don’t want them to spend my tax
dollars” litigating this ordinance
with the state.
It appears that the horse own-
ers will have to wait, possibly
until 2016, for a resolution. Baird
says that she has no plans to put
the ordinance on the agenda for
the December meeting, either.
“At this point it will not be on the
December agenda,” Baird says.
“We just got this on Monday
night (November 10). We have
no plans for it at this point.” After
reiterating that she did not wish
to comment on the ordinance or
its possible repeal, Baird suggest-
ed that time is not of the essence.
“The Attorney General took a
year to review it, so we do not
plan to have a discussion on it.”
She says that they have not had
time to consult with the Township
solicitor.
(Continued from page 1)
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