CLARKS GREEN — Much of the public input at the Wednesday, March 16 borough council meeting centered around planning commission and zoning hearing board vacancies and council’s failure to immediately fill them.
Former planning commission member Ben Brown resigned in April 2015 and the terms of two other members, Mark Roe and Gary Davis, expired on Dec. 31, 2015. A zoning hearing board seat was vacated by George Clark upon his relocation outside the borough, the date of which is unclear.
Rick Williams was the first person to speak on the matter. He explained as the vacancy board chairman, it is his duty to petition the resolution of vacancies that last more than 30 days.
“Right now we have an even number of people on the zoning hearing board, which is not a good situation – it’s a tie vote,” he said. “And that’s got to be taken care of.”
Williams said he was under the impression council would reappoint two members of the planning commission whose terms expired in December, and he confirmed their interest in continuing to serve. However, he said a later conversation with Councilman Keith Williams revealed that borough council may not be interested in reappointing Davis and Roe to the commission.
Rick Williams continued that Davis and Roe wanted answers as to why council would not consider their reappointment to the planning commission.
Councilman Williams responded it was not his intent to place anyone in a difficult situation. He explained, however, some concerns were raised by council members during the work session regarding the outcome of some planning commission meetings in the recent past.
Rick Williams suggested if council is unhappy with the way the planning commission is running its meetings, council members should meet with the board to express their concerns and provide some training.
Planning commission member Emil Pieski asked council for specific examples of what the board did wrong.
Councilman Williams cited the handling of a recent parking lot development plan on Cook Street as one issue, adding he did not have his notes with him and couldn’t remember the specifics that were discussed.
“There were some issues about not communicating with the solicitor,” he said, after Pieski pressed him for more information. “And there wasn’t a true analysis of some of the laws that were applicable to that section where the parking lot is now and how that’s zoned. Now again, I don’t have all the facts in front of me. I’d have to go back and look at them in terms of what all the particulars were, but there were some questions, some issues raised.”
Councilman Williams called on Councilman David Rinaldi to elaborate further.
“When the Cook Street matter was before the planning commission, were you advised by the solicitor that the planning commission should not act until variances were obtained?” Rinaldi said. “And in spite of that you still handed down the decision. That’s what Mr. Weinschenk (Borough solicitor Alfred Weinschenk) reported to us. …The point is, Mr. Pieski, that you had a solicitor there, who said you should not act, you should not render a decision, that it was premature to be in front of you – this is what he reported to council – and the planning commission ignored him.”
“I don’t think that’s the way it went down,” Pieski said.
Rinaldi responded, “Well, then you have a different recollection than our solicitor.”
Rinaldi later added the council members talked about whether or not council should simply assume the role of planning commission, as there are so few items that come before that board.
Pieski said he liked that idea, as the planning commission is “just a rubber stamp” anyway.
No votes or official decisions were made at the meeting regarding either the planning commission or zoning hearing board vacancies.
In other business:
• Rick Williams also gave the annual Shade Tree Commission report, of which some highlights included a successful fall planting, Arbor Day and the re-planing of a Deacon Clark commemorative tree in Clarks Green cemetery after a first tree that was planed died.
• Various brief department, staff and county reports were given.
• The council voted to pay for the zoning board members, Councilman Joe Barrasse and Councilman William Toms to upcoming municipal workshops in Scranton. The cost to attend is about $20 per person.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, with a work session at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, both at the borough building, 104 North Abington Road.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal