Valley View Farm in Williamsburg Pitches Event Venue

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 1, 2016, by Fran Ryan

Valley View Farm is seeking permission from the town to convert an old barn on its Walpole Road site into a venue that could accommodate roughly 50 events a year.

The request by owners Susan Fortgang and her husband David Nehring calls for fixing up the 100-year-old, post-and-beam barn to host events that could accommodate up to 200 guests at the 16 Walpole Road farm.

The couple’s request for a special permit will be reviewed at a joint meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board Wednesday night, when the latter board will present findings of its review of the project, Planning Board Chairman James Locke said.

The venue plan is separate from a recent three-day event the farm hosted called “Realm of Fire,” an outdoor theater production that took place along candlelit trails through forest and meadows on the farm.

Town officials, farmers and the public were mostly positive about Valley View’s venue plan at a Planning Board-ZBA joint public hearing in September, Town Clerk Brenda Lessard said.

“The people who spoke, spoke in favor of the farm and there were also a lot of farmers who showed up to lend their support,” Lessard said.

She noted that the town received one letter of opposition from Kevin Wilson of 5 Walpole Road.

Wilson said he’s worried that Walpole Road is too small and ends in a dead end, which could hinder first responder access during emergencies.

“It is the access that has always been the problem for me,” Wilson said.

Fire Chief Jason Connell, however, said that the road is a little tight at the entrance, but not tight enough to cause substantial difficulties.

“Everything that we looked at was fine. There is plenty of space at the top, with adequate parking and access,” Connell said. “We have also worked with the owners on an emergency action plan.”

Permitting problems

Wilson also alleges Valley View’s owners have been renovating and using the proposed building venue without proper permits.

“The couple is just ignoring town regulations and in the meantime, they have not only built it, but they just had a big event up there,” Wilson said. “All of this was done as far as I am concerned in violation of the zoning bylaw.

Fortgang and Nehring bought the barn in 2014 from Mount Holyoke College and had it disassembled and relocated to the farm. A building permit was granted that year for the cement foundation for the barn. A subsequent building permit was issued in 2015 for small addition to the barn for a kitchen and bathroom facilities.

However, no building permit was granted for the actual renovations to the original barn, according to Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck. He issued a stop order on April 20, 2016, along with a $100 fine for work that continued on April 21-22.

Hasbrouck said that he cannot issue a building permit until the ZBA first issues the special permit for the event venue.

“We have been at this for three years and it has been such a learning curve,” Fortgang said. “Unfortunately, there is nobody to hold your hand while you are learning it.”

Hasbrouck said last week that the “situation has been difficult” but that he has been working to help the couple through the process.

As for the use of the building, Fortgang says that while several events have been held on the property, none have involved the use of the barn.

She said the farm has permission to use the kitchen and bathroom in the barn’s addition for events such as the “Realm of Fire” outdoor theater production and that it hasn’t used the barn for any events.

Hasbrouck said that he will be at the meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the stop work order and whether or not he feels the barn has been used in any way.

Outdoor event venue

In 2013 Fortgang and Nehring approached the town with a request to operate an outdoor event venue, but they withdrew that request to better prepare for the permitting requirements.

Since then, Fortgang says they have produced a new site layout, done an environmental sound study, a drainage and erosion control plan, stormwater runoff analysis and a traffic impact study, costing the farm $100,000. Fortgang said that the total amount she and Nehring have spent on the entire project is $2 million since buying the farm in 2013.

“This process almost broke me,” Fortgang said. “I can’t wait until this is over and we finally can get into business.”

The Planning Board-ZBA joint meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Offices auditorium, 141 Main St., in Haydenville.