The Arts Barn outside Orwigsburg is fighting for its life right now.
Tonight, the owner of the property where the popular non-profit business sits, will go before North Manheim Township zoning officials seeking a variance that would allow it to continue operating at 3 Berry Rd.
Deborah Cooper owns the North Manheim property and is vice president on the Arts Barn Art Center non-profit board of directors. She says she’s owned the property since 1978 and there’s been a business on it since 1985. The Arts Barn was previously The Toy Barn, and specialized in selling educational toys.
But that could all come to an end if zoners in North Manheim deny her request for a variance.
“We’re fighting for our lives here,” Cooper told The Canary on Sunday afternoon. “I’m going in terrified but I have a lot of support.”
The Arts Barn Seeks Variance to Continue Operating in North Manheim Township
Today, The Arts Barn is not only a place where customers can browse myriad handmade art and craft pieces, but also serves as a learning spot for numerous organizations around Schuylkill County.
When she got notice that The Arts Barn was suddenly non-compliant with North Manheim’s zoning code, Cooper says she was stunned.
“There is absolutely no reason to shut us down,” Cooper said.
The Arts Barn property sits in an area of North Manheim Township marked RA (Residential-Agricultural).
As North Manheim’s zoning rules are written, at least at a non-legal glance, The Arts Barn is technically a non-conforming use.
But why, after so long, are these zoning laws being enforced? The Arts Barn isn’t exactly a business that’s going to make a lot of noise or lead to an eyesore.
And then there’s the fact that it’s been on this property for decades, with another business that came before it. It’s well advertised and not exactly a secret.
“We enhance the environment,” Cooper said. “Everyone loves our gallery. We want to continue our mission.”
It does seem that North Manheim’s enforcement of its zoning law in regard to The Arts Barn is completely arbitrary. Not only has there been a business operational on this property since the mid-1980s, it’s been at least 11 years since changes were made to North Manheim zoning rules related to properties zoned RA.
And it’s unclear if the changes made to the rules regarding RA properties affected The Arts Barn.
“No one’s ever brought anything up,” Cooper told us ahead of tonight’s zoning hearing.
Cooper’s not headed into tonight’s zoning hearing alone. She’s being represented by attorney Gretchen Sterns, who declined to comment on the matter since it’s pending before the zoning board.
And Cooper’s also got tremendous community support behind her. She told us she’s gotten a lot of messages of support since learning of the zoning board’s decision to act on the business’s non-compliance.
She said she’s worried about her business, of course, but also the many artists and organizations that have made use of The Arts Barn over the years.
Cooper said, “If this place disappears, where are these artists going to put their work?”
Stay with The Canary as we’ll provide updates from tonight’s zoning hearing and a full report to follow.
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