Sunday, August 26, 2007

Woodsman Strausser - Gets TURKEY!

The giant, beautiful, healthy maples that lined Old River Road are gone. The Riverview Woodsman, Gary Strausser, cut them down two weeks ago.

Strausser Gets A TURKEY!

The Express Times thought the act bad enough to award Gary Strausser its August 25th TURKEY. This Strausser TURKEY award has two parts, one for cutting the trees and the second for asking the Township to take over maintenance of some of the Riverview roads!

According to Express Times reporter JD Malone, the Township-hired arborist has finished inspecting the destroyed trees and will submit a report to the Supervisors. The tree cutting tragedy will be an agenda item at the September 6 meeting.

Supervisor candidates are not quiet on the issue either. Democrat Bob Egolf's letter to Morning Call calls for Township vigilance when dealing with developers and warns that other acts may be even more insidious.

Republican David Billings' letters to the editors of both the Morning Call and the Express Times urge the Board to take the strongest legal action. Billings warns that if this act goes unpunished, there's no stopping future wanton disregard of agreements by this or other developers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

BoS Meeting 8/16/2007

This night's Supervisors' meeting may be the meeting heard 'round the County! Strausser Enterprises cut old, stately maples and the proof was in photos as well as in statements from the Old River Road and North Delaware Drive residents who saw it happen and believed the untruth told to them by the cutting crew, that the Township ordered the destruction. For more, please read Jimmy Miller (Express Times), Madeleine Mathias (Morning Call), and the blog post, "Did You Hear The Trees Scream?" The meeting discussion is summarized in the OLD RIVER ROAD - TREE REMOVAL/STRAUSSER agenda item (below).

SUPERVISORS COMMENTS

Supervisor Ackerman told of a letter sent to the Board about Forks' streets not being on the emergency response 911 center maps. The road in question is Winchester Drive and it has not yet been taken over by the Township. It is owned by Strausser Enterprises. Ackerman said that a couple of people were almost lost because 911 couldn't find them. Zoning Officer Tim Weis said that 911 is notified of streets when developments are approved and before COs (certificates of occupancy) are issued. He thought there may be a "glitch." Chief Greg Dorney said that the police department is not notified when people move in. Weis said he will send copies of COs to him in the future. Fire Chief Bryan Weis said Winchester Drive was "just added to the CAD" a couple of months ago and that the 911 center enters data in batches. He added that this will be a topic of discussion at the next Public Safety Committee meeting.

Supervisor Miller reported that "everybody" is in the park this evening. The summer league is over and fall sports have begun.

TREASURER'S REPORT - Secretary/Treasurer Howell detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors meeting. Acceptance of the debits and transfers was approved 3:0 (Supervisors Nicholas and Hoff were not present).

Standing Committee Reports

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Nicholas absent - no report.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Ackerman - no report. He said that the uniform discussion is an agenda item.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Miller - Miller gave no committee report. His announcements have been moved to Supervisors' Comments above.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Howell said that there was no meeting since the last.
  • Finance & Administration - Chairman Hoff absent - no report.

TOWNSHIP MANAGER'S REPORT - Schnaedter said that his written report was in the Supervisors' packets. To that he added that the fire training site is being inspected for asbestos. The bid specs are being prepared for its demolition. He expects the bids for the first September meeting of the Board. Howell clarified that this is the old Victorian farmhouse on the corner of Richmond and Newlins Roads. Dean Turner (Planning Commission) noted that there is a collapsed structure on the property and asked what is being done to protect people from being hurt there. To that, Ackerman answered, "Nothing."

Schnaedter also reported that he gave the Board a copy of the letter that he and Township Engineer Fred Hay wrote to the residents along the Frost Hollow swale regarding swale "rehabilitation." It will be mailed Friday (8/17/07).

ENGINEER'S REPORT - Hay announced that E.J. Breneman will begin the Mitman Road project on Tuesday. Radio stations will be notified. Howell asked about the Meco/Sullivan light and Hay said that he has the initial round of "comments" from PennDot and that he is waiting for the traffic engineer.

SOLICITOR'S REPORT - Steven Goudsouzian (acting solicitor) - agenda items only.

COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC (NOT AGENDA ITEMS)

Sal Panto spoke as the representative of the Riverview Country Club. He was there to tell the Board of concerns with the safety of people at the Riverview Country Club. He said that recently an 80 year old man was choking and that EMS was called. The (non-local) paramedics could not find Riverview Country Club. Panto said that the local EMS and police have no trouble finding Riverview but he's been told that Winchester Drive is not on the 911 center map. The ambulance dispatched by the 911 center was unable to locate the site. Forks EMS violated their own policy and transported the man. He survived. According to Panto, the gentleman spent three minutes without breathing and this was the fourth incident where the paramedics were unable to arrive in a timely fashion because the site is not on the EMS map. Panto asked for the Township's help in getting Winchester Drive on the 911 center map.

Panto said, too, that he is hopeful that the Rte. 611 intersection will be done this year. He is in charge of getting the PennDot permit and he met with them today.

Howell asked Panto to stay and respond for Strausser to the Old River Road tree cutting. Panto said that he is being "phased out" at Strausser Enterprises and that his job has been filled by someone else. He said that attorney Gary Asteak will speak for Strausser on the tree cutting. Panto said that he would stay through the OLD RIVER ROAD - TREE REMOVAL/STRAUSSER agenda item and address some of the questions.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

POLICE 5-YEAR PLAN FOR REVIEW - Chief Dorney said that updated copies of the plan and a financial analysis were in the Supervisors' packets for their review. Dorney said that the plan has met the approval of the Public Safety Committess. He asked that there be discussion at the September 6 Supervisors meeting.

NEW BUSINESS

RESOLUTION #070816-1/ACCEPTANCE OF STREETS IN PENN'S RIDGE, PHASES 10 & 12 - Goudsouzian said that portions of the Penn's Ridge streets are ready and that the Liquid Fuel's credit is in order. The streets were accepted in a 3:0 vote.

RESOLUTION #070816-2/SUPPORT OF TEMPORARY BUILDING MORATORIUM LEGISLATION - Howell reported on Representative Freeman's hearing at the last meeting. Freeman and co-sponsor, Rep. Grucela, are holding hearings throughout the State on HB 904, a bill that would allow municipalities in PA to impose temporary building moratoriums while Zoning, SALDO, and Comprehensive Plans are being rewritten. This resolution was prepared to endorse HB 904 "in principle." Ackerman asked if it would impact projects already on the books like the Petrucci project (Fort James III). Howell said that the Resolution would not stop the project. Goudsouzian explained that it was not a "law" as the bill has not yet passed and that the Resolution was simply an endorsement of the bill, a way to let the sponsors know that municipalities are behind them. Goudsouzian also said that it would be a "tremendous legal burden to stop an approved project." Miller asked if the Board could send a letter instead. Ackerman endorsed a letter in support of the bill in its present form. He thought that things might be attached to the bill before it is passed. Goudsouzian said that either way will send a message. Vote on the Resolution was tabled 3:0.

VICTAULIC TAX ASSESMENT APPEAL - HIRE APPRAISER - Farley said that the Township was contacted by the EASD. The EASD asks that the Township pay a proportionate share of the appraiser costs. The amount is $480. It was approved in a 3:0 vote.

LAFAYETTE COLLEGE LAND DEVELOPMENT - METZGAR FIELDS IMPROVEMENTS - Hay said that there were no problems with this project (a track at Metzgar Field) at the Planning Commission meeting and he recommended Conditional Approval. The conditions imposed were signage for overflow parking and that Lafayette provide a comment letter from PennDot Aviation. This passed with a 3:0 vote.

PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT - UNIFORM QUOTES - Ackerman explained that the current contract with Tri-State Industrial ran out in July although they are still providing service pending the outcome of the bid award. DPW Director, Mark Roberts, said that he received three bids and samples. The best sample as well as the lowest price, came from Uniforce. Uniforce's bid was $185.24 compared to $207.01 from Tri-State and $206.95 from Centas (sic). The vote was 3:0 to award the contract to Uniforce.

2006 AUDIT LETTER - FRANCE, ANDERSON, BASILE & COMPANY, P.C. - Finance Manager Jim Farley said that he met with the auditors last July and discussed opportunities for improvement. He thought that this was a good audit. He said that the Township numbers were sound and its systems were sound. His letter as well as the auditors' letter were in the Supervisor's packets. Farley also said that the Finance Committee also reviewed the auditor's letter.

OLD RIVER ROAD - TREE REMOVAL - STRAUSSER - Howell said that he learned of this atrocious act on Monday morning by a phone call from a resident on 611. Howell said that he sent an email immediately asking for reports from the Public Works Director, the Township Manager, the Engineer, and the Solicitor regarding the number of trees, their diameters, etc.

Old River Road property owner Emily Heitzman spoke to the Board and told what happened. She said that last week her husband was approached by two men who asked where their property line was. He told them. She asked the men what it was all about and they told her that the trees were going to come down and that the Township ordered it. She didn't know it wasn't true and she didn't know it was ordered by Gary Strausser. She told the men that "we fought for these trees and they belong to the Township." Mrs. Heitzman said that the men agreed with her when she said it was a crime.

Forks resident and 611 property owner Artie Ravitz said that he was speaking for some of his neighbors as well as himself and that they are all "appalled at the rape of the landscape." Ravitz said that they hope the Board can do something to make it right... some way. Mrs. Heitzman said that Strausser should put others (trees) back in their place.

Howell asked the number and sizes of the maple trees that were cut. Hay replied that there were eight mature trees and that he visited the site on Tuesday. Hay said that four of the mature maple trees were in the Township right-of-way and measured in diameter, 38", 34", 36" and 53". Howell said that they were blocking the view from the golf course and that Strausser took them down in his own self-interest. He added that it was simply an act of vandalism. Hay added that the trees had nothing to do with the intersection improvements. Weis said that he was contacted by the Heitzmans several years ago when Strausser tried to cut the trees. At that time Strausser was stopped and was told "in no uncertain terms that they were Township trees and they were not to be touched."

Mrs. Heitzman said that Strausser has left a mess of the barn he took down eight years ago and that there are weeds and rat and mosquito problems because of it. The Township was asked if it has a weed ordinance. Howell remarked that since Strausser has crews available to cut trees, he should have them to cut weeds. Mrs. Heitzman says that she believes that this is being done just to aggravate she and her husband because they have property he wants.

Sal Panto was asked if he had anything to add and attorney Gary Asteak said, "I'll speak to the subject." Asteak proceeded to tell the Board that they approved Strausser's complicated plans years ago and that the "implicit removal of the trees" was on the plan for the Township required road improvements and relocation of Old River Road. Asteak said that the Township plans to vacate Old River Road there and that ownership will revert to the adjacent property owners, Strausser and Heitzman - without conditions.

Asteak said that three of the trees were clearly on Strausser's property. He said that Strausser did not have to seek approval for the tree removal because the Township ordered the improvements. At best the trees could have been spared for another few months. Asteak said that neither he, Sal, nor Gary "had any malicious intent to cut down trees and if they could preserve the trees they would certainly have wanted to do so." Asteak suggested that the Township did not look carefully enough at the plans. He said that plans for all of Strausser's properties are "extremely complicated and difficult" and that it's possible that the conveyance of the of the trees to Strausser was overlooked.

Asteak said that he took "extreme offense" to Mr. Howell's comments about Strausser's greed and self-interest. Howell said that he stands by his statement.

Hay said that two or three of the trees (in the way of the road widening and on Strausser property) had to come down to widen the road. He added that there was no reason at all for the other (five) to be removed. He said that there is no note on the plan that the trees were to be removed. The plan was approved with the trees there. Hay said that the trees were in the Township right-of-way and that Strausser removed them without even having his (highway) permits for the intersection improvements. - "It's business as usual... Mr. Strausser does whatever damn well pleases."

Goudsouzian asked Asteak:

  1. Do you acknowledge the Mr. Strausser cut down the trees in question? Asteak replied, "Yes."
  2. Do you acknowledge that he cut down trees that were not on his property but were on Township property? Asteak acknowledged that he cut the trees "pursuant to his efforts to construct the highway improvements" required by the Township approved plan... of lands to be vacated and conveyed to Strausser.
  3. Implicit in your answer is that he went on to Township property to cut down Township trees. Correct? Asteak replied that he (Strausser) went onto property that he was required to go onto in order to do the Township required improvements.

Weis said that Strausser was told not to touch those trees without Township permission. Hay said that (as a professional engineer) he puts notes on plans of which trees are to be removed. There is no note regarding tree removal on the Strausser plans. Asteak countered by saying that there should have been a note "not to be removed" on the plans.

Mrs. Heitzman said that she and her husband were promised trees behind them for eight years and Strausser has not yet planted them.

Goudsouzian cited the PRD (Planned Residential Development dated April 20, 2000) condition #28 that the tree line on the western boundary of the tract shall be preserved and that other woodlands and tree lines on the tract shall be preserved. Also, the SALDO (Subdivision And Land Development Ordinance) states that trees over 6 inches in diameter shall not be removed (unless there are certain conditions.)

Erik Chuss (PC Chairman and Supervisor candidate) asked what fines and charges are available? Jim Wideman (former PC member and current Supervisor candidate) said, "It is criminal activity." Howell said that the options will be discussed in Executive Session. Goudsouzian said that there are a variety of potential options. The fact is that Strausser did cut the trees on Township property.

EXECUTIVE SESSION - The session was held to discuss a personnel matter and the Township options in the Strausser tree removal act. After the executive session, two votes were taken:

  1. DPW Director Mark Roberts' three month probationary period is over and the Board voted 3:0 to retain him and give him a $1500/year pay increase.
  2. In an effort to consider all available options for the Strausser tree removal, the Board voted 3:0 to authorize the Township Manager to research and retain an "appropriate certified arborist" to evaluate and appraise the destroyed trees.

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.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Did You Hear The Trees Scream?

Five or so years ago, at a Board of Supervisors meeting, residents of Old River Road spoke up and Strausser Enterprises was ordered not cut the stately old maple trees lining Old River Road. The trees, at least the five on the township right-of-way, were saved!

Old River Road on Saturday 8/11... Years passed. The trees are now down. These photos, taken, Saturday, August 11, 2007 show the results of a Strausser "framing" crew's handiwork. Someone from the cutting crew told a neighbor that the TOWNSHIP ordered the act. It turns out, that wasn't true. The Township did not order the trees to come down. Strausser Enterprises did. Strausser's attorney, Gary Asteak, admitted to that before the Board at its August 16th meeting - and he said that the removal was "in the plans" that the Board approved in 2000. The Township said "NOT."

Maple tree - so old - so dead 'Maple According to Township Engineer, Fred Hay, the largest of them was 53 inches in diameter. All were healthy. All are gone.

The Board is considering what legal recourse it has and is consulting with an arborist to learn the full extent of what Strauuser's organization has done.

2007 Supervisor Candidates & Their Blogs

Some, if not all four, of the Forks Supervisor 2007 candidates will host their own blogs. Links to them will be on the sidebar under links, on the FAC Election 2007 page, and on the FAC blog.

So far, David Billings' blog is up and ready for your comments!

The FAC Candidates blog will remain up. It is open to the candidates and to all who wish to comment there.

Thanks. And, don't forget to vote for TWO on November 6th!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

City of Easton and Lower Mount Bethel Township To Testify At Upcoming Kings Mill Hearing

Round 14 is scheduled this Monday for the Forks zoning challenge hearing by Kings Mill & partners!

What time? - Monday, August 13th at 7:30 PM

Where? - Forks Municipal Building

Presentations will be made by representatives from the City of Easton and Lower Mount Bethel Township. Both are expected to testify about the expected impact of Kings Mill and its planned 3000+ dwelling units on their municipalities! It should be an eye opener!

The Kings Mill partnership (Zawarski, Maloney, & Benner) alleges that the Forks╩╝ Farmland Protection District zoning is too restrictive. Their vision proposes 3,042 dwelling units -- apartments, townhomes and a mobile home park. To us, that looks like:

  • 6,000 more cars on town roads everyday
  • 8,000 more students in the schools
  • 25% of open farm fields covered with roofs and asphalt

This can't be good for Forks. We urge you to attend these zoning challenge hearings. The developers do! And, your presence makes a difference. It reminds them that Forks residents indeed care about their quality of life and about what Kings Mill will to do to us! Bring family! Bring friends! Bring neighbors! Let's not leave an empty seat in the room on Monday, August 13th!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

8/2/07 BoS Meeting Notes Delayed

We apologize, but due to a little vacation, the detailed meeting notes from the 8/2/07 BoS meeting will be delayed until later in the week.

Please check the FAC website for the short version. The notes are located down the page a bit, under the Things You Can Do Now calendar.

Do read the documents from the two hearings held by Representatives Bob Freeman and Rich Grucela. Links to them are on both the website and below on this blog. Please look at the figures in Jeffrey Bader's (EASD Treasurer and Business Managers) testimony excerpt...
$42.5M and $153.4M in additional costs to us, the taxpayers, for Kings Mill!

We don't know about you, but we cannot afford it!

Building Moratoriums & Developer Impact Fees - Hearings Last Week

On Wednesday, August 1st, State Representative Bob Freeman chaired a public hearing at Lafayette College to discuss allowing municipalities to impose building moratoriums while zoning and comprehensive plans are rewritten. And, on Thursday, August 2nd, both Freeman and State Representative Rich Grucela hosted a hearing on developer impact fees (a way to pay for schools when development makes expansion necessary) in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

Both of these hearings were about topics near and dear to Forks' residents hearts. - Kings Mill and its zoning challenge(s)figure in everything. - Here are some links to what's been written in the press, some of the testimony from the Freeman hearing, and to the Bills themselves.

House Bill 904 - Hearing - Building Moratoriums

Express Times - HB 904 Hearing

HB 904 - The Bill

HB 904 Analysis - Freeman

PSATS (PA State Association of Township Supervisors) Testimony

PBA (PA Builders Association) Testimony

PSBA (PA School Board Association) Comments

EASD Business Manager - Jeffrey Bader - (excerpt) Testimony

House Bill 72 - Hearing - Developer Impact Fees

HB 72 - The Bill

Express Times - HB 72 Hearing - sidebar

Morning Call - HB 72 Hearing