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Residents sound off about mushroom plant expansion near Franklin Township

03/29/2016 12:18PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

There was a little good news and a bit more bad news for Franklin Township residents who came to the Board of Supervisors meeting on March 16. Most of them came to voice their displeasure over what will eventually be a major expansion of the Gourmet's Delight mushroom facility that borders the township.
The 13-year battle over whether Gourmet's Delight mushroom company can expand took a decisive turn this month when the State Attorney General's Office ordered the township to revise its zoning laws, clearing the way for the company to build. The company was able to obtain a favorable ruling from the Pennsylvania Attorney General based on compliance to the ACRE law. The law was drafted to prevent local governments from unreasonably restricting farming operations in Pennsylvania.
At the meeting on March 16, board chairman John Auerbach told more than a dozen residents that the township is being forced to change its ordinance because “it was not legal since it pre-empted state law. We don't have any legal room at all, unless we decide to appeal, in which case the Attorney General's Office has said that they will take us to Common Pleas Court and enforce the ruling. We don't have a particularly strong case. My opinion, and that of the board, is that we don't want to risk that much money in legal fees, which we estimate to be well over $100,000.”
Township solicitor Mark Thompson laid out the facts of the most recent legal ruling, “including a letter last summer that the Attorney General had issues with the way Franklin Township was regulating agriculture, specifically mushroom substrate composting and mushroom growing,” he said. “It has taken several months to develop a new ordinance. We have been making efforts to have as much regulatory oversight of agricultural activities as we can. This is not limited just to what Gourmet's Delight is proposing, but any agricultural activity in the township. The thrust of the Attorney General's letter is that we can't treat one type of agriculture differently than all other types of agriculture. We can't exclude mushroom growing and substrate processing from the primary agricultural zone in the township.”
Auerbach conceded that Gourmet's Delight “is an enormous facility, there's no doubt about it. And for people who have to look at it, it's not the most pleasant thing. On the plus side, they will be doing all their work inside an enclosure, so that provides some isolation for the neighborhood from some of the noise and odors.”
At this time, only a sketch plan of the expansion has been submitted to the township, Auerbach explained, so any specifics will be addressed later.  
Thompson said, “We will have a public hearing on the ordinance after we advertise it, which is the purpose of tonight's meeting. We can take public comment at that time as well.”
Several residents commented that they appreciated the way the township had fought the expansion, but one woman told the board, “I think the feeling that you're getting from all of us who will have to deal with this in our backyards is that we feel we've been run over by the Attorney General's Office. The level of disappointment in this room for our elected officials at the state level is huge. It's just a disappointment that the state government would run roughshod over a township.”
Resident Chris Farmer asked about noise from the proposed expansion, and Auerbach replied, “Noise is very difficult to regulate. You have to measure it to a certain standard, and say they violated it, and then apply a remedy. The noises that concern me the most at this facility are the back-up alarms on the equipment. It's a very strong, penetrating sound.”
Asked if there are restrictions on the company's hours of operation, and if they could operate around the clock, Auerbach said, “I would hope that they would be sensitive to the community's needs.” Several people in the audience laughed.
“We lost this one here,” Auerbach said, “but hopefully we will have other opportunities to mitigate the nuisance factors. When we met with Gourmet's Delight in October, they said they would install some sort of screening around the facility. I hope they will do that.”
In the audience, resident Barbara Mack said, “In past meetings, they had said their screening would be hay bales.”
Thompson added, “Keep in mind that they still have to go through the land development process. There will be a plan to be reviewed by the Planning Commission, by this board, and the public will be able to provide input.”
Toward the end of the meeting, the board hear from David Hoffman and Mark Harris, co-owners of Paradocx Vineyard, who are proposing adding a brewery to the winery operation they currently operate.
“We started talking to Mark and David in December about this proposal,” Auerbach said. “How we do it is an issue, but I'm very supportive of the proposal.”
Hoffman told the board, “We've been growing grapes since 1998-99 on just over 100 acres. We've been in our current building since 2007. We recently did a business survey and asked, 'Would you be willing to return to Paradox if there was beer?', and about 85 percent said they would. And up to 95 percent said they'd be more likely to buy beer if it had ingredients that were grown locally,” Hoffman said. “So we propose to have a brewery at the winery. The brewery would be in the current footprint of the building. We plan to grow hops or barley, or both.”
To comply with state regulations, the wine tasting room would be moved to the second floor of the building, and the brewery would be added to the first floor. The goal is to open a brewpub operation on the first floor.
“With the brewery, no public comment would be involved,” Auerbach said. “But if you go to a brewpub, there's public comment involved in that licensing.”
The plan might also run afoul of a township ordinance from 1933 that designates Franklin as a “dry” township. Auerbach said the township had done some searching for the actual ordinance, “But we could only find references to an ordinance, not the ordinance itself.  We think it's still there, but someone will have to research that. What we think is that it was passed by referendum in 1933. From a legal standpoint, if it was passed by referendum, we have to remove it by referendum. I don't think it would have any problem passing. People I've talked to like your idea. It's kind of a neat thing. But here's the issue: The search is something that you guys will have to do.”
Hoffman said, “I think we were provided a copy of the ordinance at the time we were going through the winery opening. We'll go find it.”
While it's still in the idea phase, the expansion may include extending hours for special events until 11 p.m. Operations currently stop at 9 p.m. A kitchen may also be added to prepare and serve food for some events. The food service operation would not operate as a full-time restaurant.
For a video of the March 16 meeting and other township news, visit www.franklintownship.us.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.



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