The Wedding Barn Craze – Be Cautious

Posted on Dec 18, 2014 in All Articles, Local Area Articles, Weddings and Party Articles

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Judge shuts down Rapho wedding barn

A Lancaster County judge ruled Friday that an illegal “wedding barn” in Rapho Township must shut down immediately, a decision likely to send a half-dozen local couples scrambling to find a new venue as their nuptials approach.

Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Judge Donald Totaro issued a preliminary injunction against Carl and Nancy Garman, 196 N. Erisman Road, who had seven weddings or receptions scheduled in their wood bank barn — including a ceremony slated to be held today.

Following Totaro’s ruling, Carl Garman said the couple, close family friends, knew the court could order the barn closed, and would hold their ceremony elsewhere.

Earlier this month, bride-to-be Nicole Kurtz pleaded with township officials to let the barn remain open. Attempts to reach Kurtz family members Friday were unsuccessful.

Signed settlement agreement because ‘gun was to my head’

Carl Garman admitted in court that a total of seven weddings or receptions were planned for the barn in the coming weeks — despite the fact that in January, he’d signed a settlement agreement with the township vowing to cancel all upcoming events.

He said he only signed the agreement because “the gun was to my head and I felt I had no other choice… but I couldn’t get [all the events] canceled in time.”

He also said he felt bad about disappointing those who were planning on using the barn.

“The wedding that was scheduled [for Saturday], he promised his daughter he’d let her get married there,” said Garman.

“I had people crying, I was in a bad position. I kept thinking the Lord was going to let this all happen, I don’t know how.”

The township had tangled with Garman for years over the barn, granting him conditional approval to use the barn as a special events facility in June 2011. Township officials said the Garmans never met those conditions, which included installing a sprinkler system, exit signs and a paved parking area.

The Garmans continued to host events; township officials cited them for violations. In late October 2013 the township sent the Garmans a cease-and-desist letter, “but we were informed the Garmans continued to use the barn for weddings” and other events, said township zoning officer David Eggert.

On the stand, Garman said the legal paperwork informed him he could be fined up to $500 per violation. “I thought, rather than hurt the bride and groom [by canceling a wedding or reception] I’d just pay the fine.”

That didn’t sit well with Totaro. “Your testimony was that what you were doing was wrong, you knew it was wrong and you thought you’d just pay the fine,” he said.

“That’s very troubling.”

The dispute landed in District Judge Scott Albert’s court in January, resulting in both sides signing the settlement agreement.

Zoning officer Eggert said township officials heard whispers that the Garmans were violating the agreement — rumors confirmed earlier this month when someone emailed officials a wedding invitation for the event scheduled for the barn today.

The township then acted and asked Totaro to issue the preliminary injunction.

“This is about public safety,” said Eggert, noting that the barn was not up to uniform construction code standards, has no central heating, no public water supply and that “if a fire did break out, they’d have to use available water.”

Garman argued that the risk of fire in the barn was very low, and that “the people who come to me to ask to use the barn see the conditions.”

Garman’s son, Bruce, told the court his father thought it would be all right to continue holding events in the barn for friends and family. “He’s not doing this for monetary gain,” said Bruce Garman. “My brother got married there, my sister got married there. My cousins, they want to get married in Grandpa’s barn.”

Carl Garman said that in addition to the wedding originally scheduled for today, another is scheduled for next Saturday, March 22, and another a month after that.

Totaro noted that his ruling would create hardship for those planning to get married at the barn, but said that couldn’t impact his decision.

Noting that Garman testified that the wedding originally scheduled for today had been booked in August or September, just a month before the township sent its cease and desist letter, Totaro said “You could have at that time chosen not to proceed with the wedding scheduled for tomorrow, you could have contacted these individuals and given them five to six months to find another location. And yet you did not do so.

“This was a situation created not by the township, not by the court, but by you,” Totaro told Garman. “And the primary concern of this court has to be public safety.”

The preliminary injunction took effect immediately and will remain in effect until a full hearing can be scheduled on the matter next week.

Source: By GIL SMART | Staff Writer , LancasterOnline  Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 12:57 pm