Despite several heated exchanges with his neighbors, a Lower Towamensing Township man has received permission to run a small engine repair business out of an accessory building.
By a 2-1 margin, the township's zoning hearing board agreed after a one-hour executive session Wednesday to grant Matthew Steinmetz a special exception to alter his business at 425 Hahn's Dairy Road.
Zoning board member Keith George and board Chairman James Ord voted in favor of the request. Zoning board member James DeRosa was opposed.
After the meeting, DeRosa said "I don't like to turn things down. Steinmetz didn't seem to want to help himself or the neighbors."
The board's ruling means Steinmetz may conduct repairs out of the garage, which will also be used for storage related to the activity.
Prior to the board's vote, Steinmetz told zoners he conducts repairs, as well as testing of equipment, and noted that he's had recreational and personal equipment at the site since 1999.
Steinmetz said the hours in which he works varies, and could be anytime from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. After that, anything he works on is of a personal nature, he said.
Board solicitor Holly Heintzelman asked Steinmetz if he had a permit for a home occupation, to which he replied that he did.
Heintzelman then noted that Steinmetz has been found to not be in compliance of the permit due to the testing of equipment outside.
Ord asked Steinmetz if he's been notified that he's been in violation of the permit. Steinmetz said he has.
Heintzelman then asked Steinmetz if his home occupation has been revoked. Steinmetz said it has not.
When asked by Heintzelman if he would accept different hours to perform his activities, Steinmetz said he would be fine with that.
On an average day, Steinmetz said there might be two people on his property for business use. There is room to park between eight or nine vehicles on his property, said Steinmetz, who added that the people he shares the driveway with are also able to use it.
When asked by Heintzelman if there are any other employees besides him, Steinmetz replied "not at this time."
Steinmetz said the building is a 40-by-40-foot structure, with electricity, located about 20 to 30 feet behind his house.
He was then asked by Ord if he planned to set up space in the pole building with exhaust hookups for equipment, instead of outside, to which Steinmetz said he'd like to do the testing in the pole building.
George noted that Steinmetz has been operating his business since May 2011.
Steinmetz said he has three personal vehicles outside.
His girlfriend, Belinda Heller, said she didn't understand why neighbors had a problem with her boyfriend's business.
"He's very respectful of his neighbors," Heller said. "His recreational vehicles are nice and organized."
Paul Steinmetz, Matthew's father, asked the board if the township has a noise ordinance.
Township zoning officer Duane Dellecker said it does, but that the ordinance does not apply to this instance.
Neighbors speak out
Sue Novak, of 395 Hahn's Dairy Road, said she and her family live 50 feet from Steinmetz.
"The noise is a big deal," Novak said. "There's a lot of testing done outside; doesn't that violate his current home occupation (permit)?
Dennis Reitz, of 375 Hahn's Dairy Road, agreed that the noise gets to be troubling at times.
"I'd like to see him have his business," Reitz said. "But, the noise does bother us."
His wife, Cindi Reitz, said she's "personally concerned for the safety of the environment."
However, Christine Wentz said she lives directly across from Steinmetz, and that she doesn't hear the noise.
Cindy Reitz said, "But we do hear it."
"I bought a home in a residential neighborhood," Reitz said. "Time restrictions would be welcome."
Ord then asked Steinmetz if he's be willing to compromise with his hours of operation, to which Steinmetz said he would.
Dellecker said the township has received numerous complaints over the years regarding this particular home occupation.
Several of the neighbors said they hear the noise outside or in the garage.
But, Heller said, "It's maybe two days a week. It's not like it's hours on end."
Regardless, Novak said, "I've been here for 43 years now, and we've had nothing like this."
Paul Steinmetz said that if they want that much privacy, then they should have considered buying property elsewhere.