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Blue Moon Barn wedding venue's fate rests with judge

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The future of the Blue Moon Barn and Covered Bridge wedding venue in Hempfield rests with a Westmoreland County judge.

After hearing several hours of testimony from officials, the property owner, a nearby homeowner and a nervous bride-to-be on Monday, Judge Richard McCormick Jr. said he will decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction that could shut down the business, scuttling wedding plans for 26 women who have booked the facility through 2015.

Hempfield attorney Les Mlakar requested an injunction to “stay all future activities at the Blue Moon Barn” because owner Mark Guffey is in violation of zoning laws that do not allow a business to operate in a district zoned for agriculture. In addition, Guffey never obtained building or occupancy permits before he started holding weddings, banquets and parties at the property, which straddles Hempfield and Unity.

Guffey was notified he was in violation in September. He filed an appeal, which the township zoning hearing board denied in May. Guffey continued to schedule weddings and receptions, and Hempfield sought an injunction.

Mlakar said Guffey “failed to act in good faith” by continuing to schedule weddings.

“I really feel sorry for the people who booked the events. He's put other people at risk,” Mlakar said. “We believe we are entitled to have an injunction. To allow this to continue on, your honor, allows Mark Guffey to profit substantially from violating the township ordinance.

“He's misled. He did not act in good faith. ... He didn't even have the courtesy to tell these people there's a violation pending,” he said. “Mr. Guffey is profiting from this. Brides are suffering; he's making the profit. There's no sanctions against him.”

Guffey's attorney, Dan Snyder, said an injunction is too severe. His client could correct the violations so “events can be continued. It's not an activity that's so obnoxious that it can't be controlled,” he said.

Guffey, who co-owns Johnston the Florist, testified when he opened a shop on Route 30 in Hempfield, he went through the zoning process and obtained the required permits.

“You complied with every requirement necessary to occupy that public building,” Mlakar said. “If you knew you had to do that beforehand, why didn't you do it for this structure?

“I didn't think I needed to,” Guffey replied.

Guffey said he was acting on the advice of his lawyers when he decided to schedule weddings through 2015 and never warned brides-to-be about the zoning issue.

“Did you tell any of them of the possibility you may not be able to accommodate them?” Mlakar continued.

“Not entirely,” Guffey responded.

“In good faith, do you believe you should have told them?” Mlakar said.

“No. I thought I was going to have the case ruled in my favor,” he replied.

Lisa Erb of Pittsburgh said she's scheduled to be married at the Blue Moon Barn on Sept. 21. She paid Guffey a $500 security deposit and has invited 175 guests. She learned of the zoning dispute through the Tribune-Review.

Michael Hines, who lives across from the venue, said he has had to contend with traffic problems, loud music, trespassers, garbage and a threat from an angry guest at one wedding. State police responded to one incident, he said.

“It's a constant nuisance,” he said. “I feel like I'm a prisoner in my own house.”

Guffey operates a bed and breakfast on the Unity portion of the property. He applied for a zoning change last week to operate the facility, which is in violation of that township's zoning laws.

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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