Williamsburg panel delays decision on Valley View Farm venue

For the Gazette
Published: 11/15/2016 11:37:25 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — The Zoning Board of Appeals delayed a vote on a special permit for an event venue at Valley View Farm Tuesday, citing a possible conflict of interest in the decision-making process.

ZBA Chairman Charles Dudek said he received an email from farm owner Susan Fortgang questioning whether ZBA board member Marciana Caplis could be part of the decision-making process. She said Caplis is also the chairwoman of the Conservation Commission, which currently has an enforcement order against the farm for a separate issue.

Fortgang said that she did not intend to imply that Caplis was in any way biased, but wanted to make sure that the two issues remained separate.

“I would be happy to rescind the question, it is not something that I feel that strongly about. It was just a question,” Fortgang said.

Dudek, however, said that since the issue had been raised, he wanted to make certain that everything was done by the book, as that was in the best interest of the town, Fortgang and David Nehring, her husband and Valley View Farm’s co-owner. As a result, the board will consult with a town attorney.

“Someone could appeal our decision and I thought it best to examine the question to be sure everything is done properly,” Dudek said. “I think we can have an answer from town counsel by next week.”

Fortgang and Nehring are hoping to use a 100-year-old renovated post-and-beam barn to host a variety of events for up to 200 guests with roughly 50 events spread out over the course of a year.

According to Caplis in the late spring, the Conservation Commission received a complaint that trees were being cut down along the river at Valley View Farm within the 100-foot buffer zone.

An enforcement order was issued June 9 and the commission has been working with the owners of the farm to correct the situation.

“It is our job to protect natural resources as well as helping citizens to accomplish what they want to do with the law,” Caplis said. “We have been working with them on this, and it is just a process that is taking a long time.”

Dudek asked if the event venue had anything to do with the issue being dealt with by the Conservation Commission. Caplis said they were separate issues and in different locations on the farm.

Caplis also that she would be happy to recuse herself from making the decision on the permit.

According to Fortgang, the farm received money from the National Resource Conservation Service to “remove invasives” from land near the river in order to reclaim some of their farmland.

“We are working with the Conservation Commission on this and I think that we are in good shape,” Fortgang said. “I almost wish I hadn’t said anything because now this is pushed back another week. I didn’t mean to complicate things.”

The ZBA will meet again Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 6 p.m., to review the information from town counsel and proceed with the decision on the special permit for the event venue.

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