Neighbors claim four weddings have taken place on site, allege harassment by staff
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The township will seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the operator of a local bed and breakfast after neighbors alleged that four weddings were held on the Valley Road facility in violation of township ordinance — and at least one township resident claims he was threatened while trying to document one of those weddings while on a township road.
About 25 residents attended Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, asking for more action against The Inn at Whitewing Farm, which has been the subject of a number of stormy meetings this spring — as neighbors objected to owner Lance Shortt holding weddings on the site of his bed and breakfast operation.
Adding to the emotion: Rob MacPherson, a neighbor of the property, said Monday night that he had been accosted while attempting to video record activities at the property while on an adjacent township road. MacPherson, a candidate for Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education in 2011, said a Whitewing staff member approached him on Valley Road and threatened him.
“He attempted to fling my camera to the ground,” MacPherson said. He added that he had some three minutes of footage documenting what happened.
Township Solicitor Frone called that alleged conduct “outrageous.”
“There’s no reason to prevent photography from a public road,” he said.
The township was already ready to go to court — and seek an immediate halt to weddings and similar events on the property, but the additional documentation and first-person testimony of neighbors will assist in building a case, officials said.
Crawford said that a hearing has been scheduled in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, June 22 in front of Judge William P. Mahon. The township is seeking immediate injunctive relief — a court order for Shortt to immediately halt holding further events on his property, pending court proceedings to determine whether the township can legally prevent the use. Shortt’s attorney, Ron Agulnik, has argued that holding weddings at the B&B qualifies as a permitted accessory use and is not in violation of the township’s zoning ordinance.
After the township notified Shortt that weddings were not a permitted use on the property, Agulnik offered the supervisors a deal in April: his client would hold seven events this summer and then never hold another — and pay some $3,500 in fines. Otherwise, Agulnik said, his client would still hold the events and let the courts sort out the issue, costing both the township and his client more money. Supervisors rejected that offer — arguing that they could not pre-sanction violations of township ordinance.
Township officials acknowledge that there was little the township could do to stop the weddings — beyond the fines — and that the property owner and his attorney made it clear they were aware of that in April.
“The only sanction, under state law, is the $500 fine,” Supervisors’ chair Cuyler Walker said. “And they were prepared to pay.”
However, Crawford said he hopes Mahon will rule quickly in the township’s favor — and that potentially, should he agree with the township’s argument, a court-ordered ban could be in place as soon as the day following the hearing, June 23. Shortt will have the opportunity to appeal any TRO in Commonwealth Court, but Crawford said he doubted that any judge there would issue a stay — which would allow weddings to continue while the TRO is appealed.
Walker said that the township has not taken any enforcement action against Shortt and Whitewing as yet, to preserve legal options and to prevent the immediate stay of action that would come into play were Shortt to appeal to the township Zoning Hearing Board — a stay that would allow the weddings to continue until the ZBH ruled on the legality of the use on the property.
Crawford said he hoped to meet with neighbors who could provide photographs, video and first-person testimony for the June 22 hearing.