WADMALAW ISLAND -- Dust, noise and cars didn't bother Daytona 500 winner Ernie Irvan when he barreled around the racetrack, but he's apparently more particular about what goes on next door.
Irvan and his wife, Kim, are suing next-door neighbor Pete Ambrose and his business, Rockland Avenue LLC. Ambrose owns and operates a 130-acre "community supported agriculture" farm, which is known as a CSA.
That's a type of farm where people purchase a "share" at the start of a growing season and then pick up a supply of fruits and vegetables each week.
Ernie Irvan is a former NASCAR driver with 15 career Winston Cup victories who may be best known for a terrible crash at Michigan Speedway. He suffered a serious head injury in the 1994 wreck but later recovered and returned to racing.
Kim Irvan said she and her husband don't have any problem with Ambrose growing fruit and vegetables next door to their home and equestrian club. But they are tired of people of driving down the road to his farm that runs along the edge of their 49 acres to pick up their produce.
And they've had enough of his U-pick berry operation in April and May, which has brought in as many as 60 cars in an hour. The cars are noisy and stir up dust, and Ambrose's customers have even wandered onto her land to pet her horses, Kim Irvan said.
Ambrose said he's one of only about five fruit and vegetable farmers left in the area. If he can't sell shares or run the U-pick business, his farm will go under. "We'd just have to give up," he said. "I can't see how we would make it."
Ambrose also said that only about 50 to 60 of his regular customers pick up their weekly supply of produce at the farm. So for most of the year, the traffic is minimal, he said.
The Irvans and Ambrose are part of the Selkirk Property Owners Association. The association's covenants prohibit retail and commercial activities but allow generally accepted farming practices.
The Irvans said selling shares and running a U-pick berry business are commercial activities; Ambrose said they are basic farm practices.
Trenholm Walker, a lawyer representing the Irvans, said his clients would leave it to the court to interpret the covenants. "Our purpose is to get a conclusive declaration for all concerned so we can put this to rest," he said.
The civil suit seeks a declaration that the covenants are being violated and an injunction to stop the on-site commercial activity. It also seeks attorneys' fees.
Kim Irvan said the issue stirred a lot of conflict among members of the property owners association. The couple decided to reduce those conflicts by handling the matter through legal channels, she said. "I don't want the fighting. It's tearing us up," she said.
She also said that she and her husband didn't know about the U-pick operation when they moved in three years ago. And Ambrose was farming the land when they purchased the property, but he didn't start selling shares until two years ago.
Ambrose said he has between 700 and 1,000 people per season purchase shares in his farm, but he delivers most of the shares to other pick-up sites. And he knows the farm is very busy at berry-picking time, but that's only two months out of the year, he said.
He's been farming on Wadmalaw for 35 years, he said, and farms tend to stir up dust.
He also said the Irvans built their barn and other buildings along the dirt road instead of building them on another, less dusty part of their property. They should have known the road would be dusty, he said.
Kim Irvan said she and her husband bought land on Wadmalaw for peace and quiet. She said they would never have bought the place if they knew about the activities next door, she said.
"We're not trying to stop farming on Wadmalaw," she said. She simply doesn't want traffic next door.
The Coastal Conservation League is weighing in on Ambrose's behalf. "CSA farming and U-pick farming are consistent with the general characteristics of Wadmalaw as a rural Sea Island," said Kate Parks, a project manager for the league.
Ambrose said he thinks his farm has been good for the community. More people are eating a lot more fresh vegetables, he said, and parents are bringing their children out to the farm to show them where their food comes from. The community would feel a loss if the farm closed, he said.
Ambrose's lawyer, William Lewis, said he's going to aggressively fight the Irvans' lawsuit.
"We have to keep these folks from stopping something so beneficial to the community," he said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or email@example.com.
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