After many iterations and hours of meetings, Mahoning Township supervisors and Carbon County commissioners failed to come to a reasonable compromise and unanimously rejected the Packerton Yards land development plan on Monday.
They also unanimously voted down two waivers, one dealing with a request to waive sidewalks in the development in favor of the county's planned walkways, and the second to reconstruct Packerton Hollow Road to be an 18-foot road with two three-foot shoulders instead of the required 20 foot road with six- foot shoulders.
"I personally cannot vote in good conscience for a plan that puts an entrance in a location that I believe will eventually lead to a serious accident," said new Supervisor Todd Weaver prior to the vote to reject the plan.
Weaver lives near the road in question, which would intersect with Route 209 at the area known as the Packerton Dip.
Solicitor Tom Nanovic told the board he prepared two documents because he was not sure which way the board would vote. One document approved the plan conditionally and the other rejected the plan.
He said he was not entirely sure how to reject it, when some of the conditions were satisfied, but he did not see a problem with the board carrying through with the plan rejection.
While there was not much discussion other than Weaver's comment prior to rejecting the actual plan in total, there was another lengthy debate over the sidewalk issue between the supervisors and Carbon County's attorney, Edward Hughes.
Hughes' position was that the county attempted over the past five years to work with the township and follow its codes, but he believed the county code actually overruled the township's ordinances and that the commissioners can construct a county road without having to install the sidewalks required by the township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.
Chairperson John Wieczorek challenged Hughes by asking him why the county even bothered following through the process if it believed it was not required to heed township codes.
"Why did we waste the last two years?" he asked.
Hughes said, "We wanted to work with you."
Supervisor Frank Ruch said, "Well I wanted a sidewalk not (using) a shoulder."
Carbon County engineer Ron Tirpak responded by telling Ruch the shoulder was only used in two places where there was not space for a sidewalk.
Those areas are the 60 feet across the bridge near the entrance to the development, and about 350 feet of roadway closer to the river.
"The walkway would be paved. It veers off the shoulder in some places to be separate and then is adjacent to the roadway again," he said in describing the project.
Tirpak said the current plan would use the shoulder as a walkway to and across the bridge, and then a paved walkway would occur up to the railroad right–of-way, then it would begin again as a paved walkway adjacent to the shoulder through the park. In a few areas of the road, the walkway completely leaves the roadside but then rejoins it further down the road. There is about 350 feet down closer to the river where the width requires the walkway to return to the shoulder, but then it becomes separated again.
Wieczorek referred to a comment letter from Melissa Malkin of PennDOT, who cited code that stated the sidewalk/pathway must be separated from the shoulder according to state regulations. Hughes responded to the chairman's comment by citing an email from Malkin that also said if the path is other than (part of) the shoulder, it must be separated. He contended to the supervisors that since the path is on the shoulder, that area is exempt as stated in Malkin's email.
Wieczorek told Hughes that Malkin also said PennDOT would enforce a municipality's code if it is more stringent than state regulations, which is why he believed the sidewalk requirement would be enforced by PennDOT.
Ruch insisted a few times during the discussion that he was expecting the county to return with a plan showing both sidewalks and walking trails. Hughes said the county agreed back in June to explore the options and return with a plan they could support, but he insisted at no time did the county agree to develop plans according to the supervisors' wishes.
Tirpak told supervisors the county has created several revisions of the plan, adding the trail, then agreeing to pave it, and have come a far distance from the original plan.
"I think we are at an impasse now," he said. Wieczorek concurred, "I guess we are."
Wieczorek mentioned the bridge apparently was also lengthened to 72 feet to accommodate the shoulders from the original sixty foot. Tirpak confirmed that was the reason the bridge was changed.
Carbon County Chairman Wayne Nothstein said he thought the board was OK with the county's newest plan after the previous meeting.
"I thought we were OK with a sidewalk from Route 209 to the bridge and a walkway through the rest of the park."
Hughes said the county was not aware of anywhere else in the township where sidewalks were required for an industrial park, then handed supervisors a list of locations to support the county position. Wieczorek observed the list had no industrial locations and asked Tirpak if he believed the list was industrial businesses. Tirpak said they were commercial, although Hughes pointed out the Kovatch property was an industrial lot.
Ruch said he wanted sidewalks all along, and that he was expecting them to be separate from the road. Hughes said he felt at this point the difference was one of semantics, but pointed out the walkways were separated except in the two places cited earlier, where it would be a hardship to separate them from the road.
He also questioned why the county just did not come straight in from Dunbar's just off the bypass. He said the western side of the tracks is a straight shot to the property. Nothstein said they looked at that option, but discovered truck traffic from the north have no way to make a turn toward that property in Lehighton because the streets and intersections are too narrow to allow it.
Weaver asked why they just didn't make the Packerton Dip entrance a truck entrance and use the other access point for car traffic, which would alleviate the turning issue. Nothstein said every avenue was explored and as much as he didn't like it, the current configuration is the best one.
"The county is stuck with a piece of property we cannot sell, so we have to do what we can," said Nothstein.
Supervisor Linda Benner asked Nothstein what kind of prospects the county had for occupying the property. Nothstein said he believed there were still three companies watching what happens with the ground and are still interested in occupying all or part of the development.
Benner said she thought the county should have spent more time filling the existing industrial park in Nesquehoning instead of trying to develop another property.
"I cannot imagine how this is feasible when there is an empty industrial park already in the county," said Benner.
Nothstein admitted he did not believe the county should be in the land development business, but he felt the county now had to see it through because he did not want businesses interested in the property to have to navigate the approval process themselves.
It was at that point Ruch said he would not vote against the recommendation of the Planning Commission. Hughes said he didn't see why that would be a problem, but Ruch countered saying that was Hughes' opinion and he was following his own.
Nanovic pointed out because this was a new plan, the supervisors needed to reconsider the sidewalk waiver and the roadway reduction one. It took little discussion for supervisors to vote against granting both waivers, and then after Weaver's comment, the board took very little time to unanimously reject the plan.
While county officials did not publicly say what they would do next, statements made by both supervisors and county representation in the past indicated that the issue probably will end up in front of a county judge.