Ligonier plan biased, resident says
Special counsel Mark Hamilton's proposal to allow agricultural tourism in Ligonier Township should be rejected because it favors Foxley Farm, said a neighbor of the farm.
Resident Chris Turner submitted a right-to-know request on April 17 to township officials and Hamilton, who serves as special counsel on Foxley Farm matters, to learn about Hamilton's meetings with attorneys doing business with the farm. On April 15, Hamilton submitted to supervisors a proposed amendment to add “agritourism” as a conditional use in four districts, including three that are zoned residential.
Foxley Farm owners PJ and Maggie Nied want to host weddings and other events, which are not permitted on the residentially zoned property under the current ordinance. And Hamilton's proposal grants their wish, Turner said.
“What he presented was so completely contrary to existing zoning and so overwhelmingly supportive of everything the Nieds had been doing and want to do at Foxley Farm,” Turner said. “It is not an even-handed proposal at all, and it doesn't deserve recognition or further consideration.”
Last year, the township went to Westmoreland County court for an injunction. Turner and two other neighbors intervened, and an agreement was reached to allow some events. Most recently, the Nieds have applied to the township planning commission to run a bed and breakfast and to gain approval for “social/recreational club use” to host weddings and other events.
Hamilton said he met with attorney Shawn Gallagher, who represents the Nieds on zoning applications, and Joseph Fidler, the in-house counsel for Enterprise Bank, which issued the mortgage for Foxley Farm.
Hamilton said he met Gallagher and Fidler to discuss, “No. 1, is there any way that we could resolve the litigation between Ligonier Township, Foxley Farm and the neighbors? Two, ... they had clearly suggested that Foxley Farm and similarly situated property owners intended to bring a lawsuit against Ligonier Township on various grounds ... (including) selective enforcement of the zoning ordinance.”
He said there is no conflict of interest because getting input comes with drafting legislation.
In a March 18 email to Gallagher and Fidler, Hamilton attached a draft of the amendment, “I cannot stress enough the confidential nature of this document,” he said. “While you may verbally share with your clients the nature of same, please do not share written/electronic/text copies of same with anyone outside our circle of four.
“While I invite meaningful input, I am hoping to avoid wholesale changes as this ... seems to address all of your concerns; is not overly restrictive (ie. 12 non-agriculture events/year and unlimited farm-table events); and, in its present form is designed for expedient and favorable action by the Supervisors.”
Hamilton said he “didn't want the document circulating” before his presentation, and he rejected revisions suggested by Gallagher and Fidler. In an email, Hamilton rejected allowing events with up to 149 guests without seeking a conditional use permit because “it would allow weddings every week throughout the year — just not the big ones.”
The Nieds' attorney, Patrick Doheny, declined to comment on whether any residents threatened litigation. He said he sees no problem with Hamilton “communicating with any variety of individuals as part of his duties.
“He does not work for Maggie Nied. He does not work for Chris Turner. He represents the township,” Doheny said.
Turner said he and the two neighbors want Hamilton to be removed as special counsel, and taxpayers should not pay legal costs related to the amendment.
Hamilton said he was asked to draft an agritourism ordinance when he was hired as interim solicitor in October, and he was told to continue when he became special counsel in January. Supervisor Tim Komar said he casually discussed zoning with Hamilton, but supervisors gave him “no official request” to draft an amendment.
Aside from meeting minutes detailing Hamilton's appointment and hourly fee of $115, the township does not have a document outlining his duties, according to information received through a right-to-know request filed by the Tribune-Review.
Hamilton, a township resident and a partner in a Mt. Lebanon law firm, has represented municipalities and police departments for 25 years in zoning, civil rights and employment matters.
“This is not about Chris Turner, and it's not about Maggie Nied,” he said. “It's about Ligonier Township. Does Ligonier Township wish to promote agritourism, and if it does, how does it wish to promote it, and what restrictions does it wish to impose on that promotion?”
Supervisors Paul Knupp and Scott Matson declined to comment. “I don't know that it's a conflict because we hired him as special counsel,” Komar said. “I guess you have to communicate when you're dealing with stuff like that.”
Supervisors will consider the amendment on May 13. The planning commission will review the Nieds' latest request on May 21.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Dog-training program gives prison inmates chance to give back
- West Overton museum to host Civil War exhibit
- Mt. Pleasant alumni lead campaign to buy handicapped-accessible van for former classmate
- Franklin Regional security guard fighting to get job back
- St. Michael’s volunteers cook up festival delights
- Restitution closes chapter for New Stanton mother
- New Stanton rejects road work bids
- Latrobe law firm’s secretary pleads guilty to income tax evasion
- Jeannette traffic stop leads to drug charges
- Hempfield approves prison site subdivision
- Pitt presents Web resource to combat OD deaths