This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
In what started as just a neighborly dispute has turned into a township — and possibly countywide — issue and a possible new equestrian ordinance for Newlin Township.
Neilson’s Hill, a long, uphill gallop well-known by riders and a place which previously permitted fitness work and school cross country jumps, has become ground zero for this dispute.
“It started up in one area where a couple of property owners were upset with the new owners of a very large and very expensive training facility,” said Lisa Thomas of the Mid-Atlantic Equestrian Services and also a resident of Chester County. “The new owners brought in a trainer and there was some increased traffic.”
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The trainer brought in by the owners offered riding lessons for children after school, which attracted more cars.
Along with that, more trailers were set up on the tiny, little road as horses were sent out to different horse shows.
“It turned into basically a report to the board of supervisors that this new facility was in violation of the existing ordinance,” Thomas said. “Instead of enforcing the existing ordinance, which was much more reasonable, the board of supervisors hired an attorney and hired people and re-wrote an equestrian ordinance that is highly restrictive.”
The proposed ordinance will make changes to the zoning ordinance already in effect in the township.
First, added into Section 201: Definitions will be the terms “Equestrian Boarding Activities,” defined as boarding and/or lessons in riding or driving including clinics involving one or more students and/or competitions and events in riding or driving, and also the term “Equestrian Boarding Facilities,” defined as any facility where a horse or any other equine is boarded, pastured or engaged in boarding activities in exchange for money and/or services.
Highlights of Section 527 of the ordinance, which will provide the regulations for equestrian boarding facilities as follows:
- Lot sizes will be at least three acres for the first horse and an additional two acres for every horse after.
- Manure may not be stored or piled within 100 feet of a primary residence, with exception to the property owner’s residence. It shall be designed, constructed, maintained and operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Permits have to be secured from all governmental agencies which have jurisdiction over the activity.
- All parking areas for the facility must be on the same premises. No parking, except in the case of an emergency, is allowed on public streets.
“There’s a ton of small homes or farms that are privately owned and it’s really affecting these private properties,” Thomas said. “What’s typical in the equestrian industry is if you’re a farm owner and you want to offset costs because it’s exceedingly expensive to manage horses, you usually take in some boarders.”
The original ordinance, which had been in effect for years, originally had horse boarding facilities being a minimum of 10 acres. Two acres had to be provided for the first horse and an additional acre for every horse after. At least one off-street parking space had to be provided for each stall.
The new ordinance now defines any horse boarding and training facility, regardless of its size, as a commercial activity instead of sometimes being an agricultural one.
“It’s affecting everybody who owns a horse property, from the person who owns a four-stall private barn and rents out one stall so that person can help with mucking stalls and feeding the horses to my neighbors and clients who are on the Olympic level,” Thomas said. “There are very large facilities that are affected and there are private properties that are affected because almost everybody that owns their own private property around here takes on at least one boarder to help with the labor of the properties or to offset some costs.
“People that are operating say, a 15-horse boarding facility on 20 acres are going to have to kick out six of their boarders and that means they’re not going to be able to afford to run their barn.”
Any resident now considered to be running a commercial operation who falls short of the ordinance must file for an exception under the ordinance and appeal to the zoning board, with the cost of that being $1,500.
If the exception is turned down by, the owner will have to comply with the changes made in the new ordinance.
“The Board of Supervisors keeps on saying they have published this and everybody had opportunities for 14 months to come to the meetings,” Thomas said. “There are 30 to 39 farms that are supposedly in violation and they never even sent us direct communication on this. There are so many people that had no clue about this until last month when we basically started putting it on social media.”
A committee has formed in opposition of the ordinance and have named themselves the Concerned Citizens of Newlin Township.
A petition on change.org was started by Thomas and by the Sept. 8 township meeting, had almost 1,400 signatures on it.
“They’re people inflamed by this — not just in the township, but in the surrounding townships because we’re all concerned that all this beautiful land,” Thomas said.
There is a concern from residents in surrounding areas that, if passed, this ordinance will set a precedent that other townships in the county will follow.
“This ordinance that they’re putting forward is not practical and it really is going to make running a horse business where we are difficult,” said Sally Lofting, of West Marlborough, who runs a business with 20 horses. “It seems like a bunch of people who don’t understand a horse business got together and came up with something they thought was ideal.”
Also of great concern is the potential impact this will have on property values and attracting future farm owners to the area.
“What about our property values when we go to sell and they know about this? It’s problematic. What other horse owner who needs to shell out $5 million for a property is going to move here?”
What the committee was looking to do at the Sept. 7 township meeting was to get the supervisors to table the vote and work together with the residents to come up with a better solution.
“We want them to come to the table with a group that represents area township residents and to sit down and draft a plan that makes sense for everyone,” Thomas said. “We know they need to re-write it. We’re not being unreasonable. Everything we’ve submitted and every time we’re at the meetings, they shut us down. They’ve had no intentions of working on this together with area township residents and that is who they’re supposedly protecting and representing.
“We’re going to ask if they’d be willing to table this and be willing to get together with the committee or perhaps a committee and a consultant that would help mitigate any disagreements. We’re just asking them to be considerate and reasonable.”
The residents were able to gain a small victory at the meeting as they came out in force and spoke their opposition to the ordinance.
When all was said and done, the supervisors agreed to postpone the vote until the next meeting on Oct. 13, though they did not make any notion to sitting down with a committee as Thomas suggested, but instead said they would take all the comments said into account.
“This is a very prominent equestrian location,” Thomas said. “Unionville is home to multiple Olympic members and has always been a very large section of the country with preserved land for the fox hunt. There’s no margins in this business. (Horses) are unbelievably expensive animals. We do it for the love and passion of the sport. They’re going to make that impossible (with the ordinance) and it’s really heartbreaking.”