Residents living along Packerton Dam Road across from the proposed Packerton Yards land development project being developed by the Carbon County Commissioners may retain their existing rights to property currently owned by the Lehighton Water Authority once the county takes control of the ground. However, they may find their common dirt roadway that provides egress to their properties will be restricted to a right turn in and right turn out according to plans presented and discussed at the Mahoning Township Planning Commission Tuesday night.
Township engineer Tim Edinger said, "The county is restricting the private driveway to a right-in and right-out access." County engineer Mike Tirpak said the restriction which will affect about 12 lots along Packerton Dam Road is a PennDOT restriction.
Although the 1.6 acre property is currently owned by the Lehighton Water Authority, the county plans to obtain the ground which is the reason the county engineer and Packerton Yards counsel Ed Hughes of Hughes, Kalkbrenner and Ozorowski were presenting the land development plan to township planners. The parcel which is split into two lots will not be developed according to the county and will remain open space.
Hughes told planners the county's intention is to place a non building declaration on the lot labeled Lot One. Planner Bruce Steigerwalt asked if Lot Two should also be included in the non building declaration since Lot One at least has access to sewage where lot two does not. One of the planners questioned whether the lot passed a perc test but no one answered the question.
The commission reviewed a comment letter written by township engineer Tim Edinger who made several observations about the plan submitted by the county. With regard to the non-building declaration the lines that would be added to the subdivision plan would cause the neighboring properties' setbacks to encroach on the county property. Edinger noted the regulations in the township would cause several sheds to violate zoning codes once the county's lot lines were placed. He recommended moving the county's lots back ten feet to make the existing properties sheds and structures meet the setback requirements.
In another comment, Edinger said the plan could be treated as a minor subdivision, but Steigerwalt pointed out a subdivision is five lots or less in a residential zone. The Authority's parcel is zoned as an R-3 medium residential density. Edinger said the county's plans show no residential lots on either of the two lots and therefore in his opinion meets the requirements simply because no residential lots is less than the five lot requirement and meets the subdivision definition.
Solicitor Tom Nanovic said that in order for the property to be considered a minor subdivision for the land development plan it really should be granted a waiver. "We want to avoid setting a precedence. If you request a waiver, then there is no question."
Edinger also listed several other items that needed to be addressed including changing the plan's scale, displaying the width of the private driveway on the plan, noting that existing utilities should be shown if they exist and waiving recreation fees since the lots will be open space.
The issue that seemed to concern both parties were the existing property owners' rights as they currently exist on the property and what would happen in the future. Edinger said the current plan shows no easement rights for the property owners leading him to question what rights they have to the driveway and the property that the county will own. A few of the properties have sheds and outbuildings that encroach on county property and one owner has a vegetable garden on the authority's property. Edinger inquired what will happen when the county takes over the ground.
County Chairman Wayne Nothstein said he would expect the rights the owners currently enjoy would continue once the county takes over the property. He believes the county has no intention to change their existing easements or to force them to remove buildings that may end up encroaching on county property.
Edinger said the one thing that will change is their dirt roadway used to access the rear of their properties will be restricted by the plan to a right turn in and right turn out. Solicitor Tom Nanovic asked if it was right for people to lose rights to the driveway because of what the county and planners are doing. Tirpak responded to Nanovic's comment by pointing out that no one really knows what the owners' rights currently are. Nanovic suggested that maybe the owners should be given an opportunity to review and sign off on this plan since it affects their right of way to the dirt alley and their setback lines.
Planner Pat Snyder voiced her agreement that the people affected by the plan should be told how their driveway will change. Nothstein quipped the county will probably find out how the people feel "a half hour after they read this in the newspaper." He said the county usually hears from residents once they read about things that will affect them personally.
He also said he would check with the Water Authority to see if they granted any explicit rights to any of the land owners in question. According to Steigerwalt the property was originally the railroad's before the Lehighton Water Authority assumed ownership and commented that he had no idea if any special rights were granted at any time. Edinger suggested that it might be in the township's interest to obtain a release from the county absolving them of any responsibility should the county plan result in future legal action or problems from any of the township residents. Steigerwalt said he believed the county was assuming the existing owners would be given the same rights and easements as they have now and agreed with Edinger's idea about obtaining a release.
Steigerwalt said the plan should have an easement on the rear of the properties to give owners the rights to use the driveway. Planning Chairperson Bob Slaw suggested that the plan should show a right of way for the access to the driveway. Steigerwalt then suggested perhaps the plan should show the road right of way and an easement for the structures on the plan. He added that he just wanted to make sure the owners retain their access rights to the driveway.
The planners noted the plan expired on July 16, 2012 and since more work needed to be done to address their comments and the alterations discussed during the session they suggested the county grant a 90 day extension. In addition they asked them to revise the plans to show the property line moved to the north ten feet as well as the right of way for the driveway and the easements for the existing sheds and out buildings that encroach on the land the county will obtain from the water authority. In addition they also requested the county apply for a waiver for the subdivision.
The county agreed to extend the plan and revise it for next month's meeting.