Whitewing wedding dispute could go to court

Supervisors reject deal to have seven events at E. Marlborough property, owners to appeal to zoning board, courts if needed

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

East Marlborough supervisors rejected a deal that would have allowed seven weddings to take place at the Inn at Whitewing.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The township board of supervisors opted to fight a local property owner in court if need be over whether he can host weddings on his bed & breakfast property, turning down a deal offered by his attorney to hold only seven such events this year, pay the per-event fine and promise to never do so again in the future.

In front of a packed house Monday night, primarily neighbors of the Inn at Whitewing, the township B&B owned by Lance and Sandy Shortt, supervisors rejected a deal from the Shortt’s attorney Ron Agulnick — a deal that would have allowed seven previously scheduled weddings to take place between June and October, while paying a $500 per event fine and stipulating that no more weddings would be held on the property.

The alternative, Gulnick suggested, was that the Shortts would be forced to hold the weddings anyway, appeal the expected enforcement of a notice of enforcement to the township Zoning Hearing Board and ultimately, if need be, filing an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. Gulnick noted that because of length of time the legal process would take, even if all rulings went the township’s way — no sure thing he emphasized — the weddings would still be able to take place. While it would be possible that the township could seek an injunction to stop the weddings from moving forward in the Court of Common Pleas, Gulnick said he felt the issue doesn’t meet the standard of irreparable harm.

Gulnick argued that the risk of not taking his clients’ offer for the township and the neighbors would be potentially large legal bills, win or lose, and the possibility that the weddings would be ruled by the courts as a legal accessory use of the property, opening the door to regular use of the property for weddings.

But he stressed, “nobody wants a war” and that his clients didn’t want to create a situation where the neighbors hated them, but they also were concerned about losing a two-decade old catering business.

He said that 30 other previously scheduled weddings had been moved off site and moving these last seven events would be a problem to move because they were booked by people from out of town and travel had been booked. The hope — which Gulnick said motivated the deal offer — was not to cause hardship for those clients.

“I’m just trying to take care of these girls,” Lance Shortt told the board, noting that he would probably be forced to sell the property at a loss — having apparently been misled as to whether he could hold weddings on the site. Shortt owns the popular Rino’s, an Italian restaurant in Exton as well as the catering business.

Those arguments, however, seemed not to gain much in the way of traction with the majority of residents in attendance nor members of the Board of Supervisors. While residents argued that the events would disrupt the neighborhood with noise, traffic and parking issues, supervisors seemed just as concerned about the need to uphold their ordinances and setting a precedent.

“My concern is that we have an ordinance,” supervisors’ chair Cuyler Walker said. “This use is prohibited.” He acknowledged that a legal fight to stop the weddings might take time, but said the township couldn’t just pick and choose which ordinances to enforce.

Walker further argued that he felt the township would ultimately prevail in court — that the argument of an accessory use wouldn’t stand up to legal scrutiny. He also said his disagreed with Gulnick about the injunction as well, arguing that the residents would see irrevocable harm by being damaged by the events — noise, traffic, etc. — which he said he felt would be grounds enough for the township to get a temporary restraining order to prevent the weddings from being held at Whitewing.

Supervisor Robert Weer was more stark: “I took an oath of office to uphold the law. The ordinance is clear.”

Both sides seemed to get increasingly frustrated by the comments of the other — and the comments seemed to get more heated.

“If we’re going to be at war, then it doesn’t matter if there are seven or 27 weddings being held,” Gulnick warned.

Supervisor Richard Hannum expressed frustration at Gulnick’s threat to hold the weddings regardless of what the township decided and because of that, he would not support any sort of the deal with the Shortts.

Walker was just as clear.

“All we’re doing is asking a township property owner to abide by the ordinance,” he said.

The supervisors voted 5-0 to reject Gulnick’s offer and made it clear they were prepared to fight the issue out in the courts if necessary.

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