Judge rules against wedding venue; owner will appeal, keep operating

State agri-tourism law, township zoning code at issue in Stoney Hill Farm case

A Montgomery County judge recently ruled against a Miami Twp. wedding venue operator in a zoning dispute, but the business owner says he plans to appeal and continue to hold events in 2022.

Common Pleas Judge Richard Skelton’s December decision sides with township officials, saying Stoney Hill Farm’s activities at a former “horse barn” at 7757 Upper Miamisburg Road are not covered under the state’s agri-tourism law, as owner Darren Powlette contends.

The ruling also says activities there violate a section of the township’s zoning code “in that the use of the property for celebratory events, such as weddings, does not constitute ‘agri-tourism’ as defined in Ohio law.”

“The defendants’ activities are not ‘agriculturally related’ activities within the meaning of the statutory language,” Skelton wrote. “The activities are for business use prohibited in Article 8 of the Zoning Resolution and not incident to agricultural activities.”

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The ruling says Powlette and Stoney Hill Rustic — now known as Stoney Hill Farm — are prohibited from renting, leasing or otherwise operating for a fee at the barn “for weddings, receptions, graduation parties, or other celebratory events.”

Powlette told the Dayton Daily News on Monday that the ruling is in contrast to one made in 2019 by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Timothy O’Connell, who said Stoney Hill Farm’s use of a barn on May 8, 2018 was not covered under the state’s agri-tourism law, but went on in that ruling to outline how weddings can be considered agri-tourism.

“We took that as a ruling in our favor,” Powlette said, referring to how the business after that point had expanded its operations to include tractors, hayrides and alpacas.

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He said the Ohio Department of Commerce then sent him a letter saying “weddings on farms have been a great agri-tourism activity on Ohio farms.”

Powlette said Skelton’s 2-page ruling that farm markets and you-pick operations are agri-tourism and weddings are not is “a very narrow definition of agri-tourism,” especially when agri-tourism is defined by Ohio law as “an agriculturally related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activity.”

“It completely ignored the definition of agri-tourism,” he said. “It completely ignored the department of commerce in Ohio and the other cases that we gave him in Spring Valley and Xenia that are using agri-tourism to hold their weddings.”

Powlette said he plans to appeal Skelton’s ruling. But in the meantime, he’ll use the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that those who have a winery and a vineyard and sell a bottle of wine to a bride or groom can thereafter hold a wedding on their farm.

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“We planted our vineyard three years ago, we made wine last year and we should have a wine license by the end of this month, so every single contract we have for 2022, they’re required to buy our wine for their wedding,” he said.

Asked for comment, Miami Twp. Administrator Ron Hess said, “We are very pleased with the decision by the Honorable Richard Skelton.” He declined to elaborate further on the case.

Powlette said the appeal process in Montgomery County Court likely will take a year. That won’t be the only litigation involving his business and Miami Twp., he said. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against the township seeking damages for malicious prosecution in a separate case involving a bed-and-breakfast business also operated on the farm.

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