Lawyer for Whitewing Farm owners suggests a compromise
07/07/2015 09:50AM ● Published by J. Chambless
By John Chambless
Attorney Ron Agulnick extended an olive branch to neighbors of the Whitewing Farm on Monday evening at the East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors meeting, but it was not accepted by either the board or the homeowners, who have been objecting to events held at the farm since 2012.
The prolonged standoff has led to heated confrontations between the farm's owners, Lance and Sandra Shortt, and the neighbors who object to the traffic and noise caused by large parties on the property at 370 Valley Road.
Whitewing Farm, formerly a bed and breakfast, was purchased by the Shortts in 2012, and they planned to host events and weddings at the site, creating more noise and congestion than the inn's previous use. A series of hearings has locked the business down to an extent, and outdoor events have been put off while the case winds its way through the legal system. The supervisors maintain that the township zoning code does not allow the large events in a residential neighborhood. The Shortts and their lawyer, Agulnick, have argued that weddings and other large events are being held at the nearby Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery, and they object to being penalized for what they're trying to do at Whitewing Farm.
Agulnick told the board that he sensed the judge in the case may be favoring a settlement, and “there is good reason to sit down and try to work something out,” he said. Two of the former foes of the Shortts have approached them about hosting events at Whitewing, Agulnick said, “so maybe there's some mellowing there.”
He presented a written proposal to the board, but admitted that “every number on there is negotiable.” Indoor events held in the Whitewing Farm barn “are not disruptive,” Agulnick said, and would be held to standards for noise and traffic congestion. But his suggestion that the Shortts be allowed to hold “up to 14” outdoor events a year drew a murmur of dissent from the neighbors at the meeting.
“We appreciate your proposal,” board president Cuyler Walker told Agulnick, “but this board has concluded that our zoning ordinance does not permit these types of events at all.” The tension with neighbors has relaxed in recent months, Walker said, “because there have been no events for them to be impacted by.”
Walker said the board will study the
proposal, “and if anything looks like it might lead to a
settlement, we'll sit down with you to discuss it, but your initial
proposal several years ago was for holding fewer than 14 outdoor
events. This doesn't sound like a settlement to me.”
Agulnick said the number of events was very flexible, but Walker countered, “I haven't heard the neighbors say they want any events.”
Several neighbors of Whitewing Farm addressed the board, unanimously saying that they had heard nothing about a softening of opinion toward the Shortts. Rob McPherson, a neighbor and the president of the homeowners association for the Beversrede development, said “there has been no groundswell of support for a change. But I do believe that Galer needs some attention,” he said. “They have been holding events there that clearly don't comply with zoning regulations.”
In particular, a June 28 event at Galer Winery was a wedding, according to Agulnick and Lance Shortt, who attended the meeting with his wife.
Township manager Jane Laslo countered that the events at Galer were for charity, and amounted to “perhaps three or four over the last two years.” She said she would contact the winery's owner to see what types of events are being held there, and make sure that they are in compliance with the zoning rules.
In other business, the board granted an escrow amount of $2.6 million to the developer of the Union Walk community planned for Walnut Road, but there was a strong suggestion from supervisor Robert Weer that the name be changed to avoid confusion with the Union Square development when emergency services are required.
The planned development was originally called Walnut Ridge, but a change of ownership has changed the name to Union Walk. “I think there's a strong sentiment that we hope you can find a new name,” Walker told the company representative. The development at the site includes the widening of northbound Walnut Road to create a turning lane, and the completion of demolition of a former mushroom facility on the property.
The board also heard about a proposal to harvest 65 trees from the Krautzel property near the Village Blackshire development. Levi Stoltzfus said that one tree – a 40-inch diameter red oak – “was leaning pretty badly” and may be partially rotten, which made it eligible for removal under township regulations regarding specimen trees. The 65 trees will be selected from an 11.5-acre area that's spread over three parcels. There is no clear-cutting, Stoltzfus said. The trees will be hauled out in four loads each day, done over five days in late August or September, he said. To insure against damage of curbing or roadways in the area, Stoltzfus agreed to a $5,000 escrow with the township, to be repaid to him after the timber harvesting is satisfactorily completed. The supervisors unanimously approved the proposal.
The board also approved a land development plan for the Upland Country Day School property that will add a two-story addition to an existing building at the school. It will house a first-floor science classroom area and second-floor gallery. The 2,600-square-foot addition is scaled to fit with the existing architecture. A starting date for construction was not announced.
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