Barn fights to stay alive

The Barn at Spring Brook Farm isn’t going away without a fight. Executive Director Dan Stark asked Pocopson Township supervisors on July 14 for an extension of the Aug. 31 deadline to meet certain building codes, and the farm’s attorney will file for another conditional use hearing to reduce almost three-dozen conditions placed on the operation during a previous hearing.

While some code violations have been corrected, The Barn — a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for children with disabilities who would benefit by participating in animal-assisted activities — has until the end of August to make the rest of the changes, thought to cost anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000. However, Stark said there has been an outpouring of support and many people and businesses have volunteered to help pay for, or actually do, the work needed.

Time, however, is working against the 17-acre facility. The work can’t be finished by the end of August the Barn’s Board of Directors decided to cease operations on Sept. 1. However, they changed their mind and Stark asked the township for an extension to March 1. Supervisors are expected to vote on that during their July 28 meeting, but that remains to be confirmed.

Robert F. Adams, an attorney with Gawthrop Greenwood in West Chester who represents The Barn, said he hopes to file for a conditional use hearing by the end of July and get that hearing scheduled sometime in September.

The farm has been operating since 2006 and the actual barn was dedicated in 2009. The hearing was held two years ago following complaints about noise and parking from a neighbor. In January, it was determined that The Barn was not in compliance with the Uniform Construction Code.

“We’re seeking to have some of the conditions modified, or relaxed, to permit us to do more things and to see more children with disabilities than we’re permitted to do at this point,” Adams said in a telephone interview.

Under the conditions of the original hearing, Spring Brook Farm is permitted only one on-site fund-raiser per year and that’s limited to only 150 people. The conditions set forth in that hearing can’t be changed without another hearing.

Pocopson Planning Commission members originally recommended five fund-raisers. Adams said Spring Brook would be asking for three and an increase in the number of attendees.

The farm’s six weeklong summer day camp sessions are also limited to 16 campers per session, but Spring Brook will ask to have 24 campers per session.

Adams said the Planning Commission members were receptive and friendly, but the supervisors became restrictive. He said he understands the supervisors were trying to limit impacts, but thinks they went too far.

“Not only did they limit us to only one, but they put a cap on the number of people who can attend our annual hoe-down in October and said it had to be over at 10 p.m. That doesn’t make any sense,” Adams said. “We want to get people on site to see what we do. That’s how we raise funds.”

Adams said people in the Unionville area have big parties for good causes all the time: “Nobody restricts them. We’re just puzzled by the strictness, but we’re hoping to get some relief.”

Pocopson Township solicitor Ross Unruh said in a separate telephone interview that he had not yet conferred with supervisors, so he didn’t know whether they would vote on the extension during the July 28 meeting. However, he did say there would be another hearing if Adams filed for one.

Unruh went into more detail in explaining why the supervisors’ decision in the conditional use hearing went beyond the Planning Commission recommendations.

“The decisions were a result of testimony given in the hearing,” Unruh said. “The Planning Commission made its recommendation based on information they received during the Planning Commission meeting, which is not nearly as extensive as a hearing. The hearing went on for hours and hours and hours.”

He also said the supervisors heard opposition from three or four neighbors who testified.

“It was the totality of the information in the hearing. The decision was based upon the information at the hearing,” he said.

Unruh added that he received a letter from Adams in June saying the decision was fair, but has now made a 180-degree change.

“The supervisors have tried to cooperate with this venture. They’re being painted as uncooperative, but they have not been…The extra conditions were based on the totality of the testimony,” Unruh repeated.

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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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One Response to “Barn fights to stay alive”

  1. Sean says:

    It’s really unfair that the Pocopson Township Supervisors have been subjected to so much negative press lately in regards to the Barn. I know all three of the supervisors, and they really do care about the children who go there. This is why the supervisors have taken so much time to make sure that the facility is safe and legal for those who attend events at the Barn.
    The real problem is a bit more complicated, and has been over looked by many who are involved in the press. Had it not been for a number of complaints regarding the Barn, the township would have never even have looked into the situation. When the Barn first addressed the issues with the township, Bob Adams, Esquire played a number of games until they ran out of options, and in the end it came down to a conditional use hearing. I have to add that they had their hearing last year and the ruling was issued on December 30, 2013. Did the Barn appeal the ruling or the conditions? NO! They didn’t even contact the township or the supervisors and complain about or address any of the conditions. Six months later, after the township wanted to see that the work was completed, the Barn cries poor and then starts the games all over again to avoid making the facility safe for its clients, who are disabled and can’t fend for themselves I might add. This is why the township must insure that the facility is safe and legal.
    After six months of doing nothing, the Barn then wanted another extension and the township gave them 3 more months, even though I believe that was a mistake. However, they were trying to act in good faith and I understand that they just wanted to help the folks who run the program at the Barn.
    Now, after all the problems that were a direct result of the folks at the Barn not doing the right thing, Bob Adams now wants another hearing so they may have a second do over. There are many defendants who would love that option as well. Also, that request for a 2nd hearing is the most asinine thing that I have heard of in a long time. The Barn had their hearing and the township came up with a list of items that need to be corrected like the one bathroom for 30 to 50 people. Other issues include problems with fire trucks and medical personnel being able to access the property. Folks have offered professional services and money, but for some reason the Barn has turned them down, which I believe shows that they are planning on vacating the current property and they just want to hang on until they can jump ship and do nothing. We owe it to those amongst us who are unable to take care of themselves a safe place to go and learn about these animals. Stop the rhetoric and tell the folks who run the Barn to do the right thing Mr. Adams.

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