"It's my belief that this is truly an abuse of agriculture law," said Edna Hirsch, drawing applause from many in the crowd packed into Harford Community College's Chesapeake Center Wednesday night for a community input meeting on a wedding venue planned in her Churchville neighborhood.
"This is strictly a commercial venture raping the agricultural land," she said.
Several hundred people opposed to The Regent at Stone House clashed with proponents of the wedding venue planned for the 500 block of Glenville Road in a neighborhood that has a mixture of farms and many contemporary homes, most built on lots sold off from existing or former farms.
With many opponents wearing in bright-yellow "No to The Regent at Stone House" T-shirts, the size of the crowd at Harford Community College's Chesapeake Center led college officials to turn some people away.
There were about 40 people who wore light-yellow "Team Regent" T-shirts in support of the planned wedding site.
Associates of Timothy and Lisa Limberger, who own the property where the project is planned, handed out the shirts inside the building while opponents put theirs on outside.
College officials said the fire code permitted about 280 people to fit into the seating arrangement set up for the room. Dozens more were left to stand outside.
John Gessner, the property owners' lawyer, promised there will be a second meeting but did not know when that would be scheduled. He also ended the session 10 minutes early, citing a lack of time for two more presenters to explain traffic and other aspects of the project.
Gessner, project architect Rob Manns and engineer John Gonzalez sought to explain with a PowerPoint presentation how the proposed venue would mitigate noise, look upscale and be unobtrusive to its neighbors.
As many residents complained about potential noise pollution, increased traffic and water run-off from the property, Manns and Gonzalez said the site will have to address stormwater management and will not be audible from Glenville Road.
Manns showed an illustration of how, "by the time music reaches Glenville, it would be about 10 decibels, a faint whisper."
He also said that the barn-like building will only be 6,470 square feet, not the 8,853 square feet shown on a site plan on Harford County's website and previously confirmed by planning and zoning officials.
Manns said the venue, which would be slightly larger than the Chesapeake Center where Wednesday's meeting was held, would "comfortably seat" 185 guests and would have no kitchen, only a warming area for caterers.
Glenville Road residents such as Steve Bowers, however, said they still expect the noise from hundreds of guests would carry into surrounding properties.
Bowers said he was concerned about frequency as well as decibels, explaining that when one of his neighbors has an occasional large gathering, "I can feel the bass about a mile away as these bands are playing."
Like Hirsch, several other speakers also told the representatives they simply did not consider the venture consistent with agricultural use and said the owners were just trying to make money.
Other people said they were concerned about wedding guests drinking and driving, and water run-off potentially affecting wells downstream from the property.
Gessner chastised the opponents several times, reminding them that it was the property owners' meeting and warning them to let The Regent at Stone House supporters speak, too.
"If you are incapable of doing that, you can leave now," he said at one point.
When Hirsch implied the wedding guests could be loud or overly disruptive, Gessner interrupted by saying: "I am sure you don't go to weddings like that, Dr. Hirsch. I don't think anyone here goes to weddings like that."
Residents seemed frustrated by what they saw as Gessner's refusal to answer questions about the agricultural appropriateness of the project. He said early in the meeting that "what is and is not [appropriate ag use] is often in the eye of the beholder."
Gessner nevertheless assured all the speakers that their concerns were valid and would be taken into consideration as the project moves through Harford County's development review process.
One man said noise could travel across the pond at the rear of the Limberger property to properties away from Glenville, and Manns agreed that still has to be studied.
"We are not there yet," he said.
Several people spoke toward the end of the meeting in support of the project, drawing some jeers from the crowd.
One was Holly Abunassar, who said she is moving to Glenville Road and has an equestrian business.
"My horse farm, my indoor arena, is bigger than what they're building," she said, noting she is an educator and farmer who is absolutely interested in staying in business. She said an operation like her business would be compatible with Harford County ag laws.
"We make money," she said, adding: "You are adults. Talk to each other. Talk to your neighbor. They are following the law and they are allowed to make money."
Lisa Limberger said at the end of the meeting she has seen a lot of hatred and "I realize we need this more than I even knew."