It's not a horse, of course Alpacas causing stir in Mercersburg

July 11, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE


Residents in the borough of Mercersburg may keep horses, but alpacas, as one local family is finding out, don't enjoy the same protection under the law.

Joseph and Kelly Renner of 11 Linden Ave. bought two alpacas, a buff-colored one named Pancho and a black one named Lone Ranger.

They brought them home May 4.

On May 13, the Renners were issued a citation from Borough Manager Arthur Speicher stating that they were in violation of the borough's zoning laws concerning the keeping of livestock.


Speicher said he took the action in response to complaints by neighbors. He said the Renners' alpacas are creating controversy and are polarizing the community between residents who love animals and those who don't want farm-type animals within the borough limits.

Linden Avenue is in the borough's historic district, Speicher said.

Kelly Renner said the alpacas are pets that she and her husband bought for their daughters, Ashlee, 11, and Lindsey, 7.

The Renners bought the alpacas from a farm near Smithsburg, Kelly Renner said.

Joseph Renner said his daughters love animals. He said he decided on alpacas after doing some research on the animals.

"They're the least offensive," he said. "They don't have upper teeth. so they don't bite and they don't kick."

According to an Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association Web site, alpacas played a central role in the Incan culture in the Andean Mountains of South America. They first were imported to the United States in 1984, where they are being raised successfully, the Web site says.

Adult alpacas are about 36 inches tall at the withers and generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. They are gentle and easy to handle. They don't have incisors, horns, hooves or claws and require minimal fencing, according to the Web site.

Kelly Renner and Ashlee, with Lindsey in tow, were leading their alpacas like dogs on a leash on the sidewalk outside their home Friday.

The citation says, "It has come to the attention of the Borough that you have acquired a couple of Alpacas on your recently fenced in yard. The animals are beautiful and good-natured animals, however, they are not a domestic animal that would be considered a pet according to our zoning ordinance ..."

The ordinance defines pets as animals commonly sold in retail pet shops.

Speicher said he called four area pet shops and none carried alpacas.

The Renners were ordered to remove the animals within 21 days or face fines and legal action.

The couple answered the charge by requesting a variance before the Mercersburg Zoning Hearing Board, a move that puts any legal action against them on hold pending the board's decision, Speicher said.

The board will hear the request July 29 at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall, Speicher said.

Kelly Renner said she doesn't think the variance will be granted.

Joseph Renner said he is prepared to take the case to court if the variance is denied. He said he also is challenging the legality of the borough's zoning law concerning the keeping of pets because it is not based on whether an animal is considered to be a nuisance.

"I won't lose in court," he said.

Speicher said changing the zoning ordinance is not a simple process and could result in a "slippery slope" whereby residents could request permission to keep cows and other livestock, even wild animals.

Borough laws allow residents to keep up to two horses within corporate limits with certain restrictions. At least two acres are required, and a barn has to be 30 feet from a lot line or street and 150 feet from any dwelling not on the horse owner's property.

Speicher said he thought the borough ordinance allows horses because they are considered to be beasts of burden.

Several residents legally own horses in the borough, Speicher said.

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