Snow doesn't smother annex protest

Commissioners meet while storm rages, public continues protest

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  • Dick Snyder, Tom Hoff, Roger Picker and an unidentified woman ask Pike County Commissioners about status of court expansion project.

  • Keystone Building and Gooseberry Alley in Milford Borough at heart of opposition to new court expansion project.

By Charles Reynolds

— “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Although the phrase is often associated with the postal service, it also describes the Pike County Commissioners, who held their regular bi-monthly meeting on Wednesday while a foot of snow was in the process of falling — enough to keep most other county residents home.

Commissioner Rich Caridi did the next best thing: he attended the meeting via conference call.

As the commissioners moved through their routine agenda — authorizing the payment of bills, approving new county personnel and salaries, pronouncing Jan. 31, 2014, Zane Grey Day — several hardy residents also braved the elements to attend.

Once the regular business was completed, and some presentations rescheduled tentatively to Feb. 19 — Lori Strelecki was to speak about Pike County's 200th anniversary plans, and the Area Agency on Aging on the Enhanced Senior Program in Delaware Township — Dick Snyder asked if the controversial new courthouse expansion had been halted, and talked about “common law” about what utilities charge when a facility moves. A possible solution to the problem of the courthouse's unappealing design, as many see it, would be to move the annex back.

Commissioner Karl Wagner said it was case law and not common law, according to research by the county solicitor, Thomas Farley. He said the commissioners are awaiting responses from the utilities' legal counsel, including Verizon, Orange & Rockland, Blue Ridge Cable, and UGI.

The commissioners said they had met and held calls with representatives from Orange & Rockland, which has already stated that any move, they will have to go along 5th Street, which has no infrastructure, like poles. O&R also says they will not place their lines underground or go over private property, which rules out many options, cutting off Gooseberry Alley and using the Keystone Building property.

Accusations of 'ramming it through'

Attendees said it “felt” like the commissioners were ramming the project through and not listening to the public's concerns. Matt Osterberg and Wagner assured them they have indeed been heard, and that commissioners are doing everything possible to be both responsible to the residents of the borough and to the taxpayers of the county, while keeping everything above board.

Osterberg said the Architectural Review Board told commissioners the design “met the ordinances," but also that “some stuff could be better.” They tried to include requested changes. He also said the commissioners were taking up the suggestion of residents like Roger Picker, who asked commissioners to check into other architects for design suggestions.

Osterberg reiterated his concerns about going to the back, saying that as both a commissioner and a resident, he did not want to see a two-story brick building encroaching on the residential zone.

“A brick building of this magnitude deserves to be in the commercial district, not the residential district," he said.

As for the Kentworthey Building, he said, “I think if we all work together, if we put that building next to the Columns, we can have something nice. If we all did that together we can save that building.”

Osterberg said Milford alleys were also of historical significance and should not be overlooked in making plans. He brought up previous plans under discussion for years, in which the alleys would be used “if and when” sewer lines were brought into town.

'Big box government building'

Snyder, who owns the historic Hotel Fauchere, continued to voice his concerns about what his group of citizen advocates regards as a “big box government building” being put in such a prominent plance. He said it would have a detrimental impact on the historical character of the town and negatively impact business. He again called for a study to investigate this negative impact.

Wagner said he had asked several business owners if the construction of the administration building, which is the same size as the proposed courthouse expansion, had any negative impact on their businesses. They told him there had been none. Wagner said he was not going to add to expenses by ordering a survey, but he offered to look into it if Snyder or others paid for one.

Wagner and Osterberg asked Snyder: If they moved the Kentworthey Building to another location, put together an architectural design that everyone liked, and made every effort to contain the cost to taxpayers, would he still be opposed? He said he would be.

Although opposed to moving the Kentworthey Building, both Tom Hoff and Beth Kelly saidthere had been precedent, from before the Architectural Review Board was established, to relocate historically significant buildings. Such was the case with the PennStar building, which was relocated from Broad Street to a lot on Catherine St. in the late 1980s.

Osterberg said commissioners have a fiduciary responsibility to all the taxpayers in Pike County, not just a handful of Milford residents. Wagner said that as a lifetime resident of Milford Borough, he is constantly reminded of this by residents from Greeley and Lackawaxen.

The venue for opposition now are in the meetings of the Borough Council and Architectural Review Board.

“We have to follow the same format as anyone else," Osterberg said.

The next meeting of the Pike County Commissioners is Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. in the county administration building.

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