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Foxley Farm owners fight to host special events, overnight guests in Ligonier Twp.

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The owners' fight to offer an events venue and overnight stays at a Ligonier Township farm isn't over as they vowed to appeal a zoning hearing board's rejection of an occupancy permit application.

The township board this week upheld the rejection of the permit application filed by PJ and Maggie Nied to play host to events such as weddings, fundraisers, corporate outings and farm stays at the 60-acre Foxley Farm off Barron Road.

The Nieds argue that any “farm-supporting” activity that generates money necessary to keep the farm running should be allowed as an accessory farm business, which is permitted under the zoning ordinance. They said such activities fall under the umbrella terms “agritourism” or “agritainment,” a new concept that promotes visits to farms for recreation, entertainment or education.

“Both terms ... clearly refer to farm-related activities, which arise out of the unique nature of a farmland and/or agricultural operation. ... It is disingenuous to designate a wedding reception, a political fundraiser, a corporate event or an after-prom party as a ‘farm-related activity' merely because it takes place on a farm,” states the board's decision, written by attorney Donna J. McClelland.

“To do so would make a sailor out of any person who gets married on a cruise ship or a fireman out of any person who holds a reception at a fire hall,” McClelland wrote.

After the board announced the decision Tuesday, PJ Nied said he plans to appeal it.

“We believe we meet the intent of the township's zoning ordinance,” he said.

He would not comment on whether scheduled events will be canceled in light of the decision.

More than 50 people attended a board hearing on Nov. 27.

Some neighbors said they're concerned about noise, traffic, the farm's sewage capacity and the visual impact of hundreds of cars parked on the property for large events.

“We bought our home seven years ago in a rural, quiet area, seeking it to be maintained that way,” said Christopher Turner, who lives across from the farm.

Turner and other neighbors hired Pittsburgh attorney William Sittig to represent them. Turner said the group now has more than 100 supporters.

“It appears to me it's as if the Nieds have come in and tried to manipulate the zoning ordinance to suit a highly commercial goal. If any one property in a residential district can do this, then why can't everyone (host such events)? That would make the area less attractive to residents and tourists alike,” he said.

The Nieds will have to reach an agreement with the Western Pennsylvanian Conservancy.

In August, the conservancy sought an injunction to block the Nieds from holding functions, court records show.

Conservancy officials said the events violated a 1979 legal agreement with the property's previous owner, late businessman Burt Todd, who wanted to prevent development of the rustic property.

On Sept. 5, a tentative agreement was read in court before Westmoreland County Judge Gary Caruso.

After another conference call with Caruso and several revisions, spokeswoman Allison Schleisinger said, the conservancy on Nov. 28 sent the agreement to the Nieds to be signed.

“Nothing's been signed. There's nothing left to do on our end. We don't know why it hasn't been signed,” Schleisinger said.

Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218.

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