Owner of Frederick Co. wedding venue battles county's refusal of zoning permit
EMMITSBURG, Md. (WBFF) -- Nestled between the rolling hills and endless rows of corn in Western Maryland is a quiet little estate with a legacy dating back to 1750.
“Frederick County is beautiful," said its operator, Debbie Newcomer. "People want to get married here. We're still country."
Newcomer runs the Engedi Estate, which overlooks the Monocacy River. The business used to host weddings on its small family farm, and for Newcomer, that was personal. She was proud to run the venue until 2014, when a few vocal neighbors voiced opposition to her efforts to rezone and expand.
“We had been working with the county for months and put out thousands of dollars to prepare for this, so we were shocked when we went to the zoning hearing and were denied,” Newcomer said.
Now she can only use the home as a vacation rental. Her daughter, with whom she runs the business, also raises alpaca and goats on the property.
Since Newcomer's battle began, she says she has talked with other business owners in the county who are going through similar situations.
Frederick County Council Member Billy Shreve said he believes someone is targeting event venues in the county, trying to get them shut down.
“It's absolutely ridiculous," Shreve said. "It's bad for business, and it's bad for Frederick County.”
Newcomer said she has spent her retirement savings, and has estimated the lost revenue from the last two years has reached into the hundreds of thousands. Some of her savings, she said, went to refund brides whose events were cancelled.
Newcomer has hired attorney Ilona Fisher to help with her appeal to the county zoning board. Newcomer vows to fight and said she has nothing to lose by going public with her case. She has also launched a petition on change.org.
“We're touted as a farming community, yet our government is making it increasingly difficult to have a farm,” she said.
Shreve said the blame rests with County Executive Jan Gardner.
Gardner's office responded to a request for comment with the following statement:
Egendi (sic) Estates near Emmitsburg sought approval in 2014 for a wedding venue and was unanimously denied by the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals after a public hearing process. Neighbors opposed this application. Until Egendi has an approval by the Frederick County Board of Appeals for a special exception use, they cannot legally operate as a wedding venue. To the best of my knowledge, they have not applied for a new approval from the Frederick County Board of Appeals. It is important to recognize that the denial of this business happened during the prior administration (not this administration).
There are almost 100,000 businesses in Frederick County. The issues raised by one business that never obtained any approvals or permits and another business application that was denied several years ago during a prior administration does not mean that doing business in Frederick County is difficult or not encouraged. The facts demonstrate that Frederick County is a great place to do business. In 2015, the county added almost 3,200 new jobs and the number of new businesses operating in the county also increased. Frederick County very much wants to support business and has encouraged and supported agri-tourism. This is very apparent in the opening of multiple distilleries and the first farm brewery operation in the state.