2017-01-13 / Neighborhoods

Couples caught in wedding venue zoning dispute in Holden

By Rebecca Humphrey


A packed Holden Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last week brought people on both sides of a dispute involving The Farm at SummitWynds in Jefferson. 
Rebecca Humphrey photo A packed Holden Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last week brought people on both sides of a dispute involving The Farm at SummitWynds in Jefferson. Rebecca Humphrey photo HOLDEN — Bride-to-be Lindsay Snow of Leominster has already sent out “save the dates” for her August wedding at The Farm at SummitWynds in Jefferson.

With more than $5,000 of deposits sent to vendors, a honeymoon booked, and family members who have purchased travel tickets, Snow has invested both financially and emotionally in the venue, which now faces a shutdown.

“If we can’t get married on that date at this venue I don’t think we will be able to find another place,” said Snow through tears in a packed room at last week’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing which resulted in a 4-1 vote to uphold a cease and desist order the town issued to the farm in October.

“Even if we change the date it affects my life, my future, and my ability to start a family,” added Snow, who is one of 45 brides who scheduled her wedding at the farm for 2017.

When Snow booked her special day in September, she was not aware that the venue was facing any zoning issues. Snow said she found out two days before the ZBA hearing on Jan. 5, after her caterer told her a petition was circling in support of SummitWynds. The paper petition gathered approximately 170 signatures from Holden residents.

A paper petition in opposition of the venue signed by approximately 179 Jefferson area residents was presented to the town in August while the ski lodge, turned horse barn, turned wedding venue was applying for a use variance which would allow the farm — which is in a residential zone — to operate as an events venue. Area residents in opposition of the farm operating as an events venue cited major noise pollution and traffic concerns.

According to Holden Building Inspector David Lindberg, business owners Dick Atkins and Amy Parker should have received a use variance before opening and were notified in February 2016 of potential zoning conflicts.

However, Atkins and Parker had already spent thousands on renovation costs by the time they were contacted by Lindberg. The owners said they received a verbal acceptance from the previous building commissioner, Dennis Lipka, in July 2015 to hold weddings at their farm. They began renovations in August 2015, totaling $236,141 up to this point.

“After we’d spent thousands of dollars renovating our property and accepted over 50 reservations, the new building commissioner told us we couldn’t hold weddings unless we first obtained a use variance,” Parker told The Landmark. “We were told by the town on numerous occasions that the town wanted to help us and that all we had to do was file for a use variance with the ZBA and go through the process and there wouldn’t be a problem. Then we found out that a use variance was not that easy to obtain.”

With 53 weddings held in 2016, they were able to make $110,900 in revenue, but will face a $125,241 loss if they are shut down, which they said will be devastating.

“This is grossly unfair and we’ve been placed in a terrible position by the town,” said Parker. “We feel that the town should abide by the assurances given to us by the former Building Commissioner.”

Lindberg previously told The Landmark that Atkins and Parker were permitted to operate using a tent permit throughout the application process after a life safety inspection was done on the venue. Additionally, a certificate of occupancy permit was issued by the town on the day of the first event, on April 22, 2016.

In September, the farm withdrew its application for a use variance without prejudice, and not long after owners were ordered a cease and desist by the town. Since then, Atkins and Parker have continued to host weddings in violation of the cease and desist order. With no signs of abiding the order, the Holden Board of Selectmen cleared the town manager to authorize the town to take legal action against the farm in early November.

With a lot of factors at play, before the ZBA members voted on the matter on Jan. 5, legal counsel, small business owners and area residents (some sporting anti- SummitWynds buttons) shared arguments both for and against the farm operating as an events venue.

While Snow was just one voice that was heard at the meeting before the vote was made, others shared their beliefs that the town should be held responsible for the situation at hand like Elizabeth DeLuca, owner and operator of Red Roof Catering in Holland, who has provided her services for seven weddings at the farm.

Since Atkins and Parker are renting out their space for weddings, vendors have been responsible on an individual basis to apply for licenses.

“To say the town did not know about any of this going on is really not accurate,” said DeLuca, who added that for each wedding she was involved with at the farm she had to seek approval from the town’s Board of Health for catering permits.

“They took fees from me and I am assuming every other vendor,” she added. “How can you say the town bears no responsibility when they took fees and applications?”

Holden Town Counsel Stephen Madaus said he looked into standards for issuing town permits but advised the town to treat catering permits relative to licenses from any other property owner because to say “a zoning violation prohibited the town from issuing a permit” was not an option to the town.

Furthermore, legal representation on behalf of Atkins and Parker asked that the zoning board and the town appeal the cease and desist order and agree to let the farm run as a wedding venue with added modifications to limit noise, including the creation of an outdoor pavilion, as well as a schedule limiting the farm to one wedding per week.

Jefferson area resident Sara Tindall, who is in opposition of the farm running as an events venue, said farm owners should not have continued to schedule weddings and renovations knowing their was a zoning issue at hand.

“Regardless of whether Mr. Lipka had given them a verbal agreement, they don’t have a hand written permit ... they went ahead and booked all these weddings with all these poor brides without having proper permitting,” said Tindal.

Although the vote has been made to uphold the cease and desist order, the business has a few choices.

“This is not the end of the road for them,” said Zoning Board Chairman Ronald Spakauskas of the business.

In an interview after the hearing, Lindberg told The Landmark that farm owners can file an appeal to the courts to overturn the cease and desist order, they could come back to the zoning board with a new proposition for use and re-apply for a variance, or they could bring the issue to Town Meeting in May and try to change the zoning bylaws with a two-thirds vote.

However, the town’s position on the matter has stayed the same.

“The zoning board upheld the cease and desist order and there should be no weddings held there,” added Lindberg.

As far as fines go, SummitWynds hasn’t received any from the town. Lindberg said this is because it was unclear whether the town could oppose the fines during the appeal process so that will have to be determined by the court, he added.

Parker said she and Atkins are currently reviewing their legal options and intend to make a plan on how they will proceed soon.

As for Snow, she hopes a phone called scheduled with Parker this week will help her determine her next plan of action.

“There is a lot of finger pointing about what could have been done and should have been done but I don’t blame anyone,” said Snow, who added that she just wants a solid answer so she can figure out her plans as soon as possible. “I want to have my wedding there, but it is just one day. The residents live there every day.”

Return to top