Public comments on proposed agritainment ordinance
The Upper Macungie’s Planning Commission’s legal counsel and zoning staff are working out details of a 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 due to 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 ordinance is 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 said shooting apples out of cannons and racing motorize vehicles — two activities which were 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.
Planning 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 the 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.
Another 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 agritourism is promoted as an alternative to turning farmland over to development.
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 explained.
Barry 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 agritourism.
“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 meeting 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2018.
Editor’s note: Repeated attempts were made to obtain comments from Director of Planning and Zoning Daren Martocci before online publication of this story on the Parkland Press webpage.
On Dec. 21, Martucci emailed reporter Linda Wojciechowski the following statement:
“First and foremost, the purpose of the proposed agritainment ordinance is not to correct any individual business venture or property into compliance with township codes, but to help save farmland in Upper Macungie Township.
“The intent of the ordinance would be to allow farmers to supplement their income by added certain entertainment type venues on a limited basis throughout the year.
“When the Upper Macungie Township Planning Commission met Dec. 18 for a workshop, Grim’s Orchard owner Joshua Grim was not expected to appear before the commission to try and save his business.
“The purpose of the Upper Macungie agenda item on Dec. 18, was to discuss a township sponsored zoning amendment, although Mr. Grim as well as all residents of the township or interested parties are certainly welcomed to attend the meeting.
“The statement that Mr. Grim received notices of violation of the Upper Macungie Township Zoning Ordinance by the Township Zoning Officer on Oct. 5, is correct.
“However, the correct venue of appeal would not be the Upper Macungie Township Planning Commission but rather the Upper Macungie Township Zoning Hearing Board.
“These requirements are set forth in the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and reiterated in the Upper Macungie Township Zoning Ordinance.
“Township records show Mr. Grim did not file an appeal of either notice of violation.
“The MPC as well as the UMT Zoning Ordinance provides appeal provisions. An open record request would have uncovered this information.
“Also, you made the statement that, “ ... Grim was unexpectedly given 30 days to cease operations on the property, located at 9941 Shantz Road. As a result, the festival came to an abrupt halt Nov. 4.” The Grim Family Farms website shows the Fall Festival was scheduled to complete Nov. 4.
“It is also noted in your article that the properties are Zoned R1 for agricultural use. The correct designation for R1 is “Rural Residential District.” Upper Macungie has asked for input from Mr. Grim and many other business owners who conduct a similar type of use.
“We only received Mr. Grim’s comments from his attorney on Dec. 11, giving staff seven days to review and make comments on the recommendation.
“You go on to say that, “The planning commission was scheduled to meet Dec. 20 for a proposed zoning amendment review of additional requirements for accessory uses regarding agritainment.” The Planning Commission not only met on Dec. 20, but also on Dec. 18 in the form of a workshop where they discussed all of Mr. Grim’s proposed revisions.
“Grim is perplexed the township would threaten him with violations.” There were no threats of violations, but actual violations were issued. This was based on expanded operations and a major increase in impervious coverage in the form of gravel parking lots and access roads.”