Carbon County may lose its priority on an $8,000 lien against a Lehighton man who took legal action against officials in 2006 with the hopes of saving a 108-year-old railhouse in Mahoning Township, one commissioner states.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek stated that he spoke with county solicitor Daniel Miscavige about the April 12, 2007 court judgment currently filed in the prothonotary's office, which states that Thomas A. Zimmerman IV, formerly of Nesquehoning at the time of the ruling, owes the county $8,114 for counsel fees the former majority board of commissioners incurred in 2006 when Zimmerman filed multiple actions to stop the demolition at Packerton Yards.
Zimmerman, at the time, was the founder of the group Save Packerton Yards and led the charge against the county's plans to demolish the building and industrialize the 59-acre site between Mahoning Township and Lehighton. His attempts failed when the late Judge David Addy ruled that Zimmerman's claims were unfounded.
O'Gurek also pointed out that the county needs to take immediate action and file a writ of revival to keep the priority status of the lien. A writ of revival must be filed every five years on liens like this to maintain their priority status.
He added that Miscavige was in agreement that the county should take action to revive the priority.
"There's no action on it," O'Gurek said about yesterday's meeting agenda, "and I believe time is running out. It's the responsibility of the county to revive that judgment at this time."
He then made a motion to authorize attorney Miscavige to revive the judgment against Zimmerman, which was filed in the common pleas court. The motion died for lack of a second.
Prior to the motion dying, Nothstein asked Miscavige what would happen to Zimmerman and the lien if the revival is filed.
Miscavige explained that all it would do is maintain the priority status of the current lien against Zimmerman's property.
The room fell silent following O'Gurek's motion.
"It's becoming obvious to me that neither the chairman nor vice chairman are willing to revive a judgment owed to this county and I wonder why," O'Gurek said. "Taxpayers are aware that Zimmerman owes this money and I wonder if a lack of a second would basically let Mr. Zimmerman off the hook. Is the lack of a second implying that here?
"Mr. Miscavige agreed with me and said we should get on it right away and now you two sit here and don't want to revive the judgment," he continued. "Shame on you, it's taxpayers' money. Regardless of what you want to do at Packerton, this was a cost the court ordered Mr. Zimmerman to pay and shame on you for not wanting to revive the judgment."
He suggested that maybe the board should look at all money that is owed to the county because, "we're in tough budget times and there are outstanding issues and this one is time sensitive."
Gerhard said that he would not second O'Gurek's motion because "I know it's my responsibility as a county commissioner to do what is right, and I feel what Mr. Zimmerman did circulating a petition to try and save a perfectly good building was his right. He tried to save a building."
O'Gurek questioned Gerhard on his use of the term "perfectly good building."
"I think from what I understand the building was structurally sound," Gerhard responded. "All we needed to do was put a roof on it and proceed with renovations on the building, but we go in there and tear down a perfectly good building."
O'Gurek commented that there was more work needed than just a roof to make the building usable.
Gerhard then asked if the actions taken by the previous board were fair, then why was the building torn down at midnight.
Nothstein corrected him, stating that it was late afternoon, about one hour after the judgment was filed. He added that he feels that the actions of the previous majority commissioners and the case were just pushed through the court system.
"I will not second it today," Nothstein said of O'Gurek's motion, adding that at that time the county had a potential buyer, a railroad group from Connecticut.
"I feel for Zimmerman because his name was on the petition and he's being held responsible for how many people feeling the same way."
"Mr. Zimmerman chose of his free will to start those civil actions against the county," O'Gurek responded. "Those people from Lancaster (April Koppenhaver and Bruce Clark) came in and they led him down the river, but he filed the actions, he signed the documents. Apparently $8,000 doesn't mean anything to you."
"It does, but so does the integrity of the citizens and the people opposed to the project," Nothstein said.
The controversy between Zimmerman and O'Gurek and then Commissioner Charles Getz regarding the former railroad storehouse began in October 2006 when the Lancaster County pair, April Koppenhaver, owner of Mulberry Art Studios, and Bruce Clark, approached the board of commissioners to discuss the possibility of renovating the building into an art center and tourist attraction. They met with Nothstein on Oct. 6, the day after the demolition contract was awarded to Flynn Wrecking Inc. of Pottsville, formerly Flynn Demolition.
Following failed discussions with O'Gurek and Getz, who planned to industrialize the site to bring in higher paying jobs, the pair filed the first of three injunction requests. Their case was dismissed after a brief hearing on Oct. 19, in which Addy ruled that they had no standing in the county matter.
Shortly after, Zimmerman became involved and formed the group Save Packerton Yards. He unsuccessfully filed two requests for a temporary restraining order and injunction, as well as a stay order. He also organized an on-site tour for the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission to determine whether the building could be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This visit was canceled because demolition had already started.
Demolition on the building began on Jan. 11, 2007 and was completed on Jan. 31, 2007.
Since then, millions of dollars in state and federal funding has been secured for the industrialization of the site, but permit and access issues have caused numerous delays.