Take a good look at the photo inserted into this editorial. It is a photo taken last year of a special needs child from the Child and Career Development Center at the Chester County Intermediate Unit visiting The Barn at Spring Brook in Pocopson Township.
The Barn at Spring Brook is a non-profit off Locust Grove Road that helps handicapped youth by providing assisted activities in a farm setting. Since it opened eight years ago, hundreds and hundreds of special needs children got the joy of a lifetime from the activities held there.
The child pictured died in July 2013, but we were told one of the best experiences of his life was when he got to feed the donkey, brush the donkey and pulled wool off the sheep at The Barn at Spring Brook Farm.
The Barn at Spring Brook will be closing Sept. 1, mainly due to a dispute with a neighbor to the north. After a visit from the township’s code enforcement officer recently, ordinance violations were discovered. In the end, officials mandated that Spring Brook needed to make 33 improvements to get a conditional educational use permit. Those improvements will cost Spring Brook in the neighborhood of $100,000.
There’s good reason municipalities have building code laws: to keep us safe and to help us maintain some degree of privacy. All property owners must conform to municipal code ordinances, and even though The Barn at Spring Brook Farm is a non-profit agency, it is not exempt.
But we feel Pocopson supervisors, and its code enforcement officer, went too far in their conditional demands.
For instance, Number 19: “There shall be no birthday parties, holiday parties, graduation parties, religious celebrations or similar activities … ”
Or Number 20: “The riding of animals at part of the educational use shall be prohibited.”
Is it really in the supervisors’ purview to regulate birthday parties for special needs children? Birthday parties have been held at the Barn for eight years. And how is having a birthday party at The Barn different from parties thrown by other barn owners in Pocopson Township? Will they too be prohibited from having guests over and celebrating birthdays?
And how is it that people in Pocopson can give riding lessons without a permit, but The Barn now is prohibited from allowing special needs children ride a miniature horse?
And what’s interesting is that there has never been one injury to a child during the eight years of operation. Dan Stark, executive director at The Barn, says safety is and always has been the utmost priority.
We’re curious why the supervisors set stricter conditions than even the township’s planning commission’s recommendations.
Officials at The Barn said if given more time, they would meet all 33 conditions imposed by supervisors. The board granted an extension until Sept. 1. But The Barn officials said it needs more time to raise $100,000 and because it can’t meet the township’s deadline, it must close. The township is not relaxing its Sept. 1 deadline.
Over the years, The Barn has been a very good neighbor in Pocopson. It receives funding from many community initiatives, such as The Mushroom Festival, The Kennett Run and The Longwood Rotary Club. It exists only because its founder, Mary Beth Drobish, gives her heart to aiding special needs children.
Understandably the story has caused quite a stir in the community. Donations have been pouring in, and there are talks about circulating a petition. We hope common sense rules and the elected officials in Pocopson can listen to the hundreds of voices in the community telling them that The Barn is simply too valuable a resource to lose. Pocopson officials must work with The Barn on setting equitable conditions, and a time extension.