The moment Merv Beiler first laid eyes on the former Twin Brook Winery in Sadsbury Township, he knew he was looking at a special property.
The owner of M. Jay Builders Inc. toured the 40-acre property just outside of Gap with his twin brother more than six years ago, envisioning what could be done with the land that was filled with a vineyard that had suffered disease to the grapes that ultimately put the successful winery out of business.
Beiler said he was captured by the history of the property that sits directly on the eastern border of Lancaster County and was part of an original land grant from Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn to his brother in the 1700’s. He was also taken by the early 19th century barn and 1750’s stone home flanked by two branches of the Pine Creek that come together at the entrance of the property.
The homebuilder bought and subdivided the property with his brother, excavating the grounds and modernizing the historic barn on the property and ultimately creating the Twin Brook Retreat in 2017 where numerous meetings, banquets and Bible studies took place.
“I didn’t feel worthy of owning something like this,” Beiler said. “When we walked on here with the realtor, I just felt the presence of God. This was like a gift to me, and I just returned that right back to the Lord.”
Beiler also started hosting weddings on the property with the help of his wife, Candace, and created several Airbnb rentals in the barn for visitors to enjoy the tranquil and quiet setting in the Lancaster County countryside, creating a “thriving business” for the family.
But in a series of missteps with Sadsbury Township zoning officials, the couple were forced to shutter their wedding venue and rental units for most of 2022 as they sought the proper permitting for the business and properties.
Beiler said being forced to shut down Twin Brook for most of the year has been difficult on his business and his family, but a decision by the Sadsbury Township Zoning Hearing Board last week seems to have the renovation project back on track with weddings possible by the spring.
“I’ve just put my heart into this property,” Beiler said. “It’s so much fun. That’s why this hurts so much because it was my baby.”
Beiler said the issues with the township started late in 2021 when he sought a building permit to add an addition on to the main stone house on the property. He said township officials began looking at some of the activities taking place on the property and said the proper permitting did not exist for the venue.
Beiler said the former winery regularly had events on the property, including weddings and concerts, and he assumed the zoning had been grandfathered into the new but similar event business.
Another issue arose when Beiler received a permit for an Airbnb unit in the barn, thinking it would also apply to additional rental units. Tests later determined that the septic system on the property was inadequate for the rental properties along with the wedding venue in the barn that had a capacity of 120 people.
Beiler said zoning officials ordered him to shut down the Airbnb units in January and to not schedule any additional weddings until improvements were made to the barn. He said he is required to add a sprinkler system to the barn, kitchen improvements and updated handicap access to the venue, along with other changes that could cost upwards of $800,000 to complete.
The Airbnb units have also been eliminated from the couple’s plans for the property because an adequate septic system couldn’t be devised.
Candace Beiler, who had been running the wedding venue for several years, said she was hurt when they found out they couldn’t have most of the weddings scheduled for the year. Originally more than a dozen weddings had been scheduled, but only four happened because they had to rent portable bathroom units and limited activities in the barn.
“It felt like my gift of hospitality was being taken away from me,” Candace said.
On Oct. 18, the Sadsbury Township Zoning Hearing Board heard final testimony from Beiler regarding the application for a special exception for the adaptive reuse of the existing barn on the property.
Beiler’s attorney, Aaron Martin, laid out the revised plans for the property, including the elimination of the four rental units in the barn.
“The event barn will simply be an event barn, and there will be no short-term rental requested on the property,” Martin said.
Sadsbury Township Solicitor Josele Cleary asked Beiler if he would agree on the record to “all of the conditions set forth” by the township, including removing the rental units and sewer and water issues. Beiler agreed to the conditions.
“The township is very concerned about public safety, which is why the township was concerned about this matter and why it negotiated these conditions, which expressly address the sewer and the water,” Cleary said.
Ultimately the board voted unanimously to approve Beiler’s application.
Besides the testimony on the property, several residents provided testimonial support for Beiler and the venue.
David Beiler, whose property abuts the Twin Brook property, said he’s lived in his house for more than 40 years and never had any issues with the winery or with the new retreat.
“We’ve never had any problems with the winery or with what Merv has done,” David said.
Chuck Vuolo, Merv and Candace’s pastor at Gospel of Grace Community Church in Kinzers, said aesthetically the venue is a beautiful locale, and he praised Merv’s craftsmanship in his renovation of the property. Vuolo said Twin Brook has also served as an important meeting place, bringing together the Amish, ex-Amish and other community members for various events.
“It provides a wonderful melting pot, and I believe that venue is an enhancement and is a credit to any community and in no way would diminish it,” Vuolo said.
Beiler said after the meeting that he was excited to move forward with the barn renovations and to have the venue ready by the start of the wedding season in the spring. He said the couple plan on keeping the venue available for weddings for as long as it takes to pay for the necessary renovations and updates to the barn.
However, Beiler said the ultimate goal for the property and the venue is to turn it into a true retreat and to run Twin Brook Ministries, which is currently a registered 501c3 group.
Beiler conducts frequent men’s breakfasts, along with hosting Christian speakers, concerts and Bible studies. Beiler said during weekly Bible studies, he’s gone to the lengths of transporting water from the house to the barn to make coffee so that they wouldn’t be in any violations of township codes.
“I’ve learned a lesson through all this – to honor the authority,” Beiler said. “I never meant any of this. I was taught to be forthright, and I should have asked for every little minute detail. I know now. Nothing will always be perfect, but I learned a hard lesson.”