The Conoy Township solicitor told a citizen that he could take private action to enforce zoning laws if the zoning officer will not act, but he has no right to make audio recordings of his conversations with the zoning officer.
Both matters brought up near the end of the Conoy Township supervisors meeting on Thursday, March 8, could end up in court.
Township resident Jerry Hardy said the zoning officer was refusing to do her job and that she had told him she would not measure fences to determine if they are legal. Solicitor Matthew J. Creme Jr. said a zoning officer has discretion just like a police officer who decides to let a driver off with a warning instead of writing a speeding ticket. But he said the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code allows for a private right of enforcement.
Creme said supervisors have no authority to tell police officers or zoning officers to do something.
“You can fire them but you can’t direct them to do something. … We don’t have the authority to tell the zoning officer what to do,” Creme said.
Also, Creme said there can be legitimate differences of opinion on how to interpret a law and that it is possible that the zoning officer does not believe a law is being violated when Hardy does.
“Every day that God sends, I disagree with another lawyer. … We’ve got to take it to a judge,” Creme said.
Hardy said he had proof that the zoning officer was refusing to measure fences to see if they complied with zoning because he had recorded the conversation. Creme told Hardy that although it is legal to make recordings of public meetings, it is illegal to record conversations otherwise, such as when speaking with the zoning officer in the township office. Creme said if he heard of Hardy doing that again, he would report it to the district attorney. Hardy said it is lawful to record any public official in a public building.
In another matter, supervisors held a conditional use hearing about a plan to subdivide a 2-acre parcel from a farm at 787 Donegal Springs Road so a single-family home can be built there. James and Kenneth Leas own the farm and engineer Todd Smeigh, an engineer from D.C. Gohn Associates, represented them at the hearing. Smeigh noted that the plans would have good stormwater management practices and would use well under the 20 percent limit of impervious area that is permitted. Creme said the Planning Commission had recommended approval with certain conditions, including that all necessary permits be approved and that the land owners would be bound by the testimony and exhibits presented at the conditional use hearing. Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the plan.
In other business, township supervisors agreed to reduce the escrow for the Fertrell Co.’s improvements, but not by quite as much as the fertilizer company requested. Creme said the company had put up $485,571.40 in financial security for public improvements, but work that has been completed inspected and approves should allow the township to reduce that by $171,587.52. The company had requested it be reduced by $180,000; supervisors voted unanimously to approve the lower amount. Also, Creme said he would need some guidance from supervisors to draft a new nuisance ordinance and asked supervisors to email him about what they want included in his draft of the ordinance.