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Officials critical of commissioners concerning stand on Packerton Yards

Published September 12. 2012 05:02PM

There was no shortage of criticism toward Carbon County commissioners by Mahoning Township supervisors during Monday evening's meeting as they voiced their feedback on the article in Friday's TIMES NEWS, in which commissioners claimed the township discriminated against them and that the commissioners made every attempt to comply with township ordinances, only to have the Packerton Yards plan rejected.

"The only thing formally offered by the county to comply with the township's ordinance as to sidewalks, is to include a 4-inch white line in the shoulder area and declare it a sidewalk," said Chairperson John Wieczorek in reference to the commissioner's remarks in the news story.

Wieczorek asserted that the county officials, from the beginning, did not intend to comply with the township ordinances, since from the beginning a sidewalk waiver was included in the plans and they assumed the township would just grant all of the waivers.

Supervisor and planner Bruce Steigerwalt said he felt the commissioners took a big risk in assuming they would automatically just be granted the waivers when they were costing out the project from the beginning.

"They were not conservative with their estimates," he said, pointing out they never included the cost of sidewalks which has been in the ordinance since before the county submitted its first plan.

Wieczorek said the county did not make any case that providing sidewalks would be a hardship, a matter of public safety or an unreasonable request. He told the board that while they said this to be the case; the county offered no proof of such a claim.

He also denied the township discriminated against the county in any way.

"Commissioner Gerhard claimed we discriminated against them 'because other industrial parks in Mahoning Township do not have sidewalks, but were permitted to continue with plans to build.'"

He challenged the county to prove that statement. When questioned later, Wieczorek told the newspaper that other than for some minor industrial zoning of single lots in the township, there are no industrial parks in the township. He said the commissioners are comparing apples to oranges, in that they are citing commercial areas in the township which have different requirements.

"There are zero other industrial parks in this township," he said, "so how could they claim unfair treatment."

"The township's development ordinance requires 40-foot roadways with sidewalks on either side in an industrial park since day one," said Steigerwalt.

"They should not have second guessed or assumed they would be given a pass. Shame on them."

Initially the county proposed a walking trail, but when that plan was rejected for other reasons, the walking trail was removed and the county did not supply any type of path. Over the past few months, the county again introduced the concept of a walking trail along the shoulder of the road in the park to satisfy the requirement, but the township kept insisting it wanted a real sidewalk.

In recent months, attorney Edward Hughes began making claims that the county did not need to comply with the township ordinance because they were taking the position it was a county road and did not fall under township jurisdiction. As such, the county had the discretion to determine if a sidewalk was needed in the park.

Wieczorek responded harshly to that, asking Hughes why the county wasted years of the township's time if they were not going to comply with township ordinances.

Hughes said the county was trying to be cooperative even when it felt it didn't need to be. Solicitor Tom Nanovic challenged Hughes to produce case law to support his assertion that the county code could overrule township regulations.

"Neither he (Hughes) nor I have found any case law (yet) to support such a claim," Nanovic told the board Monday night.

Steigerwalt pointed out to Nanovic that the county did not even consider this argument to bypass the township ordinances until it was stated during a planning commission meeting that the county's plan to dedicate the road to the township would be rejected, since the township had made it a policy not to accept any further roads into its system. He said that was where they got the idea that "now it is a county road." Prior to being given that information, the county made no assertion the road was a county road.

The supervisors also took exception to Commissioner Gerhard's assertion that the county would be unable to receive a highway occupancy permit from PennDOT if the plans were not approved by the township.

"I spoke with Melissa Malpin of PennDOT and she said that she told the commissioners they could get the highway occupancy permit prior to the plan approval, but they could not begin the project without plan approval," said Wieczorek.

Wieczorek said he felt the commissioners characterized the township as being uncooperative and that supervisors have been the hold up since the project started in 2005. He said that was not the case, and in fact, the county was still altering and submitting plans up until July and August 2012.

Supervisors have complained throughout the process, especially before current Chairman Wayne Nothstein began to regularly attend meetings, that they were kept out of the loop. Township officials at that time told Nothstein they felt the previous board of commissioners, chaired at the time by current commissioner William O'Gurek, was not keeping either the township or the Lehighton Borough apprised of the progress of the project.

Earlier in the year Nothstein told the board he intended to complete the plans so that the property could be sold or developed once the plan was completed and approved.

Supervisor Frank Ruch took Nothstein to task by pointing out the current majority campaigned on bringing jobs to the county, "but they forgot they also ran on if they were elected, the Packerton Yards would be a dead issue."

Ruch said since taking office, Nothstein apparently forgot that part of his platform.

Supervisor Linda Benner said the lack of prospective tenants troubled her.

"I asked Commissioner Nothstein how many prospective tenants the county had and he said, 'One.' Just one? They should put that one in the existing park (in Nesquehoning.)"

She also said she was concerned for the residents living in the general area, citing one meeting when supervisors expressed concerns over the proposed traffic light in the dip that could cause a major hazard to tractor trailers and other traffic, which are used to zipping through the area, as well as residents whose homes are close to that intersection. When this safety concern for nearby homes was brought to county engineer Ron Tirpak's attention, she said he told the board that there is only a few homes there.

She also pointed out that she was bothered by the answer when she asked about the redirection of the road and excavating a portion of the mountain.

"When asked about whether it would affect the residents living there, Wayne said, 'I don't think so'. In my opinion, that answer is not good enough," Benner said.

Wieczorek and Steigerwalt said they believed the township was not unreasonable to the county and said they granted six of the seven waivers, indicating they have been trying to work with the commissioners, but both have said they believe the park will have pedestrian traffic from people walking there to work as well as tenant employees walking in the park.

Wieczorek said the commissioners should look at the several industrial parks in the Bethlehem area as just one example that shows the sidewalk request is not unreasonable.

"Those parks resemble residential developments, in that there are sidewalks throughout them," he said.

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