Jim Thorpe Council postpones ruling on sewage for 'Castle'
Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS Rosemarie Peiffer, right, of New Cumberland, discusses plans with Jim Thorpe Borough Council for a cottage she would like to construct along Hill Road in the borough. The project has been put on hold because a permit for an on-lot sewer system that had been issued has been revoked. Looking on are, l-r, David Peiffer, her son who is co-owner of the property, and Terry McLean of Jim Thorpe, the project architect.
A two hour hearing was held last night, but a decision won't be made until Nov. 10 regarding whether an on-lot sewage system can be installed for the construction of a cottage on the site of the "Castle" along Hill Road in Jim Thorpe.
Jim Thorpe's Sewage Enforcement Officer Bill Brior had issued a permit to the owner of the property to place an on-lot system on the site, then withdrew it on orders of Borough Manager Wesley Johnson.
Johnson said he was wrong to issue the permit because an ordinance prohibits on-lot systems where municipal sewerage is available.
Brior testified, "I don't know how to say this any more clearer. I should have contacted the borough."
"I screwed up," he said.
But the owners of the property, Rosemarie C. Peiffer and her son, David Peiffer, of New Cumberland, Cumberland County, not only argued that they should be able to install the on-lot system, but that their constitutional rights may have been violated.
During the hearing, there were numerous accusations and contradictions amidst the testimony.
The hearing before the borough council began a half-hour late because initially only two council members were present: Council President John McGuire and member Joann Klitsch. Four members are needed for a quorum.
Eventually, after McGuire made several telephone calls, three more members arrived. They were Joe Marzen, Kyle Sheckler, and Todd Mason.
David Peiffer, who is temporarily living in Israel due to his employment, said he flew here for the hearing and was very concerned when it looked like it might be cancelled.
"I came 10,000 miles and got here early and some of these guys (referring to two council members absent) didn't even show up," he said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Attorney James Nanovic told the council it could meet in executive session to discuss the matter before making a decision.
After about 10 minutes in a closed door session, McGuire announced that the decision will be rendered on Nov. 10 when the council meets at 6:30 p.m. in Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall.
He said the Nov. 10 meeting might begin as an executive session to discuss the matter, but that a decision will be made.
The first person to testify was Brior, who said he had been contacted by the architect and contractor for Peiffer telling him that central sewerage was not available on Hill Road.
Later in the hearing, the architect, Terry McLean of Jim Thorpe, denied stating this to Brior. The contractor wasn't at the meeting.
Brior said he issued the permit for an on-lot system in July. Then on Aug. 26, he got a fax from Borough Manager Wesley Johnson stating the property was in an area with central sewerage and the permit should not have been issued.
He also said Johnson called him. Attorney Joseph Zerbe of Pottsville, who represented the Peiffers, asked Brior if Johnson yelled at him or intimidated him.
"I'm not going to lie. It wasn't a pleasant conversation," said Brior.
The SEO added, "I was hoping before the permit was revoked that we could meet for an informal discussion, but that didn't happen."
Rosemarie Peiffer gave a description of her project plans.
She said the lot on which she wants to construct a cottage was purchased in the 1890s by Dr. Bertine S. Erwin, who intended to construct a castle on the site.
She said today the lot has "crumbling remains of this man's dream."
Rosemarie said her plan was "to preserve a piece of history," utilizing the existing remaining castle walls in her home construction. "I wanted to use the remains of what Dr. Erwin left behind," she said.
She testified that she began working with borough officials in 2007, getting necessary permits and cooperating in any way possible.
In 2010, approval was granted by the borough council for her and her son to run a line 610-feet down Hill Road and connect onto the sewerage system at a manhole behind the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
It was testified that the agreement that the borough drew up for the connection had too many restrictions and as a result, it was never implemented.
She said she later received the permit from Brior for the on-lot system, "and 41 days later, the registered letter arrived. You revoked everything you agreed on."
Both Rosemarie and David also indicated they were upset about having to pay $700 to have the hearing with the council last night.
McGuire said the council was in favor of the Hill Road hook-up. He said he also would be in favor of a grinder pump to send sewage to a line on the Heights.
The Peiffers said a grinder pump operation isn't practical.
David Peiffer presented a 156-page report to the council entitled: "The Castle Restoration Project. Sanitary Sewage Disposal Planning. A Documentary History 2007-2011."
It contained copies of correspondence and permits that have occurred between him and borough officials during the past four years.
Peiffer said in May 2010, "everyone was in agreement for the sewage extension...everyone on council approved 5-0 for the 610-foot extension."
He said after that agreement fell through, that Brior approved the on-lot system.
On Aug. 29, he received a letter from Brior which stated:
"False information was provided to my office regarding this property. Your representatives, Mr. Patrick Walsh (the contractor) and Mr. Terrell McLean stated that central sewerage was not available to this property, and that this property was located outside the service area of the Jim Thorpe Municipal Authority."
He complained about the fee charged for the hearing, and also alleged that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated.
"Your acts have been adversarial instead of friendly or legal," he told the council.
Attorney Zerbe asked David what costs have been incurred regarding the project so far.
David replied that he is approaching $14,000 spent on engineering and labor. This doesn't include legal costs or fees for the hearing.
He said the borough "let us go on, let us spend money, and then they chopped our hands off."
David also said he and his mother have spent nearly $20,000 on engineering for a gravity line hook-up.
McGuire said David should have approached the council when things were falling apart. The council president said, "I never saw the drawings. I never saw any of this."
David said he was working with Johnson.
Regarding the on-lot system, Johnson said the borough has an "Act 537 Plan," which is a sewage facilities plan with the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection. The manager said on-lot systems on Hill Road would be prohibited under the Act 537 Plan and could result in fines of as much as $25,000 per day.
David countered that regulations state a home must be connected to municipal sewerage when it is within 150 feet of a sewer line. He said the cottage site would not be within 150 feet.
Johnson also said he hadn't been aware of any on-lot sewage plans until the permit had been issued by Brior.
Attorney Zerbe told the council, "This is not a hearing as to what other alternatives are available, but whether the revocation of this permit is justified."
He said he doesn't feel a permit, once issued, can be revoked.
Brior said, "I would never have set foot on that property if I knew that was a sewaged area."
He added that he works in over 30 municipalities and has never before revoked a permit.