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Court action threatened for Lower Towamensing restaurant owner

Published November 10. 2010 05:00PM

A Lower Towamensing Township restaurant owner has until next month to comply with the uniform construction code or be taken to court.

The township's board of supervisors unanimously agreed on Tuesday that Ron Gilbert, owner of the Covered Bridge Inn, must agree to follow the code before the Dec. 14 meeting.

Township solicitor Jim Nanovic told supervisors that at the request of the board, he has prepared an amendment against the owners to make them comply with the uniform construction code.

Nanovic said Gilbert has never followed the requirements of the code at his restaurant, located at 4300 Little Gap Road, from the time it went into effect in 2004.

"He was in before the [uniform] construction code went into effect," Nanovic said. "It went into effect in 2004, and he didn't pursue it."

Supervisors Chairman Ron Walbert said the township would like to meet with Gilbert once more to see if he will comply.

Supervisor Todd Solt said this would be Gilbert's last chance to make amends.

"We have to have a decision before next meeting," Solt said. "Otherwise, we'll have to go after him."

Resident Doug Eckhart, who has long criticized Gilbert for his building tactics, chastised supervisors for not taking him to task earlier.

"I think you should have done this three months ago," Eckhart said. "Nobody else gets this many chances."

Walbert told Eckhart "there's a personal grievance between you and Mr. Gilbert that's been going on for some time."

Efforts to reach Gilbert for comment in time for today's publication were unsuccessful.

Gilbert has at times had a contentious relationship with the township. In Dec. of 2007, the township's zoning hearing board granted Gilbert an extension of a permit to build a kitchen addition onto his establishment.

As part of that approval, the zoners asked then-township zoning officer Sherwood Green to lift a stop work order on Gilbert's permit because work had already commenced at the site before the expiration of the permit.

In Sept. of 2007, zoners issued Gilbert a continuance on his appeal of the stop work order issued by Green. Gilbert appealed the stop work order so he could build a 65-square-foot kitchen addition onto his hotel.

As part of that continuance, zoners told Gilbert he had to come back before the board with a comprehensive plan that detailed his design, and was in compliance with the township zoning ordinance.

Green said he issued the stop order to Gilbert on Aug. 2, 2007, because he said Gilbert's permit was no longer valid. Green also said the location for the foundation of the addition had changed from what was initially approved.

Gilbert said he was originally issued a building permit by township zoning officer Duane Dellecker in 2004 for a one-story addition onto a side of the Inn to expand the dining room and put in a new kitchen.

Gilbert said he attempted to acquire the property from a neighbor that would allow for the addition. He also said that the original permit didn't require architectural drawings, and that the new location on the addition was up to code and fell within all required setbacks.

Also on Tuesday, Walbert announced that two former township employees have resigned and been replaced with two other individuals.

However, Walbert declined to release the names of the township employees who resigned, as well as the names of the individuals who replaced them.

"They're new, and have been working really well," Walbert said of the new employees. "We have really good employees; I think we're really in pretty good shape."

In an unrelated matter, supervisors unanimously rejected to make a donation to the Palmerton Porpoises Swim Team.

Walbert said that while he has nothing against the organization, he believes the township should refrain from the donation.

"We're in the throws of developing our own recreation area, which will benefit everybody," Walbert said. "It's not that I don't think it's a worthwhile cause; but you've got to draw the line somewhere."

Walbert said the township previously raised its contribution to the Palmerton Area Library, and made a contribution toward the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

In other business, supervisors:

• Agreed that as of Jan. 1, 2011, all township employees will be paid by direct deposit.

• Adopted an ordinance for the implementation agreement between the township and Towamensing Township.

• Agreed to apply for a joint grant with Towamensing Township to update its zoning/subdivision and land development ordinance.

• Approved a request for the Aquashicola Fire Company for recycled aluminum.

• Announced that garbage pick-up for the Christmas and New Year's holidays will remain the same.

• Agreed to hold a budget workshop at 10 p.m. Nov. 18 at the township municipal building.

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