The Union Township Board of Supervisors unanimously approved to expend no more than $15,000 for the zoning board to appeal its 2007 approval of the Liberty Bell Motorsports Park and Campgrounds, Route 724 during the Sept. 15 meeting.Berks County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott E. Lash is hearing the case and will render a decision in November.
The zoning board is representing the board of supervisors in its appeal to Berks County court one year ago.
The motion to expend the $15,000 also included that none of the money would pay Ronald M. Agulnick to represent the township in the appeal.
Agulnick was appointed by the board of supervisors in January 2006 as an independent zoning officer to hear the testimony and render a decision.
He determined in July 2007 that Louis J. Mascaro has the right to the most reasonable use of his land.
Agulnick said that includes recreational uses and that Mascaro's proposed motorsports park and adjacent campground fall within Union Township's ordinance definition for recreational.
Mascaro wants to build four recreational racetracks and an adjacent campground with 226 campsites on 668 acres along Route 724.
Zoning board members Donald Jacobs and Brian Huntsinger approved Mascaro's land use in August 2007.
Basile and former supervisor Barbara Cole voted to appeal to protect township residents on the basis that land development plans submitted to the zoning board do not comply with the township's zoning ordinance. They said that Mascaro's land development plans needed to indicate to the zoning board that he could and would comply with the zoning ordinance before working toward a preliminary approval with the township planning commission.
Special counsel to the township, Attorney Josele Cleary said in her Aug. 6, 2007, response to Agulnick's decision that the zoning board should deny Mascaro's special exception request because the land development plans are not in compliance with the township's zoning ordinance.
"Commonwealth Court has repeatedly held that a zoning hearing board cannot correct deficiencies in an application for a special exception by imposing conditions requiring the applicant to fix the violations," said Cleary.
Agulnick's Report stated that the campsites must be 2,500 square feet and that the plans must be redesigned from the 2,000 square feet. The plans also include buildings that would need to be relocated out of the High Water Table Overlay District.
"The Board of Supervisors feels something was wrong with the [zoning] decision," said Jacobs. "The zoning board feels strongly it is the correct decision. We are simply executing our rights to uphold that decision. We're sensitive to the amount of money spent but that is not the way the judicial system is to work."
Jacobs said on Sept. 15 that the $15,000 limit is not consistent with Judge Lash's recent orders.
"If in the middle [of the appeal] and the $15,000 is expended, we are to come back before him and he will re-review," said Jacobs.
"There is nothing within the (Municipalities Planning Code) that says the zoning hearing board could not use Agulnick. The board of supervisors cannot dictate, unless the applicant waives that. It makes sense to hire Agulnick. There isn't a learning curve."
"The judge wanted to keep this on track by forcing the parties to make concise statements instead of reviewing lots of transcripts," said township solicitor Frederick K. Hatt. "Judge Lash has narrowed the issues so it can be done in November and $15,000 for the zoning hearing board to do it before the end of the year."
Zoning board solicitor Adam B. Krafczek said he attended 25 to 30 percent of the 100 hearings, but said "we'll do the best we can."
The board of supervisors told Jacobs in January they would not re-open the 2008 budget and allocate the $87,000 surplus money he was requesting to hire special counsel to defend the zoning board's approval of the Liberty Bell Motorsports Park and Campground. They said $80,000 had already been spent during the course of six years and 100 public zoning hearing meetings.
"We are not providing unlimited funds to the zoning hearing board," said Board Chairman Donald E. Basile on Sept. 15.