Consent decree that limits weddings at Foxley Farms ruled valid
A consent decree that limited the number of weddings that could be held at a Ligonier Township farm is valid, a Westmoreland County judge ruled on Tuesday.
Now Judge Chris Feliciani will have to determine whether Foxley Farm owner Maggie Nied violated that order when she continued to host events, including at least two weddings this year, on her 56-acre property.
An attempt on Tuesday to negotiate a modified settlement, at the judge's urging, was short-circuited when Nied and her lawyers left the Westmoreland County Courthouse immediately after Tuesday's daylong hearing.
“No comment,” Nied's lawyer, Patrick Doheny, said outside the courthouse.
“I'm always ready to sit down and talk,” said Gary Falatovich, Ligonier Township's special counsel for Foxley Farm.
In an April 2013 consent order signed by Nied, her neighbors and Ligonier Township officials, Foxley Farm owners agreed to hold 11 weddings through the end of 2013.
Nied's neighbors wanted the weddings to stop, saying the large events attended by as many as 200 guests caused noise and traffic congestion in the quiet countryside.
During a hearing earlier this year, Nied admitted she hosted 16 events in 2013 after approval of the consent order. During nearly four hours of testimony on Tuesday, she said Foxley Farm hosted at least two additional events this summer.
Attorney William Sittig, who represents the neighbors, said he wants the judge to fine Nied for violating the consent order.
“We're asking for the money she gained by throwing those weddings to pay for attorney fees,” Sittig said.
Feliciani said he will decide whether Nied is in contempt of the consent order after he receives written arguments from the attorneys within 40 days.
Nied contends that the agreement was based on fraud and was negotiated by her former lawyer, who was allegedly working in concert with township officials.
Her former lawyer, Scott Avolio, now serves as the solicitor for Ligonier Township and has recused himself from Foxley Farm matters.
Nied testified on Tuesday she only agreed to the order after receiving assurances last year from Ligonier supervisors that an amendment to the zoning ordinance would be approved to allow Foxley Farm to host weddings.
Attempts to amend the township's zoning laws have failed.
Nied claimed she never reviewed a final version of the consent agreement.
Feliciani said he did not believe Nied was unaware of the terms of the consent order.
“Ms. Nied's testimony is somewhat incredible ... that she would not at some point demand a copy of the court order,” Feliciani said. “It seems incredible to this court that any party to the consent order would believe government action would be taken automatically.”
Sean Gallagher, the second attorney with Nied's legal team, said in court they will challenge the township zoning ordinance, saying it violates her constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, Nied and her legal team contend they won approval last month to classify Foxley Farm as a bed and breakfast, a designation that would enable her to host weddings and overnight guests under existing zoning laws.
Township supervisors said that request was rejected in early June.
Feliciani, who is transferring next week to the criminal court division, said that issue will be resolved by another judge later this year.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.