Faced with oppositional public outcry, Butler supervisors have put the brakes on a proposed animal ordinance which has the potential for a deleterious effect, especially on 4-H youth and food-insecure and low-income families within the township.
“It was bad judgment on my part,” said Todd King, township solicitor who drafted the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance, originally advertised for a vote Monday, is highly restrictive of the number and kinds of animals Butler Township residents would be allowed to keep on their properties.
A grassroots campaign sprung up to fight the passage of the proposal as written, with township residents handing out flyers door-to-door and encouraging people to attend Monday’s meeting to voice their concerns.
Because of the public’s backlash to the proposal and anticipated number of people who may attend the supervisors’ meeting, it is being moved from the small Table Rock Road township office to the Biglerville Fire Hall on South Main Street, said Danielle Helwig, township secretary. A legal advertisement announcing the move appears in the Classified’s section of today’s paper.
No action on the ordinance is expected at the meeting.
“I know they (supervisors) are not going to adopt it. They are going to take comments and suggestions for review,” Helwig said.
Further action is anticipated at a later date, she said.
As proposed, the ordinance would only allow typical indoor pets, with cats and dogs being specifically cited, on any property less than three acres in size, and would strictly limit the “noncommercial keeping of livestock” on properties three acres and larger, based on animals’ weights.
“The minimum lot shall be three acres,” the proposed ordinance reads.
Restrictive setbacks for coops and pens are also detailed in the draft, such as should a person own three acres and wish to keep a chicken, a 25-foot setback would be mandated, whereas a 66-pound dairy goat’s habitat would need a 75-foot setback.
Allowances are outlined for a “guide dog for the blind, deaf or handicapped,” but not other types of service dogs as specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as the working dogs of veterans suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
Other clauses do not contain specific definitions, leaving open the interpretation by residents, zoning officers, police and future supervisors.
There was no grandfather clause to consider the currently-acceptable situations that would fall outside the parameters of the planned ordinance.
Amy Welker, a township resident who has worked professionally with farmers for the past 25 years, said the proposed ordinance is not “responsible to children” in the township.
It would prevent some children from being able to participate in 4-H and FFA, and has the potential to cause some children to go hungry, such as youngsters whose families rely upon keeping chickens or other small livestock for food or income.
As written, the ordinance is not only too restrictive, but lacks clarity, she said.
“I’m not opposed to ordinances. I am opposed to poorly-written ordinances. An ordinance needs to be black and white. This one leaves a lot open to interpretation,” she said.
Welker said she spoke with some township officials about the matter.
“They said they didn’t intend this. But they don’t know how others will interpret it later,” she said.
The entire issue of an ordinance originated some months ago when a resident went to township officials to inquire about how much land is necessary to keep a horse in Butler, Helwig said.
With nothing on the books, supervisors decided they needed an ordinance in the event a problem arose down the road, then they would have a clearly-defined means by which to handle it, said Helwig.
“They talked about it,” she said, noting the supervisors never specified the restrictions in the draft.
After that discussion, King was tasked with drafting an animal ordinance for Butler.
King said he drew from other municipal ordinances, specifically citing that of Hamiltonban Township and one from a Lancaster County municipality, when drafting the Butler proposal.
“The supervisors didn’t want people with small lots to become overburdened with animals, typically farm animals. Pets were not the subject,” King said.
King said he should have taken the rural nature of Butler Township more into account when penning the proposed mandate.
There was no intention to cause harm or unduly burden township residents, he said.
“We never meant that. We’re not going to take your animals,” said King.
Butler Township supervisors will hold their monthly meeting at the Biglerville Fire Hall, 111 S. Main St., Biglerville, on Monday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. to hear people on this matter, Helwig said.
A number of agencies, such as the state farm bureau and Pa. Federation of Dog Clubs, have indicated they will send a representative to the meeting to speak, according to Welker and various posts on Facebook.