Skate Board Park and Gas Drilling Ordinance Hot Button Issues.
By Ken Askew
The South Park Township Board of Supervisors held a Public Hearing on January 10, 2011 to take oral or written testimony regarding Ordinance No. 653, vacating a portion of Sleepy Hollow Road. Since no residents attended the 6:30 PM meeting, it was quickly convened and adjourned within less than two minutes.
Following the Public Hearing, the Supervisors conducted their regular monthly meeting, commencing at 7:00 PM, with 31 guests in attendance. At the meeting, they were accused by angry and frustrated residents of exercising both too restrictive and not restrictive enough control of the Township.
First up to speak during the public forum was a multiple-generation family and their attorney. The parents have lived in South Park Township since 1949, and own a 13-acre tract. One of their sons owns an adjacent 9 acres. They complained that proposed Ordinance No. 652 allows Marcellus Shale gas deep-well drilling only in zoning districts I-1, I-2, and B-P. Since their property is located in a C-4 district, they are prevented from leasing their property to a gas well drilling company for the purpose of a wellhead site, thus denying the family their opportunity to cash in on the drilling bonanza.
A woman who described herself as a Consumer Property Advocate added that the drilling companies do not keep accurate records as to what properties (located up to two miles from the wellhead) they extracted gas from, and many landowners will never know about nor be paid for gas removed under their property.
A representative of Range Resources (one of the larger gas well drilling companies working in Southwestern Pennsylvania) was in the audience. He answered a couple short questions asked of him about acreage requirements for drilling, but otherwise kept a low profile.
For over an hour, aspects of the ordinance were debated, but in the end, the Supervisors stated that although the Ordinance had been thoroughly researched and prepared, it was subject to change (as any Ordinance is). Nevertheless, the Supervisors were not swayed by the arguments, and later approved the Ordinance as is.
Conversely, a highly vocal group of residents from the Broughton Road area complained en masse that the Supervisors had failed to protect their interests by granting approval to build a skateboard park in their neighborhood. A string of eight irate residents in a row expressed their objections and frustrations with the South Park governmental procedures.
Upon learning that a 30-foot-high structure was proposed on Broughton Road, to contain an indoor instructional skateboard park--but with only nine parking spaces as part of the plan—some of the residents attended Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board meetings to vent their concerns. Others complained that they were not given timely information about when the meetings were scheduled and therefore could not attend. Moreover, those who were present at the meetings were merely instructed to defer their message to the Supervisors, after both advisory-level groups voted to approve the plans and send them on to the next review step.
For over an hour, the residents passionately pleaded for relief from their chief concerns, which were public safety and health related (traffic congestion, parking impediments, noise, loitering, accidents, and general nuisances caused by the teenage customers), plus potential negative impact on property values in the neighborhood.
The Supervisors explained that the building applications were in order, and all criteria had been met; there was no legal basis to deny the request. The residents only recourse now is to file an appeal of the project approval to an Allegheny County court within 30 days of the date of the approval. When the residents asked how much time remained to file this appeal, they were informed that only 3 days were left.
The residents became further incensed when they became faced with the expense of hiring an attorney and posting a bond with the appeal. They felt that this predicament had been foisted upon them through no fault of their own, and they are now burdened with having to spend their own time and funds to defend their interests.
Although the Supervisors appeared stoic during the debate, they did eventually concede that perhaps communications on their part had not been ideal, so they are considering notifying residents of such future proceedings on the Township website. However, they observed that developers often wait until the last minute to file paperwork at the various review boards, presumably hoping to avoid pubic scrutiny by not informing the public of proposed projects until after they are approved.
A staffer from US Congressman Tim Murphy’s office attended, but elected not to engage in the proceedings.
After many attendees walked out in disgust, the South Park Township Board of Supervisors concluded the evening by conducting the usual business part of their monthly meeting. They devoted the last 15 minutes to a rapid-fire disposition of the following actions:
• An insurance proposal in the amount of $66K from Glatfelter Public Practice was approved.
• An insurance proposal in the amount of $152K from AmeriHealth Casualty Insurance Company was approved.
• Ordinance No. 652 regarding oil and gas well drilling was approved.
• Ordinance No. 653 to vacate a portion of Sleepy Hollow Road was approved.
• Advertisement of an Ordinance regarding South Park Trails will be rescheduled.
• Release of a bond with Prescription Center Plus was approved.
• A 2011 Junkyard License was granted to Louis Pane, Jr. of Advanced Auto Recyclers.
• A Letter of Agreement for planning and consulting services with Roberta J. Sarraf, AICP was approved.
• Engineering services for a Township-wide sanitary sewerage rehabilitation project was approved.
• Addendum #1 in the amount of up to $5,500 to update the Library Corridor Study was approved.
• Lawrence P. Arrigo, Tax Collector, was authorized to issue property assessment change reimbursements.
• Township Supervisors David J. Buchewicz and Edward T. Snee were authorized to attend the 30th Annual Allegheny County Municipalities conference at Seven Springs Resort, at a cost of $1,006 each.
• The federal Internal Revenue Service’s 2011 mileage rate of $.51 per mile was adopted.
• $17K was approved to pay an invoice for the Sebolt Road sanitary sewer.
• Lawrence P. Arrigo, Tax Collector, was authorized to issue per capita tax refunds for 2008, 2009, and 2010.
• Lawrence P. Arrigo, Tax Collector, was authorized to issue a real estate tax refund for 2008.
• The Police Chief reported 6,713 calls in 2010. There were 172 fire calls.
• The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 PM.