Salisbury Press

Thursday, October 17, 2019

SALISBURY TOWNSHIP ZONING HEARING BOARD

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

Veterinary clinic testimony continued to June 25 hearing

After more than three hours of testimony June 4 before the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board, the hearing concerning a veterinary clinic in western Salisbury Township has been continued until 7 p.m. June 25.

The hearing, to be held in the meeting room of the township municipal building, 2900 S. Pike Ave., is being continued because not all of the testimony has been taken and because apparently it’s the only hearing date when the concerned parties can attend.

Testimony is not being heard at the next scheduled zoners’ hearing, 7 p.m. July 2, because not all of those involved in the matter can attend on that date, including Atty. Kent Herman, a member of the hearing board, who said he wants to be part of the board’s deliberation and ruling.

Atty. William J. Fries, of Fries Law Office, represents Dr. Samantha Ottinger, owner of the veterinary clinic, Dr. Sam’s Veterinary House Calls, PC, 3115 W. Emmaus Ave., Salisbury Township.

Atty. Christopher M. McLean, of Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba, Attorneys At Law, represents Scott and Pamela Horvath, neighbors who oppose the veterinary clinic use. Scott Horvath raised his concerns at the April 11 and 25 township board of commissioners’ meetings.

Atty. Marc S. Fisher, of Worth, McGee & Fisher, PC., Law Offices, represents Janet Borrelli and her husband, neighbors who live in the vicinity of the veterinary clinic and are concerned that it will add to stormwater runoff problems they say they have, a concern Janet Borrelli aired at the April 11 township meeting.

Atty. Victor F. Cavacini, partner, Gross McGinley, LLP, Attorneys At Law, township zoning hearing board solicitor, urged continuance of the hearing and it was agreed to by the zoning board officials, concerned parties and attorneys at the June 4 hearing.

When Cavacini asked who the objectors to the clinic were in the audience at the June 4 hearing, five persons raised their hands. When Cavacini asked how many in the audience were in favor of the clinic, 11 persons raised their hands. Some of those in favor are clinic employees.

According to the township zoning hearing board notice, the Horvaths are challenging the decision of Salisbury Township Director of Planning and Zoning Cynthia Sopka that allowed the use at 3115 W. Emmaus Ave. as a mobile veterinary office as a use permitted by right.

The Horvaths are challenging Sopka’s determination, alleging the use of property in the C2 Neighborhood Commercial District does not allow for this type of use.

The Horvaths have raised issues that there are a number of dimensional areas where the use proposed is deficient, including lot area and number of parking spaces.

The Horvaths are appealing the issuance of two permits because of what they allege are errors of Sopka’s interpretation of the zoning ordinance and her finding that the use did not require relief.

Fries opened the hearing by stating that Ottinger’s “vested interest” may supersede a challenge to the zoning ruling.

Fries said Ottinger proceeded in good faith, having been assured by township officials that she could begin renovation work to convert a house at 3115 W. Emmaus Ave. into a veterinary clinic.

Ottinger testified she purchased the property for $170,000.

Based on copies of bills for work at the property that Fries introduced as evidence at the hearing, “My client [Ottinger] has spent well over $200,000 in good faith.”

The amount that Ottinger has spent is part of what constitutes her vested interest, Fries said.

“My client has spent $200,000. Who’s going to pay for that?” Fries asked again.

Ottinger estimated about 75 percent of renovating the house for use as a veterinary clinic has been completed.

A grading permit was issued by the township, which Fries submitted a copy of for the record. However, it was determined the permit was not needed and a refund was issued, a copy of which Fries also entered into the hearing record.

In making the case that Ottinger also has a vested interest because she proceeded in good faith, Fries said she requested a meeting with township officials to make sure she could proceed with renovation work for the clinic.

A meeting was granted and held Feb. 6 in the township building, attended by, in addition to Ottinger and an engineer for her project, Township Manager Cathy Bonaskiewich, Salisbury Township Assistant Township Manager-Code Enforcement Director Sandy Nicolo, Salisbury Township Consulting Engineer David J. Tettemer of Keystone Consulting Engineers, Inc. and Sopka.

Only after being assured by the township officials at the Feb. 6 meeting, Ottinger testified under questioning by Fries, did she proceed with renovation work of the building. Permits for electrical and plumbing work were issued Feb. 22.

At the outset of the hearing, Fries claimed Horvath did not meet the 30-day filing deadline for his appeal of Sopka’s decision.

Fries stated the township permits for the veterinary clinic were issued Nov. 2, 2018.

Fries stated that, even though Horvath attended April 11 and 25 township meetings, Horvath did not file his appeal until May 10. “The appeal is not timely,” Fries said, adding, “The [zoning] board does not have jurisdiction over this matter because the applicant [Horvath] failed to appeal in a timely matter.”

Cavacini read from the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code that an appeal can not be made later than 30 days to reverse or change a zoning decision.

“It is a very serious issue here about the right to appeal within 30 days,” Cavacini said.

Cavacini referred to township’s C-2 zoning district wording, which states a veterinary office is permitted as of right. However, Cavacini said an asterisk next to the zoning ordinance law makes this less clear. Cavacini also raised a point about another asterisk.

But, “There are certain requirements of a veterinary office,” Cavacini said

Cavacini said the ordinance requires a veterinary clinic to have 20,000-square feet. The 3115 W. Emmaus Ave. house is a 8,400-square-feet parcel, according to testimony.

Fries said the June 9, 2017, sale and Aug. 15, 2017, settlement of the property to Ottinger was contingent upon her getting zoning approval for the veterinary clinic.

Fries said, “My client [Ottinger] did what she thought she had to do. My client has incurred hundreds of thousands [of dollars] of debt.”

Horvath said he’s concerned about veterinary clinic client traffic access to the clinic’s parking lot at the back of the property from a paved alley to the north or rear of the clinic.

Horvath said neighbors’ children and dogs frequent the alley. He said vehicles speed along the alley, often when drivers seek shortcuts if a Norfolk-Southern freight train is traversing the nearby railroad crossing at 31st Street.

Fries said a private alley is for use of abutting landowners, which would include Ottinger as owner of the veterinary clinic property.

Ottinger testified that she would treat cats and dogs for minor surgery, such as neutering, at her clinic 3-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are two exam rooms for pets, an office, pharmacy area and employee break room.

The township reduced the number of parking spaces from six to three spaces.

Under questioning by Fries, Sopka said, “I misinterpreted the ordinance. I said I was sorry to the board and everyone in the room.” Sopka said this at the April 25 township commissioners’ meeting.

Sopka said she thought a mobile veterinary clinic would be a permitted use in the C-2 zoning district where the property is located.

After the Feb. 6 meeting, Fries asked, “At that point, my client was allowed to move ahead?”

“Yes,” Sopka replied.

“What a mess,” Fisher said.

“Yes,” Sopka responded. “And I carry it very hard.”

“There are a lot of issues to sort out here,” Cavacini said.