The problem with planned communities

Community alliance meets with elected officials about challenges from heroin addiction to unsecured dams


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“Communities themselves are not the problem, The people living in them are.”
Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin


By Jerry Goldberg

— Planned communities, which make up of lion's share of new development in Pike County, come with a host of problems ranging from costly legal battles to the spread of heroin addiction, according to a recent discussion among community associations and elected officials.

The 21-member Alliance of Community Associations was founded seven years ago so that planned communities, in joining forces, could work for the good of its overall membership.

“The problems surrounding planned communities are very complicated," said State Representative Mike Peifer (R-139 District), who, with Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin, were guest speakers at the alliance's July 11 meeting. "Eighty percent of all new housing since 2000 is in planned communities."

Pennsylvania's Uniform Planned Community Act of 1997 regulates homeowners' associations that own or maintain common areas. Typically, a homeowners' association will own, maintain, or control open spaces, entrance gates, streets, street lights, walking trails, beaches, hydrants, storm water management systems, and on-site septic systems, unless these services and amenities are dedicated to the municipality in which they are located.

Peifer said the Uniform Planned Community Act is a good document but it has no “teeth” to it.

John Crerand, president of the Alliance of Community Associations, said the Act needs to be amended so that the answer to every problem arising between homeowners and their community boards of directors is not always “sue me.” This is the only legal route an individual homeowner can take, but it is cost-prohibitive, he said.

Dick Hanel of Marcel Lakes said the security of dams is one of the most pressing problems facing planned communities. Lakes, made possible by dams, are often the most sought-after feature among prospective home buyers. But Hanel said the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wants all dams to protect against a 500-year flood height increase, which also comes with a prohibitive cost.

“Marcel Lakes would need to first get a design expert in at a cost of almost $100,000," Hanel said. "How can the state help us?”

Peifer told Hanel the state contains many high-hazard dams.

“Trying to find money is a big issue," Peifer said. "I have no answer."

Planned communities are also subject to "double taxation," Crerand said. Property owners have to pay annual dues to homeowners' associations and property taxes to municipalities for services they don’t receive. Municipalities do not provide police services except in cases of serious criminal activity. They do not plow snow, maintain roads, or pick up trash or recyclables. They do not provide street lighting. The postal service does not deliver mail to homes in planned communities.

Peifer said all senior citizens have to pay school taxes, the largest part of their property tax bill, no part of which is deductible. Half the property in Pike and Wayne counties is owned by non-residents, who essentially support the residential population, he said. They pay real estate and school taxes for services they do not receive.

Peifer said local roads are last on the list of the state's priorities.

“Roads in Pennsylvania are prioritized based on the number of digits they have," Peifer said. "We have two-digit roads such as I-84, then three digit roads like state Route 739, and then we have four digit roads similar to state Route 2001. Two digit roads come first then the others follow."

Rising crime

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin said that, from the view of law enforcement, the greatest challenge presented by planned communities is increased crime. In a mobile society, these communities attract populations from outside of Pike County.

“Communities themselves are not the problem," he said. "The people living in them are.”

Society moves and takes their problems with them, he said.

“Heroin is the biggest problem we have in Pike County," he said. "It starts with prescription drugs and when they can’t get a prescription from any doctor they turn to heroin, which is more readily available and cheaper.”

Tonkin said that, for the past 10 years, most of the heroin has been coming from Paterson, N.J.

As the price fetched by precious metals increases, he said, burglars steal as much gold as they can find in the homes they break into.

“All Pennsylvania precious metal dealers have to be licensed and must send reports in every day on the precious metals they purchase daily,” Tonkin said.

New York and New Jersey don’t have to send reports to Pennsylvania, he said. Criminals can just go over the state line to avoid having gold jewelry stolen in Pennsylvania from being reported to Pennsylvania law enforcement.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the county's second-biggest problem, Tonkin said. Since drugs are used around the clock, he said, they present problems during a greater part of the day than alcohol does. Police now use better-trained drug recognition experts to identify drug-using drivers, he said. The Pike County Drug Task Force runs out of his office, with some funding coming from the Attorney General’s Office.

Gun crimes have remained steady and have not gotten any worse in recent years, Tonkin said.

Tonkin said the new person in charge of the Blooming Grove Barracks of the State Police, Lieutenant Chris Paris, wants to keep the lines of communication open with all the planned communities.

“He is a very energetic person and wants to get things resolved,” said Tonkin.

Constituents can get in touch with Peifer by email at mpeifer@pahousegop.com.




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