Records show sides of wedding venue owner, township in court fight

Stoney Hill Farm on Upper Miamisburg Road in Miami Township. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Stoney Hill Farm on Upper Miamisburg Road in Miami Township. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Was Miami Twp. within its authority to issue a violation to a wedding venue owner, or is that operator exempt from the township’s jurisdiction under Ohio’s agritourism law?

That’s an issue being debated in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court documents as Stoney Hill Farm is challenging the township’s board of zoning appeals’ upholding of a violation issued last year.

The violation came last May after residents complained about noise and trespassing issues at the farm on Upper Miamisburg Road. After the July BZA ruling, farm owner Darren Powlette filed an administrative appeal in county court, one of three legal cases currently involving the business.

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“It is well-settled that a common pleas court sitting in review of a BZA administrative decision generally must defer to the BZA’s judgment,” court documents recently filed by the township state.

The Ohio Revised Code – under which townships operate — says township trustees “may regulate such factors pertaining to agritourism” with some exceptions, the township’s filing states.

To obtain a waiver for a zoning certificate, Miami Twp. requires that “an applicant must submit a declaration of intent – agricultural exemption form” for “structures that will be used exclusively for agriculture or agritourism uses.”

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The township contends in 2017 Powlette filed documents stating a use of “viticulture, storing of agricultural products” for a barn in order to obtain an agricultural exemption for a zoning certificate, filings by attorneys Edward Dowd and Katherine Epling state.

“The township later obtained evidence that instead … the barn was being rented and used as a wedding venue,” according to township court records.

After the violation was issued, Powlette filed another notice of intent with the township that included uses of “agritourism, hay storage, turkeys, chickens.”

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Powlette “erroneously claims the (township’s) lack of authority to regulate (his) use of the barn on his property because it is incident to his agricultural use of the property and constitutes agritourism,” township attorneys stated.

But Powlette’s “use of the barn did not constitute agritourism.”

His attorney disagrees.

Powlette is protected under Ohio’s agritourism law, and state appeals courts have ruled activities such as Stoney Hill has hosted “are permitted” under it, his attorney argues.

In issuing a violation to Stoney Hill, the Miami Twp. Board of Zoning Appeals overstepped its authority and did not interpret the agritourism law as it should have, according to an April 1 filing by Greg Page, Powlette’s attorney.

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When the violation was issued, “there is no evidence in the record that Powlette had violated any zoning ordinance. As such, the (violation) should never have been issued in the first place.”

His client, Page contends,“is an agritourism provider as defined under Ohio law. He is using his property in compliance with Ohio’s agritourism statute. Powlette should be permitted to host theme-based weddings, reunions and other celebratory events at his property, as such activity is permitted under Ohio law.”

The BZA "is required to liberally construe the agritourism statute in favor of the property owner," but did not, court records show.

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“In this case, the township seeks to strictly construe” the state statute “to claim weddings held on a farm in a barn are not agritourism.

The Second District Court of Appeals “has determined that theme-based weddings, reunions, and other celebratory events are permitted activities under Ohio’s agritourism statute,” according to Page’s filing. “As such, this honorable court is bound to that court’s determination. Other Ohio courts have held similarly.”

Court records do not indicate when a ruling from Judge Timothy O’Connell is expected.

RELATED: Wedding venue owner facing court charge: Miami Twp. has ‘no jurisdiction’

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