September 2014 | Proposed Ordinance Would Restrict Unionville-Area Horse Operations
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Proposed Ordinance Would Restrict
Unionville-Area Horse Operations

September 2014 - Marcella Peyre-Ferry

Even in areas that are traditionally equestrian strongholds, changing factors in the community can make it more difficult for stables to operate. As development moves in, stresses on farms increase.

Township Supervisors in Newlin Township, southern Chester County, PA are looking at an ordinance change that, if approved, would regulate horse businesses and limit the number of horses allowed on a property.

At the August 11 township meeting, horsemen packed the audience to let their elected officials know that they are opposed to the proposed ordinance change. Whether their complaints will stop the ordinance is yet to be seen.

Newlin Township, near Unionville and Kennett Square, is located in the midst of foxhunting, steeplechasing, eventing, polo, showing and driving interests. Horse farms have been operating in the township for decades, but the new ordinance would require them to comply with additional regulations they have never had to worry about in the past.

The Board of Supervisors was prompted to craft the ordinance change after complaints came in from Hilltop View Rd. residents last year about increased horse trailer traffic on their street generated by a new farm owner.

The complaints forced the Township to address the problem and look at their ordinance book, which included regulations on horses that were never enforced.

The first section of the proposed ordinance defines "commercial equestrian activities" to include boarding and lessons - including clinics, and competitions. Boarding for money or in exchange for services, when an accessory use to a dwelling, will be allowed if certain conditions are met.

The conditions include an acreage requirement of at least three acres for the first horse and two more acres for every additional horse. By that standard, a nine acre property would be allowed just four horses.  There must be "sufficient satisfactory pasture area to support the number of horses to be boarded on the property" plus there are also restrictions that limit the location of pastures within flood plains and on steep slopes.  Manure must be stored at least 100 feet from property lines, and parking must be on the same parcel as the use.

If the boarding operation is not an accessory use to a dwelling, it falls under a different heading of "commercial equine related activities" where the list of regulations is longer. In addition to the conditions above, there is also a limit of one indoor arena no more than 20,000 sq. ft. in size. Buffers or screening may be required, adequate trailer parking must be demonstrated, and outdoor commercial activities are limited to daylight hours.

Farms that hold competitions or any other activities that bring non-resident horses or spectators to the facility are up for additional scrutiny. Under the new ordinance, the supervisors retain the right to impose "reasonable conditions on the operation of such activities where it deems necessary to mitigate potential off-site impacts; such conditions may include, but are not limited to: limits on the number of shows/competitions; hours they may occur; and number and type of on-site vendors."

Farms that do not meet the ordinance requirements could apply for a special exception, but to do that, a zoning hearing is needed. The fee for that hearing is $1,500 with no guarantee that the request would be approved. 

The full text of the ordinance amendment can be found on the Newlin Township Web site at www.newlintownship.org.  At the time of this writing, a hearing on the ordinance change is scheduled to be held on Monday, September 8, at the Lenfest Center on Cannery Road in Unionville, PA.

Colerain Township
Not far away, in the southern end of Lancaster County, Colerain Township Supervisors are also wrestling with a new ordinance to put controls on horses and livestock kept on small acreage.

In Colerain, the issue came to a head when a variance was requested to permit a horse barn on a 1.2 acre property where there was not enough room to meet the required 200 foot setbacks from the property lines.

That variance request was denied, but to lay out guidelines for the future, in July the Supervisors proposed to require two acres as the minimum property size for one horse, and limit the number of total animals on the property using a formula based on animal size by weight. Any animal averaging over 200 lbs. would be considered a "large animal".

Colerain is an agricultural township, with Amish residents making up a large portion of its population. It is also home to Andrews Bridge Foxhounds, as well as private and commercial equestrian operations large and small including steeplechase and show barns.

In August, Colerain Supervisors took a step back from action on the ordinance, when their meeting was packed to standing room only by Amish residents. Although few of the spectators spoke at the meeting, their presence let the Board know that they were concerned.

In response, Colerain is taking another look at the ordinance to see if they can craft something that will protect neighborhoods where lots are small yet not be overly restrictive to the point where horses are prohibited.

"We had been going with the 200 ft. (setback) for 20 years and apparently that concept needed to be reworded," Supervisor's Chairman Walter Todd addressed the Amish crowd at the August Township Meeting. "The fact is, we need to all get along. We all live in the same community."