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Alpaca owners fight zoning law

July 30, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, PA. - Alpacas. Pets or livestock?

That was the question the three members of the Mercersburg Zoning Hearing Board were preparing to wrestle with once testimony from a public hearing ended Thursday night.

The board was still taking testimony at press time.

At issue was an appeal filed by Joseph and Kelly Renner of 11 Linden Ave. The couple was cited for violating borough zoning laws by bringing two alpacas to their home in May. The board must decide whether the Renners are in violation.

The Renners said they bought them from a Smithsburg-area alpaca farm to be pets for their daughters, ages 7 and 11.

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Thursday's appeal was the most controversial before the board since the early 1990s when a company was denied permission to build a gas station/convenience store in the borough, said Maurice Gossert, board chairman.

The hearing was moved from the Borough Hall meeting room to the First United Methodist Church on North Fayette Street because of the number of people who attended.

More than 20 people showed up for the hearing. About a dozen hands went up when attorney Jeff Evans, the board's lawyer, called for witnesses to be sworn in to testify.

Borough Manager Arthur Speicher and Steven Mellott, zoning enforcement officer, cited the Renners.

Mellott, the first witness called by Borough Solicitor Melissa Tively, testified that he and Speicher contacted area pet shops to see if they sold alpacas as pets. None did, Mellott testified.

Speicher's testimony supported that of Mellott.

Mellott and Speicher said they also checked alpacas on the Internet. The animals, whose natural habitat is the high Andes of South America, have been in the United States since 1984.

They are raised for their prime wool, or fiber as it is called, for meat, as investments since a breeding pair can sell for thousands of dollars, and as pets, according to testimony.

Most pet alpacas are gelded males which are useless to breeders, according to testimony. As a result, witnesses said, breeders have created a market by selling the gelded animals as pets.

Joseph Renner, called to the stand by John Frey, his lawyer, testified that he checked the local zoning laws before he bought the alpacas and found nothing in them that prevented him from bringing the animals onto his property.

He said his property, a triangle-shaped, three-quarter-acre lot at the intersection of Pa. 16 and Linden Avenue, is big enough to hold the animals.

According to testimony, five to 10 alpacas can occupy one acre.

Renner said his animals are kept in a fenced area that covers one-fourth of an acre.

He said alpacas make perfect pets for his children because they are clean, odorless, don't bite, are not aggressive and are not a nuisance.

"I bought them because they are the least offensive pet I could find," he said. "I don't know what people want."

He said none of his neighbors objected to him personally about his alpacas.

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