Judge rules for fundraising ‘Mama Strawberry Jam’
NORTHAMPTON The owners of a horse rescue operation got a reprieve Wednesday in their fight against the town of Northampton’s efforts to shut down their annual fundraiser.
Following several hours of testimony, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph M. Sise ruled the three-day “Mama Strawberry Jam” music festival can take place this weekend. The performances will start today.
Still to be determined, however, is whether the town’s new zoning code illegally targeted the family’s 54-acre property.
The town filed suit earlier this month against owner Deborah Bant, claiming new land use laws prohibit any entertainment events in residential areas.
Bant’s Solid Rock Ranch off Maple Grove Road, rezoned in 2012, is now situated in a “medium density residential” area.
Sise’s ruling wasn’t a complete victory for Bant. She was unable to produce a certificate from the state Health Department allowing people to pitch a tent at the site, so there will be no camping allowed.
Her attorney, Gerard Heckler, later Wednesday said he sees the ruling as a win for the family, which uses the event to raise money for the care of rescued horses.
“It’s very much a victory because [the town] wanted to stop the whole festival,” Heckler said.
The town’s attorney, Leah Everhart, argued that the town had cause to shut down the event, for reasons including the new zoning code.
She said thousands of people have been invited to the event via Facebook, and she got Bant to admit she didn’t have a backup plan in the event that portable toilets and handwash stations were insufficient.
And the band stage on the property, Everhart learned, was never issued a building permit, nor was the electricity inspected.
Everhart also contended that such events were never allowed on the property and criticized Bant’s reliance on a real estate agent who told her the property, prior to the new zoning, had no restrictions.
Ultimately, Sise ruled that the town didn’t establish any imminent threat of harm to the public — only fears of what could happen.
The court heard testimony about the festival taking place for the past 10 years without incidents injuring people.
There were noise complaints, however, which prompted the family to turn down the music.
“The court does look at the past 10-year history as proof of the type of event this is,” Sise said during his ruling.
Town officials had different views of the situation later Wednesday.
Town Board member William Gritsavage said the town should have done more to show the chance for harm were the event allowed to continue as planned.
“I’m not happy,” he said.
Town Supervisor Linda Kemper said the whole uproar over the Strawberry Jam started a few years ago with a noise complaint.
A small group of individuals have been making an effort to end the Strawberry Jam a consistent cause, Kemper said, but there have been others addressing the town in support of the function.
Kemper said she sees the situation as the first test for the town’s new zoning code, which replaced zoning established back in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Bant and her children, Cody Jean and James, were planning to strive for a last-minute Health Department permit in hopes of allowing camping.
A court date has not yet been set for further action on the zoning code’s impact on Bant’s property. Heckler said that battle remains to be fought.
People interested in the festival can learn more by searching “Mama’s Strawberry Jam” on Facebook or at www.Jambase.com.