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Temporary agreement reached between Lebanon County winery, township after cease-and-desist

N. CORNWALL TWP., Pa. - A Lebanon County winery and township authorities came to a temporary agreement Wednesday that will allow the winery to continue hosting events at their business after it received a cease-and-desist notice in August.

The Royal Oaks Vineyard and Winery has only been open since June, selling wine and hosting wine-themed events on its property in the township.

"Like I tell everybody that comes here, this is an extension of their backyard, only we get to clean up for them, so they can have a good time and relax and we'll clean up," said Becky Firestone, the winery's general manager.

The business and some neighbors say they felt blindsided by the cease-and-desist order issued in August, which claimed the business was making excessive noise, allowing food trucks and blocking traffic. More than a thousand people signed an online petition supporting the winery.

"I thought it was nuts," said Terry Alwine, who lives next door. "They've been great neighbors. We've been here going on 38 years and never had anything like this before and I thought this is great. I'd rather have this than, quite honestly, neighbors."

The winery claims it only received one phone call complaining about noise, a claim disputed by an attorney who says he represents nine neighbors upset about issues with the winery.

"There have been letters that various people have sent to the township, either email or whatever," said Keith Kilgore, the group's attorney. "Whether the township passed that on to Mr. Hartmann [the winery owner], I don't know the answer to that."

Township officials believe the winery went beyond the conditions of its permit, possibly under a reading of the state's Right to Farm Act.

They negotiated a temporary agreement with the winery as a zoning hearing was to begin Wednesday evening. Under the agreement, no street parking or parking in nearby land recently acquired by the winery is permitted. No food trucks are permitted, and the only music allowed must be acoustic, indoors and without amplification.

"The burden is going to be pretty much on them to persuade us to do something else, as far as a permit," said township solicitor Thomas Harlan.

The winery alleges the township encouraged it to think bigger for years after only initially planning on selling wine from a stand, and finds the notice highly contradictory to what they were told.

It's frustrating "to be told that you have to stop doing these things," Firestone said. "In order to survive, we have to promote this way, and we have to do these events, or we will go out of business."

The township and the winery will have 30 days to negotiate a permanent solution. Otherwise, a zoning hearing to make a determination will be held on November 15.