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Couple proposes wedding venue at Walpole Road in Williamsburg; face opposition from neighbors

The Zoning Board of Appeals met Monday to consider a special permit application from Susan Fortgang and David Nehring.

“We want to develop a seasonal farm stand and farm store that would be a take-out food business providing maple syrup, honey, baked goods, fruits and vegetables,” said Fortgang. “We also want to develop a space that would be for weddings and events for up to 100 or 150 people.”

Fortgang and Nehring are living on Harrison Avenue in Northampton while renovating the farmhouse. They intend to move in when the work is completed.

According to the application, Fortgang and Nehring would provide land for parking and a large tent for events from spring to mid October.

The couple said they hope the town and their neighbors will see the proposal as a positive endeavor that would allow them to preserve the 100-acre property as farmland, “which we think is much better than seeing the land be used for something like a condo development.”

Fortgang and Nehring currently produce hay, pumpkins maple syrup at the farm.

“That is not enough to make a living on,” Fortgang said. “We have owned this property for over a year and we are committed to maintaining it as a farm. This project will allow us to do that.”

Fortgang said that events would be catered and the food would be prepared off site. “We would build a kitchen in the farmhouse that would used by a caterer for serving food,” she said.

While several abutters at the ZBA meeting said they would support a farm stand that sells produce and local foods, most expressed concerns about how the proposed wedding and entertainment venue would affect the neighborhood.

Richard Briggs of 13 Walpole Road was accompanied at the meeting by his attorney Alan Seewald of Amherst. Briggs, the closest neighbor, expressed concerns about what he called “the vagueness of the application,” saying it left out information on traffic flow, parking, noise control and lighting.

Neighbors described Walpole road as narrow and winding and not suited to a significant increase in traffic.

“We would really like to see a traffic impact statement, and a report from a sound engineer,” Briggs said.

ZBA Chairman Gerald Mann said the application was a “bit unusual” because half of the property is in a rural residential zone, while the other half is zoned as “mixed village use.”

“Under our bylaws, you cannot operate any type of restaurant in a residential zone and your farmhouse is in a residential zone,” Mann said.

Seewald argued that the town’s bylaws would prohibit a wedding or entertainment venue.

“When you have a split zone, you must base your decision upon the zone that is he most restrictive,” Seewald said. “This application does not meet the criteria of your bylaw and it must be rejected.”

According to Fortgang, their proposal is based on a model used at the 140-acre Quonquont Farm in Whately that offers a catering kitchen, restrooms, parking and event seating for 200 people.

“The thing that seems the most unfair is that we live right next door. We can’t get away from it,” Briggs said. “Meanwhile, those who are proposing this plan will be at home in Northampton not having to hear any of it.”

“Right now it is a work in progress,” Fortgang said.

The ZBA hearing was continued until next Monday at 7 p.m. at the Town Offices at 141 Main St.

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