By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHEPPTON - East Union Township Supervisors tabled a decision on rezoning a 33 acre commercial property in the village of Sheppton from Conservation Residential to Highway Commercial after a hearing Tuesday morning.
The hearing, held at 11am at the East Union Township Municipal Building in Sheppton, heard statements from applicants and concerned area residents regarding L&B Landholding, LLC's request to rezone land a quarter mile north of Route 924's intersection with Schoolhouse Road.
As well as the L&B property, it was requested that portions of property owned by John J., Ann Marie, and Michael Biros, as well as Michael J. Kakaley be rezoned as well, to "clean up the zoning map," according to the applicants.
Solicitor Joseph Baranko opened the meeting requesting that the scope of the testimony be kept narrow, focused strictly on the zoning component and not planned or potential development.
"We're not here to talk about a Dollar General. We're not here to talk about planning elements," said Baranko.
It was also asked to consider that only one other Highway Commercial, or C-2, zone exists in East Union, located in the former Brandonville Industrial Park.
It was noted early in the meeting that a conflict of interest existed with supervisor John Biros, who prepared a statement, as required by the commonwealth Public Official and Employee Ethics Act.
"I am going to abstain from voting and publicly announce and disclose a conflict of interest relative to the pending application upon the following basis: I am a property owner that will be affected by the rezoning application request, being directly within the proposed rezoned area; In addition, a member of my immediate family, namely my son Jonathan Biros, is associated with the applicant L&B Landholding, LLC, being a member of the LLC as identified," said Baranko, reading Biros' statement.
A resident asked when the statement was written. Baranko noted it wasn't dated, and asked Biros directly the same question, to which he noted it was written Tuesday morning.
It was noted by a representative of the applicant that Sheppton DG, LLC was interested in purchasing two acres from the full 33 acre tract for retail use.
"C-2 would allow us to have a 9,000 square foot freestanding facility for retail sales," said the representative.
The representative then showed a zoning map of East Union, explaining the current zoning layout of the Sheppton area.
Another resident questioned the rezoning of the entire tract, after similar attempts with other properties in the area in the past had failed. L&B's attorney, Joe Buchinsky addressed the concern.
"First of all, I want to say, my client is here, he wants to be a good neighbor and promote economic growth and development," said Buchinsky. "He's not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes, and have the Mall of America go up in your backyard."
"And to your point of the extra acreage, we did some calculations this morning, and there is mine reclamation lands, wetlands, and that represents about five acres. There's also a mine pit containing water that represents another ten acres, so there's 15 acres right there that these guys won't be able to do anything on unless they take it up with the proper channels within the state of Pennsylvania," added Buchinsky.
Thomas Houser, Sheppton, then raised concerns regarding entrance and exit from the property, in terms of sight lines and speed limits, whether the limit is adjusted or not.
"Anyone who has lived near the main street or traveled the main street knows that people who are anxious and tend to get to Hazleton quickly do not always follow those speed limit signs, so I see it as a hazard for automobiles and pedestrians," said Houser.
Buchinsky then addressed the concern, noting that it's an issue to be addressed by PennDOT down the road in an application for a highway occupancy permit, not zoning.
"There's a lot of moving parts, and government is set up in such a way to operate in a checks and balances fashion," said Buchinsky. "This isn't get approval here today, and tomorrow we're breaking ground on the Mall of America. It's just not that way. There's a lot of governing bodies here, this is one step for zoning. This has nothing to do with development. This has nothing to do with water runoff, or highway occupancy permits, or speed limits"
"This is one step along the way in order to try to accomplish a project," added Buchinsky.
Supervisor Biros then asked Baranko to explain why they can't simply rezone two acres.
"Because of the spot zoning concept, you can't take two acres and just say we're going to go ahead and make this C-2. That's definitely spot zoning, which is a no-no in Pennsylvania," said Baranko. "But there's also a concept called exclusionary zoning, and a concept called fair-share doctrine, and that's why I highlighted the fact that you have one area in this municipality, of not significant acreage, that gives us C-2. That's a point that we need to consider today."
Kakaley then questioned why part of his property had to be rezoned.
"When the zoning boundary lines were initially drawn in the township, typically boundary lines are full-linear with property lines or streets. For some reason, the boundary line was kind-of willy-nilly and arbitrarily crossing the property," said a representative of L&B. "That's why this gentleman's property and a property to the rear have small portions that lie in Conservation Residential, but the majority of it lies in the C-1 (local commercial) district currently," noting that the action is "in an attempt to clean up the zoning map as part of this process."
Houser then re-approached and, referencing the township zoning ordinance, noted that a C-2 property could not be adjacent to a residential property, and his residence and property is adjacent to the proposed rezoning, though the applicants noted that it applies to the zoning of the property, not the use thereof, and Houser's property is zoned C-1.
Another resident then asked about the benefits to East Union Township if the property is rezoned.
"We want to promote economic development. We want to add jobs. We want to increase tax dollars," said Buchinsky. "We're not in development yet, so, theoretically, my client hasn't proposed what they're doing, or finalized anything, but you would change the zoning in order for them to have the opportunity to put in a business that would add jobs and increase the tax base."
Buchinsky then noted that he hoped many concerns regarding the property were alleviated with the land being comprised mostly of abandoned mine land and the existence of required setbacks on the Little Tomhicken Creek.
"We're at phase one, and you guys are at phase three, four, and five, and I understand that," said Buchinsky. "These are all questions that are going to come down, they're all valid questions, but these guys want to be good neighbors. They live in the community, they think this is good for the community, and development is good."
Pam Hartz then raised concerns about Biros voting, to which Baranko noted he'll be able to vote, despite the conflict of interest, in the event of a split vote.
According to the minutes from the June regular meeting, Biros seconded a motion to approved a planning commission recommendation to rezone the property, voting unanimously with the other supervisors.
Mario Curreli expressed concerns about the fate of the property if the entire tract is rezoned commercial.
"If this gets approved to C-2, they're going to do what they want," Curreli said.
Another resident noted that, in 1990, the same parcel was requested to be rezoned to commercial, to allow for the construction of an access road and a landfill, and expressed fears of what could happen, much like what led to the denial of the 1990 rezoning.
At the end of the meeting, Baranko asked for a motion on the rezoning. noting Biros must abstain. Supervisors chairman John Dettery noted he was undecided, and supervisor Dennis Antonelli stated his vote was no.
"An undecided vote is going to be a no vote at this point," said Baranko.
No outright motion was made to be seconded and voted on, and Baranko asked for clarification.
Antonelli made a motion to reject, to no second. Dettery motioned to table the issue until the supervisors' August meeting.
With no second, Baranko stated Biros could then motion, as the board would be unable to take any action otherwise. Biros seconded the motion to table.
Dettery voted yes to table the issue, Antonelli voted no, and, as a result of the split vote, Biros was permitted to cast the deciding vote, a yes to table the issue.
After the meeting, Antonelli spoke of his decision in the vote.
"From what I could see, we had a lot of objections to it. I was voted in by the people, and I listened to everything they had to say, they had a lot of good points, so that's why my vote is no," said Antonelli.
Additionally, Antonelli said "I'd just like to see (that property) stay the way it is down there. There's residential properties surrounding the whole area. Those people built their homes years and years ago. I can see changing that whole 33 acres to commercial highway is going to open a can of works, you don't know what's going to go in there. That's one of my big concerns."
The monthly meeting of East Union Township Supervisors for August will be held on August 1 at 4:00pm at the township municipal building, 10 East Elm Street, Sheppton.