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Palmerton couple granted more time to plan new guesthouse

Published October 26. 2010 05:02PM

A Palmerton couple has been allotted more time to hash out their plans to convert an existing garage on their property into a guesthouse.

After about a 40-minute recess, the borough's Zoning Hearing Board on a 2-0 vote Monday agreed to grant Michael and Tara Pritchard another continuance.

However, as part of their decision, the zoners included the caveat that the couple present its plans to the borough's Planning Commission for its review. Zoning board Chairman Gary Curran was absent.

The couple is in search of a special exception and a variance to convert the garage, located to the rear of their property at 875 Delaware Avenue, into a dwelling.

Zoning board solicitor Jenny Cheng told the couple they didn't follow the proper protocol.

"Any time you have a special exception, it must be referred to the Planning Commission," Cheng said. "For whatever reason, you didn't."

However, Cheng said the board would allow the couple to go before the Planning Commission at 9 a.m. Nov. 10, and that zoner Michael Bloomfield would attend.

Upon agreement, Cheng said the couple would then be granted a continuance until 7 p.m. Dec. 15, at which time they will again present their case before the zoners.

Had the couple not agreed to the stipulation, Cheng said the board would have had no choice but to reject the issue.

Attorney Joseph Sebelin, who represented the Pritchards, told the zoners that he had received an email from borough zoning officer Duane Dellecker that said the landowners had complied with what they were instructed to do.

"Dellecker was there and inspected the property," Sebelin said. "They are running off the existing home."

But, zoner Andrew Jordan expressed concerns with the manner in which the inspection was conducted.

"I can't see how he could do an inspection on the sewage without doing any digging," Jordan said. "He didn't do a lateral inspection; we wanted to make sure it was hooked up correctly."

Sebelin countered that the issue was that "everything was set up appropriately."

Jordan said he wanted a guarantee that the inspection was done properly.

"He's not telling us in any way, shape, or form, that it's hooked up correctly," Jordan said. "He's saying 'yes, there's a pipe there', but we still don't know that it's done correctly."

Last month, zoners granted the Pritchards a continuance because the board didn't feel they had enough information before them to make a decision, and to give the couple additional time to gather more information.

A special exception is required for the use, and a variance is required to allow the conversion of an existing non-principal building to a dwelling unit.

In his rejection letter dated Aug. 11, Dellecker said the property is located in an R-3 (Residential/Light Commercial) zoning district, where the couple wants to convert an 875-square-feet (2-story) garage into a guesthouse.

However, Dellecker said a section of the zoning ordinance allows the "conversion of an existing building into one or more dwelling units" only by special exception action of the board.

Another section of the zoning ordinance limits the conversion of an existing building to a dwelling unit provided it is within a principal building in existence for at least 20 years, Dellecker said. A garage is not an existing principal building, he said.

Dellecker said in order to allow the conversion of an accessory building into another principal building or dwelling unit on the same lot as that of the main dwelling unit requires action of the board.

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