Sunday, May 18, 2008

BoS Meeting 5/15/08

Regular Meeting (agenda)

The small agenda did not insure a short BoS meeting as a good deal of time was spent discussing the Comprehensive Plan process.  For more, see Madeleine Mathias' article from the May 16, 2008 edition of the Morning Call.

Public Comments (non-agenda) - There were no comments from the public re. non-agenda items.  (Note:  This section has been moved to the beginning of the meeting - after the approval of the previous meeting's minutes.)

Supervisor Remarks

Supervisor Chuss raised two questions/issues: 

  1. He asked what the disposition of the new policy re. contact with the solicitor and engineer was.  He was reminded by Nicholas that the policy passed at a previous meeting.  (See BoS meeting notes from 4/3/08.)
  2. He asked that meeting agendas (if available) and confirmations/cancellations of committee meetings be sent via email to all Board members a few days before meetings.  Supervisor Egolf said that he already sends them to those attending and will copy the Board.  Chairman Howell said of the Parks & Recreation Committee agenda that it is a "comprehensive" one that includes all the items that the committee is considering.  At meetings different items are emphasized.  He will forward the agenda to the Board when he sends the meeting minutes. 

Treasurer's Report - Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting. The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  The current outstanding debt is $7,875,858.

(Resident) Sandy Hanks asked what the transfer of funds to the Recreation Land Acquisition Fund is?  Finance Manager Farley explained that it is monies for the cost of materials and supplies for the Gollub Park project.  Howell wondered why the $1 million from the Real Estate Fund wasn't questioned by anyone.  Farley explained that it was simply a check cut from the real estate tax receipts fund for deposit to the General Fund.  The monies were collected in April and a transfer is not done, a check is actually written.

Standing Committee Reports (meetings are open to the public - see the official Township calendar for dates and times)

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - noted that the May meeting was canceled and that the next will be on June 3rd.  He reported that the police department is getting the furniture plans together and that the discussion about the fire training facility foundation is underway.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - said that there has been no meeting so there is no report.  
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - reported that the committee met last Thursday and is continuing to explore park equipment - whether to restore or buy new.  The committee is preparing to report to the Board on a mini/neighborhood park concept where smaller recreation equipment would be located in some Township neighborhoods.  It would take some pressure off of the central park.  The committee will send a request for recommendations to the Recreation Board.  This committee meets twice a month.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - said that the next meeting is scheduled for June 9th at 6 PM.  She reported that the rough draft of the next Forks Quarterly is ready.  Township Manager Schnaedter said that he expects a proof in a few days and will distribute it to the Board. 
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the committee met on May 14th and that the new server is being installed.  The installation will take approximately two weeks and when up and running, should help greatly with email and with the document management system.  The committee is looking at the best ways to manage documents that are received daily.  Egolf said that they attended a document management conference on Tuesday and that Farley will attend a one day workshop (on the document management system).  The committee meets twice a month and the next meeting is set for May 28th.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter - said that he received a letter from the Bushkill Stream Conservancy requesting permission to put in a wildflower meadow at Lion's Park.  Howell said that when he read the letter from Mrs. Merwarth, President of the Bushkill Stream Conservancy, he asked Miller and DPW Director Mark Roberts to check out the area being considered.  Miller said that both he and Roberts have done that.  The area is already staked out and is not an area that cars use.  He said the wildflower meadow will look nice and is a good addition to what's along the creek.  Roberts added that Ed (Kleppinger - Parks Crew Chief) looked the area over as well and foresees no maintenance issues with it.  Howell asked if this will affect the Eagle Scouts' project.  Roberts said he will meet with the aspiring Eagle Scouts tomorrow (Friday, 5/16). 

Nicholas asked about access to the creek for fisherman (and others) and was told that it won't be impeded.

Egolf made a motion (seconded by Chuss) to approve the meadow in Lion's Park and to authorize the preparation of the area (and to include the Boy Scouts.)  The vote was unanimous.

Schnaedter also reported that the minutes of the meeting with PennDOT and various municipal officials about the Stockertown bridge are included in the Supervisors' packets.  Howell asked what Stockertown's point of view is regarding the bridge.  Schnaedter said that Stockertown Borough Council voted against replacing the vehicle bridge but would like a pedestrian bridge that is coordinated with the area recreation trails.  Howell asked the Board if it was interested in pursuing Chuss' request from the last meeting about a letter to Stockertown.

Chuss said that Schnaedter spoke with Mr. Fatzinger (Stockertown Council member) and Fatzinger was adamant about "no bridge."  Chuss said that he thought that comments by Forks' Supervisors should be passed on as the bridge would help to alleviate traffic on Sullivan & Uhler, Bushkill & Uhler, and Church Lane & Sullivan Trail. 

Chuss made a motion to send a letter to the Borough of Stockertown expressing Forks' support of the bridge.  Miller seconded the motion.  In discussion, Nicholas said that although she would like to see the bridge, she felt that it was not the Board's place to tell Stockertown what to do.  She said it would be akin to Stockertown telling Forks not to allow a business in its industrial park because it would create more traffic in Stockertown. 

Howell said that the minutes were of meeting with PennDOT and in considering etiquette, he thought that perhaps the letter should be sent to PennDOT since they were the ones interested in input and Forks was not invited. Howell said that he understood Nicholas' comments and that telling Stockertown that "we want the bridge for our selfish reasons and they don't want the bridge for theirs" can have unintended consequences.

Chuss amended his motion to send the letter to PennDOT.  It passed 4:1 with Howell casting the nay vote.

Schnaedter also reported that he met with Solicitor Kline and is gathering sample ordinances and policies from area municipalities regarding obstructions in right-of-ways.  He will report further at the next meeting. 

Engineer's Report - reported that the specifications for the Community Center HVAC were complete and he asked permission to go out for bid.  The system is for both buildings.  Nicholas asked that the specs be emailed to her.  Miller made the motion and Egolf seconded.  The procedure is that the specs will be advertised and then there will be a pre-bid meeting, then a bid opening, and the bids will be checked by staff for bonding, compliance, etc.  The contract will likely be awarded at the the second BoS meeting in June.  Nicholas also asked that copies of the contract be provided to the Board.  The vote was unanimous.  (The Community Center air conditioning will be working this summer.)

Solicitor's Report - Kline - reported the following:

  1. He reviewed Forks' ordinances for one dealing with on-sidewalk basketball hoops.  Schnaedter is reviewing the issue with other municipalities.  If there are continuing problems, residents should call the police department and they will handle the complaints as appropriate.
  2. The KMRD Procedural Challenge 24 page Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) decision (large file) has been received.  The ZHB rejected the challenge by KMRD and upheld the procedural validity of the Township Zoning Ordinance.  KMRD had hoped to invalidate all zoning ordinances back to 1983 so that they could proceed with their land plans for the FP (Farmland Protection district) under the old rules.  KMRD has 30 days from receipt of the written decision to file an appeal with the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas. 
  3. The KMRD Substantive Challenge hearings are continuing.  The Township's testimony has been concluded (on 5/14/08).  The last witness, Charles Schmehl of Urban Research and Development (URDC), the Township's expert, will be cross-examined at the next hearing on June 16th.  Kline said that KMRD will probably have a rebuttal witness as well.  There should only be two or three more hearings.
  4. The Kings Farm land development plan (the by-right plan, filed under the 2001 zoning ordinance - with 2 acre lots - that was rejected by the BoS because the developer did not perform the soil and perc tests - the developer's failure to proceed) appeal was rejected by the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.  The time to appeal that decision has passed and the developer did not appeal.  This one is over.
  5. Playground equipment purchased under COSTARS, the State negotiated price program, can be negotiated down in price.  The COSTARS numbers are the capped (top) price.  In that spirit, Kline negotiated $1000 out of the installation price.  The total price for the equipment plus installation is now $55,688.  Kline recommended that the Board sign the contract at the reduced price.  A new motion was made at the revised price.  It passed unanimously.


Sullivan Trail Business Park (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline explained that this has been on the books for years and that there has been a great deal of difficulty getting the developer (Goffredo) to complete the improvements.  The plan was approved in August 2001 and the subdivision improvement agreement was executed in August 2002.  Five years later, with most of the lots sold (exceptions are the Weis site and lots 5A & 5B), many of the required improvements are not complete.

Goffredo was to have completed all of the improvements within two years of the issuance of the first building permit.   The first was issued in October 2005 and all the municipal improvements were to be completed no later than last October.  Kline said that he has written to the developer and he and Hay have met with him and with his legal council and there is still no indication that the work will be completed.

The regional detention pond on the Merchants Bank property is not fixed.  The bank is extremely displeased and upset with the developer.  Because there is no low-flow drain in it, it has become a marsh - complete with cattails.

Kline recommended that the BoS draw on the line of credit.  This action will notify the bank that the developer is in default and that they are to immediately give Forks the $179,886.74 balance.  This means that the Township will undertake the improvements and the amount becomes a debt of the developer.  The letter of credit expires May 24th.

Nicholas asked if this was work that the Township DPW can do or if it will have to go out for bids.  Hay replied that bids will be needed. 

(Resident) Sandy Hanks asked who is responsible if the work costs more than the letter of credit balance?  Kline replied that it is the developer's responsibility and that under the MPC (Municipal Planning Code), the Township is responsible to see that the work gets done.  Kline offered that the Township can sue the developer for the difference or there may be opportunities to work out arrangements with some of the other builders coming in to the business park.  Kline thought it premature to decide to sue the developer.

The work to be done includes the wearing course on the business park roads, a job that will be not be done until after the Weis site (and other) construction is completed. 

Nicholas made a motion, seconded by Miller, to draw on the letter of credit.  In discussion, Egolf said that he saw that trees were being planted along the perimeter of the site.  Hay said that developers commonly do the easy things and that he saw that couple of light poles were in also.  The vote was 5:0.


Fort James III Subdivision (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline reported that the developers agreements are in place and that a letter of credit for the entire site has been received - in the amount of $3,258,299.15.  Two major land developments are in process, Weyerhaeuser Industries and Henningsen Cold Storage.  The subdivision was approved in a 5:0 vote. 

Comprehensive Plan Update (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline briefed the Supervisors about the decision by the Planning Commission (PC) last week to pass the draft Comprehensive Plan (in its current state) to them.  He said that the PC was hard at work for many months on the Comprehensive Plan and that many volunteers worked on it also.  Reports were submitted to the PC.  The Comprehensive Plan was put together in draft form by the PC and Charlie Schmehl (of URDC). 

Kline added that he believed Schmehl was planning to add the charts and maps before sending it to the Board.  It will be emailed to the Township.  And, Kline thought that the Board should discuss and write out what the process for going forward with the Comprehensive Plan will be.  Although, he offered that without anything in front of them, it may be difficult to make a decision tonight.

Howell asked Zoning Officer Tim Weis to provide a hard copy for each of the Supervisors.  Weis said that he will advise the Board when he's received it so that they can make a decision about putting it on the agenda.

Kline enumerated the steps that must happen before the plan's adoption:

  1. The Board must be satisfied with the condition of the document.
  2. The plan must be sent to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), the EASD, and neighboring municipalities for comment.
  3. There must be a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors.

Kline said that Board must decide what the procedure will be for editorial or substantive changes - should the Board wish to make any. 

Howell said that he would like the Board to make some sort of timetable for the review at the next meeting. 

Chuss said that the MPC has guidelines and that the Board should make a decision at its next meeting to send the plan on the LVPC and to the surrounding municipalities.  He said that the PC target date was March and that a complete review of the plan will result in unnecessary delay.  Chuss said that PC has gone to great lengths to solicit public input and BoS comments.  Further delay may mean looking at issues again.

Egolf said that he understands Chuss' concerns.  It has been a long process and reflects a lot of hard work from many people. 

Howell agreed that there were lots of opportunities for comment throughout the process.  There were comments made by the Supervisors and by the public but he said that he is not sure how they were compiled or listed since the minutes he's reviewed do not reference them.  Howell said that he's attended 80% of the workshop meetings and that comments were taken but he's not sure what happened to them.

Egolf said that this is exactly how he feels but that he is optimistic and "will take the whole thing on good faith."  He said that significant revisions were asked for and if they are included, he thinks it will be a "green light."  But, he said, he must see the draft before he will agree to pass it on to neighboring municipalities, the LVPC, etc.

Nicholas addressed Kline and said that she was at the workshop meeting when the motion to establish an ad hoc committee to review comments was passed.  Then she got the email from Dean (Turner - PC Chairman) stating that the PC was sending the plan to the Board as is.  She thought that this would be like her saying that she wants to do a vote over on something from last year.  Nicholas asked Kline if it was proper and Kline said that the PC has a right to do it. He added that "there are numerous instances where a governing body chooses to reconsider an action that it took before." 

Nicholas said that her understanding then is that the comments made at that workshop will (now) not be included.  Kline said that at that meeting there were editorial comments made by the public as well as comments of a substantive nature.  He added, "The PC was not interested in proceeding with the substantive changes and that only editorial changes needed to be made."  And, he suggested that if the Board wants those comments included it will have to decide on the process to include them. 

Chuss said that that was not his understanding and that any changes the PC agreed to would be incorporated by Schmehl into the document that would be sent to the Board. 

Kline said that the PC voted to pass it on in whatever condition it is.  However in an email from Schmehl to Kline and the Board, Schmehl said that he wanted to "issue a new draft to incorporate editorial improvements, updated mapping, photos, and some items raised at the last meeting and to incorporate the changes memo that was distributed at the April Planning Commission workshop."  Kline said that some of the comments may be in the draft that Schmehl sends - but until the Board gets it, it won't know.

Chuss said that he requested that Schmehl place bookmarks at all the changes so that a full review will be unnecessary.  He offered that if there are any significant issues they can be discussed - although he can't imagine what those significant issues could be that have not already been discussed.  He said again that the Board "should be prepared at the next meeting to forward it on to the LVPC and other communities so that we (the Board) can be sure that the Comprehensive Plan meets the needs of the Township."  Chuss added that the LVPC review can take up to 45 days which would put the public hearing sometime in August and that this (moving it forward) is one of the ways to "expedite the process."

Egolf said that the bottom line is that until the Board sees the draft it won't know what has been done.  He offered again that he will remain optimistic that it's all included.

Chuss agreed that he, too, is optimistic and said that he trusts Mr. Schmehl a lot.  He praised how receptive Schmehl has been to any comments and that he was always accommodating.

Weis said that he is sure they will have it before the next meeting so it should be placed on the agenda for discussion "one way or the other."

Nicholas said that she thinks that it is a very important document - considering the lawsuits against the Township.  She added that the Board really needs to be cautious and certain that this (document) is what the Board wants.

Howell said, "There were substantive comments made throughout the entire process... at meetings that Charles (Schmehl) was not present."   Howell said that he doesn't know what the process was to collect the comments.  He said that he is not concerned about the timing because "the process is the process."  He reiterated Nicholas' sentiment, that the Comprehensive Plan is a guide for the Board.  And, he added, that it is a guide that will be supported by changes in the Zoning Ordinance.

Howell said that he will be looking at how the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan agree on what the Township sees for the FP.  He will also look at comments he's made regarding "vision" and about the refining of the Plan. 

Howell said that the URDC/Schmehl proposal is a rather substantial document and is about 50 pages long.  Yet the Planners' comments are that they are just "fine tuning and tweaking" (the 1997 Comprehensive Plan.)  Howell added that in the first few sentences of the document (the draft Comprehensive Plan) it says the duration of the Plan is 15 years.  He would agree that tweaking and fine tuning would be fine if nothing had happened in the Township since 1997.  However, since a lot has happened in the Township since 1997, Schmehl's proposal was right on target.  Howell added that Schmehl has done a credible job and the document complies with the statute and the design desired by the LVPC.  He just wants to be certain that the content is what the Board wants.

Howell related that in the mid-nineties, Supervisor Hoff complained that the Township was not getting its share of commercial and residential development.  To remedy that the Board lowered impact fees... and got growth.  Howell said, speaking for himself, he wants to be sure the Comprehensive Plan prepares the Township for the next 15 years.  And, he added, that if the Board, after review, has any substantive changes, that the changes are considered and not just forgotten.  Howell said that he will have substantive changes.

Chuss said that throughout the process there has been opportunity to provide input from both the Supervisors and the public.  Chuss said that he finds it "a little bit troubling to stop now and begin changing what has already been developed through meeting after meeting."  The opportunities, he said, for public input were more than ample.  He said these changes are coming in not at the 11th hour, not at 11:59, but at 12:15.  Chuss added that this delay is unnecessary and that "the Plan will never be perfect because as long as it's being worked on, the Township - the State - the world is changing."

Howell said that 15 years is written in the Plan and when he asked a few planners if they knew that, they did not.  He said that he brought up early on about vision sessions and never heard a conversation about one in public.  Howell said that he took Vito (Planner Tamborrino) at his word at the last (PC) meeting, when he said, "We are going to send it to the Board as is because we know we're going to get it back."  Howell said that no one is talking about a re-write and that suggestion of one is a "conjured up idea." 

Nicholas said that she doesn't think the plan should be for 15 years and that that should be taken out.  She remarked that a lot has happened since 1997 and that there's no way to know what will happen in the next five years.

Sandra Hanks asked if the Board can make changes or if it's only a PC function?  The answer was "yes" that the Board can make comments/suggestions. 

Chuss said that there were joint PC/BoS meetings in January, February and March specifically to address issues.  He added that the 15 years in the Plan is the maximum length and there is nothing preventing it from being changed next year.  Chuss reiterated that it's simply a guide and that ordinances are based on it.  He added that there is "an underlying vision in the plan and it is the vision of the residents who participated."

Howell offered that they must understand that "the process is what it is... it takes as long as it takes."  He asked Weis to post the new draft Comprehensive Plan on the Township website so that the public can see it.  The process is transparent.

Executive Session - The session was held to discuss several personnel matters.  No action was taken during the session but afterwards, in a 5:0 vote, the Board promoted Robin Featherman to the new position of Senior Crew Chief at a rate of $22.00/hr.  The rate for a Crew Chief is $20.96/hr.  Featherman will be second under DPW Director Mark Roberts.

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.

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