By Richard L. Gaw
The latest rung in the on-going battle between East Marlborough Township and the controversial Whitewing Farm property occurred on July 2, but rather than come to a final decision as had been expected, the evening reached a stalemate of definitions and further testimony, all against the idea of converting an eight-acre farm in the township into a wedding and banquet facility.
Lance Shortt, owner of the Whitewing Farm -- which currently operates as a bed and breakfast -- wants to expand his business to include hosting weddings, meetings and private parties on his 12-acre property. In an application filed to the township in June 2012, Shortt and his wife, Sandra, have hired attorney Ronald Agulnick to argue that the township's zoning ordinance is invalid. The Shortt's application further contends that since the township's zoning ordinance doesn't specificlaly allow such usage in any district in the township, that the Shortt's are being unfairly excluded.
As the meeting began, township solicitor Fronefield Crawford called East Marlborough Township resident Carol Apicella to testify on behalf of the township. Apicella, whose property is approximately 1,100 feet from Whitewing Farm, told Crawford that through 2011, there were no instances arising from Whitewing Farm that disturbed her enjoyment of the rural setting of her residence, which she defined as a "quiet, residential community." Referring to a letter that she had sent to Crawford and others in the township, Apicella pointed to the date of August 18, 2012 , when she heard loud music coming from the Whitewing Farm - specifically a Jennifer Lopez song which Apicella identified - as well as loud conversation, and amplified voices coming from a P.A. System - sounds that Apicella said went on until 10 p.m.
"My objection is that I like to enjoy the property I purchased," Apicella told Agulnick. "If I wanted to hear excessive noise, I'd have moved to West Chester near a frat house."
Agulnick disputed the relevancy of the testimony, in response to Crawford calling the impact of these noises "egregious."
"To classify something as 'egregious' because she can identify a song which she listens to anyway, and to say that every wedding is exactly like that, is not what we're here for," Agulnick said.
Attorney John Jaros, acting as a solicitor on behalf of the township's zoning board, then encouraged Crawford to limit further testimony from neighbors.
"We have heard a lot of testimony with regard to neighbors in the vicinity and how they object to the use of the Whitewing Farm and its impact on their privacy. I think the Board fully understands that the use is objectionable to a number of people."
Agulnick entered additional evidence into the hearing, in trying to link the business zone areas in nearby districts with the proposed use of the Whitewing Farm, and defining the location as a "convention center." His witness - C.J. Frederick, a local land use planner with the West Chester design firm C.J. Frederick and Associates - identified business zoning districts in other area townships, including West Marlborough Township.
Agulnick then asked Frederick to read the definition of "convention center," which Frederick read as "an assemblage of uses that provide for a setting where indoor and outdoor exhibits and activities serve various business, entertainment, recreation and conventions. This use can also include related lodging and dining facilities."
After going back and forth with Frederick on the multi-purposes of a convention center for more than 30 minutes, Agulnick asked Lawrence if he had studied B-1 (business) districts in order to ultimately determine whether the Whitewing Farm would be qualified to be in a B-1 district. Frederick pointed to the Stone Barn Restaurant and Banquet Facility on Stone Barn Road in Kennett Square as a prime definition of a convention center.
Crawford then cross-examined Frederick, in an attempt to dispel the connection Agulnick made to define the Whitewing Farm in the same category as the Stone Barn.
Following the cross-examination, the East Marlborough Township Zoning Board heard testimony from ten township residents, all of whom shared their disapproval of the Shortt's wish to hold weddings, meetings and private parties on their Whitewing Farm property. Apicella provided further comment on the issue, disagreeing with the arguments involved in the case, specifically Item 5 of the Shortt's application, which states that the propsoed is not inherently a nuisance nor detrimental to the public health, safety, morals and general welfare.
Quoting from an encyclopedia, Apicella said 'Nuisance' is defined as an "act, object or practice that intereferes with another's rights or interests by being offesneive, annoying, dangerous or unhealthy,'" she said. "The proposed use is, inherently, a nuisance because the noise and crowd disturbance is a permanent and inseparable element of those events."
"It's unfotunate that we're here, because right now, Whitewing Farm's owner is asking the neighborhood to pay for his mistakes," said township resident Jim McLaughlin. "If he had done his homework up front and knew what his restrictions were, he wouldn't be here now."
In providing an historic overview of the entire application, Robert MacPherson of the Beversrede Homeowners Association said the Shortts have failed in their application on the grounds that their request to have a 'private assembly facility' is invalid, and, he stated, that their request is to operate Whitewing Farm as a commercial business in a residential district.
"This proposed change has a huge impact on the communities that surround Whitewing Farm, and I would argue, East Marlborough Township, and potentially every township in the area, and if enough predence is set, the entire state," MacPherson said.
After two hours of testimony, Jaros called the hearing to a close, and asked that all parties re-convene on July 15 at 7 p.m. for a final hearing date, during which closing arguments will be heard. Further findings will be introduced to the case no later than Aug. 14, and a final decision on the Shortt application will be rendered within 30 days of Aug. 14.