Chester County’s agricultural and equine heritage has helped make it what it is today – one of the most desirable places to live in the commonwealth and the nation. If not for the equine agriculture, horse farms, and horse lovers, there is no question that the area’s rolling hills, lush open spaces and unfettered horizons would look a lot different.
While the horse community continues to be a driving force for environmental protection and preservation, the industry also serves as an economic engine. In fact, there are considerably more horses than homes in Newlin Township. By my rough estimates, the nearly 1,000 horses in Newlin generate more than an estimated $18 million dollars in revenue – revenue that comes without a smokestack, strip mall or office building. It is a unique situation and one that did not happen by accident.
So, why then do the Newlin Township supervisors continue to stand by a doomed ordinance that would jeopardize the horse industry’s continued growth and success here? Why did they enact the ordinance over the protests of more than 100 local residents (there are only 800 registered voters in the township to begin with) and without input from any equine experts? And why haven’t they changed course after the Pennsylvania Attorney General said the ordinance violates state law?
When Newlin Township enacted an ordinance restricting horse-farming activities and limiting the number of horses permitted per acre, we asked the Attorney General to review it under Act 38 of 2005, the Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Act (ACRE). ACRE is designed to protect normal agricultural operations from unauthorized local regulation. Under the law, the Attorney General can review local ordinances for compliance and bring legal action against a local government to invalidate those that don’t comply.
Predictably, the Attorney General’s office shot down the ordinance. Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan Bucknum took more than a year to thoroughly examine the ordinance before issuing a comprehensive decision that it is not only inconsistent with ACRE, but it also makes little sense to begin with. Like many townships that challenge farming through unlawful ordinances, Newlin and its attorneys were either misguided, misinformed, or both.
In Newlin, it did not have to come to this. Dozens of township residents, including skilled equine experts, several U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists, and internationally respected attorneys, offered to help work on a solution and reach a consensus. Instead, the supervisors ignored their pleas and brought in outside attorneys who, though skilled, had no knowledge of horse agriculture and how it works.
Today, it still doesn’t have to come to this. The Attorney General’s office has a policy of working with townships to negotiate changes on unauthorized or invalid ordinances. The vast majorities of the time, municipalities revoke them or work with the Attorney General to resolve the legal problems in question. If the township does neither, it risks being sued by the state! Haven’t enough tax dollars been wasted already?
The supervisors must come to their senses and pull the ordinance. Yet, incredibly they refuse to budge on the issue. Hopefully, they will finally listen to the Attorney General’s office and their constituents. However, I fear that their continued stubbornness will only lead to more wasted time and money.
When a community does not use its resources wisely, the entire area suffers. When local leaders are oblivious to constituents’ interests, government does not work. The supervisors are entrusted with the future of Newlin. Keeping the land as rural, as natural, and as undeveloped as it is now requires doing everything possible to promote and assist horse agricultural operations. It’s a no-brainer. It is high time for the supervisors to abandon the ordinance and, pardon the pun, stop beating a dead horse.
Dr. Steven Siepser