County insists Northampton pole barn be moved
Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2013 5:40 am | Updated: 10:52 am, Sun Oct 20, 2013.
By Chris English Staff Writer Bucks County Courier Times
Source: “County insists Northampton pole barn be moved.” Bucks County Courier Times. Sunday 20 Oct. 2013. ‹http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/local/county-insists-northampton-pole-barn-be-moved/article_f8407a55-2fd2-505d-9a40-c24e031beb0c.html›
Bucks County officials are holding fast to their position that a pole barn constructed on restricted open space in Northampton must be removed.
In an Oct. 7 letter to Douglas Maloney, attorney for the property owners John and Susan Parsons, and township solicitor Michael Savona, county solicitor Michael Klimpl said that the “county remains firm in its opposition to the location of the pole barn in restricted open space.”
Klimpl’s letter continues: “Under the settlement agreement between the Parsons and Northampton Township, the consent of the county is required for the pole barn to remain where it is now situated. Since the county is reiterating its opposition to the proposed settlement agreement and to the current location of the barn, the county requests that the Parsons and/or Northampton Township fully comply with their obligations under the Commonwealth Court Order and settlement agreement and undertake the necessary steps to have the barn removed from its current location.”
The county is involved because Northampton used $872,000 in county open space money in purchasing the 52-acre property on Almshouse Road for $2.2 million 12 years ago. Five years later, the township sold the land to the Parsons for $1.2 million, according to county records.
A vast majority of the land, 49 acres, falls under an open space deed restriction. Despite that, the Parsons after buying the land constructed a 14,000 square-foot pole barn housing a community basketball court on the restricted part of the property. The barn was constructed without proper permits, records show.
Litigation in two courts ensued, with Bucks County Court siding with the Parsons and Commonwealth Court overturning that decision and siding with the township’s claim that the barn should be removed.
The settlement referred to by the county solicitor was approved 3-2 by the township supervisors in September of 2012. Democratic board members Frank Rothermel, James Cunningham and Kimberly Rose voted to approve while Republicans Eileen Silver and George Komelasky voted against.
Under the settlement agreement, the Parsons were allowed to keep the barn where it was but agreed to place an equal area on another part of the property under the open space deed restriction.
Among the many other provisions of the settlement were that the Parsons agreed to pay the township $50,000 to reimburse it for all litigation and inspection costs, and also a penalty of $100,000 for failure to comply with the township’s zoning and permit requirements and for failure to adhere to the requirements of the deed restriction.
The issue has been discussed frequently at recent supervisor meetings, with Democrats and Republicans criticizing each other for the present situation as the Nov. 5 election approaches. Rothermel and Cunningham are running for reelection against Republican challengers Barry Moore and Larry Weinstein.
Rothermel criticizes Komelasky for wanting to move the barn when Komelasky, according to Rothermel, originally favored building a golf course on the property when the township owned it.
The Parsons allow local groups to use the basketball court for free because there’s a lack of this kind of recreational facility in the area, Rothermel said.
“George and the county now object, and affirmatively mislead the courts claiming the intended use (of the land) was for passive recreation only,” said Rothermel. “Absolutely not true as George’s original application for county open space monies clearly stated his intentions to build a golf course and banquet center which is active recreation, not passive. And justice would be served by tearing down the barn-gymnasium how?”
“Rothermel again distorts the truth to try and cover the illegal actions of the Democrats,” Komelasky responded. “The courts have said that the gymnasium is not allowed on the county open space. The county has now said that they will not agree with their deal and now they try to blame somebody else.”
Silver said that John Parsons “is a very politically connected person. He is able to do many things because of this. This one just didn’t go his way. You can not build on open space and without permits and expect to get away with it.”
But others, including supervisor Chairwoman Rose, defend the Parsons.
“John and Susan Parsons are pillars of our community who have donated time, funds and love to our community,” said Rose. “The situation regarding their property has evolved over the last few years and is unfortunate and there have been mistakes made by all sides in this issue. Antagonistic partisan politics have escalated this to a level far above what was necessary. Tearing down this building will serve no purpose and our children will pay the ultimate price. My hope is there there can be a settlement to this issue that will best serve the community and especially our youngsters.”
Township Democrat Steve Bryer had similar thoughts.
“The Parsons are one of the most charitable and generous families in the area and treatment they have received during the past few years is typical of the ‘meat grinder’ effect of politics in Northampton Township,” said Bryer. “John and Sue Parsons have touched the lives of so many in this township, not only through their charitable endeavors but as mentors to so many young members of the community. Let’s take the politics out of this issue and stop dragging private citizens into partisan politics. Yes, the Parsons skirted some requirements. They are repentant and willing to pay for their mistakes in this situation.”
Maloney said his clients, the Parsons, did not wish to comment.
“My clients are aware of the recent letter from the county solicitor and will be considering all their legal options and making a decision within 30 days,” said Maloney. “It’s been a long battle for them. They had hoped to work this out with the county.”
“I received the county solicitor’s letter and have notified Mr. Parson’s attorney that the tentative settlement agreement reached between the township and his client is void, as a result of the county’s position,” said Savona, the Northampton solicitor. “We expect Mr. Parsons to comply.”