Sunday, January 30, 2005

Commitment before Approval?

In January of 2005 Strausser Enterprises approached the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission to change the zoning for its Riverview Estates development. While there are pros and cons to their request, here are some things that should be noted.

1) An undated letter was sent in the 4th quarter of 2004 by Strausser Enterprises' representative Sal Panto stating that there would be a Village Center (see page 2) even though this had not yet been presented to the township.

2) In this same letter, Mr. Panto announced that even though the homeowners purchased their homes through Segal and Morel, they, Strausser Enterprises would be managing association funds until certain percentages of ownership of the units are reached.

It is interesting that the people (Segal and Morel) who sold these people their homes will not be managing their association.

This letter is worth reading and we believe will raise questions for most readers who consider the timetable of events odd.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Yes Virginia, The BoS CAN Change Zoning

While searching for some answers to A FORKS RESIDENT's excellent questions (see post What's It All About Alfie), I checked the Zoning Ordinance posted on the Township's website. As background, the Board has scheduled a PUBLIC HEARING on March 17, 2005 at 6:30 PM when the Strausser people will give their presentation for a zoning change to the Board of Supervisors. Before this, on March 10, 2005 at 6:30 PM, a presentation will be made to the Planning Commission (both are open to the public). The Planning Commission's recommendations will be forwarded to the Board in time for the its Public Hearing. A FORKS RESIDENT is right to be concerned about the speed of this whole thing.
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Here it is, Article XIII (some formatting was lost) in black and white (and red from this blogger) telling us that yes, the Board of Supervisors and NOT the Zoning Hearing Board will make the decision on whether or not Strausser Enterprises can go forward with a commercial development on its 25 acres in a residential district.
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ARTICLE XIII
AMENDMENTS

§ 1300 Power of Amendment
The Board of Supervisors may, from time to time amend, supplement, change, modify or repeal this Ordinance, including the Zoning Map. When doing so, the Board of Supervisors shall proceed in the manner prescribed in this Ordinance.

§ 1301 Initiation of Amendments
Proposals for amendment may be initiated by the Board of Supervisors on its own motion, the Planning Commission or petition by one or more owners of property to be affected by the proposed amendment, subject to the following provisions:

A. Proposals Originated by Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors shall submit to the Township Planning Commission a copy of the proposed amendment and no action shall be taken thereon by the Board of Supervisors until such time as the Planning Commission shall submit to the Supervisors its written recommendation relative thereto or until the expiration of thirty (30) days from the time of submission by the Supervisors to the Planning Commission of the said proposed action, whichever shall first occur. At least thirty (30) days prior to the hearing on any proposed amendment the Township shall submit the proposed amendment to the Lehigh Northampton Joint Planning Commission for recommendations, in accordance with Section 609.e. of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.

B. Proposals Originated by Planning Commission. The Planning Commission may at any time transmit to the Board of Supervisors any proposal for the amendment, supplement, change, modification or repeal of this Ordinance.

C. Private Petition for Amendment. A landowner who desires to seek an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance or map shall file an application for amendment and present it to the Township with the fee as set forth by the Board of Supervisors by resolution, and shall set forth the following:

  1. The applicant's name and address and his representative and the interest of every person represented in the application.
  2. A plan showing the extent of the area subject to the proposed amendment, streets bounding and intersecting the area, land use and zoning classification of abutting districts, and tax parcel numbers of the areas subject to the proposed amendment.
  3. A statement of the circumstances in the proposed district and the abutting districts and any other factors on which the applicant relies as reason for supporting the proposed amendment.
  4. Information and analysis of traffic, water and sewer, environmental, and other impacts are required by the Township to evaluate the proposed amendment. Impact analysis requirements are in the appendix to this ordinance.

D. Proposals by Curative Amendments. A landowner who desires to challenge the validity of this Ordinance which prohibits or restricts the use or development of land in which he has an interest may submit a curative amendment to the Board of Supervisors with a written request that his challenge and proposed amendment be heard and decided as provided in Section 916.1 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (Act 247), as amended. The curative amendment shall be referred to the Planning Commission; and no action shall be taken thereon by the Board of Supervisors until such time as the Planning Commission shall submit to the Board of Supervisors its written recommendation relative thereto or until the expiration of thirty (30) days from the time of submission by the Board of Supervisors to the Planning Commission of said curative amendment, whichever shall first occur. The Board of Supervisors shall commence a hearing thereon within sixty (60) days of the request. The conduct of the hearing and the determination by the Board of Supervisors shall be in accordance with sections 609.1 (b) and (c), (1) through (5), of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, as amended.

§ 1302 Hearings

A. Upon receipt of the Planning Commission's recommendation and before voting on any proposed amendment to the Ordinance, the Board of Supervisors shall hold a public hearing thereon pursuant to public notice.

B. If the proposed amendment involves a zoning map change, notice of the proposed public hearing on said change shall be conspicuously posted by the Township at points deemed sufficient by the Township along the perimeter of the tract to notify potentially interested citizens. The affected tract or area shall be posted at least one week prior to the date of the hearing.

C. Proposed zoning ordinances and amendments shall not be enacted unless the requirements for publication, advertisement and availability of proposed ordinances as set forth by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act 247, as amended, Section 610, are met.

D. In the event substantial amendments are made in the proposed ordinance or amendment, before voting on enactment, the Board of Supervisors shall at least ten (10) days prior to enactment re-advertise, in one newspaper of general circulation in the Township, a brief summary setting forth all the provisions in reasonable detail together with a summary of the amendment.

§ 1303 Action upon Amendment

A. Enactment of any proposed amendment shall be by the vote of the Board of Supervisors. Any proposed amendment acted upon shall be specifically found to be in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Township Comprehensive Plan of 1997, as amended.

B. Within thirty (30) days after enactment, a copy of the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance shall be forwarded to the Lehigh Northampton Joint Planning Commission.

§ 1304 Appeals

Any person desiring to challenge this Ordinance or any subsequent amendment hereto shall proceed in accordance with Article X-A of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, as amended.

§ 1305 Administration and Fees

The Board of Supervisors shall from time to time enact Rules and Regulations to facilitate the administration of this Article and shall by Resolution from time to time establish reasonable fees to be paid by applicants in order to defray expenses which may be incurred by the Township.

What's It All About Alfie?

I read in the local papers (and on the FAC website and blog) that Strausser Enterprises has requested a Public Hearing before the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission regarding a zoning change for 25 residential acres near his golf course and the Segal & Morel Riverview Estates developments. I don't really know what a Public Hearing means. For example:

  1. Is it really a public AIRING?
  2. Can re-zoning be voted on at that hearing?
  3. Can re-zoning be voted on at the meeting right after the hearing?
  4. Don't zoning changes have to go before the Zoning Hearing Board?
  5. Does the public have an opportunity to question or add opinions?
  6. What is the time frame of everything involved in the process?

It seems like time is of the essence. Can anyone help me to understand what's really happening?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

BoS Meeting 1/21/05

Joe Nixon's Morning Call piece and George Whacker's Express Times piece both described the regular meeting's Strausser proposal very well. Kudos. (Aside: The Express' title writer could use a map - wink wink... Mr. Santo would appreciate it.) Again, we will endeavor to fill in the blanks. The regular meeting was preceded (at 6:30 PM) by a pair of Conditional Use Hearings, one for a day care facility in a private home and one for the EASD Shawnee Middle School. The regular meeting began on schedule at 7:30 PM.

ANNOUNCEMENTS & REPORTS:

CORRESPONDENCE:

Supervisor Nicholas reported receiving a letter from the Sewer Department recommending that NO new sewer lines be installed NORTH of Newlins Road.

COMMENTS FROM THE FLOOR (NOT AGENDA ITEMS):

  1. Resident Fritz Weide asked that the total indebtedness of the Township be printed on the Agenda for each meeting. He was told by the Township Manager that it only changed twice a year and that it could be on the Agenda then. He thought it should be on each time. He asked also what it is currently and Township Manager Kichline told him that it is "$8 million and change." He also said that he was out of town for a while and when he came back he saw an article in the Express Times that a certain builder met individually with Supervisors. He questioned whether this was permitted in the Township by-laws. He expressed his opinion that it didn't seem the proper thing to do. He asked how much it cost to perform the rezoning the last time the Township did it. No one there knew that answer as they were not on the Board (or in their current positions) when it was done. And, lastly he asked if the Board has taken a position on gambling in Palmer Township. They have not. He had more questions but alas, he was "hooked" by the new 5 minute rule.
  2. Wendy Nicolosi, representing Nick Zawarski & Sons and Knollwood Estates asked about the holdup in approval. She was told by Engineer Hay that the problem is a PennDot issue re. maintenance of the stormwater system and that he was planning to meet with PennDot about it. PennDot wants the Township to manage the lines and the Township does NOT want to do that. Hay also informed Nicolosi that he does not yet have Zawarski's revised plans.
  3. Dean Turner, chairman of the 250th celebration, said that the Remembrance book is now available at $20 a copy. If anyone wants one, please contact him or call the Municipal Building to order a copy.

The STATUS UPDATE BY ALEX GALE/MUNICIPAL COMPLEX included the following:

  • He expects to have a report of the total cost of the Fire Department roof collapse for the next meeting.
  • He expects to have the comparison (prices and pros/cons) of above ground and below ground fuel systems for the next meeting. Because of the delay, the AUTHORIZATION TO ADVERTISE FUEL TANK INSTALLATION agenda item was tabled.
  • The furniture presentation will be ready soon for those on the Board who want to see it.
  • There will only be one dedication plaque, not three as originally planned. He gave the Board a sample of text to use as a starting point (to compose their own.)
  • Met-Ed has the new feeds switched for the Police Department. UGI has connected the new gas meter. The new phone and data wiring installation should begin next week.

Mr. Gale also discussed a CCTV system that would monitor (with cameras) the entire Municipal Complex site both inside and outside of buildings. He said that this was not in the original plan and would cost $40K to $50K. He asks that the Board consider it. Supervisor Holmgaard remarked that if they had the cameras during the 250th, the beer tent would not have been broken into. Yes, it was and a keg of beer was stolen. He said that "we need the cameras." Mr. Gale said that the 5 cameras that were in the old police building will be re-installed in the new one.

The REQUEST BY THE ELECTED TAX COLLECTOR FOR A RATE INCREASE discussion resulted in Ms. Vail being told to seek a ruling from Judge Moran if she wanted an increase in her 2005 rate. The court order establishing the rates expired 12/31/04. The order indicated that the Board could change the rate after that. Solicitor Kline said that the Board could indeed change the rate for the Elected Tax Collector... for the following term and not for the current one. He said that the deadline to do that is February 15, 2005. The Board will consider it at their next meeting on February 3, 2005.

CONDITIONAL USE REQUEST (Arlene Sauerhoefer) for an increase to 6 children in her in-home day care was granted.

CONDITIONAL USE REQUEST (EASD Shawnee Middle School), after lengthy discussion of whether to have a bike path or not have a bike path, was granted. Supervisor Holmgaard asked if the EASD (as a developer) and all the communities using the school will pay additional fees. He compared this to the fees Forks (and other communities) had to pay when the Easton sewer facility was expanded. Resident (and former Supervisor) Stan Kocher remarked that that would be just taking money from one pocket to put in the other. Vito Tamborrino, Planning Commission Chairman, discussed the possibility of overflow parking if two major events (auditorium and gymnasium) are scheduled at the same time. He requested that a paragraph be added stating that if this happens, the Township can do something.

JALAPENEAUX LAND DEVELOPMENT/INDEMNIFICATION AGREEMENTS (Tioga Pipe service center on Kuebler Rd.) were described by Solicitor Kline as "in order." It was carried unanimously. This allows them to begin work on the infrastructure.

LEHIGH VALLEY INDUSTRIAL HOLDINGS LP/SUBDIVISION INDEMNIFICATION & SEWER AGREEMENTS (3 lot subdivision with Tioga Pipe on Kuebler Rd.) were described as also "in order" by Solicitor Kline. It was carried unanimously. This allows them to begin work on the infrastructure, roads etc.

RENEWAL OF LEASE FOR BRADEN AIRPARK RUNWAY TURF AREA was carried unanimously. This is a 5 year lease of land (300' x 120') at the end of the runway in case a plane has a landing problem.

STRAUSSER ENTERPRISES/REQUEST FOR ZONING CHANGE - SET PUBLIC HEARING DATES: The meeting dates were set. The Planning Commission will see the presentation at 6:30 PM on 3/10/2005 and the Board of Supervisors will see it (as well as the PC's recommendations) at 6:30 PM on 3/17/2005. Both will be held in the Municipal Building's meeting room. Sal Panto, Strausser Representative, described the project as really being two different projects. The first is on a 4-1/2 acre portion of the 25 acres and will be home to the Riverview Estates private recreation "village" (clubhouse, pool, bocce court, basketball, etc.) Panto requested a ruling at the meeting on whether this would be a USE BY RIGHT or a CONDITIONAL USE. He said that he sent two letters to the Board about this ruling last August. Neither Township Manager Kichline nor Solicitor Kline (nor any of the Supervisors) got those letters. Panto said that he would resend them. If Zoning Officer Tim Weis determines that this is a USE BY RIGHT, Strausser can begin construction of the recreation center immediately. If Weis says that it's not a USE BY RIGHT, then the rezoning for it will be included in the 25 acre parcel zoning change request. This MAJOR commercial development (in a residential area) is what the public hearing is about. Panto said that Strausser Enterprises has/is using focus groups to help them in their project design. He was asked by Township Manager Kichline to give a copy of the Strausser-prepared-zoning-ordinance to the Board for their review before the presentation. Panto said that he would but only along with a copy of the presentation on CD. He said that the (proposed) zoning ordinance couldn't be easily understood without the visual presentation. He felt that they should be able to screen it in the privacy of their own homes.

The COMMERCE BANK/LAND DEVELOPMENT proposal was rejected. There was no representative from Commerce Bank present. The initial application deadline could not be met. The bank will have to come back with a new plan and begin the process again.

RESOLUTION NO. 050120-4/STEEPLECHASE, PHASE I was tabled.

The BUDGET AMENDMENT (EMST) was passed unanimously. This will simply show the increased revenues anticipated from the new Emergency Services Tax in the 2005 budget. OPT will be changed to EMST.


Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

BoS Meeting 1/3/05

Once again, both Edward Sieger (Express Times) and Joe Nixon (Morning Call) wrote excellent reports on the meeting(s). Kudos to them both for telling it like it was! We will attempt to fill in the blanks.

Supervisors Bonnie Nicholas and Henning Holmgaard both announced that they met (separately) with the developer (proposed 830 homes on 400 acres) and his lawyer and Township Manager Cathy Kichline at the Municipal Building before Christmas. Ms. Nicholas stated that she did not want to be the only Supervisor who had not seen the proposed project. Atty. Benner did the presentation. Nicholas' conclusion was that Zawarski/Maloney should have to go before the Zoning Hearing Board for a variance. Mr. Holmgaard said of his meeting that he doesn't think that zoning is an issue but that maybe the developers should go before the Planning Commission first and then to the Zoning Hearing Board.

COMMENTS FROM THE FLOOR (NOT AGENDA ITEMS):

  1. June A Vail, Forks Elected Tax Collector referred to a letter that she sent to John Ackerman, Chairman of the BoS on October 21, 2004. She asked if he had distributed to the other Board members. She expected him to do that since she intended it for all the Supervisors. He admitted that he assumed she sent copies out to the others and he did not distribute it. She wanted her request for a pay increase considered during the 2005 budget discussions. She is now requesting an increase to bring her compensation more in line with what tax collectors make in nearby municipalities. She earned $7000 in 2004 while the tax collector in Bushkill Township earned $15K (plus tax earned fees) and Palmer Township's earned in excess of $50K (plus tax earned fees). She thought that it would be inappropriate to meet with the Supervisor's privately so she raised the issue in the public meeting. She also said that there is $20K in the budget for tax collection so raising her rate should be possible. Chairman Ackerman said that this issue will be added to the agenda for the 1/20/05 meeting.
  2. Carol Ann Coxe asked the Board for a definition of Overlay Zoning. They deferred to Solicitor Kline who explained it this way: Zoning on land allows certain uses. Overlays keep the original uses and add new ones. Ms. Coxe then asked why it would be used instead of a zoning variance. Mr. Kline said that it (the 400 acres & 830 homes) was too big for a variance and if the Zoning Hearing Board granted a variance, they would be basically re-writing the zoning laws and by-passing the Supervisors. She also asked what benefit Overlay Zoning would have for Forks Township and was told that that is something the BoS will have to weigh. (Aside: There is an excellent website here for more on Overlay Zoning.)

The POLICE DEPARTMENT S.O.P. manual was approved unanimously. Chief Dorney said that it was needed for State accreditation and was based on the accepted standards of the Commonwealth. Supervisor Nicholas remarked that the Forks PD is now 60 years old.

HIRING OF TWO FULL TIME POLICE OFFICERS was approved and the appointments of William Mills and Michael Friel became effective today (1/3/05). The new full time officers are two (now) former part time officers who were unanimously recommended by their peers for the jobs. Chief Dorney said that he believes in promoting from within. Supervisor Holmgaard stated that the Township is phasing out the use of part time police officers.

ORDINANCE NO. 290 EMERGENCY AND MUNICIPAL SERVICES TAX was adopted with a 3:1 vote. The nay voter was Supervisor Holmgaard who said, "It sucks... a tax is a tax is a tax." Solicitor Kline stated that an employer can decide in the Quarter when to collect the tax but it must be submitted to the Township at the end of the Quarter.

The PENN'S RIDGE, PHASE 4-DEED OF DEDICATION FOR STREETS RESOLUTION NO. 050103-1 was approved. The developer (Hornstein) paid $640 to the Township. This amount equaled what the Township would have earned in Liquid Fuels Credit if the deadline had not been passed when the roads were dedicated. The developer wants the Township to plow the roads.

AUTHORIZATION TO ADVERTISE FUEL TANK INSTALLATION was TABLED pending receipt of bids by Field Project Manager Alex Gale for both above and below ground tanks. There was a discussion of the pros and cons of both types of tanks as well as the use of private gas stations for gasoline purchases. Chief Dorney recommends that the Township own the gas tanks and that swipe cards be issued. Mr. Gale recommends using compartmentalized tanks. Tim Weis wants the tanks underground for security reasons. Bids for security cameras (for the entire municipal complex) are due in soon. Mr. Gale also asked if the Township wanted an old generator that was on the site. Pete Gheller said that it was okay to dispose of it. Mr. Gale reported that the Police Department building may be delayed a little because there was a problem with a curve in the metal roof panels. And, he reported that the construction debris that made its way to the Jackson farm (during the high winds) will be cleaned up shortly.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE:

  • Township Manager Kichline announced that the Board will meet for a Conditional Use Hearing at 6:30 PM on 1/20/05 (before the regular meeting at 7:30.) Supervisor Holmgaard asked if Conditional Use can be "grandfathered." Solicitor Kline said that it can be since it applies to USE and not to a person.
  • Supervisor Nicholas will likely attend a PSATS convention and a Township Officials Roundtable.
  • Chairman Ackerman announced that the Northampton County Council meeting schedule will remain the same as last year.
  • Supervisor Nicholas questioned where the funds come from when someone other than a Supervisor takes a course. She was told that it comes from the Supervisors Education Fund (except for the police who have their own funds for education). This is so that Supervisors have to approve the activity.
  • Pete Gheller is enrolled in a G.I.S. This is a full semester course.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

BoS Re-Organizational Meeting 1/3/05

Monday night at 7 PM the Board of Supervisors held their annual reorganization meeting. This happens every year. They convene and nominate officers and vote on other appointments. Supervisor Hoff was on vacation and not in attendance. The list of selections made is a long one and because the microphones were not always closest to the speakers, we could not HEAR all of the names. All of the appointments were unanimous except one, Township Manager. The ones that we could hear are:


  • Chairman = John Ackerman
  • Vice Chairman = Don Miller
  • Township Manager = Cathy Kichline (3:1, Supervisor Nicholas cast the nay vote)
  • Solicitor = Karl Kline ($115.00/hr)
  • Township Engineer = Keystone Consulting Engineers ($68.50/hour)
  • Sewer Department Engineer = Keystone Consulting Engineers
  • Auditor(s) = France, Anderson, Basile & Company, P.C.
  • E.I.T., Mercantile, and Municipal Tax Collector = Mary Ann Kessler
  • Assistant Collector = Sharon Fisher

The 2005 meeting schedules for the Board and for the Planning Commission were set also. The BoS will meet on the 1st & 3rd Thursdays of the month at 7:30 PM with a possible 3rd meeting (if necessary) on the 4th Thursday. Thirty minute workshops may be scheduled before or after the regular meetings. The Planning Commission will meet on the 2nd Thursday at 7:30 PM and their workshop sessions, which will be treated in the same manner as regular meetings, are set for the 4th Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM.

More Appointments:

  • Emergency Management Coordinator = Tim Weis
  • Assistant Emergency Management Coordinators = Greg Dorney & Cathy Kichline

The Board voted to approve payment of routine bills that may have penalties or interest if they are not paid before the next BoS meeting. The Municipal Building's daily hours (open the public) were set at 7:30-4:30 PM Monday through Friday. Hours for the Director of Public Works can vary from the standard hours.

Yet More Appointments:

  • Vacancy Board = Morris Metz
  • Planning Commission = Les Ottenwalder (4 yr term)
  • Zoning Hearing Board = John Pappas (5 yr term)
  • Sewer Authority = Bonnie Nicholas (5 yr term)
  • Recreation Board = Ray Duffy (sic), for expiring term
  • Recreation Board = Dan Reiter (5 yr term)
  • Secretary/Treasurer of the General Fund = Dave Hoff (check signing privileges)
  • Assistant Secretary/Treasure of the Gen. Fund = Cathy Kichline
  • Secretary/Treasure of the Sanitary Sewer Revenue Fund = Bonnie Nicholas
  • Assistant Secretary/Treasure of the Sanitary Sewer Fund = Cathy Kichline
  • Road liaison = John Ackerman
  • Police liaison = Henning Holmgaard
  • Fire Department liaison = Dave Hoff
  • Fire Chief = Tim Weis (also Fire Marshall) - A question (from the floor) was raised about this possibly being a conflict of interest since Mr. Weis will be paid for his other job while being out on a fire call. Solicitor Kline stated that it was not open to discussion from the floor.
  • Deputy Fire Chief = Bryan Weis
  • Zoning Enforcement Officer & Plumbing & Building Inspector = Tim Weis
  • Assistant Zoning Officers = Loretta Fuehrer & Matt Miller
  • Sewage Enforcement Officer = Chris Nolte (sic), Keystone Consulting Engineers
  • Electrical Inspectors = Keystone Electrical Inspectors

The Wages & Benefits Package of the Collective Bargaining Unit was accepted and the meeting was adjourned.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or Comment here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.