By John Chambless
For more than a decade, the Gourmet's Delight Mushroom Company has been trying to expand its mushroom facility that straddles London Grove and Franklin townships. Today, they are no closer to their goal, and legal action has been taken on both sides over a zoning disagreement.
The expansion plan, which was first introduced to the board of supervisors in 2003, has been the focus of many meetings and reviews. The mushroom farm in London Grove Township is seeking to expand onto an adjacent 24-acre property, the former Benmark farm, which lies within Franklin Township. The company wants to build an 80,000-square-foot facility plant on the property, which had been proposed as the site of a housing development at one time.
In the latest round of legal debate, Robert F. Adams of Gawthrop, Greenwood, PC in West Chester wrote to Franklin Township zoning officer Duane Brady, asking him to rule in favor of Gourmet's latest request for permission to build a composting operation to complement its mushroom growing and processing plant, which is in adjacent London Grove Township. That letter, posted on the township's website, was dated May 5.
On May 19, the board of supervisors received a letter and packet of information from J. Dwight Yoder, of Gibbel, Kraybill and Hess, a law firm in Lancaster County. The information is also posted on the township's website. In the letter, he laid out his side of the legal wrangling. He has been retained by neighbors of the proposed facility.
"Gourmet's proposed mushroom substrating operation simply is not permitted under the provisions of the [zoning] ordinance," Yoder wrote.
At a May 21 board of supervisors meeting, resident Pat Talwin submitted a petition signed by 65 people from Franklin Township, and presented a report. Board president John Auerbach led the discussion and said that the current board supported a 2009 zoning officer's opinion that mushroom substrate creation is not allowed at the proposed location.
In a March 2014 letter, Gourmet's Delight wrote to township manager Joan McVaugh to address the concerns of residents.
The company says that odors from the proposed composting plant will be reduced by an indoor aerated process. Gabe Valentino, controller for Gourmet's Delight, wrote in his letter to McVaugh that, “It is our view that we have demonstrated our commitment to a low-impact, state-of-the-art composting facility that will be a major upgrade to the traditional composting processes that are associated with mushroom growing in Chester County.”
Gourmet's Delight currently operates 34 mushroom growing rooms on about 40 acres in London Grove Township. In 2011, the company got approval from London Grove Township to add 12 additional growing rooms on the existing farm. They have not begun building. The company produces the mushroom compost needed for the 34 rooms.
In order to build the 12 mushroom growing rooms that have been approved by London Grove Township, the company must replace the outdoor composting area. They are proposing to build an enclosed facility on the disputed 24-acre property in Franklin Township. The company estimates a three- to five-year time frame for the project, if it is permitted to begin.
In his May 19 letter to the board, Yoder laid out his case and formally asked the board to uphold the zoning officer's 2009 interpretation of the zoning regulations that prohibited Gourmet's use of the property for creating mushroom substrate.
"Gourmet's proposed use will involve the construction of a very large expansion of its mushroom operation," Yoder wrote. "It will permanently destroy the Benmark farm ... The size and scale of the building will undoubtedly dominate the entire view. My clients, who live and own residential properties, will be directly affected.
"There will be significantly more noise from this operation, as many more trucks, equipment and employees process and prepare the substrate," he continued. "Of course there will be odor. ... There is particular concern of contaminated storm water runoff infiltrating into the ground water.
"It should be noted that this will be a 365-day-a-year, 24-hour-a-day operation. ... If a family wants to open its window at night, it will have to live with the noise and odor associated with this operation.
"At the end of the day," Yoder concluded, "the residents expect that you, as the elected officials, will stand with the residents and apply the zoning ordinance as written, and not allow Gourmet's Delight to dictate what it wants to do at the very real expense of the rest of the community."
For updated information and a schedule of future meetings on the issue, visit www.franklintownship.us.