Future meetings slated over proposed mushroom facility in Franklin Township
● By J. Chambless
The latest hearing over expansion plans by Gourmet's Delight Mushroom Company was held at the Franklin Township Municipal Building on Dec. 9, drawing a crowd of 70 concerned residents. The site of the proposed expansion, which straddles London Grove and Franklin townships, has been a point of sometimes bitter contention for more than a decade.
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 247,000-square-foot facility on the property, which had previously been proposed as the site of a housing development. A proposal submitted to the township in 2012 outlined an expansion of 115,320 feet, and a 2014 proposal asked for an expansion of 246,650 feet.
The property, at 420 Auburn Rd., Avondale, sits within the AR-Agricultural Residential District. The township's zoning ordinance for such districts specifies that uses permitted by right include agriculture and buildings related to agriculture, but not mushroom substrate activities.
Gourmet's Delight is seeking to build 12 mushroom growing rooms, involving the removal and replacement of the outdoor mushroom compost area. The company says that its plan for an enclosed compost area will reduce odors and runoff issues, but residents have maintained that the plan will disrupt their community with both odors, water pollution and increased truck traffic.
The Dec. 9 meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board packed the meeting room. About 25 residents requested party status in the case, meaning that they can pursue an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas if the construction plan is approved at some point. The list of interested residents will be given formal party status at the next scheduled meeting, which is being moved to a larger room. The next two Zoning Hearing Board meetings will be held Feb. 17 and March 10 at the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Landenberg.
Joseph G. Riper, of Ripley, Riper, Holland and Colegreco, made an opening statement on behalf of Gourmet's Delight at the Dec. 9 meeting. Attorney Kimberly P. Venzie, of Unruh, Turner, Burke and Frees, managed the meeting and represents the Zoning Hearing Board.
Franklin Township attorney Mark P. Thompson, of Lamb McErlane, also made a statement that the township will defend the zoning ordinances that the township claims will block Gourmet's Delight from using the land in the manner they are proposing.
The long path to this month's meeting is documented on the township's website, including a May 19 letter from J. Dwight Yoder, of Gibbel, Kraybill and Hess, in which he lays 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 has said that the current board supports 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 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."
In a Dec. 11 email to the Chester County Press, board of supervisors chairman John Auerbach noted, "Our website has all the written information related to this case. To be as transparent as possible, we have posted every document that has been submitted to the township."
For updated information and a schedule of future meetings on the issue, visit www.franklintownship.us.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.