Ligonier Township planning commission considers changes to zoning ordinance
The Ligonier Township planning commission continued discussion regarding a proposed zoning ordinance change related to Foxley Farm during its meeting on Tuesday.
The board conducted a work session to review and discuss what the zoning ordinance amendments might entail. It is considering amending and adding a section for mixed uses and buildings, amending and adding provisions for agricultural accessory business requirements, a definition section for terms such as agri-tainment and agricultural entertainment events and removing reference to accessory structure height requirements.
The proposed zoning ordinance change originates from a request from Foxley Farm owners PJ and Maggie Nied to host weddings and events on the property. Before they can move forward, a non-agricultural commercial use ordinance must be made and approved by township supervisors.
The board will review a revised draft of the possible amendments at next month's meeting. If the board reaches a consensus, it could recommend the draft to the supervisors for review and approval.
During public comment, Supervisor Tim Komar spoke on the issue, saying emails he exchanged with Maggie Nied were requested through a right-to-know request, and one of the emails was “passed around” and taken out of context.
“The email stated that I told Maggie that I wasn't going to back off of this,” Komar said. “What it was referring to was amending the land use ordinance. Because of their situation, there were several facilities brought to our attention as supervisors that are basically running commercial entities in R2 districts, but being that there has never been a concern or a complaint, they basically went unobserved. I'm a firm believer that if there is no issue, why create an issue? The fact was, it was brought to our attention that the land use ordinances need to be amended. I'm not saying open the floodgates, and to be honest with you, since litigation in May and whatnot with (the Nieds), there are a lot of things that have changed.”
In referring to the costs related to the litigation over Foxley Farm's activities, Komar asked Nied how much she has spent in legal fees. Nied said she has spent approximately $140,000 over the course of three years. When Komar asked Dave Barnhart, who resides near Foxley Farm, how much he has spent in legal fees, he would not disclose an exact amount but did add that it was “more than what should have been spent.”
Barnhart agreed with Komar that the matter has taken up a lot of time, and it “should have been settled from the get-go.”
Nied presented magazines and information to the board related to sustaining agricultural business, as well as an article that described agriculture in Ligonier as a dying business. She said farms in other areas are hosting more and more weddings in order to sustain themselves.
“Having 25 events a year in order to sustain my agriculture — I don't think that's asking too much,” she said. “I want to stay as an agri-business.”
Resident Robert Fiok expressed concerns related to activity occurring at Bethlen Communities. Fiok, who lives on Walnut Street, said there are disturbing noises, such as commercial garbage trucks, honking horns, yelling and car alarms coming from the Bethlen Home Senior Center and Heritage Center after its hours of operations of 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Fiok raised his noise complaint at last month's zoning hearing board meeting. The board at that time agreed to allow Bethlen Communities to expand use of its kitchen facilities at its Heritage Center, such as providing meal service for residents and guests, which was determined would not be inconsistent with a previous ruling. He also voiced his concerns at the supervisors meeting on Sept. 10.
At the planning commission meeting, Fiok presented a flier from Bethlen Communities that shows uses scheduled after the Senior Center's hours of operations. Fiok believes the uses violate the Bethlen Communities' occupancy permit. He added that bus trips often leave from and return to the parking lot of the property, causing additional noise.
Fiok said he fears that expanded use of the kitchen facilities will increase the noise.
“This is an R2 district, not a commercial district, and these activities should not be permitted,” he said.
The Rev. Imre Bertalan of Bethlen Communities said on Wednesday that he sent Fiok an email following the zoning hearing board meeting to address each of his concerns. He said Bethlen Communities is working directly with residents who have voiced concerns to resolve any issues.
The next meeting will be held Oct. 15.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.