September 26, 2012 —
Thirty-one miles of the Lackawaxen River flow peacefully through the Pennsylvania valleys of Pike and Wayne counties, but there is a small section of shoreline along the river in the Township of Lackawaxen where the waters are a little turbulent.
The disputed section of river, owned by Euell Threshman until his death in 2010, was used loosely as a boat launch for decades. Kittatinny Canoes purchased the property in August of 2010 to use as a launch for its river livery business. Folks who own nearby riverfront property are not excited by this idea. The matter was discussed at the township meeting on September 24.
Cathy Reicheg is concerned carefree river days will be forever replaced by chaos if Kittatinny is permitted to do business on the site. She dreads days like this past weekend, when Kittatinny launched its patrons from the site. “The traffic Saturday was ridiculous. They were up and down, up and down with all kinds of vehicles, trailers with canoes and people with kayaks. There were people falling into the river. It was just crazy.” She said the tiny access road combined with the large transport trucks is a toxic mix.
The conflict is rooted in the property’s history. In 1977, the Lackawaxen Township created its first zoning ordinance, leaving out verbiage restricting river access and use. In 1992, the township re-vamped its zoning laws, including a provision to prohibit public and commercial launching on the Lackawaxen River. Pre-existing businesses, arguably like the boating business Threshman operated, were grandfathered in, requiring that the business was never abandoned for more than a year.
The question then becomes, was the property ever officially a business, and if so, does it satisfy the continual use requirement?
Going back to the timeline, in 1996, there was an inquiry into the property by the zoning officer at the time. It was determined that the Threshman business dated back to 1977, so it was grandfathered in, and not bound by the zoning laws of 1992. Then in 2001 the property came up again when a local grocery store wanted to rent canoes and launch them at the Threshman site. The township denied the request but during the process recognized the property as being in continual non-conforming use, making 2001 the starting point to determine if the business has been in continual use. If it has, regardless of whose name is on the property title, Kittatinny could be in the clear. If the township can prove there was a lapse of a year or more, the grandfather clause is voided, and the use can be restricted according to the zoning laws of 1992.
Township solicitor Anthony Waldron warned the latter scenario could come with a price tag. “In most cases where someone has already acquired a property, and we’re going to tell them they can’t use it, they’re not going to go away. They’re going to fight. It is a fight that will cost taxpayer money.”
It appears he’s right. Kittatinny owner David Jones was not at the meeting, but in a phone conversation he made his intentions clear. “I am going to stand up for everyone’s right to use the river,” Jones said. “We’ve used it every year for many, many years. It’s all documented and nothing has changed. The law is on our side.”
Waldron says he’s received information from Kittatinny ’s attorney, and it appears for the most part they have maintained use of the property. He says there is information missing for three years, which could prove discontinued use. Fearing strategic information getting to “the other side” (Kittatinny) through the press, he would not elaborate