This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and The Mercury‘s website.
EAST GOSHEN — As East Goshen Township Supervisor Marty Shane said, it’s not often that the Board of Supervisors disagree so much.
But that has been the case over the ordinance which limits the number of dogs within a dwelling.
The board has been split down the middle and it showed in Tuesday night’s 3-2 vote to pass the new ordinance allowing just four dogs in a dwelling.
“We’re taking the same rationale of the four that we had back in the ‘80s,” said Supervisor Carmen Battavio. “It’s not broken — we’re legitimizing it so that we have a leg to stand on if it is challenged.”
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The ordinance was brought to the attention of the board after an incident in November 2014 when two residents were attacked by dogs which had gotten loose.
It was noticed that, if challenged, the ordinance would not hold-up because it lacked a rationale for having a limit on dogs.
“This started as a municipal cure,” said Kristin Camp, township solicitor. “(The cure) gives the board of supervisors 180 days to determine whether or not the provision within the ordinance that they potentially declared to be invalid, whether or not they want to make amendments to that particular provision.”
The supervisors could either keep a limit of whatever number they choose or get rid of the cap and have it unlimited.
“To my knowledge, and I’ve been here a long time, there hasn’t been anybody that has come in here and asked us to change that,” Shane said. “In some sense, it makes it seem like it’s a rationale decision.”
Of the townships surrounding East Goshen, only one also has a limit on dogs.
In Westtown Township’s zoning code, its restriction on dogs is that “any keeping of eight or more dogs age three months or older shall require a minimum lot area of 10 acres.”
East Goshen’s new ordinance permits up to four dogs, aged three months or older, in a dwelling.
For a single-family detached dwelling on three or more acres, it is allowed an additional dog for each acre of lot in excess of two acres.
“It just so happens that about 75 percent of the dwellings in East Goshen are one acre or less,” Shane said. “From a rationale standpoint, if you have the vast majority of your residential properties on one acre or less, it seems reasonable that you’re going to put some kind of restriction on the number of dogs that you can have.”
Senya Isayeff, who has been against having a restriction from the onset, doesn’t agree that there should be a number, let alone the same number for all dwellings.
“I think the rationale that we have on this table where we have the same number of dogs for an apartment or a single-family detached house that may be on two acres is incongruous in this discussion that we should have them linked together,” he said. “Maybe we realize today that three times we have made a mistake in selecting an arbitrary number in the absence of justification. Perhaps tonight our mission should be to correct that mistake.”
Janet Emanuel, who was chair of the planning commission back in 1983 when the ordinance was first put into place, defended why the number was originally chosen 32 years before.
“We could envision, as it beginning to get residential development on small-acre lots, that there had to be a restriction to the number of animals,” she said. “We spent considerable time looking at horses and pigs and gerbils and rabbits, trying to decide on what an appropriate-sized lot would be to manage that number of animals. It was not arbitrary.
“We had consultants come in, we spoke to them and we came up with the idea that since a lot of our houses were on half-acre lots, that it was appropriate to limit the number and we came up with four. We spent a lot of time coming up with four. Four has managed to handle without any problems since 1983. I think it’s still valid now.”
Camp was asked during the meeting that if the ordinance was to pass, would she be able to defend it if challenged, to which she said yes.
She also explained that she felt that a number was constituted in order for the dogs to fall as an “accessory” to a residence.
“At some point in time, it no longer is an accessory to the dwelling,” Camp said. “It becomes a kennel or a boarding facility for dogs or animals.”
Residents who stood up to speak during the hearing were also split down the middle.
“Pigs are more aggressive than pit bulls and there are two on our street that have (them),” said Joe Buonanno, a township resident. “There is no rhyme or reason to this whatsoever. There are better ways to do it.”
Buonanno felt that it was unfair to have a restriction on dogs and not other animals, such as cats or birds.
However, Camp noted that the township’s code did address them as well.
“The definition of household pets does include animals other than dogs,” she said. “There is no specific number restriction on other types of household pets, but there is restriction that it must be an accessory to the residential dwelling so that at some number of household pets, other than dogs, there would be some number that it would not longer be an accessory to the residential dwelling.”
Though some argued that the mission of the board to find a rationale was missed, township resident Terry Relick disagreed.
“I don’t understand the in-fighting when four has always been on the books,” she said. “Why is it a big deal now? The law is already there and no one has had a problem with it. More than four dogs constitutes a pack. They take on a pack mentality — there’s the rationale.”