Carbon County officials are appealing Mahoning Township Supervisors' decision to deny the proposed plans for the Packerton Business Park.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 2-0 on two actions regarding appealing the decisions to the Court of Common Pleas. Commissioner William O'Gurek, who has pushed for the industrialization of the 59-acre Packerton Yards site since becoming commissioner in 2003, was absent.
The two actions authorized the county's attorneys to file an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas on the denial by Mahoning Township; as well as file a petition with the court for opening of county roads on the property, pursuant to provisions of the county code, as amended and further pursuant to plans and cost estimates as prepared by Carbon Engineering.
The county will also ask for an expedited decision on the case. Prior to the judge's ruling, a hearing will be held.
County solicitor Dan Miscavige said the township believes the county did not comply with several areas of the township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and the county disagrees.
He cited the letter sent by Mahoning Township that outlined the supervisors' objections.
The letter states the county failed to obtain a PennDOT Highway Occupancy/Signal/Utility permit for the intersection of Business Park Drive with Route 209; as well as a Pennsylvania DEP permit for the Conspan Bridge and affiliated grading.
It also states that "the applicant is neither the 'landowner' nor 'developer' of the Kovatch Properties, LP or the properties of Joseph and Sheri Marks. The subdivision plan does not provide for the pedestrian trail adjacent to the river as requested by the township. The subdivision plan does not provide for sidewalks along Business Park Drive. An agreement has not been reached between the applicant and the township regarding the phasing of the project and issuance of building permits ... A covenant has not been included on the subdivision plan stating that vehicular access must be maintained to the Lehighton Water Authority property and to any residents on Business Park Drive.
"Developer's improvements agreement with financial security has not been provided to the township. The covenants or conditions attached to the HOP permit are not replicated as a covenant on the plans to be recorded as requested by the township. The applicant did not provide the township with detailed construction drawings with calculations for the Conspan Bridge. The proposed reconstructed portion of Packerton Hollow Lane requires a 20-foot pavement width with six-foot wide shoulders on each side. Applicant is only proposing an 18-foot pavement with three-foot shoulders on each side."
Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, who has attended a number of the Mahoning Township Supervisors' meetings over the last year in the hopes of resolving the issues so the county could move forward on the project, said the county believes it was working with the township's requests for sidewalks and a walking trail, even though officials don't want residents walking through the industrial park due to safety concerns.
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said he believes the county was being "discriminated" against because other industrial parks in the Mahoning Township area do not have sidewalks, but were permitted to continue with the plans to build.
He added that the sidewalks could cause safety issues because of people walking into the industrial park; and the cost for the extra walkways was not budgeted.
Another issue, Nothstein said he found most disturbing, was the road that led into a private residence because it wasn't discussed until the last meeting.
He added that he met with a few residents of that area who would be affected to help answer any questions about what is being proposed.
He said that he believed the meeting went very well and after all questions were answered, the residents were more than cooperative with the county.
He added that the Lehighton Water Authority has also been very cooperative throughout the whole process.
The commissioners have continually said they were working to accommodate the requests by the township so that they could finally move forward with the project.
One major potential speed bump that the board may now face is if the appeal is delayed too long or if the county loses the appeal, the county risks losing a total of $3 million in grants that were secured specifically for the development project.
Nothstein explained that if the county does not start work on the property by the spring, it may lose a $1 million grant and because this grant is part of a match for a $2 million grant, that grant would be lost as well.
He added that the board's intention is to get the process rolling on starting the industrialization and then sell it to private industry.
"My feeling is I just want to sell that property," Nothstein said. "If we can get to the railroad and sell the property then at least we'll get it back on the tax rolls and have private industries coming into the area."
Gerhard added that right now, there is no way someone would purchase the property because of the hoops they would have to jump through to get access to the it.
"There's no one going to come in and buy that property with how it sits right now," he said. "It's of no value to anyone without a Highway Occupancy Permit. But with all problems we're having with PennDOT and Mahoning Township supervisors, they're making it very difficult for us to gain access and sell the property. We want to bring jobs here to Carbon County. That's one of the things we ran on, bringing jobs here. We want to get in and we want to sell it."
The problem is, Gerhard pointed out, that until the plans are approved by Mahoning Township, the county can't secure the Highway Occupancy Permit.