Worried about being saddled with living next door to a horse, some Miles Township residents hope their supervisors ride to the rescue.
Township supervisors, responding to community input, have drafted an ordinance that would prohibit owning a horse on properties of less than 4 acres in Madisonburg, Rebersburg and Smullton. They plan to discuss the ordinance at their monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Miles Township Fire Company community hall.
Chairman Eric Miller, of Rebersburg, said horses kept on the village’s small lots could pose a nuisance to neighbors and present public health and safety issues from manure and hay attracting rats and other vermin.
Most of the lots are about a quarter of an acre, he said, adding that one village resident in the past drew complaints from keeping two horses on a property roughly that size.
“A quarter of an acre is not enough for horses,” Miller said.
But no current problems, he said, spurred the ordinance.
“Just some concerned citizens came and brought it up, and that’s the reason,” he said.
Buck Fleming, of Madisonburg, is also concerned — for his Amish friends.
He said having horses near his home doesn’t bother him. In fact, he said, he enjoys the sound of passing Amish buggies.
All the ordinance will do, Fleming said, is make it difficult for Amish village residents to get around, especially to church on Sundays. Calling the health and safety worries “nonsense,” he said the ordinance infringes upon religious freedom.
“These township supervisors think they’re going to come and capriciously ignore these basic issues that are the heart and soul of our American way? I don’t think so,” he said.
Violations could draw a fine of up to $600 or 30 days in jail.
In 2005, Walker Township fined two Amish men for keeping transportation horses on their properties in areas zoned for high-density residential use, where active horse stables were prohibited.
A county judge agreed the ordinance interfered with the men’s religious practices but ordered one man to remove his horses anyway because his parcel, at eight-tenths of an acre, was too small for livestock. The judge suggested the other man, who lived on 5 acres, seek a variance. An appeal went to the Commonwealth Court, which upheld the township law.
Fleming charges the Miles Township ordinance targets the Amish.
“Who is going to be initially and directly affected by this?” he said. “The Amish.”
Miller denies anti-Amish sentiment is behind the ordinance. He said he has explained to worried Amish residents that any horses now on properties would be grandfathered in.
He estimated that the three villages collectively contain 12 to 20 properties with horses.
“We’re not looking to take anybody’s animals or anything,” Miller said. “It’s basically to keep new animals coming in on small lots.”
Miller said he thinks community residents are concerned about property values. If someone keeps a horse or two next door and the yard or stable smells, “that obviously draws your property value down,” he said.
Fleming said that’s not a likely issue since Amish homes are “the best-kept houses in town.”
“There’s no question in my mind about it,” he said. “They’re immaculately kept.”
One Rebersburg man, who did not want to be identified, said he supports the ordinance but thinks a smaller minimum acreage would be more fair. Miller said it could end up changing to 2 acres, but that in light of recent feedback, supervisors welcome a full discussion of the horse ordinance.
“You need to try to please everybody and find a medium place to do that,” he said.
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.