West Brandywine Township Board of Supervisors is reviewing two conditions for a bed and breakfast located on Germany Hollow Road.
Township resident Dr. Gordon Eck has converted his home and the surrounding 80 acres, where he and his family continue to live, into a bed and breakfast. In addition to the bed and breakfast, the home and property also holds wedding ceremonies. Eck had originally asked the board in 2002 for permission through a conditional use hearing.
A conditional use hearing allows the board to evaluate whether a proposed use is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The board can place "fair and reasonable conditions" which must be met by the applicant. These conditions aid the use to work in an already existing community. In 2002, Eck received two conditions which he is now asking the board to modify further.
When Eck first applied for the bed and breakfast permission, the board asked him for maximum numbers of people he expected and a reasonable time for the operations to cease outside. Eck stated at the time he believed 10 p.m. and 200 guests would be the maximum number of guests his wedding business would have. Eck is now asking for a midnight curfew and 400 guests. Eck said he uses approximately 43 acres, approximately half of Eck's property, for the wedding events.
Eck had originally promised to put 15 acres into a conservation easement which would permanently restrict the property from being developed. Eck went beyond that minimal effort and created an easement for 45 acres. At the board of supervisors meeting, Eck further explained he had not been in the wedding business and learned over the years since the original conditional use hearing he believed midnight would be a reasonable time, considering some religious ceremonies need to start at night. With summer sunsets as late as 9 p.m., Eck felt midnight would be a better time to terminate their wedding events.
Eck further stated the business has connections with local hotels and bus service from that location shuttles many wedding guests to the site. Parking has never been an issue, according to Eck, and the bus service would allow more guests onto the property. Eck's attorney Ross Unruh said, "There had only been one noise complaint to the police since the wedding business began and that was in the beginning." Eck took immediate steps to fix those sound problems. According to Eck, there have been no complaints since then.
Supervisor Joe Obernier said, considering the property's size of over 80 acres, he felt 500 guests and staff total would not be unreasonable, and did not have a problem with the events ceasing at midnight. However, he said he wanted something written into the opinion and order, the official document listing the conditions, that if neighbors registered complaints Eck would not object to re-opening the conditional use hearing for further review.
Supervisor Carl Lindborg said he had appreciated Eck's effort in the conservation easement. He also felt the extension of the original conditions was a good fit because of the property's 85-acre size.
Eck also has plans to build an accessory building on the property to be used for wedding ceremonies.
"The accessory building would look like around 1800 building," said Eck.
He also plans to build a barn for storage. The barn will be created from the Bentley Homes barn located on Route 322. That barn will be dismantled and brought to the Eck property and restored some time in the future.
In February, Eck brought his new plans before the township planning commission. The planning commission works as an advisory board on many issues including conditional use hearings. The board voted 5 to 1 to approve the plan. Planning Commission member Steve Jakatt was absent for that meeting. Member Jack Conti was the lone member to not approve the amendments to the original conditional use hearing.
At the time, Conti said he felt the new conditions changed the nature of the home occupation ordinances and moved Eck's home from the concept of a home occupation to a commercial use in a residential neighborhood. Conti said he believed the board had given Eck a very liberal interpretation of a home occupation and this concept's extension went too far.
The topic came up again in March during a general discussion on the planning commission problems. The board of supervisors had criticized the planning commission for sending plans to the board for approval without "clean letters from the engineer." Conti said he had regretted not being able to research other bed and breakfast's that had weddings prior to the February meeting.
"All of the bed and breakfast's I checked out ended at 10 p.m.," said Conti
Planning Commission member Chuck Dobson said he had thought about what Conti had said the month earlier and said he felt Conti was right in the assertion of changing the residence into more of a commercial use. Other members said they felt rushed to a decision. However, they also felt they should notify the applicant of their change of heart.
Jakatt went to the board of supervisors to tell them of their commission's differences of opinion and was immediately shot down. However, Jakatt failed to state clearly the opinion change occurred at the March planning commission meeting. Without other planning commission members present at the board of supervisors meeting, the board and attorney Ross Unruh felt Jakatt was overstepping his bounds in speaking for the entire planning commission.
The board of supervisors has 45 days to render a decision on the modification to the original opinion and order.