Dundee Farm, A Community Asset
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) members in a small Pennsylvania borough’s Historical-Rural Residential district are being dragged through the courts for carrying on normal farming operations. Dundee Farm and Fields, LLC has historically raised sheep, produced wool products, grown and sold flowers, herbs and vegetables, and raised bees for local honey. They have long been active in the community and were known for hosting charitable and church events, as well as offering farm demonstrations. In the fall of 2017, Sewickley Heights Borough cited farm owners Scott and Terri Fetterolf with a total of 25 alleged zoning violations, including operating as a “place of worship” (for conducting Bible studies), operating a “school” (for teaching a cheesemaking class) without a permit, and operating a commercial event space unlawfully (for hosting a farm-to-table dinner to celebrate a wedding).
Dundee Farm has, through its activities, been a much-praised asset to the community with its sharing of farm culture through demonstrations like how to use wool from the farm’s sheep. In addition to the illegitimate nature of some of the alleged violations, the borough actually charged the Fetterolfs with hosting many events that never took place. The borough also stated that they inspected the Fetterolf property but their own testimony refuted that claim, as the zoning officer testified that she had never stepped foot on their property.
A Neighbor Complaint
The whole debacle began with a neighbor complaint, resulting in the Fetterolfs meeting with borough officials in August of 2017. This meeting resulted in the borough giving permission for Terri Fetterolf to “finish her year” of one wedding and a few charitable events, after which the two parties would meet again to address the neighbor complaints. Immediately after the last event, Dundee Farm was served with the Notice of Violations for 26 separate incidents, which included the very events that the Fetterolfs were given permission to complete. In 2016, the complaining neighbor knowingly moved onto property contiguous with the established farming operation, yet the violations resulting from their complaints included events that occurred prior to their moving onto the land.
Rather than accept the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, which found only violations of hosting a “studio” or “school” because of farm demonstrations, the borough appealed to a higher court. The PA Commonwealth Court reversed the lower court’s decisions regarding the Fetterolfs’ holding of approved events, causing the case to now be in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This latest appeal may have important implications to the interpretation of the PA Right to Farm Act. Despite historic presence of Dundee Farms as a working farm since the early 1900s, the borough appears more interested in restricting agricultural and related activities than it does in supporting the survival of family farms.
The Mayor Nextdoor
The Fetterolfs also share a property line with Sewickley Heights Mayor John Oliver, who has made public statements regarding the case via various media outlets and letters to borough residents against the Fetterolfs. Because of the adversarial nature of the litigation, the Fetterolfs installed prominent “No Trespassing” signs on their property entrances. In April 2021 the mayor and his wife willfully trespassed onto the Fetterolfs’ property, and bicycled a half mile onto their 32 acres, well past the signage. Terri Fetterolf, a subpoenaed witness against the Mayor and borough, was alone on the property at the time, and asked the Mayor and his wife to leave but since they refused, she called 911.
Due to the known adversarial law case, multiple police departments were dispatched, and the Mayor and his wife were confronted and asked to leave. Video shows Terri quite distressed. She was taken to the ER, hospitalized, suffered a cardiac event, and is currently in rehabilitation. Despite the fact that Terri was asked and she affirmed that she wanted the Mayor to be charged with trespassing, the local prosecutor has yet to charge the Mayor and his wife. This is a particularly egregious mistreatment of justice in light of the circumstances of this whole case.
It is an unanswerable question as to why local officials are waging such a vociferous fight against a historic farm that has been a great asset to the community for over 100 years. We can only hope that Dundee Farm prevails in the end, as it will be to the benefit to farmers across the country and local communities who want fresh products.
YOUR FUND AT WORK
Services provided by FTCLDF go beyond legal representation for members in court cases.
Educational and policy work also provide an avenue for FTCLDF to build grassroots activism to create the most favorable regulatory climate possible. In addition to advising on bill language, FTCLDF supports favorable legislation via action alerts and social media outreach.