Approximately 7,000 people have signed a petition saying they support Tabora Farms in an ongoing dispute with Hilltown that the husband-and-wife proprietors of the family-run business say cost them approximately $50,000 in 2018.
The support for Tabora Farms comes after Patricia and Caleb Torrice learned recently that Hilltown’s board of supervisors was appealing a December-issued township zoning hearing board decision in an effort to have more restrictions placed on the Upper Stump Road orchard, which is also home to a deli, bakery, outdoor events, “agritourism” and more.
“There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for this appeal other than the township wants to put a hard-working family farm out of business,” said Patricia Torrice. “They’re using taxpayer money to prosecute a business that’s been in good-standing with the community – that’s been supporting the community – for a decade.”
Township Solicitor Stephen Harris said the appeal isn’t about hurting Tabora Farms, but rather about protecting neighbors who’ve complained to Hilltown officials that the Torrices’ operation is ruining their quality of life.
Loud outdoor events that run into the night, intrusive music, patrons bound for Tabora continually using neighbors’ driveways to turn their vehicles around – all are among the legitimate issues raised by some nearby residents, said Harris.
“The farm is creating a problem for their neighbors, and the township’s responsibility is to enforce its zoning to protect its residents,” said Harris.
Patricia argued that most nearby residents support Tabora Farms. The business also appears to draw support from at least some other locals and out-of-towners alike – something evidenced by the nearly 6,200 signatures put to an online petition that Patricia recently launched. The petition calls on the township to drop its appeal. Additional supporters signed a physical petition available at the Tabora property, bringing the number to around 7,000 as of press time, Patricia said.
“We love Tabora farms and think it is unjust what is happening,” wrote one signer of the online petition. “These farms and events are what Bucks County is all about.”
The stress for the Torrices – parents to children ages 8 through 12 – has been considerable. The legal/zoning battle, projected to cost at least another $25,000 to navigate the appeal, is “depleting a young hard working farming family of their finances, motivation, and spirit,” Patricia wrote in the petition.
Harris reiterated that the township doesn’t want to put Tabora Farms out of business. Rather, it wants the orchard to operate in way that doesn’t impinge on the rights of neighbors.
At a September zoning hearing, neighbor Gerald Beck said that he doesn’t want Tabora to close; he just wants what he characterized as the intrusive activities to stop. “We want to reduce the nuisance factor,” Beck said.
In December, Hilltown’s zoning hearing board issued a decision that said Tabora was able to continue operating its bakery, store and deli, as well as holding outdoor events as long as they are agricultural in nature. Live music was allowed to continue under restrictions.
Meanwhile, the board also ruled that the on-site winery where local wine and hard cider are sold must be removed, according to the Torrices. It also effectively banned Tabora from holding events like weddings, Mothers Day and Fathers Day brunches, movie nights, cake bingo, a Firefly Festival, Irish festivals, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and Halloween attractions.
Other requirements include compelling Tabora to install a water management system that, the Torrices said, will require the removal of dozens apple-producing trees, the Torrices said.
The Torrices accepted the zoning decision, believing they’d still be able to run a viable business. “We were so relieved and thankful that we could move on and start recovering from such a detrimental year,” Patricia wrote in her online petition.
While Harris declined to go into details on the goals of the appeal, he said the township is not thrilled with the deli operation. The township also thinks there need to be tighter controls on the outdoor events. Additional heavy restrictions could hamstring Tabora Farms to the point where it won’t be able to generate enough revenue to exist, Patricia said.
No court date is scheduled for the appeal.
The next supervisors’ meeting is 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25.