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The Cornwall Borough Council heard concerns from residents regarding code violation enforcement notices at its regular meeting Monday, May 13.

Resident Sean McCarrick informed council that he, as well as 25 other Cornwall residents, received letters from zoning officer Jeff Steckbeck informing them that overgrown lawns exceeded what is permitted by borough code.

McCarrick said that while he does not believe these letters were sent in malice, he found the tone to be overly confrontational, as no friendly warnings were issued prior to the cease and desist.

“That yard was in violation, I acknowledge that,” said McCarrick. “But this can be handled in a completely different manner.”

Sean McCarrick addresses the council Monday.

He also voiced concern that the letters were sent in Steckbeck Engineering & Surveying Inc. envelopes rather than borough letterhead. He found issue with this as Steckbeck, not his company, was hired to be Cornwall’s zoning officer.

The letter, which said that McCarrick must correct his yard by May 13 or face fines of $500 or more, also said McCarrick could appeal the decision with Cornwall’s Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) if he paid a fee. He voiced opposition to paying a fee to appeal, as well as the letter’s specification that after 30 days, he would lose the right to appeal.

He noted that the process for code violations should not involve the ZHB, and that those appeals are typically handled by district courts.

“The appeal process is completely wrong according to that letter; that’s not how this works and I figured you guys would address that in the future,” said McCarrick.

Solicitor Josele Cleary was asked her opinion. She said that while there were “definite issues” with the letter, she felt its verbiage was relatively standard. Her main issue, she said, was that the ZHB does not have jurisdiction over code enforcement violations, and that appeals would instead be handled by the courts.

She said that for zoning violations, which are handled by the ZHB, a fee is charged to cover the cost of paying a stenographer to attend the hearing. She said in these cases, appellants are refunded the fee if the board finds in their favor.

Solicitor Josele Cleary addresses council.

She also said the notices are valid whether they are sent with borough envelopes or letterhead.

Resident Tina Tobias noted that she consistently kept up her yard for years but failed to mow it the week Steckbeck evaluated the property because she was visiting her mother in the hospital. She said she did not have a problem with receiving a notice, but did not appreciate its “nasty” tone during a difficult time in her life.

Steckbeck responded to complaints, saying the text he used was an exact copy of the format recommended by a county staffer. He said he would amend future communications to differentiate between those appealed to the ZHB as opposed to the courts.

Steckbeck also said that he typically sends friendly warnings before cease and desists, but he has found these to be ineffective. He said that in the future he will send more personal, friendly letters for first contact.

However, he said that these notices were effective, and almost all of the cited homeowners resolved the issue when he later checked on the properties.

Council noted that neither the borough nor Steckbeck are looking to hammer down on violations, noting that Steckbeck found over 60 zoning violations through the borough out of over 300 homes and has not gone after them. The borough has a policy of only pursuing action against violators when complaints are first received.

However, when he investigated a reported overgrown lawn, he found 25 other properties in the area were similarly overgrown, so issued notices of violation to all of them.

Council also discussed a question that came before the planning commission last week, of what constitutes a “major” trailer, and thus cannot be placed in one’s front yard.

At a meeting last week the commission defined major trailers as being those that require a license, but council (as well as some within the audience) expressed concern with this definition. Some smaller trailers may require licenses but still take up relatively little space.

The ordinance was intended to go after RVs and tractor trailers, said planning commission chair Ray Fratini.

Councilman Tony Fitzgibbons made a motion to direct the commission to present them with a definition for minor vs. major trailers for the council’s consideration, which passed unanimously.

Council also heard that Cornwall Properties has submitted a special exception application for a split zoned property. After convening with Cleary, the borough unanimously agreed to bring the solicitor before the ZHB to oppose the special exception request.

The property is not already split zoned, chairman Bruce Harris said, and Byler Holdings cannot change lots to make them split zoned to receive a special exception.

In other news, council:

  • Unanimously agreed to hire Andrew Letsche to the public works department at $28 per hour.
  • Unanimously agreed to waive selected sidewalk and curb development for the Cornwall Properties Rexmont Road subdivision, at the recommendation of the planning commission.
  • Unanimously agreed to allow the installation of a fence in a drainage easement at 112 Forge Drive as recommended by the planning commission, conditional that the property owners follow the commission’s requirements for managing runoff.
  • Referred concerns detailed in a letter by resident Aimee Schmitt concerning the Rexmont Road subdivision to the planning commission.
  • Recognized Fratini for his work improving the council room, and unveiled a plaque celebrating his volunteer efforts.
  • Unanimously agreed to authorize Entech to advertise for bids for a PRV vault to improve the water pressure of nearby homes and fire hydrants.
  • Heard a concern from the fire company on emergency access to Camp Rocky Creek, which is only accessible by one public road and one poorly kept private road. Council said that as the emergency access road is privately owned, the borough cannot help improve accessibility. However, Byler offered to donate stone for the road’s improvement.
  • Unanimously agreed to authorize the sale of a 2005 F-350 for $7,000 to the highest bidder.
  • Unanimously approved minutes and reports.
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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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