UPPER MILFORD TOWNSHIP BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
Residents packed the Upper Milford Township Board of Superviors meeting room July 5 to support a local vintner’s quest to save the family farm’s grapes.
Dan and Elizabeth O’Rourke need a 60- by 70-foot building to process the grapes when they are harvested.
According to Dan and Elizabeth O’Rourke, they had requested permission to build the necessary barn last year, but a recent decision by the Upper Milford Township zoning officer has put the building on the back burner.
In the meantime, the grapes are growing.
“We have to get these grapes processed,” Dan O’Rourke said, “or we will lose the farm. We put our life savings into this. All we’ve met is resistance.”
Elizabeth O’Rourke said all paperwork and requested materials had been delivered to the township office when requested, but Bud Carter and Brian Miller, township staff, disputed her version of events.
Supervisor Robert Sentner suggested the O’Rourke’s ask for a special exception at a zoning hearing board meeting.
The decision to deny the building permit is not valid, according to O’Rourke’s attorney James Preston, who said the state law specifically exempts “winery” operation from the requirement. The farm building, according to state law, is not subject to zoning regulations.
“This is not ambiguous,” Preston said. “Crop farming is a right. Grapes are a crop.”
Several residents began speaking in support of the winemakers.
“Some of the things you do are overreach,” said a person in the back of the room addressing the supervisors and township staff. “You should accommodate them,” said another. Referring to a potential lawsuit, another resident said, “You bring these things on yourselves.”
“We don’t want outdoor concerts; we don’t want a wedding venue,” another said. The speaker was referring to speculation the proposed barn might be used for other purposes than processing grapes.
Mary Rumfield said, “These are gorgeous people – honest, friendly… and I don’t like the way they have been treated.”
The 97-year old supporter got a round of applause for her remarks.
“The supervisors are strictly limited by statute. There is nothing this board can do to overturn the zoning officer’s decision,” township Solicitor Marc Fisher said.
Preston suggested a solution.
“You would act if you could,” Preston said. “There is a way to fix it. We can sue; then the board can make a settlement. Then it’s over; it’s bypassing the zoning people. These grapes have to get in the building.”
Dan O’Rourke, in a later interview, said his vineyard on St. Peters Road is on 60 acres which has 17.6 miles of trellises. He said 15.6 miles of grapes are growing on the trellises.
“They are vina fora grapes used for chardonnay, pinot noir and Riesling,” Dan O’Rourke said. He named a few other types of wine which can be made from his grapes.