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Tabora Farms dispute sparks agritourism legislation


A zoning dispute between a Hilltown family farm and officials in the township is now the catalyst for proposed legislation that would allow small farms and orchards throughout Pennsylvania to engage in agritainment and agritourism even if local municipal ordinances prohibit such activities.

State Rep. F. Todd Polinchock, a Warrington-based Republican, announced his House Bill 2093 Dec. 4 at Tabora Farms & Orchard, the 10.5-acre agricultural business on Stump Road that inspired the legislation. Farm owners Caleb and Patricia Torrice, along with supporters, joined Polinchock.

“Tabora Farm is like many small farms and orchards in the commonwealth struggling to make ends meet,” Polinchock said in a statement. “The farmers’ situation is complicated by local ordinances against activities like pumpkin carving contests and hayrides, activities that are critical to small farms’ bottom lines. My legislation would supersede these local regulations, which can be arbitrary and designed to favor other businesses in the community.

“We must make sure our Pennsylvania farm families are treated fairly and can earn enough to support our agricultural needs, as well as the needs of their families.”

House Bill 2093 would allow Pennsylvania farms to build structures, engage in agritourism and product marketing on their farms without local interference, Polinchock said. The bill would block local governments from placing restrictions on the use of land for agritourism, agricultural purposes or constructing buildings for agricultural purposes.

Caleb Torrice said the legislation, if enacted, will position Pennsylvania farmers to capitalize on agritainment, which he said is an approximately $1 billion industry.

“In agriculture, you roll the dice every single day with the weather. I’ve seen 50,000 bushels of apples lost in an eight-second hail storm,” Caleb Torrice said. “This bill allows farmers to diversify their income streams and protect themselves against those type of risks. It’s for the good of all Pennsylvania farmers.”

The bill is currently in the House Local Government Committee, awaiting further action. Polinchock pledged to keep the pressure on the committee to move the bill along. The state House and Senate will ultimately have to approve the legislation for it to become law.

The Torrices’ dispute with Hilltown over its agritainment/agritourism activities and other zoning issues has been going on for nearly two years. It may soon be coming to an end. The Torrices said they recently signed a compromise that the Hilltown Board of Supervisors – the elected three-person board that runs the township government – could sign at its Dec. 16 meeting.

To date, the dispute has cost the Torrices about $75,000, Caleb Torrice said. He said the compromise would allow Tabora to continue to hold events related to agriculture, such as an apple festival or peach festival. However, other activities that the Torrices contend would fall in the agritourism/agritainment category – such as horse-drawn sleigh rides, Tabora’s “firefly” festival, Irish fest, cake bingo and more – would no longer be permitted, Torrice said.

“We also have a year to complete our parking lot construction and make sure other things are up to code,” Torrice said, noting the parking lot upgrades the township wants will cost approximately $80,000 to $100,000. The Torrices, parents to four, plan to refinance the business to get additional funds.

Since early 2018, Tabora Farms has been embroiled in controversy, drawing both adamant support from some community members and sharp criticism from neighbors who have said that frequent, loud, large-scale events at the farm have ruined quality of life.

Following complaints from neighbors, Hilltown officials last year issued citations against Tabora for alleged zoning violations that included operating a deli and setting up a residential apartment above the store at the farm without township approval.

According to testimony from the township’s zoning officer at a hearing last year, Tabora was also cited over the outdoor events that some neighbors characterized as intrusive.

The zoning officer, Dave Taylor, said events like “zombie paintball” had reached a level where they were straight entertainment instead of agricultural-related tourism – and thus not permitted under the rural residential zoning on the property.