Questions arise over hosting weddings in Chadds Ford

Who can and can’t host weddings and other special events in Chadds Ford residential districts?

While Chadds Ford Township is fighting a resident’s request to hold special events for profit at a private home, Brandywine Battlefield Park, also in a residential district, does host such events.

Drew and Nicola Barnabei are involved in a zoning hearing in which they’re seeking to hold weddings and other events at Stonebridge Mansion, the 25-room home on almost 5 acres of land at Webb Road and Route 1. The home is in the R-1 residential district and the township contends that holding such events is not permitted in the R-1 district.

However, the Brandywine Battlefield Park is also in an R-1 district and during an Aug. 21 hearing, Nicola Barnabei testified and presented documentation that a wedding was held at the park last year.

In the interim, Chadds Ford Live has learned that another wedding is scheduled for the park this November and that the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates has a committee to explore hosting the events. There was also a wedding with a tent and outdoor music on Webb Road on Aug. 24, two properties up from the Barnabei home.

According to Township Supervisor George Thorpe — who is also on the Associate’s board — the fact that both Stonebridge and the park are zoned the same is irrelevant.

Thorpe said the Barnabeis were told explicitly that they could not hold events at Stonebridge — that it “would never be the case” — but that the park is grandfathered in since special events have been held there for many years.

“We don’t give permission, we don’t not give permission, they just do it at the [park], Thorpe said. “So, there is a great, great difference between the two.”

The Barnabeis believe Stonebridge should be also grandfathered because events have been held there. In lieu of being grandfathered in, they are seeking zoning relief.

Thorpe added that the lack of advertising is another difference between the Stonebridge and the park, as is the fact that the park is state property and the township supervisors have never been asked for permission to do anything there.

He acknowledged that a committee was established to handle “small, events,” but no negotiations were underway with event-organizing companies and that he’s not aware of any weddings being planned for later this year.

”It could be that they have talked to our education director who gets involved in things like this, but to my knowledge — and I’m on the [Associates’] board and very much involved in scheduling things — I’m not aware of that,” he said.

While Thorpe might not be aware of a wedding planned for the park later this year, that’s not necessarily unusual.

“There have been weddings at the park for years, some we’ve known about, some we haven’t,” he said.

Brandywine Battlefield Park is owned by the state and is overseen by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. PHMC spokesman Howard Pollman said having weddings at commission sites is normal.

He also said there have been negotiations with a private company for a wedding tent at the park with the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates (also referred to as the Friends of Brandywine Battlefield) receiving a share of the profits.

“The Friends have had a lot of conversations with a lot of different [entities] but things move slowly…I think these talks have been going on for sometime,” Pollman said.

He said that having special events at PHMC sites is part of the annual licensing agreement with the various friends’ groups and added that the Brandywine group has talked about adding a pavilion and even received some money for the project but it wasn’t enough.

Pollman also said that improvements to the visitors’ center could make the site more attractive for corporate events.

“The idea of hosting a special event, a wedding or whatever, is not alien to us. It happens at all of our sites…The Friends can do this as part of their licensing agreement.”

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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