Tabora Farms, the family-run orchard in Hilltown whose zoning dispute with the township has attracted statewide attention, will be allowed to continue hosting outdoor events related to farming but will be prohibited from holding a variety of other entertainment activities it previously had at the 10.5-acre property on Upper Stump Road.
That’s one of the key elements of an agreement that Tabora owners Caleb and Patricia Torrice and the Hilltown Board of Supervisors have signed off on. The agreement still needs a final stamp of approval from a Bucks County Court of Common Pleas judge.
On Dec. 16, Hilltown’s Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 in favor of the agreement. Supervisor Jack McIlhinney cast the dissenting vote, with Ken Bennington and Jim Groff in favor. The Torrices had already put pen to the deal.
“We look forward to moving past this unrest that we’ve experienced for two years,” said Caleb Torrice, who, in a twist, was recently elected to Hilltown’s Board of Supervisors and will be taking his seat in January. “We are happy that the supervisors were wise in their decision to work jointly with us instead of against us.”
According to the agreement, Tabora can hold events like apple, peach, pumpkin and harvest festivals because they’re directly related to farming.
However, Tabora is prohibited from holding weddings, movie screenings, open mic nights, bingo, horse-drawn sleigh rides, nighttime orchard walks, dueling piano nights, any activities involving paintball, an Irish festival, a Cinco De Mayo festival or any other festivals/events not centered around farming.
DJ’s will not be allowed. Entertainment will be limited to one or two musicians performing without amplification.
No event can last for more than three days in any seven-day period, a restriction that doesn’t apply to “pick your own” products grown at Tabora. A maximum of 10 external vendors will be allowed per event; vendors must offer agricultural products for sale or agricultural education.
“All outdoor events shall comply with the township’s noise and lighting ordinance,” the agreement states.
In addition, the agreement requires Tabora to make any improvements necessary to bring its on-site farm store, which includes a deli, into conformance with Hilltown building codes. The agreement requires Tabora to have an architect/engineer assess the facility and report on what, if any, upgrades might be needed.
Among other things, the agreement dictates that Tabora must install a driveway, parking lot, crosswalk and sidewalk in accordance with township rules.
The agricultural business must also perform grading work and construct stormwater management facilities to address runoff from what the agreement describes as impervious surfaces, like decks and patios, that were built without township-approved permits. Tabora also has to obtain proper permits for the constructions – a process that could require upgrades to the structures.
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 their quality of life.
Following complaints from neighbors, Hilltown officials last year issued citations against Tabora, alleging various zoning violations.
The violation notices led to an appeal that came before the local Zoning Hearing Board and then supervisors, ultimately making its way to Bucks County Court. The dispute has attracted attention from locals, Tabora supporters, Tabora opponents, media and legislators.
Sympathetic to Tabora and other Pennsylvania farmers, one of those legislators – Warrington-based Republican State Rep. F. Todd Polinchock – recently introduced House Bill 2093, which would allow small farms and orchards throughout Pennsylvania to engage in agritainment and agritourism even if local municipal ordinances prohibit such activities. Inspired by the Torrices situation, Polinchock announced the legislation at Tabora Farms.
“My legislation would supersede local regulations, which can be arbitrary and designed to favor other businesses,” Polinchock has said. “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.”
As of press time, the bill was in the state House’s Local Government Committee. The Tabora/Hilltown agreement says that if a state law superseding local ordinances on agritainment were passed, then that prevailing law would govern Tabora’s operations.