media picks up on smithfield barn

barn 1Yep. The media is onto the Smithfield Barn story. Upper Uwchlan may wish to stop playing possum on this one, huh?

They wait how many years before suddenly deciding to make a move on the Smithfield Barn on Little Conestoga Road?  Their employees and employees of local school districts all shop there (I have seen them with my own eyes – always amusing when you see a school bus stop so the driver can go picking).  So yes, apparently I am not the only one who finds this move on their part suspect yes? Especially given, shall we say, the “development” of it all next door and across the street from Smithfield Farm?

I wrote a post on December 27th about this and it has now surpassed in readership even the posts about Justice for Argus & Fiona.  After I wrote the story a lot of interest cropped up. From media and people all across the country. And I was inundated with comments and messages, including ones that were interpreted by many to be distinctly unpleasant.  Makes you wonder if that is how they roll over there in that township of Upper Uwchlan? Sheesh, even those who are not fans of media and bloggers in West Vincent weren’t so bad.

And yes the media is interested. And yes the first media story broke today.  It is by Tim Lake of PaNewz.com .

PANewz.com: Pa Picker’s country barn sale shut down by township as McMansions move in

Phil Smith is a self-described ‘Picker’ whose popular Smithfield Farm ‘Barn Sale’ has been shut down by his local Pa government

-1870s-era barn is filled with 30 years of ‘picking’ around old homes, estate sales and farms of Pa

Antiques, toys, glassware, collectibles, junk all sold in vintage Pa stone barn that drew buyers from eastern Pa, many other states

-Regular barn sales created ‘old timey’ social life in rapidly developing, former farm community now jokingly referred to as ‘McMansionville’

-Upper Uwchlan Township says Smithfield Farm was violating zoning regulations by operating as a business in a residential district, five years after barn sales began

-Timing of notice suspect because new ‘McMansion’ housing development  was just approved for across the road from Smithfield Farm

Smithfield Farm has a classic Pa stone barn first constructed around 1841 and later expanded  in the 1870s.  Smith says many people stopped at his barn sales just to get a glimpse inside the old barn. On sale days, items would fill the front lawn and the doors were flung open to reveal all the antiques, toys, furniture, collectibles, glassware and junk inside.  The barn is alongside Little Conestoga Road and the Pa Turnpike in Chester County, Pa.

….Smith says he was a ‘picker’ long before the TV show ‘American Pickers’ made the practice wildly popular.  Narrow pathways wind through the large barn, crammed with all kinds of useful antiques and household items and not so useful collectibles too…..Smithfield Barn is so crammed with collectibles that shoppers had to walk through narrow paths throughout the barn to find merchandise.  After five years of barn sales, the owners received a letter from Upper Uwchlan Township ordering them to stop the barn sales or face a $500 per day fine.  The township  cited the barn sales as a zoning violation for operating a business in a residential district.  Smithfield Farm contains about 14 acres in an area enclosed by a ‘Farm to Market’ type road and the Pa Turnpike.  Timing of the violation letter is suspect because the township had just approved a large new development of what local’s jokingly call ‘McMansions’, across the road.  The development of about 60 large homes will bring much needed road improvements, a large sewage treatment facility and a new park….Smithfield Farm is more than just a country barn sale. The original farmhouse was converted to a Victorian-style house that once held a boarding school.  The farm was originally in the Abrams-Fetters family, one of the oldest family names in the area formerly known as Uwchland.  It’s a vintage landmark among new homes in the former farm community…..Upper Uwchlan Township contains the picturesque village of Eagle that was once home to the iconic Simpson’s Store, a relic of the past with a pot belly coal stove and farm merchandise.  It was demolished several years ago to make way for a large shopping center, bank, and retail shops.  … Around the village, more than 10,000 housing units have either been built or are scheduled to be built in Upper Uwchlan.  With the rapidly changing nature of this once rural farm community, the days of old fashioned barn sales may be gone for good….Without a formal complaint, Smith and Nowak are concerned that the new housing development, which will likely resemble this Toll Brothers community a half mile way, may have spurred the decision to halt the barn sales.

Hmmm file under do not ask for whom the bell “Tolls”, it “Tolls” for thee?

I was waiting for Upper Uwchlan officials to really comment, but all I see are sound bytes from the township inspector Al Gaspari.  Guess he is the fall guy and is that penance of a sort? Wasn’t he in the middle of that scandal with the Township Manager being fired, and the missing rent money from the township owned farmhouse debacle not so long ago?

Anyway, Tim Lake is a seasoned journalist and former news anchor of a local affiliate of a major news network, so I would say maybe my suspicions weren’t so unrealistic if he took on the story?

And well there are other media folks nosing around who think something funky is a foot so is everyone wrong? Does Upper Uwchlan have a cut and dry case or cut and dry reasons for doing this?  Or is it just more about municipal greed and future development ratables and such?  And how can Al Gaspari stretch  the truth quite a bit by exaggerating how often the barn is actually open for barn sales? Upper Uwchlan and he would have you THINK they are open like every day and every weekend, but that is not true. I mean it is six shades of creepy and makes you wonder does Upper Uwchlan keep a log of the people who visit the Smiths and their immediate neighbors too? So 1950s cold war era McCarthyism of them, right?

But how would we know exactly what the motivation is? Upper Uwchlan hasn’t exactly been forthcoming have they? But not being forthcoming isn’t exactly new behavior for Upper Uwchlan officials is it?

Yes….Upper Uwchlan is no stranger to strange goings on:

Daily Local: Upper Uwchlan fires its manager

By DANIELLE LYNCH, Staff Writer      Posted:     03/06/12, 10:34 PM EST

UPPER UWCHLAN — Township supervisors announced the firing of Township Manager John Roughan Jr. at a standing-room-only meeting Monday night.

Roughan reacted Tuesday by saying he enjoyed his time working for Upper Uwchlan.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished there,” said Roughan, who began working for the township in October 1988. “I met some great people.”

The board’s decision to terminate Roughan falls on the heels of a controversial rental agreement on the Upland Farms property….Controversy over the Upland Farms agreement sparked in early February after township supervisors approved an occupancy agreement that requires Al Gaspari, the township’s code enforcement officer, to pay $400 a month to the township and “perform necessary upkeep and repairs on the property and coordinate capital repairs.”

Then in mid-February, former township Supervisor Don Carlson said there was already a rental agreement in place for the house in the 300 block of Route 100. The previous agreement was signed by Gaspari and Roughan in May 2004.

The farm site is still owned by Pulte Homes and is awaiting formal transfer to the township for use of taxpayer-owned open space….. the 56-acre site has a home, a barn and outbuildings.

Daily Local: Upper Uwchlan officials appoint new manager

By ERIC S. SMITH, Staff Writer   Posted:  03/07/12, 12:13

UPPER UWCHLAN — After going more than seven months without a township manager, township supervisors unanimously appointed a new manager Monday night.

The board selected Cary Vargo to fill a spot vacated in March after the board fired John Roughan Jr. His annual salary rate will be $95,000 for a 90-day probationary period, after which his pay rate would jump to $100,000 a year.

Vargo comes to Upper Uwchlan after serving as township manager in Thornbury for more than two years. Prior to that, Vargo served as a Coatesville police corporal. He had served on the force for eight years.

“I was interested in serving a quality community that was a little closer to home,” said Vargo, who resides in Amity Township, Berks County…..In February, the board passed an occupancy agreement allowing Al Gaspari, the township’s code enforcement officer, to stay there as long as he paid $400 a month and performed “necessary upkeep and repairs on the property and coordinate capital repairs.”

After this agreement passed, Don Carlson, who served as a township supervisor from 1994 until 2005, announced that an agreement had already been in place since 2004 for Gaspari to use the residence at a cost of $500 per month. The 2004 agreement was signed by both Gapsari and Roughan.

The 2004 agreement stipulates: “There will be a 10 percent penalty assessed for rent payment received the 10th day of the month.

“This agreement recognizes that the house will cost an average of $300 per month in utilities. The township will review utilities on a semiannual basis. You (Gaspari) may be liable for any utilities above a six-month period ($1,800).”

The board later brought in Bob Bezgin, a certified public accountant, to perform an audit on rent transactions from May 2004 until December 2008. Bezgin found that only $8,000 of the $28,000 owed was paid by Gaspari. But Gaspari and Roughan had amended the agreement to account for the work done on the property by Gaspari.

Therefore, the board required Gaspari pay back $11,085.84 that it deems he owes in back rent.

Daily Local Editorial: Township should clear the air over firing of manager

The Upper Uwchlan Board of Supervisors fired the longtime township manager on Monday. But the action by the three-member member board, instead of bringing to a close the troublesome situation surrounding the house at Upland Farms and its occupancy by a township employee, has had the opposite effect of raising more questions.

John Roughan worked at the township since 1988 and steered it through a period of intense development. Like any government administrator, especially in a “small town” setting such as Upper Uwchlan, Roughan has his supporters and critics. But we think it only fair to the residents of the township and those who do business there that the supervisors lay out a case in public against him if they are to have any hope of putting the crisis behind them.

Transparency is among the functions of government that we value as highly as accountability and responsibility. When pubic officials lay their cards on the table as openly as possible and give the public the ability to make up its own mind, then we have representative democracy in action. When they do not, it works against that goal…..Controversy over the Upland Farms agreement sparked in early February after township supervisors approved an occupancy agreement that requires Al Gaspari, the township’s code enforcement officer, to pay $400 a month to the township and “perform necessary upkeep and repairs on the property and coordinate capital repairs.”

Then in mid-February, former township Supervisor Don Carlson said there was already a rental agreement in place for the house in the 300 block of Route 100. The previous agreement was signed by Gaspari and Roughan in May 2004, but payments appear to have stopped coming into township coffers along the way, and Gaspari seems to have been living on the property rent-free for some months.

So I am of the opinion (once again) that things are not necessarily as they seem in Upper Uwchlan and can’t you agree something is fishy?

Here’s hoping a lot more bog turtles and whatnot are found, right? After all, if this is the future of formerly bucolic parts of Chester County, well I am so sorry but do we all live out here so we can look at plastic houses all crammed together?

Remember my photos taken from the hot air balloon America 1 on Septermber 11, 2012? I took photos of development from the air? The photos I snapped were quite close to the Smithfield Barn of pre-existing development as we took off from a field in Upper Uwchlan.  And I remember smelling that rotten septic smell when we landed in a septic field of another development.  Is that what we are to be reduced to soon?  That the only open space we have left in Chester County are septic fields of plastic mushroom house developments?

development1

In my opinion (which I am entitled to) Upper Uwchlan destroyed the village of Eagle. But they got a nice township building, right?  Don’t let them destroy the Smithfield Barn too.  This is about development, isn’t it?

Barn sales and yard sales are part of Chester County life and a lot of fun. They should be allowed to continue. And this is a very nice family that I feel is being victimized by local government most unfairly. Please help Save The Barn! Barn Picking hurts no one.  And there are a lot of very poor people in that part of Chester County who need places like the Smithfield Barn so they can just get stuff for their homes – you know the basics like a kitchen table and chairs that aren’t over priced?

Upper Uwchlan

Guy A. Donatelli Chairperson 78 Stonehedge Drive Glenmoore, PA 19343

GDonatelli@upperuwchlan-pa.gov

Catherine A. Tomlinson Vice-Chairperson 788 North Reeds Road Downingtown, PA 19335

CTomlinson@upperuwchlan-pa.gov

Kevin C. Kerr Supervisor 16 Heron Hill Drive Downingtown, PA 19335

KKerr@upperuwchlan-pa.gov

140 Pottstown Pike Chester Springs, PA 19425 Phone: (610) 458-9400 Fax: (610) 458-0307

Cary Vargo Township Manager (610) 646-7008

cvargo@upperuwchlan-pa.gov