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Ligonier Township supervisors reject proposed zoning amendment to allow agritourism

Thursday, May 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Ligonier Township supervisors have rejected a proposed zoning amendment that would have allowed agricultural tourism on residential properties.

During its meeting on Tuesday, the board voted, 2-1, against authorizing attorney Mark Hamilton to submit the amendment to the zoning ordinance to the planning commission. The proposal set requirements and definitions for “agritourism,” as a conditional use in four districts, including three that are zoned residential.

Hamilton, who submitted the proposed amendment last month, serves as special counsel to the supervisors on matters of conflict for township solicitor Scott Avolio, including Foxley Farm.

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. The Nieds, Ligonier Township and several neighbors of the farm have been embroiled in a dispute in Westmoreland Common Pleas Court over the issue.

At the meeting on Tuesday, 16 people spoke for and against the amendment.

Resident Martha Murphy, who grew up on Route 711, said Maggie Nied “deserves a chance to have her business succeed.”

“I am absolutely sick when we say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and we use the word indivisible, and all we're experiencing in this town right now is division,” she said. “I think there is a lot that could be done on this board, by all the people that are here, with compromise and speaking out, not pointing fingers and saying you did this or you didn't do that.”

Dave Barnhart, one of the neighbors involved in the legal dispute, said going along with the proposed amendment would set a precedent and result in “litigation for years.”

“Read it — R-2 zoning — you can't have a commercial business,” he said.

Supervisor Tim Komar said zoning needs to be fair and made a motion to send the amendment to the planning commission for its recommendation. Supervisors Paul Knupp and Scott Matson voted against it.

Knupp cited the ongoing litigation involving Foxley Farm. Matson said he does not have anything against Foxley Farm, but “with all that is going on,” he is “not interested in changing the rules.”

Attorney Pat Doheny, who represents the Nieds, said he is “somewhat dumbfounded” by the supervisors' decision.

“The events that transpired tonight only serve to confirm the allegations contained in the Nieds' petition recently filed with the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas,” he said, referring to their request for the court to vacate a consent order reached last year between the Nieds, township and neighbors of the farm.

Attorney Bill Sittig, who represents several neighbors of the farm, could not be reached for comment.

Hamilton declined to comment on the supervisors' decision but said he was “pleased by the number of residents for and against the amendment that chose to take advantage of the opportunity to come forth and debate in a thoughtful way an issue that faces the township.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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