Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 29, 2017

PA Appeals Court Finds Proposed Farm-to-Table Nighttime Use was Not an Educational Use but a Restaurant Use

The Marshalls owned a 12.6 acre parcel of land located in the FR–Farm Residential zoning district and was improved with a historic farmhouse and a historic bank barn. In this case, Charlestown Township Board of Supervisors appealed from the final order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, which reversed the Board’s decision denying Paul Marshall’s and Julie Marshall’s conditional use application proposing to use their property for farm-to-table activities at nighttime. The trial court also imposed conditions on the nighttime use.

On appeal, the Board argued that the trial court erred as a matter of law and abused its discretion in concluding that the Board improperly denied the conditional use application for the nighttime use, because substantial evidence supported the Board’s determination. Mr. Marshall explained that the use would consist of: education about planting vegetables; patrons viewing agricultural artifacts and learning about Charlestown history while they are being served hors d’oeuvres; patrons meeting local farmers, guest chefs, artisan cheese makers, or butchers; and the patrons sitting at two farm tables and eating a full multi-course farm to table dinner.

The court determined that a reasonable mind could find that the primary purpose was not educational, but more similar to a restaurant. The Board reasoned that the only inference that could be drawn from the fact that Applicants wanted to include alcohol and have a full course meal was that the nighttime activities were not educational. The court held that these findings supported the conclusion that the primary function of the nighttime use would be a dining experience rather an educational experience. Accordingly, the court found that the trial court erred when it reversed the Board’s determination that the proposed nighttime use was not educational.

Marshall v Charlestown Township Board of Supervisors, 2017 WL 3707506 (PA Cmlth 8/29/2017)

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