Sep 20, 2010

New Sheriff in Town


This past Wednesday evening, Bob Romancheck asked Allentown City Council who actually reads the legal notices in The Morning Call? Actually Bob, I do! As a matter of fact I'm concerned that there is an effort under way to allow municipalities to forgo the notices in favor of publishing them on their website; But that's a topic for another day, today's flavor of the week is Upper Saucon Zoning Officer Trent Sear. A recent post of mine took Trent to task for forcing Independent Candidate for the 15th Congressional District, Jake Towne, out of his campaign office in Center Valley. Today's newspaper legal public notice are dominated by Upper Saucon Zoning, four and half columns worth. Trent has prepared 92 revisions to the general 2009 Zoning Regulations, and 17 more to the Village Commercial Overlay Zone, one specially for temporary signs. (Revision 2 to Section 322.D for Tables 1 and 2 and a new Table 5). Now, I'm not sure if Jake was hammered under the old regulations or the new revisions, but I am sure that the citizens of Upper Saucon are having their property rights grossly impeded.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Requiring "legal notices" otherwise known as local government announcements to be published in a daily newspaper is as much an outdated way of communicating as rotary telephones. Only the newspaper lobby in Harrisburg likes this idea, and -- no offense to those of us with reading glasses -- so does the dwindling and aging generation of newspaper readers. So few citizens look at these classified ads that having these notices announced in the newspaper is in effect a terrific method of keeping things quiet. Or at best, their contents become known to only a minority of "professional" legal ad readers -- like businesspeople who wish to bid on or who seek out opportunities, or media people who then act as gatekeepers on whether to inform the public, as this post does.
Have you priced out the outrageous cost of these ads? A few years ago I was socially active with a newspaper lobbyist in Harrisburg, who represnted a newspaper trade association, who told me that due to the dwindling ad revenues faced by newspapers, that publishers have been socking it to the local governments -- a captive audience -- to help replace ad revenues that left with retailers and employment ads. Look at how few job listing are in today's newspapers. Why shouldn't local government have the same option as private employers of going to other media for its advertising needs? How much has Allentown or Lehigh County spent on Morning Call ads? I'm curious to know. I would bet it's shocking. The same information can be placed on a web page for mere pennies.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 6:59, i'm certainly in favor of the notices appearing on the website, but also want them to continue in the newspaper, for two reasons. 1., not everybody is computer literate. 2. I for one, hope newspapers continue, and these ads help support that goal, sort of a KOZ for public information. we may not need newspaper legal notices, but we need newspapers!

Anonymous said...

Under the present circumstances, just publishing the real estate forclosure ads in the LV area should keep the MC in business for a long while, even if legal notices are discontinued.

Anonymous said...

Four hundred pages of zoning revisions and loss of liberty was approved by UST officials last fall.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the township zoning officer allow the building's owner to simply pay the $25 permit so Towne could have continued his campaign? Has that question been answered? Look at Allentown. The mayor was notified he forgot to get a building permit and officials allowed him to pay for one so he was legal. Why not Upper Saucon?

NLVlogic said...

Are you saying that a township zoning officer should be barred from participating in the political process, can not advocate politically, and shall not seek a party albeit non-governmental office? How far does one take that? Should a ZO be barred from signing petitions, putting signs in his yard . . . you know where I'm headed there.

More succinctly, are you suggesting that the zoning officer here used his office to advance his personal political desires? Those are heady accusations!

A Township zoning officer has no role in setting the policies of the Township in which he is hired. He or she is at-will of the Board. That is how I read the township code, outcomes not withstanding. Your post seems to suggest Mr. Sear enacted the amendments himself. You know he did not.

A zoning officer is an enforcement officer, not one who writes the zoning code, or any changes thereto. Your post seems to confuse the two tasks. There is a whole other procedure for enacting changes to the zoning code. Are you saying the procedures were not followed?

Critic the revisions to the zoning regulations, or how they were enacted, if you will. Your post is silent on that.

Debate the substance of the code, or the motive of those who enacted it, not the one who is appointed to enforce it, unless you assert enforcement was not even handed. Exactly how are the citizens rights being usurped? An example would be nice on that latter count tho.

I'm glad you read the legal notices. I wish more folks would read them. That makes you more informed than most folks! This is both a criticism and an approval. Methinks the next step is needed.

michael molovinsky said...

dave, in the course of my business i have dealt with zoning many times, over many years, on both a city and more rural setting. in our imperfect world, two people can walk up to the same city counter, with the exact same situation; one is interpreted as complying and needs no variances, the other needs five and must go in front of the board.

as stated in my previous post about jake towne's center valley office, i believe sear threw the book at towne's landlord. i believe a cease and desist order is not usually issued over not paying a $25 permit in a timely fashion.

i believe in a rural scattered village setting like upper saucon, zoning is indeed driven by a paid professional like sear, and not by the elected commissioners.

NLVlogic said...

i believe in a rural scattered village setting like upper saucon, zoning is indeed driven by a paid professional like sear, and not by the elected commissioners.

I will respectfully disagree with you on that. UST just went through a comprehensive re-write of their entire ordinance after several years consultation with planning and legal professionals. Despite its rural character, it is active managed. More townships should examine there zoning as most are a collection scattered and incomprehensive ordinances and amendments.

michael molovinsky said...

dave, you seem familiar with UST regulations. so, do you believe it was routine or extraordinary that a cease and desist order was given the landord/tenant(jake towne) of the center valley Inn building in regard to the unpaid $25 permit fee?

NLVlogic said...

I have not read the cease and desist order. My comment was based on knowing Mr. Sear personally and my experience as a Township Supervisor here in Lynn, nothing more. My comment was sparked, in part, on your connection with the newspaper article and your allegation that the order was brought for possibly illegitimate reasons . There are times when a ZO only learns of activity after it is brought to his attention, by whatever means. I see no problem with that. I do admit as to knowing some circumstances in regard to enactment of UST's ordinance, but I no longer have an official or unofficial role there. That ended with my back injury. So I know not of this particular case, but will vouch for the folks at UST, particularly those who are tasked with doing the job of enforcement. I say that as a Supervisor in Lynn myself. We set policy.

And you are correct, in some townships the ZO takes his task directly from the Supervisors. That is not the case in Lynn. We adopted a resolution to prohibit that. The code places enforcement on the ZO. Enforcement is not a legislative act.

I do not believe enforcement of the ZO is legislative in UST, hence my respectful disagreement. But I do believe it happens elsewhere. It OK to question it. The remainder is left to the voters. Its all good.

NLVlogic said...

By way of illustration, in Lynn we passed a resolution which recognized the statutory duty of the ZO to enforce the zoning ordinance. The MPC reserves enforcement of the Township's zoning ordinance to the ZO. The Board's job is to prescribe the requirements by enacting the ordinance, thats all.

The MPC provides that "the zoning officer shall administer the zoning ordinance in accordance with its literal terms, and shall not have the power to permit any construction or any use or change of use which does not conform to the zoning ordinance" and vests the power of interpretation to the ZO.

Our resolution provides that when one Supervisor attempts to direct the ZO as to a particular interpretation, that direction should be brought to the attention of the full board. Consider it the spotlight of truth. Such direction is outed. In this way, no one member can direct to whom any enforcement action is taken. You can read about it here here.

Yes, I understand this is not how it works everywhere. That's sad. And there was hesitation by some in approval of the resolution which was not reflected in the minutes. The proposal passed unanimously.

michael molovinsky said...

dave, your complicated two part answer avoided answering my simple question. i believe trent acted in an overzealous fashion, and i also have not read the cease and desist order. i also know trent, like him and believe that this action was probably very atypical of his usual behavior as a ZO. my interest in this situation comes from supporting the rights of a third party candidate to participate in the political process.

NLVlogic said...

> dave, your complicated two part answer avoided answering my simple question.

Touche, but I think I did answer it. We simply disagree.