Conestoga Township has condemned a barn being used by protesters of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, incensing the landowner and opponents of the controversial pipeline project.
A zoning officer cited zoning law violations for use of the barn for non-agricultural purposes.
For several weeks, several dozen people have been camping out on a farm owned by Justin and Susan Cappiello at 325 Conestoga Boulevard near Safe Harbor, part of a movement to try to disrupt the pipeline when construction begins.
A barn on the property has been used for meetings, with the Cappiellos’ permission.
Opponents and the Cappiellos attended the regular meeting of township supervisors Tuesday night, along with about 150 people, many of them angry. One resident accused the township of a "targeted abuse of power."
The township zoning officer, Joellyn Warren, did not attend.
Supervisor Craig Eshelman told an LNP reporter Tuesday afternoon he had just learned about the action by the zoning officer and that the supervisors had nothing to do with it.
“I assure you we had nothing to do with the zoning action,” Eshelman said. “I didn’t know it happened, I didn’t know it was going to happen.
“The zoning officer is like a police officer. We don't interfere. The supervisors do not control the zoning.”
In an e-mail to the township at 1 p.m. Tuesday, zoning officer Joellyn Warren said, “The zoning action was taken in relation to the land use at 325 Conestoga Boulevard as a result of zoning code violations. Owner was notified of zoning violations on February 16, 2017. No action was taken by owner within prescribed timeline to address or resolve zoning violations.
“Formal zoning notice of violations were issued on March 6, 2017. A condemnation notice was issued on March 6, 2017, to restrict access to barn for assembly use. Barn is classified as agricultural building and may continue to be used for agricultural purposes.”
But Justin Cappiello told LNP that neither he or his wife were notified by mail or at their home in Lancaster, or in person, about any violations on the farm they lease to an Amish family.
“This came as a complete surprise and I’m displeased at the way it was handled,” Cappiello said.
“The only communication I got was about how many people could be parked off the road. There was not one word about the barn. Had I known, I would have called and had a discussion with them.”
At the meeting Tuesday night, Supervisor Bob Hershey said the supervisors are legally bound to accept the zoning officer's decision.
Tim Spiese, a Martic Township resident and organizer of the encampment on the farm, said barns are used for nonagricultural purposes all the time, including for weddings, family reunions and Amish church services.
"It's obvious to everyone in this room that we were singled out because of what we were doing," he said.
Warren, in an interview Tuesday, said there were no complaints that precipitated the condemnation. Rather, the office found out about the barn being used through “public knowledge.”
She said she went to the Conestoga supervisors office on Monday morning and Supervisor John Berry was present. When informed that there was a zoning violation on the farm, Warren said Berry told her to “go ahead and enforce the ordinance.”
In a statement, Lancaster Against Pipelines said, “In short, Lancaster County landowners are being cited for holding meetings in their own barn as they seek to protect their farm against billionaire outsiders who run an export pipeline through their land.
“Every day, families across Lancaster County use their barns for meetings, family reunions, storage and countless non-agricultural purposes. It is not the job of the building inspector to approve every action committed by every person who steps foot in a Lancaster County barn. This is a First Amendment issue.”
During the township meeting, the zoning board agreed to a future meeting with John Telesco of Lancaster Against Pipelines, the supervisors, the Cappiellos and the township zoning officer.
Several residents spoke out against the condemnation at the meeting, including Leslie Bunting, who called it a "targeted abuse of power."
"It's not so much a zoning violation as it is a First Amendment violation, Harry Smith, of Mount Joy, said.