Caleb Torrice is keen to make a positive difference in Hilltown.
Soon enough, the owner of township-based Tabora Farms might get his chance.
Torrice recently emerged victorious in a three-way Republican primary race for a six-year seat on Hilltown’s Board of Supervisors. Torrice took two-thirds of the votes – 843 of the total 1,265.
There was a Democratic write-in candidate, Steve Kendra, who garnered 243 votes, but Torrice pulled in 83 votes on the Dem side, too – about one quarter of the Democrat total.
Given those numbers, Torrice might not be a shoo-in, but he would appear to be the frontrunner to take over the supervisor’s seat currently occupied by Ken Bennington. Bennington chose not to stand for re-election to the three-person board that governs the municipality. His term concludes at year’s end.
“I’m excited to hear more about what constituents are looking for, and to help,” said Torrice.
Torrice had been something of a known figure in the community because of Tabora Farms – the orchard, agricultural event, and entertainment destination that the father of four has operated in Hilltown for 11 years with his wife, Patricia.
Last year, however, Torrice came to greater prominence after Hilltown officials cited Tabora Farms for zoning violations – an outgrowth of a zoning officer investigation that began with complaints from neighbors who said Tabora’s entertainment-and-event activities had become intrusive.
A lengthy, highly public battle that placed considerable emotional and financial strain on the Torrice family ensued before the township’s zoning board in 2018. While Tabora had its opponents, scores of people from Hilltown and beyond packed zoning board and supervisors meetings to show support for the farm, with local media outlets covering the case at length.
Amid the hullaballoo, Torrice met many locals who, he says, expressed concerns similar to his own. He also said he saw certain things supervisors did that he didn’t care for.
“I don’t believe in sitting on the sidelines,” Torrice said. “If you think changes are needed, and you know others are looking for similar change, then you have to step up and take action.”
And so, he decided to run for supervisor.
If Torrice ultimately wins the seat, he says priorities will include what he described as improved communication with residents, making supervisors more accessible and making the decision-making process more transparent.
“I want to take a more hands-on, personable approach,” said Torrice. “If an issue comes up with a property owner, I want to go out there and meet with them to understand the situation and see what solutions we can come up with.”
Torrice said supporting police and keeping the township budget in check – and thereby limiting the municipal tax burden on residents – are top of his list, too. So is farmland preservation and protecting open space.
“We don’t need a huge development on every corner,” said Torrice. “We have to manage responsible development that allows Hilltown to keep its character.”
Indeed, it’s that mix of rural charm with access to suburban and not-far-off urban areas that attracted Torrice to Hilltown.
Before moving here, he grew up on a fruit farm in Oswego, NY, studied pomology at Cornell University, and worked as a fruit scientist helping farmers in New York state.
Later, he ran a farmers’ market in Long Island, N.Y., but the farm boy never settled in heavily-developed Nassau County. Married by that point, Torrice and his wife began looking for a more rural destination – that also had access to population areas – to establish a new agricultural business. They found Hilltown to be the ideal spot, buying Tabora and building it into a business that employs, depending on the season, about 50 full- and part-time workers.
“I really enjoy being part of this community,” said Torrice. “I want to do what I can to contribute positively to it.”
As for the Tabora zoning issues, the township appealed a zoning hearing board decision on the dispute to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas in February. Torrice said the two sides remain in talks and are hoping to reach a compromise without a court battle.
Torrice said if he takes office and the zoning issues remain unresolved, he will recuse himself from supervisors’ discussions on them to avoid conflicts of interest.
“There’s a rumor that I ran just to save Tabora,” said Torrice. “That’s not true. I ran, in part, so that what has happened with Tabora doesn’t happen to the next business or homeowner.”