Thursday, October 23, 2008

Forks 5 - KMRD 0

Yes!  Forks' Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) voted 5:0 against the KMRD/Kings Mill challenge to Forks zoning ordinance -  because the "applicant" failed to meet the burden of proof.  The meeting went on for three hours. 

The testimonies of three Forks residents are now part of the court record.  Please read the considered and thoughtful words of James Wideman and David Billings.  Mark Mulrine spoke, too.  Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of his testimony.  He spoke to his disregard for developers who come to our township, build, devastate, and leave.  

These Forks residents, your neighbors, spoke for you and for our Township. Yes, there was indeed applause!

Attorney VanLuvanee (representing KMRD - and also a KMRD principal) gave a summation lasting approximately 1-1/2 hours.  He contended that the 2006 zoning ordnance had nothing to do with farmland preservation and was meant instead to halt development.  According to VanLuvanee, the Constitution says you cannot tailor an ordinance to exclude classes of people which, in essence, (he alleged) that Forks did by not allowing apartments, townhouses, and mobile homes in the Farmland Protection (FP) district.  He also stated that the LVPC (Lehigh Valley Planning Commission) criticized the 2000 Forks Zoning Ordinance because it was not changed to allow these types of houses.  VanLuvanee referenced numerous court cases, many in which he was involved.

VanLuvanee claimed that one of the goals of the 2006 zoning change from the 2000 zoning ordinance was a 10% reduction in development throughout the township. He claimed that sewer is a State regulation and not a justification for one acre lots. He also claimed that Forks shirked its responsibility when dealing with exploding growth - rather Forks ran the other way and did not deal with the issue.

The Township's attorney, Steve Goudsouzian, pointed out that Nic Zawarski & Sons (another member of the KMRD partnership) did not build apartments when building in Forks but instead built high value homes - because of the profit factor.  The opportunity to build the other types of housing was there but was rejected by developers in Forks.  Also, Goudsouzian noted that KMRD never provided a map of the proposed development (Kings Mill) choosing instead to use old graphs to substantiate its case - some of which were proven inaccurate by the Forks' expert witness, Mr. Charles Schmehl, of Urban Research & Development (URDC).

Goudsouzian noted that the FP is in the northeast section of the Township - an area, he said, that is not in the path of growth primarily because of the lack of sewers.  And, contrary to what VanLuvanee indicated, low income housing is not a law in PA.

Goudsouzian said that not only was the opportunity there for developers to build apartments, they actually had approved plans for building apartments, and Forks accommodated the developers on their plan changes to more profitable types of housing.  KMRD bought land from farmers at a reduced rate, and now wants to change the rules to increase their profits.

Goudsouzian said of the KMRD expert witnesses:

  • Glackin knew about the Heritage case, but chose to ignore it in his testimony. 
  • Bernard ignored PA law and instead said this is what we should have.
  • Unangst ignored practical issues with building on smaller lots and instead presented development in a perfect scenario.

KMRD had two principal claims - that Forks does not preserve agriculture and that it does not provide a variety of housing types.  Goudsouzian also pointed out that you don't have to look at the entirety of Forks Township to determine if it is in the path of growth.  You can look at the FP district and determine if that alone is/is not in the path of growth.

The Zoning Hearing Board members expressed their opinions before the vote:

  • Mr. Kimmel - said that he reviewed many transcripts and thought there was overkill on what was actually needed. He stated that Forks is highly developed and that both sides agreed that over the last five years Forks has taken on a larger burden than most with growth.  Why should we be forced to continue to take on more?  He said that the changes from the 2000 ordinance to the 2006 ordinance dealt with open space requirements throughout the Township, and not just in the FP.  Kimmel said that he is comfortable with what zoning has done and that there are no serious problems.
  • Mr. Asteak - asked if the land is in the logical path of growth?  "No."  He offered that there are inadequate water, roads, etc. and therefore it is not in a logical path of growth.
  • Mr. Moyer - said that developers have had the opportunity to build enough multiple family units and the economic margins and/or markets have made their determinations, not Forks Township.  KMRD ignores its own history.  He felt that the school impact was glossed over and that there would be a negative impact to Easton. The statement that traffic cannot be a reason for denial is spoken by those who won't be driving here.  Moyer  further pointed out that 25 acres of housing will protect 25 acres of farming - dispelling the KMRD assertion that three acre housing does not protect farmland. He also agreed that Forks' is highly developed and that the FP is not in the path of growth.  He said that Forks provided developers the opportunity for all housing types.
  • Mr. Rossi - said that the Township did not pull zoning out of the air.  Forks has always hired legal experts, made field trips, had hearings, formed committees, and spoken with many professionals - before any zoning or ordinance changes.  Further, Rossi added, the township went out of its way to accommodate developers. He said that Forks gives developers options for what they can build.  Forks cannot tell developers what they can build.
  • Mr. Pappas - concurred with the other ZHB members.

Please read Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) and Tony Nauroth (Express Times) for more of this most gratifying final session of the KMRD/King's Mill challenge to Forks' 2006 zoning ordinance.  And, yes, it will be appealed in the Northampton Court of Common Pleas - VanLuvanee said so.

FAC wishes to thank all those who attended this and other rounds of the KMRD zoning challenge hearing and who contributed their time and insight to the reporting of it.

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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