No action will be taken on a proposed nuisance ordinance for at least six months, the Highland Township supervisors decided Tuesday during their regular meeting.
The 3-0 vote came after the supervisors heard from a crowd of approximately 60 residents and business owners, who packed the township meeting room.
During more than 90 minutes of interaction with the supervisors, audience members made no comments favoring the ordinance. Applause was frequent.
The supervisors dropped plans to conduct a township-wide survey on the proposal, but resident and ordinance opponent former supervisor Gil Pringle said he still plans to send out a questionnaire of his own this week. He suggested the six-month freeze.
Though action on the ordinance is tabled, discussion of the proposal may still occur during upcoming meetings, the supervisors agreed. They have been working on drafts of the ordinance for months, they said.
The supervisors began drafting an ordinance because they received “a not insignificant amount of complaints” about the condition of some properties, virtually all verbal, Chair Craig Rockey said.
He expressed disappointment that no ordinance proponents spoke up during the meeting. He declined to name people who had lodged complaints.
Rockey called the meeting “instructive” and said it showed “sentiment is strong, passions high.”
One woman asked whether the supervisors intended to punish the entire township on the basis of a handful of complaints.
Many audience members said communication is a better solution than an ordinance.
“Why can’t we talk with our neighbors instead of running to the board?” a man asked.
“Let us be aware of one another’s humanity” and “value one another’s privacy,” township planning commission Chair Barbara Finfrock said, adding that she had no desire to “judge anybody’s front yard.”
A nuisance ordinance is “not a needed thing” she said. Township residents are not living under the jurisdiction of a homeowners association, Finfrock said.
‘This is farmland’
Many audience members said they moved to Highland to be free to use their properties as they wish.
“I came here to live because I wanted my space,” a woman said, adding that the proposed ordinance “scares me a lot.”
Residents who moved to the township in recent years and do not want to see the realities of farming life “should have bought somewhere else,” a man said.
“This is farmland,” and farming is the township’s dominant business, a woman said, adding that piles of chicken droppings are a fact of life that does not offend her.
Such tensions were reflected in discussions during last month’s supervisors meeting and in a full-page advertisement placed in this newspaper Saturday by Highland residents Mike and Martha O’Bryant.
“Do you want government to criminalize where you put an old car or tractor you plan to work on or where you park your equipment trailer?” the ad reads in part.
“If they can control one aspect, they can easily expand it to other areas as they deem to offend somebody’s aesthetic values,” the advertisement reads.
Numerous speakers said they have lived in the township for many years without seeing any need for a nuisance ordinance.
Carl Keller Sr. said the entire ordinance effort is “wasting the township’s money,” and during his many years as a township supervisor he received only one or two complaints about the condition of properties.
Audience members expressed mistrust of government, with at least two mentioning they own guns.
Gettysburg Campground owner Robert Adams expressed concern about draft ordinance language limiting outdoor storage of equipment and requiring items not be visible from the road. He said he has items he only needs every two or three years.
Another man said he can’t afford to build structures to house all of the items related to his business.
Fairfield Fire Chief Bill Jacobs, who lives in and operates a carpentry business in the township, made the same point. Building a big enough shed would require a stormwater management plan and other expenses, he said.
“I don’t have a giant backyard where I can hide things,” yet another man said.
Others said the proposal lacked “clarity” and called it “too open-ended” in terms of exactly defining a nuisance.
One man said he was worried an ordinance could be used to pursue “personal vendettas.”
Speakers expressed concern that the only way to appeal enforcement actions under a nuisance ordinance would be to approach the supervisors who imposed it.
Instead, speakers suggested addressing any problems through procedures already in place in the zoning and building code ordinances.
Audience members noted there will be an election in November, which falls during the six-month tabling of the ordinance proposal. The supervisors who enact an ordinance should be the ones who end up administering it, an audience member said.
Pringle said he filed requests under the state Right-to-Know Law to see all materials related to the proposed ordinance since June 10 and a “target list” of four or five properties, to which he said the supervisors referred as they created ordinance drafts. The supervisors referred his request to their attorney and have yet to provide materials, he said.
Several audience members called for easier access to information about township activities, perhaps via a newsletter, website, or social media. Township Secretary Mary Sherman invited residents to provide her with their email addresses.
If a township survey had taken place, Supervisor Gary Dingle said he would not have supported an ordinance if a majority was against it.
Supervisor Ed Steinour Jr. said he felt something needed to be done, but he could not support the current ordinance draft.
Several speakers expressed concern about the wording of survey questions and expressed doubt residents could answer meaningfully if not provided with proposed ordinance language.
Pringle gave audience members flyers describing a campaign he set up at www.GoFundMe.com titled “This is Not Junk.”
On the website, he states that he plans to sell two antique tractors he has stored outdoors and use the proceeds to “work against passage of this misguided effort to gentrify our rural township” or donate them “to one of the local Adams County farmland preservation programs.”
Requiring “every non-working vehicle and piece of equipment” to be kept out of sight “is a solution that would only be proposed by someone rich enough to be able to throw their old things in the trash whenever they break, and then go out and buy brand new replacements. That is not my definition of a farmer,” the website reads.