Bucks County Herald

Zoning Hearing Board clears path for Tabora Farms decision

CHRIS RUVO

It was the hearing that wasn’t, and that’s cleared the way for the future of Tabora Farms in Hilltown to be decided.

At a Nov. 28 meeting packed with interested members of the public, the Hilltown Zoning Hearing Board denied a motion from the township to reopen for further testimony a hearing centered on alleged zoning violations by Tabora.

At the center of interest and controversy for months because of the zoning violation dispute, the family-run orchard, deli and “agritainment” destination is a beloved focal point for many in the Hilltown community and beyond, but also a source of aggravation for neighbors who complain about persistent, intrusive noise and other nuisances resulting from Tabora events.

With the hearings now ostensibly closed for good, the board plans to consider final briefs from attorneys for Tabora and the township before deliberating and rendering a decision on Dec. 13. A final written decision would be completed within 45 days from then, officials said.

Held over several months, hearings on Tabora Farms’ alleged violations were thought to have concluded in September.

However, the township, which issued the violations through zoning officer Dave Taylor, wanted to put additional testimony on the record to help bolster its case.

In particular, Township Solicitor Stephen Harris wanted to enter evidence about events that he said were orchestrated by Tabora’s owners in October – events that could possibly constitute additional zoning violations, the township had argued.

One such event was “Protect Our Pumpkins” – a nighttime Halloween-themed wagon ride that involved paintball.

Robert Gundlach Jr., attorney for Tabora owners Caleb and Patricia Torrice, said reopening the hearing would be inappropriate for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the events in question occurred not on the Tabora Farms property, but on a nearby farm in which the Torrices hold equitable title ownership under agreement to sale.

Thus, the activities wouldn’t be germane to hearings focused on alleged violations at Tabora.

Furthermore, Gundlach argued that the events are permissible under law. He noted on a couple nights the events were used to raise money for local schools.

Gundlach also said the zoning violation hearings have taken a considerable emotional and financial toll on the Torrices, parents to four children and hands-on owners who run the everyday operations at Tabora Farms.

“The Torrices are good people,” Gundlach said, noting the couple’s community involvement. “When does it end?”

Following complaints from neighbors, Hilltown officials earlier this year issued citations against Tabora for alleged zoning violations that included expanding a parking lot, operating a deli and setting up a residential apartment above the store at the farm at 1104 Upper Stump Road without township approval.

According to testimony from the township’s zoning officer at a summer hearing, Tabora was also cited over outdoor events because they had gone beyond being agriculture-related tourism and were straight entertainment – and thus allegedly not permissible under zoning rules.

Caleb Torrice has testified that uses mentioned in citations were already existent on the property when he and his wife bought it.

To address neighbors’ concerns, Torrice has proposed a plan that would include adding a second entrance to help keep farm visitors from impinging on neighbors’ driveways.

Among other things, Torrice proposed to add a “rain garden” to control stormwater runoff and to only hold agricultural-related events, eliminating other events such as weddings, movie screenings, open mic nights, dueling piano nights, and more.

Were Tabora to be unable to hold some events and run aspects of its business like the deli, then the farm would likely have to close, Torrice has said.




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