The latest letter (8/27) from the borough purports to provide clarity regarding their rewriting of the zoning ordinance in 2014, as well as (finally!) reveal the cost they have thus far expended on prosecuting the Fetterolfs for utilizing their property in a manner we contend is wholly permissable under law. Following is our response to this latest attempt by the borough’s leaders to preempt the zoning hearings themselves, sway public opinion in their favor and attempt to adjudicate the matter outside the assigned legal structures – a luxury not afforded the defendants.
September 3, 2018
Dear Residents of Sewickley Heights Borough,
We are contacting you in response to the Borough’s letters to every resident on both July 25 and August 27, 2018 regarding the Dundee Farm controversy. Friends of Dundee Farm has a Facebook page that contains background information and our initial response to the mayor’s July 25 letter which we had previously invited interested persons to follow ( go to www.facebook.com/friendsofdundeefarm). Since the mayor followed up his July 25 letter with yet another mailing on August 27, we thought it best to make certain that every resident was made aware of our responses via direct mail as well, especially since so many residents do not use social media.
In addition to the 8/1 Facebook page response to the mayor’s 7/25 letter (enclosed), our response to the mayor’s 8/27 letter follows.
Regarding adoption of the 2014 zoning ordinance, the borough states that “Residents communicated clearly and strongly that they value the solitude and privacy of a quiet rural environment…”. The mayor has repeatedly attempted to paint Dundee Farm in a way that purports some boisterous, illegal uses, which we contend is untrue. The operation of a commercial farm is a permitted use, and we contend that they have been operating legally. As to the “quiet rural environment”, we would just like to note that Fern Hollow Nature Center (which received its own special zoning designation afforded to just 4 entities controlled by either the borough or its residents as private clubs) enjoys no restrictions whatsoever on events. There is no limitation on the number of events, size of crowds, types of events (commercial, charitable or otherwise), noise, traffic or any other restriction under the ordinance. FHNC has utilized their property as a venue space for a large number of events which generate exactly the type of questions the borough is raising in order to charge Dundee Farm with violations, but on a far larger scale. Just one case in point is the upcoming “Fall Music Festival”, which includes many carnival-type activities, obviously much music, and alcohol. These events occur on a regular basis. We are not saying that Fern Hollow shouldn’t be permitted to do these events (in fact we are supporters), but we point out the borough’s hypocrisy in their letter. Dundee Farm is not, and never has been, some loud and boisterous entity infringing on the bucolic character of the neighborhood. In fact, up until the Cease & Desist Order in October 2017, it has operated the same way for many decades, with zero complaints (and many public accolades) until this unfortunate neighbor-driven complaint somehow caused the borough to take unprecedented action against the only surviving commercial agricultural farm in the community. It makes no sense.
There are so many deeply problematic issues regarding this matter and the borough’s patent bias against the Fetterolfs. For all of the charges and accusations the borough has made, residents should know that the borough’s own zoning officer (Katie Stringent) has testified under oath that she has never once set foot on the Fetterolf property (except to tie the Cease & Desist notice to a tree near the street). Does that sound like the kind of professional ‘investigation’ that would warrant the borough spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in order to prosecute these “violations”? All of the “charges” listed in the C&D are based on neighbor-driven and neighbor-submitted “evidence”, the great bulk of which was culled from the internet (and we all know that everything found on the internet must be true!). According to testimony thus far, the borough has not spoken to any other neighbors in an effort to ascertain if Dundee Farm was indeed a ‘nuisance’ to its neighbors, nor have they sought to independently verify (other than by an internet search, if that) the validity of the specific violations. Such was the reason that the borough only learned at the last hearing that of the 25 “violations” for which the Fetterolfs are charged, fully 12 of these were for events that never occurred. Some of the alleged violations were cited from three years ago, well before the complaining neighbor even purchased the adjoining property. That something could come this far for even years-old and nonexistent events speaks to the highly unprofessional and patently unfair treatment of the Fetterolfs by the borough. It is also indicative of the ridiculous nature of this prosecution, which at the last meeting included the borough’s initial refusal to accept Allegheny County Conservation District’s Policy Director Jonathan Burgess as an expert witness, and their later dismissive and unprofessional comments about him in his presence. He was called by the Fetterolf’s attorney to be an expert witness regarding farming operations in general and specifically the Right to Farm Act (which most states, including ours, has adopted), about which he regularly advises municipalities regarding compliance with same. The borough’s refusal to permit him to testify about broader matters for which he is paid (by his employer, not the Fetterolfs) to advise other municipalities every day, speaks to the generally sanctimonious attitude displayed by the borough throughout the hearing process since this sad affair began.
In closing, our goal has never been to offend or attack the borough, but to let the facts be known to the residents and general public, as this issue raises serious private property and religious liberty issues. We are all frustrated that it has dragged on for so long. To that end it should be known that at the beginning of this process, the Fetterolfs requested that the hearings be condensed in order to avoid a possibly lengthy (and hence costly) process, by either holding a week of meetings, or weekly meetings, or some other iteration that would more speedily bring this matter to a conclusion. The borough refused that request, and this has proved costly to all parties.
We continue to implore the borough to inject reason and fairness into this process by permitting the Fetterolfs to simply continue to use their property in the same manner they have done so for years without incident, and which has proven to be of great benefit to the community.
Friends of Dundee Farm is a group comprised of friends, neighbors and supporters of the Fetterolfs and the positive benefits they provide to this community. If you would have any questions, please go to the facebook page listed above and leave a post with your question (or you can send a private message with your phone number and you will receive a call back). The next zoning appeal meeting is scheduled for September 12 at 1pm. More details can be found on the borough website: http://sewickleyheightsboro.com/…/general-go…/legal-notices/ We encourage all Sewickley Heights residents and any other members of the public who are interested in this issue to attend and see for yourself what is happening.
Your support is greatly appreciated!
Friends of Dundee Farm