Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What in the Heaven or Hell is Going On Here? Northampton County's Special Arrangement with A Private Church

West Ward property owner, Tim Hare captures strange activity in the church 
parking lot across from the county jail...

Posted by: Noël Jones

Residents in the West Ward of Easton living near the corner of Ferry and Walnut streets have been fighting with the County and City for months trying to figure out what in the heck is going on between the County and the Church of God by Faith on that corner. It appears (see the video above) that the county has arranged some sort of deal with the church to use their parking lot for free for employees that work at the jail and the courthouse, in exchange for upkeep on their private property paid for with our county tax dollars. The city apparently granted the church a variance so that they could have many more than the normal legal number of vehicles park there and County employees are using it for parking, while residents have to put up with all kinds of traffic and noise issues that they shouldn't have to deal with.

With regard to the ever-expanding jail in our midst, here in the heart of the most densely-populated neighborhood in Easton, one has to ask--is the County being a good neighbor?

Below is a letter written by resident Terrence Miller to Stephen J. Barron, County Controller:

To: Mr. Stephen J. Barron, Northampton County Controller.

From: Terrence Miller

I'm glad someone is finally disturbed (video) by the abuse neighbors have been facing at the hands of the County, city and the church. We live on the corner of Ferry and Walnut and our good neighbors Tim and Earl have been enduring this oppression for much longer. It has been a Sisyphean battle for neighbors who have been crushed between two government agendas and the arrogance of a church that, when it comes to its neighbors, fails to live up to its own Christian ethic.

Two years ago I pulled together county and city representatives to address current and growing problems of the campus including the church parking lot. After several recommendations were drafted they were put to Becky Bradley to be put across Mayor Panto's desk. We were met with radio silence
despite several attempts to solicit a response and even after sending Mayor Panto subsequent documentation of the meetings and recommendations he never followed up. I took County Councilman Mike Dowd out to lunch and asked him to pull together the mayor and Mr. John Stoffa in order to cultivate a cooperative effort between city and county because of the issues we were facing. He agreed and then never did it.

During the variance application the county stated that they were in the process of finalizing an agreement with the church. I spoke to Pastor Brown of the Church of God by Faith a few months ago and he said that he never had a conversation with the county about any agreement. This historic exploitation is a way for the county and the church to satisfy each other's needs while carving out the resident's rights and circumventing the law.

The lot at the church is wrought with code and zoning violations and is at best unsafe. Where are the variances? Where are the approvals from the code and zoning? Where are the site plans? What about separation of church and state? Where is the handicapped parking? Is there an agreement/lease that should on public record? How can this continue unchecked with no oversight from the city? Neither government body seems concerned about the safety of employees, the handicapped or the residents who have to negotiate a neighborhood that is steadily being assimilated by the county. Shouldn't the county AND the city have the residents backs? Or are we just flies in the ointment? Now, with the city intent on putting parking meters on Union Street, more employees will spill onto Ferry Street causing yet more problems. Have you been on Union Street? It's often a mess and unsafe. Does the County even know about the new meters?

This has produced frustrations and failed expectations for residents living along the perimeter of the county campus. The safety and parking issues are horrendous not to mention the volume of garbage and litter left by visitors to the County. The expansion of the Juvenile Treatment center caused employees on all three shifts to park on the street rather than in county lots. The few spaces available to be used primarily by residents and visitors are quenched by employees who are simply too lazy to use the lots. The noise from the intercom to employees, talking and at times yelling to each other at 11 pm and 7 am only adds insult to injury. When county officials applied for the variance they told the zoning board that 'no one would even know they were there.' Now, Germaine Green has told us there is nothing he can do (despite the promise of obscurity). We asked for a policy that required employees to park in county lots. His advice was to ask the president judge. Can you tell us where the buck stops?

I have found Mr. Stoffa to be a reasonable man and he has afforded us some of our requests including trees along Ferry Street to make up for lost green space and the opportunity to park in the parking garage during inclement weather. He has also been very agreeable to a meeting with the Mayor. Sherriff Randy Miller has also been quick to respond with safety issues. Cindy Cawley from the city has been very helpful but the dynamics require inter-departmental cooperation which is one of the greatest stumbling blocks residents face not only on this issue but others as well. Mike Schnieder from Juvenile Probation has always been cooperative but unless the decision makers sit at the table together nothing moves forward.

The county and the city have NO plan to coordinate together. It is a dysfunctional relationship with residents paying the highest price. Residents resent the bullying by the county and employees resent the city's tactics and parking restrictions. Mom's can't cross the street because sherrif and law enforcement vehicles routinely block the cross walks. Employees who only need short-term parking are ticketed and fined, some well over $300 in few months time. Residents have to pay to park accross the street from their own homes while treatment employees eat up spaces without no regard for the neighborhood. The list goes on. The only one who benefits is the city who has created a nice little revenue stream from all the parking violations. The two bodies of government need a plan!

What amazes me is that good people stepped up to the plate to cultivate a cooperative relationship and to work through the issues with everyone at the table only to be dismissed by the city while the County drafts plans for expansion informing the residents in the 11th hour rather than inviting them to the table to be part of the process. 

The silver lining is that many neighbors are pulling together to fight for our little piece of sod and to address civil rights violations. We will exercise every legal means to protect our community and bring justice to this situation.

Sadly, residents have to force both governments to craft a plan rather than than the two proactively coordinating one to the benefit of all parties.

I know this is a bit of an epistle.

Thank you for bearing with me and for any advocacy you can offer residents.

Terrence Miller


BullVon said...

This is indeed curious for Mayor Panto to ignore a letter from someone with the reputation of Mr. Miller. Mr. Panto has cultivated a reputation of being informed and available. This is obviously a municipal issue, as the City decides various code rules as well as parking inforcement.

If there is a simple reason, i.e., perhaps extra parking is needed due to parking deck construction, or another explaination, why are they avoiding an answer?

David Caines said...

You know, we were wondering where the cars went as they were using St.Anthony's for about a month. It's across the street so we couldn't miss that county or city (not sure) employees and others were parking there.
Personally I assumed it was some kind of business arrangement, not a separation of church and state issue.
We'd be thrilled to have them back, the traffic wasn't bad, and our block isn't that congested.
Parking here has been a lot better since they made whatever change they made as people heading to the courthouse often parked on the street in front of all of our houses.
I must say I fear it was the church that was the issue as the Catholic Church is known to be a horrible neighbor. That's not a dig against Catholics BTW, it's an interesting faith, and I've prayed to both saints and Angels on occasion and get on well with Catholic clergy.
My best guess, is that the city / county is using the place they are using because nothing else is available.
Terrance , if it's causing you folks problems, see if something can be worked out with our church, we'd love to have the parking here. Having more people in uniform walking the streets even if just to and from work provides a nice safe feeling to the neighborhood, and this is probably the most cost effective means. Otherwise, we either have to go back to on street parking for these folks (which is damned annoying), build a parking structure ($$$$$$), or find a third option that I don't see existing. I support the concept....if perhaps not the location. Still, if it could be worked out, we'll take them back and be happy to have them.

maria said...

Just to add an aside, congressman Charlie dent will be in easton at room 313 north hampton county court house- from 10-11 am on friday- this friday the 18th to hear from citizens in what he's calling open office hours- if I can attend, I intend to, and this may be a nice chance to chat about fracking and other things on the state / federal level. For those who can go , do so ...sorry this is off topic.
This man is one of our voices in federal govt. Let's have a word with him. Though you all should know.

noel jones said...

Thanks for the info, David!

David Caines said...

I'd like to see us get bullish behind this. I knew bob fridman, don't know this fellow, but if we want to avoid or stall this fracking mess...now is the time. It's short notice...sorry, but lets have at it NOE folks, call in sick, call in dead....make a statement. If I can be there...big if, I will be...I'd like a few words with the gent.
Let's be polite, but let's make a point. This could be a valid rally point. It's up to us to use it as one. Again, sorry off topic...but we've made this fella our voice, let's make sure he knows what to say?
And lets try to hold him to it. If I go, I'm going to try to bring my video camera. Youtube, it tweeter it, etc...We may have a moment here if we chose to avail ourselves of it, this man can help us make fracking safe, or at least put it back until we've studied it. My own issues aside I intend to be there. I'll ask anyone who doesn't want to spin the wheel to be there as well. You are a better rallying point than I, use it.
I don't oppose drilling, but I'd rather not be killed by it.
Dennis, Terrance, Julie...lets make our local voices heard.
If not, don't expect me not to ask why not?
That we have very little power may be true, but we should focus it, make it count. At least we can stand before our gods having done our best.
Disability means less able, sorry for that. I will do what I can...I don't mind peeing into the wind so much as I mind doing it alone.
You're a good egg noel, use this chance.

David Caines said...

Aquick note to our local news teams...media wanted, it may be something, it may be nothing...he may cancel...but photo ops are what they are. at least send the "B" or "C" teams...free lancers welcome.

David Caines said...

Sorry Terrance, right now your suffering is our blessing. Hope your son is well and want him home.
Our blessings on you and yours, Noel's brother as well. We'll take the parking lot. Your block is a foul choice.
Blessings ,

noel jones said...

I will be at the Dent event tomorrow for sure--anyone else who can make it, that would be great!

As usual, these things are being held during the working day when most people who are employed can't attend....

This is where freelancers, seniors and the unemployed come in!

noel jones said...

Sorry--meant to say "Friday". And the room is 3116 at the Northampton County Courthouse, according to his facebook page:


(Please see my new post on this, and spread the word!)

So to recap:

Charlie Dent to meet w/constituents:
FRIDAY, MARCH 18TH, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Northampton County Courthouse, Room 3116

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
I have forwarded this article to Becky Bradley and I will once again try to get to the bottom of the parking problem in the courthouse areas. Union Street is also a concern.

I am also hosting a yet to be announced neighborhood parking public hearing. I am trying to schedule that for the second week in April during the city council committee meeting on Tuesday night.

I do know that the Zoning Hearing Board denied the variance for the church to be used for office space but I am unaware of the parking issue.

I will post tomorrow.

Thansk Noel for sharing Terrance's letter.

Anonymous said...

Earl Ball & I hand-delivered our long list of parking concerns & objections in 2008 to Mayor's Office & Planning Commission & media regarding City variances granted for 27 cars - with apparently no lease documentation provided to the City by owner or county.

The City failed it's responsibilities on this. See copy of our 2008 letter to Mayor that's posted on my facebook page called "Timothy George Hare"

David Caines said...

Again, if we can get saith Anthony on board, we'll take the parking. We are probably the best spot anyhow. As it causes us no grief. We'd be thrilled, so sal, see what can be done...cost effective of course. If a particular priest is an issue, give me the name, and I'll chat with him, maybe I can change his mind. I'm from the jersey shore most of my friends are Italian , Irish, and Catholic...I know my way around that faith. Let's work something out.

Anonymous said...

Terrence Miller responds.

Dear Mr. Mayor,

This is not simply about parking or whether or not Ms. Bradley followed up—this is about hard working residents who are trapped between the agendas, plans and politics of two governments. It amounts to two ‘strong-men’ fighting to satisfy their own intentions while good folks, who have invested their blood and sweat into a neighborhood, are victims left in the wake without representation or advocacy. Both are bullies having the power and the means to either side-step or dismiss the legitimate concerns of citizenry.

In 2008 you reacted strongly to a post I made on this blog about the city ‘not having the resident’s back.’ The blog post was born out of frustration with Ms. Bradley’s radio silence after I (representing a number of residents) pulled together county and city officials to navigate through issues along the county perimeter, craft out agreed-upon solutions to be presented to you for review, facilitated by Ms. Bradley. In response to your email to me, I sent you ALL the documentation and recommendations. If you’d like I’d be more than happy to post our email exchange.

You did not respond and three years later, the problems have escalated. The credibility and trust residents have of the county and city has dwindled. The damage to the reputation of the city, particularly among dozens of county employees many who are not residents, continues to fuel a despairing view of our great city and one that I know you want to overcome.

The buck stops at your desk not Ms. Bradley’s. You owe the residents an apology and your full resources to restore us. You asked residents to step up to the plate and get involved. When we did we were ignored. The city and county must forge a cooperative and collaborative relationship, laying aside all the ‘stuff’ that is divisive and unproductive and engage residents on an EQUAL footing. That said the county must do the same.

In the mean time serious legal and ethical questions have been raised about the variance, the relationship between the county and the church (at the tax-payer’s expense), the validity of meetings, code and zoning oversight, approvals or lack-there-of, and a number of safety concerns and the welfare of my neighbors—parking, pollution, noise, property values,quality of life, to name a few.

You know how important preserving the urban core of the city is. Many of the anchors, of what is largely a transient piece of sod, are already planning on selling and leaving because they feel they have no recourse with the two governments. A neighborhood where according to a large mortgage lender, 20 of the 65 homes that foreclosed in the last six months of last year were within 3 tenths of a mile radius of Juvenile Probation. And one, by the end of last summer, where crime was so frequent in our neighborhood that police told residents, “if they weren’t in their houses or on their porches they would be considered suspicious.”

The neighborhood can’t afford it and neither can the city. You had the opportunity to take the lead in building on the relationship we were forging three years ago, don't miss it now. I've spoken to Mr. Stoffa, he's willing to meet with you and residents. What say you?