A thorough review will be conducted to determine if an extra 46 acres of a 700-acre tract of land in Lower Towamensing Township may be used for a fairgrounds and recreational complex.

After over 2 1/2 hours of deliberation on Tuesday, the township's zoning hearing board ruled to refer the Carbon County Lions/Lioness Fair Association to the township's planning commission for its review.

A crowd of about 30 residents – several of whom voiced displeasure with the proposed use – attended the hearing in which the CCLLFA sought to obtain a special exception, and/or variances from various sections of the zoning ordinance.

Bob Silliman, president of the Carbon County Fair, said the organization intends to use the extra land located at 2645 Little Gap Road for a variety of activities.

Silliman said the organization would like to build a 10-foot buffer zone to the Chestnut Ridge Railroad tracks, and then a 25-foot wide access roadway that would go from Little Gap Road to the south side of the railroad tracks, where it would access the east/west road to the parking lots.

Doing so would create two additional parking lots: one lot with 750 parking spaces and two soccer fields on the east side; the other, would have over 800 parking spaces and two ball fields.

All the parking spaces are going to be 10-foot by 20-foot, said Silliman, who said the organization also proposes to build a 6-foot-high fence around the fairgrounds proper, not the parking lot.

Silliman added the organization is in talks with Ampal to lease property to add 384 additional parking spaces. He said a letter received from Ampal said it would enter into the agreement, he said.

The fair would still run five days a week; however, the fields would be open the rest of the year, he said.

"It would definitely be an improvement over what's been going on," Silliman said. "We're trying to create a facility that would be used for more than a fair."

In all, Silliman said there would be a total of 1,805 parking spaces. He said they would try to put drainage in, and would maintain the fields, he said.

Zoning board solicitor Holly Heintzelman then asked Silliman if the organization planned to have permanent buildings, to which he replied they did.

The 10-year, or longer, plan, Silliman said, calls for a 50-foot by 100-foot horse barn; a 50-foot by 100-foot cattle barn; a 50-foot by 100-foot barn for swine; a 50-foot by 125-foot barn for goats and sheep; a washing area for animals; an area for the Farmer For a Day program; a 40-foot by 60-foot area for rabbits; a 40-foot by 60-foot space for poultry; two 60-foot by 100-foot buildings; a fair office in the center of the fairgrounds; as well as others.

"Your application is for the Carbon County Fairgrounds and a recreation complex; yet, you're not working out anything for the use of the property," Heintzelman said. "We need some example from you as to what you want to do."

Silliman said the uses could be for the Carbon County 4-H program; car show; flea market; equipment consignments sale; and for the storage of equipment in the winter.

"We want to be a good neighbor here; we're not going for anything that would jeopardize the community," Silliman said. "We do have to generate some income to pay taxes."

Zoning board Chairman James Ord told Silliman one of the concerns the zoners have dates back to 1999, when they originally granted an application for a special exception to the organization.

"It's kind of obvious when you look at it, every one of these exceptions was just overlooked; none of it was done," Ord said. "Frankly, I wouldn't want it in my front yard the way it looks."

Zoning board member James DeRosa added "Don't forget the fact that after three years, we didn't hear from anybody."

Silliman said he inquired with two former township supervisors who were elected officials back in 2002, who told him they had received no complaints about the fair, and for it to continue the way it was.

The pens were stored in trailers, Silliman said, to which Ord replied that the trailers weren't supposed to be there.

"The conditions to grant the former exception weren't really adhered to," Ord said. "This (proposal) is not a five-day-out-of-the-year event."

Silliman said he understood, and that the organization would comply with the special exception, if it were to be granted.

Zoning board member Keith George told Silliman "You say you want to be a good neighbor; you've already shown you don't."

Heintzelman again chimed in on the situation.

"I think the problem at hand is we don't even know what conditions to impose; we're a little unclear about it," she said. "We need to know that before we grant you a variance."

Several residents then spoke out against the proposal.

Edward Shelly, who owns a veterinarian hospital adjacent to the proposed area in question, said he believes the matter is a "safety issue."

"My concern is the land being part of a Superfund site," Shelly said. "It's contaminated with lead and cadmium."

Resident Marilyn Ord, the mother of James Ord, said he was concerned with a drainage issue on her property, specifically a pipe that comes onto her property.

Resident Kay Phillips said she was concerned with the traffic and trash, not to mention noise issues.

"How do you plan on controlling garbage? During the fair, it's a more sizable amount."

Silliman said he was very proud of how the trash was cleaned up.

James Ord told Silliman he had to understand the concerns.

"This would be a very large change for the neighborhood," he said. "No doubt about it."

Resident Caroline Dry said the safety of children in the area would be cause for concern.

"The fair part is great," Dry said. "But, we have concerns about our children and our neighbors children."

Resident Mitch Kleintop said he wasn't sure things would turn out as good as they sound.

"I think you are telling us what we want to hear," Kleintop said. "How come nobody knew about the property being sold."

Silliman said he would "love nothing better than to have a house here," and added he believes the plan would be an overall improvement for the area.

James Ord said the matter was difficult to determine.

"I, quite frankly, am a little bit stumped about how we get the answers to make this fair to everybody," he said. "I'm just thinking we may need to take this a little further."

It was agreed the applicant had to waive the timeline requirements for the zoning board to make a decision, and were directed to go to the township's planning commission for review and comments on their proposal when it meets at 7 p.m. March 22.

The matter would then go before the zoning hearing board at a later date.

After the meeting, Silliman told the TIMES NEWS the organization has received "overwhelming support" from various lions clubs, the agricultural community, and residents who live along Little Gap Road.

The portion of the property affected by the request is situated in an R-1, Residential Low Density, zoning district. A section of the township zoning ordinance doesn't list either a fairgrounds or recreational complex as a permitted use in the R-1 zoning district.

In September the organization purchased 717.49 acres of property in the township for $45,900 through the Carbon County Unpaid Tax Sale. The property had been abandoned by Horsehead Corporation, and was up for sale because of non-payment of taxes since 2006.

Silliman previously said the land would be developed into a new fairground. He said it would likely take at least two years before the fair would be able to move onto the new property. A portion of the new tract is currently used as a youth recreation area, a relationship Silliman said the fair intends to continue with the organization. A portion of funds raised each year had been put into a land fund, he said.

The event has been held at the CC fairgrounds for the past dozen years on 44 acres of property along Little Gap Road. Of that, Blue Mountain Ski Area owns about 30 acres, while the other 14 acres are used for the parking area, which is owned by a private individual.

This year's fair is slated to be held Aug. 8-12 at the Carbon County Fairgrounds.