Rick and Lorie Miller own approximately twenty-five acres in Pipersville, Bedminster Township. On that property is the Miller’s home, a single-family dwelling, an above ground pool, and a barn, which Mr. Miller uses as an office. The Miller’s property is also used for their non-profit corporation, Rainbow Ridge Farm, which provides therapeutic riding programs for children with special needs. The Millers had the proper permits for the equestrian uses already engaged in on the property, in addition to contracts with individuals who board their horses on the Miller’s property. The Miller’s sought to make additions to the property for the use of Rainbow Ridge Farm, and applied for a permit to build a new barn, which would contain stables and a space to exercise the approximate twenty-eight horses on the property during inclement weather. The permit was denied. Instead of filing an appeal, the Millers notified the township that they would be proceeding with the new barn because it qualified as an agricultural building, and therefore, exempt from the building code. The township then issued a stop work order, and the Millers appealed to the zoning board.
At the hearing, Lori Miller described the purpose of the new barn and that it would be fenced in and secured with a lock, and that it the barn was only open to employees and persons who had contracts with Rainbow Ridge Farm, and not the general public. However, in spite of the new barn’s main purpose as a structure to exercise the horses during bad weather, the board determined that it was not an agricultural building, and upheld the stop work order. The Millers first appealed to the trial court, which agreed with the board. And, the Millers appealed again.
The court began its analysis noting the key provisions of the definition of agricultural building in the zoning law. Essentially, the problematic section of the code was the part, which stated the structure “shall not be construed to mean a place of occupancy by the general public.” The court looked to a similar case where the town ordered an individual to cease construction of a barn, where the purpose of that barn was to house horses and other related supplies. The court found that the barn did in fact serve as an agricultural building because “horses” were considered livestock, and housing livestock was a permissible use under the definition of agricultural building. The court concluded that the new barn was exempt, and a building permit was not needed. Applying in the same logic to the Millers, the court found that because the new barn would be used “to house horses and store hay and farm implements necessary for the operation of Rain Ridge Farm,” and that the farm was accessible only to those who had a contractual relationship with the farm that it constituted an agricultural building and was exempt. Moreover, there was no evidence to support any of the township’s allegations that the barn would be accessible to the public and they were merely unfounded assumptions.
The court also noted that simply because the new barn was available to “invited members of the public,” such access does not render it a place of occupancy by the public, which was prohibited by statute. The farm would “be no more open to the public than is a private residence.” The court reversed the order of trial court.
In re Appeal of Rick and Lorie Miller, 2013 WL 6403089 (PA Commw. 12/9/13)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Commonwealth/out/231CD13_12-9-13.pdf