— It was a night of split votes, contentious issues and intense debate during Monday's marathon meeting of the Honesdale Borough Council.
Issues ranging from Honesdale Little Baseball Association to the CVS project to the Anchor Building project to the coal pocket parking — and many more — were discussed during the nearly three hour meeting.
The anchor building project was one of the most contentious discussions in which it was learned the agreement between the borough and the principals involved had been altered after it was given the green light by the borough's solicitor.
The anchor building is a project in which the state of Pennsylvania makes a no-interest loan to the borough which, in turn, loans the money out for the renovation of a major downtown building. That loan approval was given for developers involved with the old Sullum's building on Main Street. It is for $255,000.
Solicitor Rich Henry said when the borough council approved the loan, it was for 20 years. Henry said he confirmed that with council president F.J. Monaghan.
"Twenty years was the original proposal, that's the way the documents were put together," said Henry.
However, Henry said he learned that the documents had been modified "after they were taken from me."
That modification was for 30 years, he said, which would mean $400 less per month being brought in from the loan.
Henry explained the purpose the program is to spark further development by downtown businesses. As the loan is repaid, the borough can then loan out the funds to other businesses.
He further said that after the documents had been modified, no change was made to the amount of money for payments.
"I need to know what you want to do," said Henry.
"Who changed it to 30 years?" asked councilman Bob Jennings.
He did not get an answer.
"You can't record the documents the way they have been changed," said Henry. "They shouldn't have been changed."
Page 2 of 6 - Councilman Scott Smith, chairman of the finance committee, said during the initial discussions the terms of both 20 and 30 years were discussed.
"We voted for 20 years," said Jennings. "It had no right to be changed."
Monaghan did say he "signed off" on the change "and that was my fault."
During more discussions, questions arose about the terms of the contract, including who is the lead contractor.
Jennings said everything about the contract "changes almost daily."
In the end, the council agreed verbally to keep the loan at 20 years but no formal vote was taken.
Henry said he would submit the original contract approved by the council for state approval.
After the meeting, Henry said a modification like that should "never be done." He likened it to someone getting a mortgage and then when they go to do the final paperwork, the conditions have been changed. That, he said, is not the way to do business.
CVS discussion ... barely
In another strange twist, a letter concerning the CVS project that was listed on the original agenda sent out to council members was not brought up by Monaghan during the correspondence portion of the meeting.
However, Jennings brought the matter up and questioned why it was not being discussed.
Jennings asked why it was omitted. Monaghan said he left it out because he was going to have the solicitor "look into it for us."
The CVS project is another matter which has been contentious from the beginning and was the subject of many meetings and discussions over the past few months.
On April 24, a letter was written by attorney R. Anthony Waldron of Hawley, who is the solicitor for the Wayne County Department of Planning.
In the letter, written to Monaghan, it says the county cannot sign off on the land use plan because it was considered a "preliminary plan" by the county. It states that "no final plan" had every been submitted.
Page 3 of 6 - "At this point, the department cannot stamp the final plan as presented," states the letter. "Either a final plan needs to be reviewed and a comment letter issued or we will have to come up with a qualified approval by the department stating that no final plan was submitted for review, but that may adversely affect the borough and the property owner, so they will have to be consulted."
During the CVS meetings, a modification of the 4th and Main Street intersection was sought by some council members. In the end, a 4-3 vote was taken approving the original 2011 plan but asking CVS to redesign the intersection and secure the land and changes which needed to be made. It was a "developer's agreement" but still meant the original 2011 plan was in place.
Smith pointed out the 2011 agreement was the final plan.
However, Henry said there were two revisions made to the 2011 plan and that was the crux of the request from the county.
He also said those revisions were "allowed to bypass me."
Henry said CVS submitted revised plans but it is "up to the borough to say it was a final plan."
He said it should go through the planning commission process.
Smith said he spoke with county officials who told him if the borough re-submits the plan they would do a "quick" check of it and then could consider approval. He did say they requested to see the intersection modifications, which are still in the works.
Jennings said he thought the issue was very important and should be discussed by the council. He questioned why it had been placed on the original agenda and then not brought up during the meeting. Jennings said the issue involves public safety and the public should know about what is happening. He called it "very important."
Coal pocket controversy
Also discussed during the meeting was the issue of parking in the coal pockets.
This issue has been a topic of debate in Honesdale for almost 25 years.
Jennings told the council he had done extensive research into the matter and had secured a complete map of the area.
Page 4 of 6 - The coal pockets are located along the railroad tracks south of Main Street in the borough. Currently, the borough leases out parking in the coal pockets. They also have been putting $1,000 a month into an escrow account. That money is supposed to go to Paul Broncatto, owner of the area, but has not been sent for quite some time.
Communications with Broncatto have been few and far between. Henry said he met with Broncatto last year and he thought things were moving forward but he has not heard from him since.
Jennings pointed out that 80 percent of the coal pocket area is private property. Some is owned by Broncatto, some by Honesdale National Bank and a small piece by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.
He said since 1988, when the original agreement was signed, the borough has maintained the property even though most of it is privately owned. Just this winter season, he said, the borough has spent more than $4,000 on snow removal and other maintenance.
In addition, he pointed out there are 106 meters in the borough which offer 10 hour parking but very few of them are being used. Those are located on side streets and other areas around the courthouse. Permits can be purchased for those spots.
Jennings contends the borough has no businesses selling parking permits for spaces on private parking and said those who use the permits could use them in the 10-hour spaces.
Jennings made a motion to terminate the lease agreement with Broncatto within 60 days. It was seconded by councilman Harry DeVrieze.
Smith questioned if that would also include eliminating the permits on HNB property. Jennings said it would.
Smith also pointed out the borough "is getting revenue" from the parking permits.
"They have a choice," said Jennings of those who have permits. "They can deal with the railroad. We're paying to keep up private property."
"We should have a plan and know what the impacts are," said Smith.
"They have permits to park in other special areas," said Jennings. "Now's the time to get out."
Councilwoman Juanita Pisano asked if the borough made money with the permits.
Page 5 of 6 - Smith said it depended on the severity of the winters.
He was then asked how much money is in the escrow account. He said it is $38,000.
Henry pointed out that the terms of the 1988 agreement "have expired" so there is some question as to whether it is even legal. He also suggested that in the motion there should be a clause which says permit holders can get a refund or credit to park in other designated spaces once the lease expires. Jennings and DeVrieze agreed and it was put in the motion.
When a vote was taken, there was a 3-3 tie. Jennings, DeVrieze and Pisano voted for the motion while Monaghan, Smith and councilman Mike Slish voted no.
With the absence of councilman Jim Brennan, who is in the county jail serving a 45-day sentence for DUI, the tie-breaking vote was left up to Mayor Ed Langendoerfer. He voted yes and the motion passed 4-3.
Another hot topic as of late has been with the Honesdale Little Baseball Association (HLBA).
Last month, baseball association officials said they had been approached by borough officials saying the buildings and property would have to be turned over to the borough since the land belongs to the borough.
That sparked a lot of discussion and controversy.
At Monday night's meeting, Chris Pietraszewski, a member of the HLBA board, made a presentation to the council in which he asked for a long-term lease.
He said it was 1966 when the HLBA approached the borough about using the property which is now the complex on the city's northeast side. That property used to be a landfill owned by the borough.
Pietraszewski said for the past 37 years, HLBA has financed all of the improvements at the complex. Thar ranges from adding fields to the concessions stands and lights.
"No borough taxpayer money has been spent at the complex," said Pietraszewski.
He said in the spring of 2012, league officials contacted the council about building three pavilions and a garage at the site.
Page 6 of 6 - Pietraszewski said they were told "by a borough councilman" that all of the buildings and improvements would have to be signed over to the borough.
They decided to "delay further action" on doing the improvements, he said.
Then in the spring of this year, Pietraszewski said the "same council member" again said the property would have to be signed over to the borough.
He did not name the council member. Slish is the chairman of the parks and recreation committee.
Pietraszewski said the "best solution" to the problem is having a long-term lease. He presented a draft document to the council.
Last month, Henry said in an interview he didn't think the council could enter into such an agreement.
On Monday night, Jennings made a motion to enter into a 99-year lease for $1, pending the approval of the solicitor. It was seconded by Slish.
Smith then had some questions.
He wanted to know if the agreement was "exclusive," saying if that was the case, "it takes on a different flavor."
Smith said it "seems like the little league association gets exclusive use."
Henry said in talking with league officials, it was clear that "other entities" use the facility as long it is not in conflict with the league.
Also, he said in further studying the matter, it appeared the borough could, indeed, enter into an agreement. He said the "general prohibition" for such agreements is for land that is "maintained by the borough." In this case, it is not.
Henry also said that he had no problem reviewing and approving the agreement but also said it has to have "eventual approval by the council."
When the vote was taken, it passed 6-0.
(Note: We'll have more coverage of the council meeting in our next edition, including a split vote on selling wine, speed minders in the borough and more.)