High court sides with Mahoning in Packerton project
A Commonwealth Court judge has upheld a January 2013 ruling that denies Carbon County from developing county roads through the former Packerton Yards site in Mahoning Township and Lehighton.
This means that the county may lose nearly $5 million in federal and state funding that has been earmarked for the industrialization of the site.
In the opinion by the Honorable Mary Hannah Leavitt, dated Nov. 15, Leavitt stated, "The (Mahoning) township's SALDO (subdivision and land development ordinances) applies to the county's proposed roads in Packerton Business Park and does not conflict with the County Road Law. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying the petition to lay out and open county roads using specifications inconsistent with the SALDO. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court."
In January, Carbon County Judge Joseph J. Matika ruled that "Carbon County's request be denied as their plans and specifications are not in accordance with the requirements of the township's SALDO."
There was no dispute between Carbon and Mahoning as to the right of the county to lay out and open roads, rather it was the manner in which these roads were to be laid out and opened.
Leavitt also noted in her opinion that the "Trial court denied the county's petition because the roads, as proposed, will not satisfy the construction specifications required for roads in Mahoning Township. The county argues that the trial court erred because the County Road Law preempts a township's authority to regulate county roads."
Leavitt stated that the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas found proper cause to disapprove the county's petition because its proposed roads did not satisfy SALDO and because the County Road Law was not intended to supersede the township's SALDO.
Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said this morning that it does not appear the board will appeal the Commonwealth Court's decision, adding that the commissioners would speak more on the matter at today's meeting.
"We are going to be looking at our options," Nothstein said via telephone. "It appears we will look at selling the property so we need to see what we have to do to get it on the market. Hopefully some of the people that were waiting on the court decision that expressed interest (in the property) will come forward."
Mahoning Township Supervisors' Chairman, John Wieczorek also weighed in on the ruling.
"When you have the Commonwealth Court agreeing with Judge Matika and the board of supervisors in Mahoning, it seems that everyone except the three commissioners understands what the ordinance is about and the county code has no influence in this case," he said this morning.
During the Dec. 18, 2012 court hearing before Matika, the county argued that county code overrides township ordinance and gave the county power to establish, takeover and maintain county roads.
Mahoning questioned why, if the county felt that was the case, did it submit a subdivision and land development plan in May 2010; as well as a number of waivers to the Mahoning Township supervisors.
In September 2012, the township rejected the county's plan because it did not provide sidewalks leading from Route 209 into the business park. The commissioners then filed the petition under County Road Law to reconstruct and take ownership of Packerton Hollow Lane; as well as construct Business Park Drive. Mahoning stated the proposed roads would not comply with its ordinance.
Carbon County has been working to build an industrial business park at the former Packerton Yards rail yard since 2003, stating that it would bring hundreds of jobs to the area; as well as thousands in tax revenue.
Since then the board had secured millions in state and federal grants to help with the development of the park.