Public comments on proposed Upper Macungie agritainment ordinance
Upper Macungie Township Planning Commission’S legal counsel and zoning staff are working out the details of a new proposed agritainment ordinance that will define what kind of agricultural tourism-related activities and events may take place in the township.
While the issue of agritainment surfaced because of activities taking place at Grim’s Orchard and Clover Hill Winery, located across Schantz Road from each other, commissioners made it clear the ordinance is not being drafted to please either business owner, but rather to address issues which may affect all farms, businesses and residents of the township.
A draft of the ordinance is still being tweaked by borough staff, so a vote on the ordinance was tabled at the Dec. 20 planning commission meeting.
Commission members, however, heard comments from people attending the meeting.
Dave Knerr, representing Clover Hill Winery owners Pat and John Skrip Jr., made a number of comments he hoped the staff would keep in mind while finalizing the proposed ordinance.
He spoke about his recommendation for how to approach incompatible uses in residential areas and deeming what constitutes primary and accessory uses for properties in the township.
He suggested various events be approved as a conditional use so each use or event planned on a property would need to be reviewed by planners on a case-by-case basis.
He also suggested shooting apples out of cannons and racing motorize vehicles — two activities which are part of Grim’s Farm Fall Festival this year — should be listed as unacceptable activities.
“This is not the place for those kinds of uses,” he said.
Knerr also said a haunted maze and outdoor concerts are not compatible with farm use.
Commissioner Charles Deprill emphasized consideration of these kinds of details must be studied by township staff and legal advisors so the commission had a strong proposed ordinance to consider.
“That’s why we tabled this vote,” he said. “So we can get it right the first time.”
Knerr said he would like to see language in the ordinance that ensures agriculture is truly the primary use of a property and that commercial-type activities are “swamping” the agricultural use.
“What we’re trying to do is allow farms to exist with supplemental income,” township Solicitor Andrew Schantz said, adding it would be an alternative to adding more housing development sprawl to the township.
Susan Bucknum, representing Grim’s Orchards, commented on a proposal made at an Oct. 18 planning commission workshop to require evergreen trees be planted as a buffer between an agritainment property and neighbors.
She said such a buffer might be detrimental to some agricultural production, affecting airflow, vegetation growth and land use and may be burdensome to the operator.
“I think the biggest thing is not taking the land out of ag production and not creating a habitat for potential crop failure,” she said. “That type of buffering should not be applied to agricultural operations.”
Lyle Loev, an Adams Road resident, said he would rather look out his window and see a farm than risk the land going into housing development, and that the seasonal events at Grim’s were not a disturbance to him.
He said a fence had been constructed to prevent farm customers from walking into his yard, an effort he appreciated.
Resident Ray Laudenslager complained about the “bloodcurdling screaming” coming from Grim’s haunted orchard, 30 feet from his property, during the fall festival weekends.
Police told him as long as the noise stopped by 10 p.m., current ordinances did not prohibit that noise level.
Bucknum introduced John Barry of Penn State Extension in South Whitehall Township to provide information about agricultural tourism.
Barry said agri-tourism is promoted as an alternative to turning farmland over to development.
He said in order to sustain farm businesses in eastern Pennsylvania, many farms have added strawberry picking, pumpkin patches, wagon rides, pick-your-own orchards, weddings, day camps and even zip line activities. New additions of activities keeps customers coming back, he said.
He said it’s important to create businesses that can continue to sustain themselves 40 years into the future, with innovative uses and activities.
Commissioner Paul McNemar commented on agri-tourism.
“I get the need for sustainability for farming,” he said. “But zip lines have nothing to do with agriculture. It’s one of the fundamental problems we’re having here.
“What we’re struggling with is balancing property rights and farming sustainability without turning it into the Jersey Shore or Dorney Park.”
In January 2018, the planning commission is expected to review an updated ordinance draft.
“We’re going to get this resolved one way or another, whether it’s one month from now or six months from now,” Deprill said.
The next planning commission workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 2018, followed by the regular meeting 7 p.m. Jan. 17, 2018.