Advocates for Barn program in Pocopson make case

Dan Stark , executive director of the Barn, addresses supervisors at a meeting inPocopson Township on expansion. "We need to be able to increase it to be sustainable," he said. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Dan Stark , executive director of the Barn, addresses supervisors at a meeting inPocopson Township on expansion. "We need to be able to increase it to be sustainable," he said. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 16, 2014

The Barn at Spring Brook Farm, a Chester County facility where children with special needs can go to help care for animals, must be allowed to expand and serve more children if it is to survive, its representatives told the Pocopson Township Board of Supervisors on Monday.

About 100 people packed the gymnasium of Pocopson Township Elementary School for the meeting to express concerns over the future of the Barn. Several said they were worried about increased traffic and noise that could result from allowing the organization to grow.

"It sounds like the increase in numbers is huge, just huge," resident Susan Woodward said.

Others accused the board of trying to run the Barn out of business by imposing heavy-handed and unnecessary restrictions.

"The Barn is a very unique and valuable asset to our community," said former Supervisor Bruce Yelton. "The township should be working to permanently keep this asset."

Monday's meeting came after the Barn announced it would shut its doors after eight years because it could not comply with new stipulations from the township, a decision that outraged patrons and many community members.

The board has asked the Barn to meet all stipulations by Sept. 1. On Monday, an attorney for the Barn asked that the deadline be extended to March.

Members of the Board of Supervisors made no decisions on the Barn during Monday's meeting, but several expressed support of the organization and said they wanted to see it succeed.

"The supervisors' objective was to balance competing interests in a residential neighborhood," said Supervisor Vicki Stumpo.

Dan Stark, executive director of the Barn, said the organization would ask the township to relax the zoning conditions so that the property could host more children, as well as more fund-raising events.

"We need to be able to increase it to be sustainable," Stark said.

Problems for the Barn started about two years ago, when a neighbor complained about parking, noise, and traffic. In the process of speaking with the township, the Barn's owners realized they did not have proper zoning.

The facility requested an educational conditional use, which the township granted in December on the condition that the Barn complied with a series of stipulations.

Some, like adding handicapped parking spaces, building a new bathroom, and reconstructing entrances, require a financial commitment Stark estimates could reach $1 million.

Other conditions limit the number of children the barn can serve (16 each week for summer camp), the types of events it can hold (no birthday parties or holiday celebrations), and how many fund-raisers it can host on its property (one hoedown from 6 to 10 p.m. for a maximum of 150 people).

Stark said those limitations were more obstructive than the financial ones because they could keep the facility from attracting donors. On Monday, he said he would ask the township to allow eight more children each week, four more school field trips every three months, and two more fund-raisers per year.

The facility, which focuses on animal-assisted activities, was founded in 2006 by Mary Beth Drobish, who owns the 17-acre property and financed the project. Unlike therapeutic riding centers, where participants interact with horses to build communication and physical skills, children who take part in the Barn's classes or summer programs spend time grooming and feeding animals; tending a vegetable garden that serves the Chester County Food Bank; and taking part in other structured activities.

The grounds are home to miniature horses and donkeys, as well as rabbits, sheep, and a potbellied pig named Ms. Nancy.

While it serves all special-needs children, most who visit the Barn are on the autism spectrum, according to Stark, who said youngsters with communication challenges often open up when talking with animals.

"The animals have no expectation of interaction, so the child has no issues with saying whatever is on his or her mind," he said.


asteele@phillynews.com

610-313-8113 @AESteele

Inquirer staff writer Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.

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