January 8, 2014 —
MILFORD, PA — Pike County officials are hoping they’ve found a shortcut to winning borough approvals of a new addition to the county courthouse, but borough officials warn that the shortcut could instead create new delays.
After a presentation of plans by Commissioner Matt Osterberg and McGoey, Hauser & Edsall engineer Mike Lamoreaux, and more than an hour of questions, the borough council on January 6 unanimously agreed to allow the zoning and preservation reviews to be done concurrently.
The work will also include restoration of the 140-year-old courthouse, demolition of two county-owned buildings on High Street for the creation of a new septic field and a 20-car parking lot.
About two dozen people attended the evening meeting at the Pike County Public Library.
If successful, the joint approval process could cut months off the process, but if zoning forces changes to presentations already approved in the preservation review, those approvals will be lost. The county has not yet begun either process and still faces some public opposition to current plans.
The proposed project involves the controversial demolition or relocation of the Kenworthey House, which now houses court offices and is within the borough historic district. Opponents want the Kenworthey House saved and the addition moved to the lot occupied by the Keystone Building, which adjoins the corner courthouse on the opposite side.
Lamoreaux detailed his report on cost comparisons. They included a $490,000 difference in appraised value of the two properties, $500,000 to relocate Verizon fiber-optic lines, $98,000 to move power lines and $240,000 to remodel the existing courthouse lobby. Utilities estimates did not include moving Blue Ridge cable service or gas lines, he added.
All told, he said the correct number for extra costs in saving the Kenworthey House would add $1.4 million to the $9 to $10 million estimated project cost.
“I don’t know of any lot in Milford worth $1.4 million,” Osterberg said.
Borough President Robert Price said that some people might want the extra million dollars spent.
Resident and large property owner Richard Snyder said much of the high utility costs related to their location on Gooseberry Alley, behind the courthouse, are not valid, since the alley is public property. “If you say get out, they get out, at their own cost.”
Lamoreaux said he knew of instances where utility easements were broken in court.
Borough Mayor Bo Fean suggested the utilities may have easements and that such a legal process would likely be a long one.
Aside from location debate, borough council Vice President Ed Raarup said the design didn’t move him. “I’ve seen this before, when Milford has had the chance to do something really extraordinary and settled for something adequate.”
Kevin Stroyan, a member of the architectural review board (ARB), which would conduct the preservation review, said that the ARB, by definition, would recommend against the demolition or even the relocation of the Kenworthey Building. “In either case, [the building] won’t be there anymore. Then it will be the council’s decision.”
He said a proposal to deal with the demolition or relocation was a primary issue that the county needs to address.
Lamoreaux said that if the building is to be relocated, the auction price of the Kenworthey House would be reduced by $40,000, which is the estimated demolition cost.
Stroyan warned of the danger of the joint review track. “Your project could change substantially. The applicants should understand that ARB decisions can change with zoning [actions],” he said.
“We’re doing this at our own risk,” Osterberg replied.
[Want further reading? See an op-ed essay and this week’s editorial on the plans for building a courthouse annex in Pike County.]