Bainbridget Trustees to Appeal Farm Ruling
September 21, 2023 by Private: Brian Doering

Bainbridge Township Trustees voted Sept. 11 to appeal Geauga County Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Paschke’s ruling on Kelly’s Working Well Farm and the Chagrin Valley Learning Collective.

Bainbridge Township Trustees voted Sept. 11 to appeal Geauga County Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Paschke’s ruling on Kelly’s Working Well Farm and the Chagrin Valley Learning Collective.

A group of farm supporters attended the meeting, sharing stories and information to help the trustees make the best decision for the township, and were surprised by trustees’ decision to appeal.

“The trustees told us that ‘it isn’t personal,’ it isn’t even about our farm and whether or not it is safe for agritourism. They don’t like the law and they want to use our farm as an example to change it. They want to make it more difficult for farms to engage in agritourism,” Farm owner Kelly Clark said in a letter to the Geauga County Maple Leaf.

After a years-long battle with Bainbridge Township officials, Paschke ruled in favor of the farm and collective on Aug. 24. Both entities were last in court for a bench trial Feb. 7 over a legal dispute with Bainbridge Township regarding the agritourist character of their businesses.

Paschke said the immersive farm programs held on the farm property constituted “agritourism” under Ohio law, and that such programming is protected by Ohio’s agritourism statute, as well as the court’s previous directives, according to a press release from Andrew J. Karas, Clark’s attorney.

Clark and her husband, William Roe, owners of the farm at 16519 S. Franklin St., have been embroiled in numerous disputes with the township over the past few years, which have included fire code violations.

They purchased their 6-acre parcel of land in Bainbridge in July of 2012 and have since filed to incorporate the farm as an Ohio nonprofit established for agricultural education purposes.

“We learned that it didn’t matter that we have resolved all of the citations involving buildings that we would like to use for agritourism. Meanwhile, the fire inspector refuses to inspect, insisting that he is not qualified to determine if the hazardous conditions which he had originally cited still remain. In her ruling, Judge Paschke noted that use of a separate building inspector was not part of the agreement, implying that the responsibility for inspection is his alone,” Clark said in her letter.

It did not matter that since signing the consent decree, Clark and her husband have not allowed any agritourism participant inside their buildings in spite of the false township claims, Clark continued.

“It also didn’t matter that early in 2022, after the farm grounds were inspected and found to contain no serious or distinct hazards, the zoning and fire inspector signed an agreement allowing us to conduct agritourism activities on the farm,” she wrote. “Less than a month later, the township initiated the legal proceeding accusing us of violating the agreement by stating our intention to hold summer farm camp.”

It didn’t matter the case had used up nearly 1,000 hours of township and county officials and administrative workers’ time, all supported by taxpayers, since the spring of 2022, Clark wrote.

“Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter that countless children and their families have enjoyed coming to the farm and many have chosen to send their kids to the farm for summer camp or to be members of the learning collective,” Clark wrote. “Their passion for the farm and what it has meant for their learning and development didn’t matter.”

Paschke’s decision would allow the farm to continue holding summer camp, as well as hosting the CVLC, both of which have been threatened by the township’s enforcement efforts spanning back to 2019.

“Appealing the judge’s ruling keeps us in a state of limbo and makes it impossible for us to resolve the citations,” Clark said in her letter. “This prevents us from using our buildings to accomplish our educational mission. We agree that the agritourism law as written is vague and we have clearly suffered as a result. Rather than continuing with this litigation, perhaps the trustees should focus on working with local farmers to craft legislation to improve the law.”

The trustees are expected to issue a prepared statement on their decision to appeal Paschke’s ruling at their next meeting Sept. 25, said Bainbridge Trustee Jeff Markley in a follow-up interview.