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Hempfield officials want Blue Moon Barn held to zoning laws

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Blue Moon Barn & Covered Bridge in Hempfield advertises itself as “an ideal location for your wedding or special event,” featuring the picturesque bridge. Behind it is a private residence. Hempfield Township is seeking an injunction to shut down the operation because it violates zoning laws.

Hempfield officials want to stop a business owner from holding weddings and receptions on an 11-acre site until a zoning appeal is heard, according to Westmoreland County court records.

The township last week filed an injunction request to prevent the owners of the Blue Moon Barn & Covered Bridge from holding events until a judge rules on their appeal of Hempfield's decision that found them in violation of its zoning ordinance.

Judge Richard McCormick Jr. will hold a hearing on the injunction request on July 1.

The legal dispute is similar to a zoning issue in Ligonier Township involving Foxley Farms, which also violated zoning laws. Ligonier Township had sought an injunction but was able to settle the dispute with the property owners.

Hempfield Supervisor Doug Weimer said the owner, Carissa Lynn Guffey, who operates the business with her father, Mark, is still marketing the site while the appeal has yet to be heard.

“We want them to immediately stop holding weddings until the appeal is heard,” he said. “They're still showing the property to prospective couples. The township doesn't want to see couples aggrieved by this,” he said. “We feel really bad. We know his business is geared primarily toward weddings. We don't want to see any of the couples being hurt. We just want them to stop booking weddings.”

Township attorney Les Mlakar noted in his injunction request that the Guffeys have continued to book events through this year and into 2014.

“It's a very unsettling situation,” said Mark Guffey. He declined further comment.

His attorney, Don Snyder of Latrobe, did not respond to a request for comment.

Guffey purchased the property in 1992. It was deeded to his daughter in 1998, according to real estate records.

Blue Moon Barn & Covered Bridge is located on the border of Hempfield and Unity townships. The Hempfield portion of the property is zoned agricultural, which bans commercial businesses. A bed-and-breakfast operates on the Unity portion of the property.

The picturesque barn and covered bridge are located on Pattern Shop Road between Brinkerton and Greensburg-Mt. Pleasant roads. The barn can hold 300 guests, and 1,000 can be accommodated in tents, according to the business' website.

The township notified the Guffeys in September they were in violation of the zoning ordinance. The Guffeys filed an appeal with the Zoning Hearing Board in January. After it was denied in May, they appealed the decision in court.

“He's blatantly disregarding the law,” Weimer said.

Weddings have caused parking and noise problems for nearby residents, said township manager Andrew Walz.

“Residents actually have been threatened by people holding weddings there,” he said.

In court filings, the Guffeys argue that the former owners used the property for family picnics and church parties and claim that charging a fee “does not constitute a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the township ...”

The Guffeys contend the zoning ordinance does not distinguish between activities at the site that generate revenue and those that don't, and that the Zoning Hearing Board is “an infringement” on their property rights.

Weimer said there is no evidence the Guffeys obtained building or occupancy permits from the state when they renovated the barn and bridge.

“We have no idea if he meets fire codes,” Weimer said. “We have no idea about electrical safety or if he has fire extinguishers. That's another concern we have. We have no record of any permit approvals. That's very alarming.”

At a zoning board hearing last year, Mark Guffey conceded he never applied for any building or occupancy permits before completing renovations and starting the business, which also has been host to showers and baptism and graduation parties, according to a transcript.

RIchard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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