SALISBURY TOWNSHIP ZONING HEARING BOARD
The grove can go on.
A unanimous 5-0 decision by the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board allows the South Mountain Grove to operate.
Based on the conditions of approval, two music festivals listed on social media as taking place in May at South Mountain Grove might be in conflict.
The approval for a special exception allows for resumption of events open to the public at the 18.5-acre grove, 400 E. Mountain Road, in the Mountainville area of the township. The grove is on the north side of South Mountain, south of East Emmaus Avenue and east of South Pike Avenue.
The grove, which includes an outdoor pavilion and an indoor facility with seating for 250, was given approval, with the following six conditions, at the March 3 zoning hearing.
• Hours of operation are limited to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
• The township noise standards, which is 65 decibels at the lot line of a dwelling, must be adhered to.
• Township light-glare standards must be met.
• Overnight camping is prohibited.
• No new construction or uses are allowed without zoning review.
• Boundary markings of the property must be designated.
Salisbury Township resident Robert Agonis displayed copies of advertisements from the eventbrite website for East Rock Roots Food Drive Music and Arts Festival 1 p.m. May 8 to 1 p.m. May 10 at South Mountain Grove.
“That kind of event would seem to be prohibited,” Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Atty. Kent Herman said.
Camping is not permitted in the township Conservation Residential Zoning District, where the South Mountain Grove is located, it was stated. Permission would probably be needed from the township to hold the music event, it was also stated.
The music fest documents were added as exhibits for the zoning hearing, a quasi-judicial proceeding for which a court stenographer recorded and typed testimony. Those at the hearing were sworn in by the stenographer.
According to the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board notice, the appeal by NEPA Investments, LLC, is for “a special exception to operate as a Picnic Grove, Commercial, with use permitted only by Special Exception, located within the CR, Conservation-Residential Zoning District.”
NEPA Investments LLC is owned by Joseph ElChaar, represented by Atty. Jason A. Ulrich of Gross McGinley, LLP, at the hearing.
Atty. William J. Fries sat in as solicitor for the zoning hearing board, substituting for zoning board solicitor, Atty. Victor F. Cavacini, of Gross McGinley, LLP.
Ten residents who attended the March 3 hearing held in the meeting room of the municipal building asked questions about how the grove would be operated.
Tickets for the East Rock Roots festival, according to the eventbrite website, were to go on sale Jan. 18.
Participants in the music fest are listed as: Stateside, Over the Bridge, Mad Dabbers, Lunch Trucks, P-Funk North, Adwela & the Uprising, DJ Discreet, TreeHouse, Crime Bomb, Under the Sun, The Main Street Sweep, ITO & the Moonlight Hippies, The Keystone Drifters, Ill Rendition, Lnj Sessions, Redwood, Secondhand, Mike Pinto, Live art from Kelsey O’Dell.
Also listed on event-brite is Pennsylvania Roots Music & Arts Festival, May 22, 23, 24, billed as “3 days of Music, Live Art, Good Vibes ...” 1 p.m. May 22 to 10 p.m. May 24. The organizer is listed as East Rock Roots.
An Over the Bridge Facebook page lists the East Rock Roots May 8 and May 9 Festival with the same lineup.
The East Rock Roots Family page on Facebook includes a March 6 post by Sammy Winslow: “Just got my tickets for East Rock Roots Food Drive Music and Arts Festival ... So stoked ... Did you?”
On his Facebook page, Sammy Winslow is listed as owner at East Rock Roots and promoter at Silverback Music. Winslow’s Facebook page displays a photo posted March 2 which appears to be the South Mountain Grove pavilion, where volunteers are sought to “help East Rock Roots at South Mountain Grove.”
Winslow’s Facebook page also advertises the Pennsylvania Roots Music & Arts Festival, May 22, 23, 24 at South Mountain Grove.
A Feb. 23 post and photo on Winslow’s Facebook page lists Winslow at South Mountain Grove.
A Feb. 6 post and photo of what appears to be the South Mountain Grove pavilion on Winslow’s Facebook page states: ”We are looking to start booking for your Music Festival at our new spot ... we can host 1,500 people with pavilion ... bathrooms ... camping ... huge stage ... and sound ... and lighting .. hit us up for full details.”
The East Rock Roots Instagram account lists the May 8 and 9 festival at South Mountain Grove, which was posted three days ago.
A Feb. 22 East Rock Roots Instagram account listing, with a photo of what appears to be the South Mountain Grove pavilion, states: “East Rock Roots presents South Mountain Grove. Coming This Spring in Allentown, Pa.”
The eastrockroots.com website was blocked when a reporter for The Press tried to access it from a company computer.
ElChaar testified at the zoning hearing he had spoken with a representative of the East Rock Roots music festival, as well as representatives of several other organizations, including a Ukrainian church group and a disc-golf game group, inquiring about use of the grove.
“We have no agreement, although I was contacted by a representative of the group [East Rock Roots],” ElChaar said.
ElChaar testified he emphasized to those who contacted him approval for public use of the park must be granted by the township.
ElChaar and Ulrich said the grove will be run in accordance with township ordinances so as not to disrupt the lives of neighbors.
“We will make sure anything that happens there [at the grove] is contained,” ElChaar said.
ElChaar, who purchased the grove in 2015, said he has held events there for family and employees.
“I used it for family functions,” ElChaar testified.
“It’s going to be exactly as it used to be,” ElChaar told zoners. “The only thing we’re adding is community days, bringing students together.
“I live in there. I’m not here to fight with the neighbors,” ElChaar said, who with his wife, Karen El-Chaar, director of the City of Allentown Department of Parks & Recreation, lives in an historic home adjacent to the grove.
In response to a question from Ulrich concerning the traffic impact of use of the grove, ElChaar said, “Anywhere from 100 to 150 people would be there.”
In answer to another question by Ulrich about parking, ElChaar said, “There’s plenty of parking. We did a count. There could be up to 200 vehicles.”
According to testimony at the zoning hearing, it is believed but not certain the grove was last open to the public in 2000.
South Mountain Grove’s listing on the hubbiz website states it specializes in banquets, anniversaries and reunions, business meetings, funerals and memorials and indoor weddings.
South Mountain Grove’s listing on Menu-Pix states: “This restaurant has been reported as permanently closed.”
Residents who live near the grove also testified at the March 3 hearing.
“I don’t remember any activity except cleaning up. It looks very nice,” Ruth Schmoyer said.
“My property is adjacent to the property,” George Beris said. “If a disc golf course goes in and it involves taking down trees, they would have to be put back. It sounds like the disc golf plans are up in the air, so to speak.”
“I don’t know anything about disc golf,” ElChaar said. “I play golf at the municipal golf course in Allentown.”
“I object to the Frisbee golf,” Jill Stanley said. “You’re going to have to cut down trees and probably use a Weedwacker®. And Salisbury is designated as a Bird Town [by the Audubon Society]. And Frisbee golf is very disruptive to native birds and migrating birds.”
“If you’re worried about trees, you don’t know who I’m married to. I can’t even cut a tree limb,” ElChaar said.
Regarding disc golf, Fries said, “It would seem that he [ElChaar] would have to put in a separate application.
“A campground would not be permitted except by a variance,” Fries said.
Salisbury Township Assistant Township Manager and acting Director of Planning and Zoning Sandy Nicolo, said no township record of an application for the property’s use as a picnic grove could be found.
“I can recall Bethlehem Steel workers used to have picnics there in the 1970s,” Zoner Ronald Evans said.
“I’m here to learn from you. I’ve never operated a grove, so this will be a learning experience for me,” ElChaar said.
“It’s always been a grove. And so it should remain so,” Rodger Schmoyer Jr. said.
Fries said, “This grove existed for eons, if you will, before the [township] zoning law went into effect,” adding to ElChaar, “You have a right to continue that use.
“That’s a straight-forward analysis. This use is permitted,” Fries said.
Zoner Joseph Kovach asked whether or not alcoholic beverages would be sold or consumed at the grove.
Ulrich said Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board special event permits can be obtained.
“So, there may be consumption of alcohol, but no sale of alcohol?” Kovach asked.
“Correct,” Ulrich responded.
ElChaar said he had dropped plans, presented as a sketch plan at a Sept. 12, 2017, township planning commission meeting to construct a 144-unit apartment complex of six four-story buildings on the grove property.
An estimated 55 township residents filled the municipal building meeting room to standing-room-only for the approximate one hour and 10 minute Sept. 12, 2017, presentation, discussion and public commentary.
The project, an age-restricted apartment complex, was to include a clubhouse and recreation area.
Because it was a sketch plan, planners were not required to vote on the proposal.