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Battle over Lehigh County barn wedding venue to continue

Residents of a quiet rural road near Slatington will have to wait until at least next month to find out if one of their neighbors will be allowed to convert his 10-acre farmland into a wedding venue and banquet hall.Washington Township’s Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday entertained testimony from David Lear, his neighbors and a half dozen attorneys about whether converting a 5,000-square-foot barn at 6122 Bottom Road for weekend gatherings throughout the year would be an acceptable use for the property.After nearly three hours that included a presentation by Lear, introduction by his legal counsel and rebuttals from objectors and the attorneys representing them, the hearing was continued until 7:30 p.m. June 12.Attorney Blake Marles, representing Lear, said they were not requesting a variance from the township’s zoning ordinance but a special exception use if the board agreed to their interpretation that a wedding venue/banquet hall is similar to an outdoor recreational facility. Lear said that is the nearest comparison in the township’s rural village zone, which the property is in.If not, he said, the ordinance is exclusionary because there is nowhere else in the township where such a use is permitted.“You have to put it somewhere,” he said.Barn weddings all the rage, but it’s not all love and happinessLear, who property records show bought the property in June for $330,000 from Lillian Giacobbe, said he wants to operate year-round for weddings, graduation ceremonies and anniversaries, and plans no alterations or additions to the property besides the construction of a gravel parking lot with 100 spaces.He plans to rent the property 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, with guests required to buy full liability insurance.The plan is for one event per weekend with no overnight accommodations, Lear said.All events would be catered, with guests providing their own alcohol and required to adhere to regulations prescribed by the state Liquor Control Board as part of their rental agreements.There would be no employees, he said. His wife, Anita, and four daughters will help him run the business, which he hopes to pattern after Barn Swallow Farm, a wedding and events venue on East Bullshead Road in Allen Township.“That’s obviously what we’re trying to mimic,” he said.How millennials are shaking up the Lehigh Valley’s wedding industryDouglas Steinhardt, among several attorneys representing Bottom Road residents who object to the plan, said Barn Swallow is on land zoned for agricultural use, with Catasauqua High School, Wayne Grube Park and industrial zoning nearby.Lear, a senior project manager for Lehigh Engineering Associates, estimated the venue would generate 250 vehicle trips in and out per day, and would not be enough to exceed the capacity of 3,000 trips for a local road. He said it would not generate as much traffic as a dozen nearby businesses, including Dollar General, Country View Diner and Highland Animal Hospital.Robert Depaolis, who lives at 6132 Bottom Road and has a shared driveway easement with Lear, said he chose to live there three years ago for the quiet and solitude.Represented by Steinhardt, he was among several residents who came with attorneys ready to fight against the proposal.“I want to be away from everything. … I don’t like to be bothered,” he said.Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.
Source: Morningcall

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