Noise, history reasons to spike proposed Hellam winery, opponents say

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Opponents of a controversial proposed Hellam Township winery on Thursday listed noise, traffic and historical preservation as reasons local officials should scuttle the project. 

The hearing might have been beginning of the end of a two-year battle, which commenced when Springettsbury Township resident Bill Hewitt said he intended to purchase an English Tudor farmhouse on 10.6 acres on Libhart Mill Road and transform it into a vineyard, winery and wedding venue. 

The Crist family farm is shown in Hellam Township, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Potential buyers Bill and Wendy Hewitt hope to turn the property into a vineyard, winery and wedding venue. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The last two times the application came before us it was denied," said Hellam Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Galen Weibley. "The applicant did extensive design changes looking at zoning and complying with it. It's a very different design from what he originally proposed."

Christopher Monticchio, a licensed Pennsylvania engineer, and Randolph Harris, a Lancaster County historian, spoke before the supervisors on Nov. 8.

Monticchio's property is 1,200 feet south of the proposed location of the winery. 

More:Hellam's 2-year winery battle nears closing act

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More:EDITORIAL: Hellam Township should stop fighting lawful use of a property

Monticchio outlined a detailed report comparing data when there was a wedding at the site, at 2 p.m. Sept. 29, 2018, versus when there was no event. Examples of data included noise levels and vehicle count. 

Forty cars were reported to have passed the location on a nonevent day, compared to 100 cars and two buses during that wedding, he said. 

The Crist family farm in Hellam Township, where new owners, Bill and Wendy Hewitt, hope open a vineyard, winery and wedding venue.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Additionally, Monticchio said there were twice as many times when noise levels higher than 70 decibels were heard off the property during the event than when there were no events going on.

"Based on this analysis, it is apparent that the proposed use for this event will differ from the precedent set by other rural agricultural sites," Monticchio said. "It more closely resembles a site that would exist in a fully commercial zone." 

The proposed winery is allowed as a conditional use in the township's rural agriculture zone.

In response, Sarah Doyle, a lawyer representing Hewitt and his wife, questioned Monticchio's data and qualifications. 

The Crist family farm in Hellam Township, where new owners, Bill and Wendy Hewitt, hope open a vineyard, winery and wedding venue.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Doyle countered that other large vehicles — such as school buses, trucks and farm equipment — already travel on Libhart Mill Road, a point Monticchio conceded. 

The person who conducted the noise levels Monticchio did not have a background in acoustic engineering, she said. 

The battle over the property began in late 2017, when the Hewitts submitted their first conditional use application to the township.

The Board of Supervisors denied the application in 2018, so the Hewitts appealed. The Court of Common Pleas reversed the board's decision, saying the board didn't have the grounds to deny an application that met all of the zoning requirements.

But neighbors appealed the court's reversal, sending it to Commonwealth Court.

A sign opposing a proposed winery and wedding venue in Hellam Township sits along the side of Libhart Mill Road on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.

The Commonwealth Court reversed the Common Pleas court decision, saying that the Hewitts failed to submit a detailed written plan about how they would address noise complaints.

Afterward, the Hewitts submitted a new application to the township, this time with a written plan for dealing with noise complaints.

Two additional opponents are slated to present testimony to the Board of Supervisors when it convenes 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the municipal building, 44 Walnut Springs Road.

Weibley said he is unsure if the board will take a vote determining the future of the proposed winery at the next meeting. 

"It'll be a discussion with the board members," Weibley said. "We might give it an extra meeting just to research to make sure this is a good decision for the community."

— Reach Tina Locurto at or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.