SUNBURY — Northumberland County President Judge Charles H. Saylor is set to preside at an injunction hearing requested by Spyglass Ridge Winery at 10:30 a.m. Friday, just hours before the scheduled start of a weekend festival that Rockefeller Township ordered not to be held.
If Spyglass is granted the injunction, it would be legally permitted to hold the events scheduled over the weekend while the legal battle plays out in court.
Spyglass owner Tom Webb stated he received a letter from the township that demanded the venue cease concerts due to a violation of an agricultural zoning ordinance.
Rockefeller Township claimed in the letter Webb’s property is zoned for agricultural purposes and the board feels his operations as a winery are permitted, but not as a concert or event locale.
Webb said Tuesday he plans to hold this weekend’s events in defiance of the letter, regardless of the outcome of the injunction hearing.
“This weekend’s hot air balloon festival will go on as scheduled,” he said.”
In a related development, Tom and Tammy Webb, through their attorney Joel Wiest, of Sunbury, and Rockefeller Township, through its attorney James Best, of Sunbury, filed a joint petition requesting the court to remove Rockefeller Township Zoning Hearing Board as a defendant in the litigation, leaving Rockefeller Township as the lone defendant.
Saylor issued an order Wednesday granting the petition.
In the petition requesting the injunction, Wiest wrote, “Since the inception of the winery approximately 20 years ago, the plaintiffs have had various public events, concerts, festivals, etc. on their property, many of which have been attended by supervisors of Rockefeller Township, their family members and friends.
“Also, since the inception of the winery, the plaintiffs have attempted to work directly with Rockefeller Township on various matters relative to the many events held there over the ensuing years.”
Over the last two to three years, Wiest said the Webbs had difficulties with the installation of their new brewery (Three Beards Brewery) centering around the Rockefeller Township zoning officer and supervisors, and their personal animosity and agenda against the Webbs.
Wiest said the Webbs were forced to file a previous petition for injunctive relief when the township, through its zoning officer, attempted to force the cancellation of various events by suddenly forbidding the use of travel trailers/campers during outdoor events.
He claimed the dispute over the use of trailers/campers has led to Rockefeller Township wanting to shut down any further events at the winery.
Wiest said correspondence sent to the Webbs by Best on Sept. 30 directs the winery owners to apply for and receive a variance from the township zoning hearing board to hold any further events on their property.
Wiest said obtaining a variance would take months and prohibit Spyglass Ridge Winery from moving forward with its planned events.
The attorney points out that this weekend’s Balloon Festival at the winery is an enormous undertaking for the plaintiffs, who have already prepaid for most, if not all, of the festival, including the concert, hot air balloons, vendors, supplies, etc.
Wiest pointed out that the entire proceeds from the three-day event will be donated to charitable organizations, specifically five local animal shelters.
The attorney said any enforcement action against his clients by the township relative to the events at Spyglass is barred by the Doctrine of Laches. Wiest described the demands of the township as “arbitrary, capricious and outrageous.”
Wiest said the plaintiffs are entitled to any and all attorney fees and a preliminary injunction that would enable the events to be held this weekend while the litigation continues.
In his letter to the Webbs, Best said the township says the cultivation of grapes and practice of converting those grapes to wine is an agricultural activity, adding that the township has never had any dispute that Spyglass could operate a winery as a matter of right.
“However, the use of the winery to host festivals and concerts far exceed even a local understanding of agricultural activities,” the letter states.
The letter continues that the zoning ordinance allows retail activity, restaurant services and private entertainment in an agricultural zone by special exception, but that Spyglass has never applied for a special exception to legally permit their retail activities and hosting of special events.
“It is now clear that the focus of Spyglass Ridge Winery has moved from viticulture and reasonable commercial activities incident to the manufacturing of wine to being Central Pennsylvania’s premier outdoor concert venue,” the letter claims.
The letter reiterates that public entertainment facilities are not permitted in an agricultural zone and, therefore, Webb’s hosting of concerts is not a lawful use. The letter warns that the zoning hearing officer “will take enforcement action” in the event further concerts or other public entertainment — including the balloon festival — occurs.
Tom Webb claimed Tuesday that the township is retaliating because he continues to challenge an ordinance regarding camping. He alleged the township adopted an ordinance about five years ago that specifically targeted his business and included excessive fees that act as a tax.
Webb, who resides in Rockefeller Township, believes his business should have been grandfathered in.
“The wording of the ordinance is ‘event camping’ and I am the only one that does that,” Webb said. “It’s illegal to pass an ordinance that targets just me.”
On Wednesday, Rockefeller Township Supervisors Colin Clayberger, Paula Greco and Julie Powell reserved comment about the injunction hearing and ongoing litigation, as did Best.
COAL TOWNSHIP — The Strengthening Families Program for parents and youth ages 10 to 14 held its second session in the Shamokin Area Middle/High School library Wednesday night.
“It’s a family-based program focusing on family communication and collaboration in the home,” said Shamokin Area Elementary School social worker Leon Supsic Jr.
Supsic, who acts as a facilitator for the seven-week program, said the program teaches adults appropriate disciplinary skills while simultaneously fostering a nurturing home environment for their children and supports youth in the navigation of their peer relations.
The Strengthening Families Program includes a three-day training for group facilitators, as well as a handbook with instructions on how to conduct the sessions. Each session begins with a family meal and afterwards children and adults are divided into groups. This time is set aside for both children and parents to talk about personal strifes.
‘’We know that youth growing up are struggling to find their identity,” Supsic said. “We want to show we love and support them.”
According to Shamokin Area Middle/High School social worker Christin Hughes, the program currently is running with eight families and can host up to 12.
“We do lots of fun activities,” Hughes said. “We use role-playing activities and perform skits to help children learn to navigate certain situations.”
She said the group facilitates difficult but open discussions with families about topics including sex and drug use.
The Kauffman family, who participated in the previous cohort, said they wanted to experience the program again after having a great experience.
“We love the family meal in the beginning. It gives you that hour to sit down as a family and enjoy the meal,” said Amy Kauffman.
She said that the program considers a variety of factors, including child care for kids outside the program’s age bracket.
She said each week is a different lesson. Last week, parents learned about the struggles their children face at their age regarding bullying and peer pressure and this week their children learned about parents and stressors that occur in adult life.
“It helps having the facilitators. They teach you and you go home and practice it,” Kauffman said.
Hughes added, “Everybody is so rushed. ... It’s a challenge to find time for one-on-one time with the family. The program makes families take that time with each other.”
ZERBE TOWNSHIP — The Zerbe Township Board of Supervisors remains one member down following the resignation of Daniel Billig.
The Democrat resigned less than a year after being appointed in December to fill the seat of long-time supervisor Mike Mazer. According to the official ballot for the upcoming municipal election, the names of both Billig and his Republican challenger, Clayton Bartholomew, will appear at the polls for a two-year term since Billig missed the deadline to remove his name.
When asked for comment Wednesday, Billig abruptly ended the call, only to say, “Good luck with Clayton.”
Remaining supervisors are Michael Schwartz and Judith Korenkiewicz, the latter who was appointed to the board in May after Jerome Bulchie resigned.
Korenkiewicz, a Democrat, will appear on the ballot for a four-year term since she was nominated by her party, according to Northumberland County Election Director Nathan Savidge. Korenkiewicz is running unopposed.
In the primary, Republican Walter Paczkoskie defeated Schwartz, who has served on the board for nearly 12 years, by four votes for a six-year term. Paczkoskie is now running unopposed.
Schwartz said Wednesday that the township has yet to appoint anyone to Billig’s vacant seat due to the proximity of the municipal election.
“We can’t find anybody to replace Dan because, whoever would be appointed, their seat would expire at the end of December, anyhow. Nobody wants to take it for that period of time,” Schwartz said. “Our solicitor advised us that the courts would appoint someone if we don’t appoint.”
Bartholomew, who said Billig is a friend of his, believes he resigned because of his commitment to his business, Affordable Offroad on Center Street in Coal Township. The company manufactures suspension parts such as bumpers for off-road vehicles.
“I don’t think he realized the time that has to be put into the supervisor position,” Bartholomew said. “We both had some good ideas. You got to have thick skin because you are never going to make everyone happy. It’s a thankless job.”
KULPMONT — A Kulpmont man and his sister have been charged with felony offenses in connection with sexual acts committed on a 14-year-old girl in the borough.
Lloyd J. Hall, 41, of 1058 Spruce St. is charged by Officer-in-Charge Stephen Mazzeo with felonies of endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors, showing a juvenile pornography/obscene materials and aggravated indecent assault, and misdemeanors of indecent assault and indecent exposure.
He is accused of committing sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl between Nov. 1, 2020, and June 7.
Hall has not yet been arraigned on the charges.
His sister, Angela Michaeline Hall, 43, also of 1058 Spruce St., was arraigned Wednesday by Magisterial District Judge William Cole, of Mount Carmel, on felonies of endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors filed by Mazzeo.
She was committed to Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail.
According to a criminal complaint filed at Cole’s office, the investigation began in early June when the victim was interviewed by a forensic interviewer following a Childline report received by Northumberland County Children and Youth Services.
Police said Lloyd Hall admitted to a Children and Youth Services caseworker that he committed the offenses, while Angela Hall said she knew about the sexual acts, but blamed the victim. Police said Angela Hall failed to protect the victim.
SHAMOKIN — City police are investigating the death of a seven-week-old boy who was found unconscious Wednesday morning in his home.
Shamokin Police Chief Raymond Siko II said he and Patrolman William Zalinski responded to an emergency medical call at 10:13 a.m. at 509 S. Seventh St.
Upon arriving at the residence, Siko said they found a seven-week-old boy unconscious who went into cardiac arrest before being transported by AREA Services ambulance personnel to Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital.
Siko said the infant was pronounced dead in the emergency room department by a physician.
He said Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley, who also responded to the hospital, is assisting in the investigation.
Siko said an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause and manner of death of the child.
He said the child’s parents and additional children were in the home when police arrived.
The police chief said multiple interviews have been conducted in the ongoing investigation.
Also assisting in the probe are Northumberland County Children and Youth Services employees, probation officers from Northumberland and Snyder counties, members of the county district attorney’s office and Patrolmen James Filko, Tyler Bischof and Wesley Fleming. Siko said Filko is the lead investigator in the case.
Siko said a search warrant was obtained and executed at 509 S. Seventh St.
No charges have been filed in the investigation.