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East Hempfield residents decry letting Amish have 2-horse barns in residential areas

Horse and Buggy

A horse-drawn buggy travels along a country road in Lancaster County.

East Hempfield Township residents panned a proposal to let Plain sect households stable two horses on residential lots as small as a half acre, prompting the supervisors Wednesday to postpone a vote.

“If an Amish person puts a horse barn and two horses next to me, my quality of life goes down the drain,” Lloyd Pickell of Spooky Nook Road said.

“This is craziness ... and cruel to a horse,” David Hughes said.

The supervisors voted 5-0 to table the measure after eight residents and two attorneys urged them to reject the change during a half-hour hearing. No one spoke in favor.

“I'm sure (the Amish are) good neighbors, but having horses in a residential development doesn’t make any sense,” Terrence Fenstermacher of Brookside Drive said.

Colleen Jacobsen of Chapel Forge Drive called the proposal “totally unprecedented.”

“I don’t think you understand what you’re doing,” Jacobsen said, noting that she spoke with zoning officers at four municipalities. “No one recommends a half an acre for one horse, let alone two.”

Lawsuit threatened

The township currently allows one horse per acre, but only in the agricultural zone north of Route 283.

The supervisors are mulling a change to allow barns for two horses on half-acre or larger lots in the agricultural zone as well as residential and village zones.

While the proposed revision doesn’t mention the Amish, it applies only to those who use horses as their primary means of transportation.

Township officials drafted the two-horse barn proposal after the zoning hearing board in April ruled against Levi Stoltzfus Jr., a member of the Amish church, who sought a variance to allow two horses on a one-acre Shenck Road lot.

Richard Szarko of Shenck Road fought the proposed variance and vowed Wednesday to take the township to court if the supervisors relax the zoning rules and allow barns for two horses on small lots.

No Amish members attended the meeting. Township manager Cindy Schweitzer told LNP that Plain sects have not contacted the township regarding the measure. She said the township has not seen a trend of Amish seeking small lots in the municipality.

Favoritism denied

But Veronica Morrison, Szarko’s attorney, told the supervisors the proposed amendment favors the Amish over other residents.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to promote the Anabaptist faith to allow for horses to be available as a convenient means of transportation for Anabaptists only, whether that touches other people,” Morrison said.

Supervisor Doug Brubaker pushed back against the claim the proposal gives preference to Anabaptists who rely on horses.

“We are looking at the people in question here no more or no less than what we would be looking at each one of you,” he told residents. “There’s no favoritism, hint, whiff or implication whatsoever of that.”

Supervisor Tom Bennett asked Morrison for documentation that religious beliefs dictate that the Amish use horses. “It’s my understanding that ... it’s a social practice and not a religious one,” he said.

In voting to table the measure, Bennett said he heard good points and needs to review documents.