A Frederick County zoning official acted properly in denying a temporary permit to a wedding venue near Emmitsburg, according to the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
The board voted 3-2 Thursday night to deny the appeal of Bert and Debbie Newcomer, the owners of Engedi Estate, of the county zoning administrator’s decision.
Thursday’s hearing included testimony from several dozen witnesses, both in favor of allowing Engedi to continue operating and those urging that the county’s denial be upheld.
Ian Drucker, a minister who said he’s known the Newcomers for about 20 years and has performed two weddings at the estate, said the Newcomers are valuable members of the community.
"They are generous. They are looking out to the benefit and the betterment of other people," Drucker said.
Debbie Williams, executive director of the Patty Pollatos Fund, said the Newcomers’ ties to the community are deep, and they’ve done many missions trips and prison mission work at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center.
"I do know that both of them have servants’ hearts," Williams said.
Madeline Brown, whose wedding was held at the estate, said the amount of work and care that the Newcomers put into it is visible everywhere on the property.
"It is overwhelmingly obvious that they are what make this place so special," Brown said.
Engedi’s troubles have come as other wedding venues in the county have also encountered difficulties.
Shade Trees and Evergreens, near Libertytown, and Caboose Farm, near Sabillasville, shut down after county officials determined they had violated zoning regulations and didn’t have proper permits. Shade Trees and Evergreens filed for bankruptcy in July.
The Engedi permitting issue first arose in 2014, when the Newcomers applied for a special exception to operate the 30-acre farm as a country inn. That would have allowed them to allow temporary lodging and include features such as a restaurant, a banquet facility, or meeting rooms.
Debbie Newcomer has said the family began hosting weddings in 2008, and she limited the number to fewer than the 12 per year that she knew were permitted by a temporary activity permit.
The venue also used restrooms added to an existing building without a permit, although a permit was obtained later.
Among other issues, the family got a permit for a building to store farm equipment, but instead used it to house wedding receptions.
Before Thursday’s hearing, Bert Newcomer apologized for any inconveniences created by the family "going about things the wrong way, putting the cart before the horse." He said he never intended to mislead anyone.
Newcomer said he just wanted to start a family business.
Sue Bohrer, a neighbor who spoke at Thursday’s hearing, said the Newcomers operate as if the rules don’t apply to them. The only time they want to comply with the rules is after they get caught, she said.
Another neighbor, Annette Santos, said that if the Newcomers want to run a wedding venue, they should find a property where the zoning allows it. She said she was concerned about the value of her property being affected by noise and traffic from ceremonies.
Ann Sanders, who owns property that adjoins the Newcomers’, said she likely wouldn’t have bought her property if she had known that they planned to continue holding weddings at the site.