|
|
News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Court annex stirs passions

  • While the County of Pike defends its need to consolidate court and other judicial functions for security and contending that an annex on Broad Street is the best option, numerous members of the public remain concerned over the impact on the historic character of the town.
    • email print
      Comment
  • While the County of Pike defends its need to consolidate court and other judicial functions for security and contending that an annex on Broad Street is the best option, numerous members of the public remain concerned over the impact on the historic character of the town.
    Karen Konti was one of several in the crowded audience at the Jan. 15th County Commissioners meeting, expressing this concern. The meeting ran two hours, the latter hour and a half taken up by the courthouse annex subject. Konti implored the Commissioners to suspend the project until a public hearing could be held.
    Opportunity for public discussion, however, has been held at various points, where presentations have been made by the County, whether at Commissioners, Milford Borough Planning or Milford Borough's Architectural Review Board (ARB).
    Michael Lamoreaux, the County Engineer and employed by McGoey, Hauser & Edsall (MHE), presented preliminary plans showing the status of the annex proposal.
    Konti said there should be more transparency in the process. She and others said they did not object to the need to expand the courthouse. Bill Kriger, who served on Milford Council when the ARB was formed, said later that the worry is that the political process will trump the historic preservation and wipe away an "historic icon."
    He spoke of the Kenworthy building, otherwise known as the Judge's Chambers at 410 Broad Street,, a Queen-Anne era house to the left of the 1874 courthouse as seen from Broad Street. With its gorgeous conical corner tower, the house either has to be purchased and moved out of the way or demolished to make room for the proposed addition.
    Konti asked for more dialogue, to better understand the options and justification for putting the addition here. She said that the community's National Historic District helps define Milford as a place to live and work.
    They are part of an informal group organized to defend the historic house, known as "Concerned County Citizens." Konti said they have over 400 signatures on a petition. One woman in the audience carried a large photograph of the Judge's' Chambers.
    Another man in the audience questioned the engineer's methodology and basis for determining the amount of floor space the various county departments needed. Asking if this information was publicly available, the County Solicitor , Thomas Farley, explained that the County has the results of the engineer's study but how the engineer developed it is part of the engineer's work. Farley said this would be addressed.
    ••• Chains across street
    Central to the County's plans is the urgent need for better security. Sheriff Philip Beuki said that the old stone jail where the Sheriff's Department has been located for over 30 years is woefully inadequate for holding prisoners. They have to chain prisoners in the hallway, in closet areas and in various rooms, pending transfer. Last year alone, the Pike County Sheriff Department transferred 1,232 inmates. They have to be escorted across West High Street to the Courthouse.
    Page 2 of 3 - Last week, he said,there were 48 defendants in the old stone jail that had to be moved across the street. What makes him nervous, he stressed, is imagining a planned escape. Gang members from New York and New Jersey come to this rural area and are well aware of how they transfer inmates. Beuki said he is very concerned an armed party in a van could come and attempt to rescue someone in the Sheriff Department's custody while being walked to the Courthouse.
    The day before, with a roundup of 10 people suspected for drug dealing, it was a nervous scene with a throng of security, and "chains across the street." All this, he said, happens while people are "out shopping."
    He added that the Sheriff's Department is in constant "crisis mode" because of this.
    Lamoreaux explained that the proposed annex meets the modern standard of keeping one main entrance for the public- the current courthouse entrance- while having a separate, secure sally port to bring in defendants by vehicle. There is also a separate and secure entrance for the judges and their staff.
    The proposed floor plan puts the Sheriff's Department in the basement level of the annex, completely underground. The District Attorney's Office and Probation Department would move here as well. The Prothonotary's Office would remain in the present part of the Courthouse, its case records in easy access.
    A new, secure space for Courtroom No. 2 would be added in the annex. Presently, Judge Chelak presides over domestic cases in what had been the law library. What can be the most volatile of cases are heard in an inadequate facility, Farley stated.
    ••• Rules out other sites
    Because of these security concerns, the County is not considering moving part of the courthouse facility to another area. That rules out options suggested by the public, including the PennDOT facility that will eventually be County property, the interim court location being prepared at the former Malhame garment manufacturing site, or the Tom Quick Inn across the street. Lamoreaux noted that the Tom Quick Inn is a wood frame building and would not be cost effective to rebuild it to meet County needs.
    If they were to move all court functions to the Malhame site, they would need a building six or seven stories high and be left with a historic, empty courthouse, Lamoreaux added.
    Building the annex on the back of the courthouse, crossing Gooseberrry Alley would involve removing the Keystone law office building on West High Street. This option, Lamoreaux said, would work although the costs are significantly higher.
    Much discussion surrounded why it would cost well over a million dollars to move the Verizon utility lines if the West High Street option was taken. Solicitor Farley said he wants Verizon to explain in writing what the cost would be and how Verizon justifies it, citing case law. He sought to reassure members of the audience that the County is not just taking Verizon's word for it, but is investigating.
    Page 3 of 3 - The cost, Farley said, seems to keep going up, and he is consistently hearing estimates of $1.3 to $1.7 million just to move Verizon's lines. On top of this cost is moving power lines, gas lines, purchasing the Keystone property and expense to modify the annex design- should the West High Street plan be adopted.
    Commissioner Matthew Osterberg said he helped put the ARB in place in 1999, while serving on Milford Borough Council. A local historian, Osterberg said there were public concerns about the ARB, of controlling what the public could do with their properties and fears of inhibiting economic development. "No one likes change," he said, but asks if each old house has to survive 100 or 200 years, or could they "outlive their usefulness?" Extending the courthouse on West High Street, he cautioned, would impact a Residential Zone. When that occurs, he said, when would it stop?
    Houses have been moved before, and the Judge's Chambers could also be moved if there was a willing buyer. Osterberg said it "makes perfect sense" to keep the addition on Broad Street, which is a Commercial Zone.
    Another man in the audience asked whether there was an analysis done on the impact on the business community from placing the addition on Broad Street. He warned that Pennsylvania has plenty of county seats that are "ghost towns" where invariably there is what he called "a big box county building."
    ••• Remove two other houses
    Aside from removing the Judge's Chambers, the present plan calls for removing two house owned by the County across the street- the County Auditors' Office, 107 W. High Street and the Public Defenders' Office, 105 W. High Street. Lamoreaux said that this would be where the septic system for the larger courthouse would be placed. A space for a back-up septic system had to be designated, which is the front lawn of the Courthouse. He said they hope this would not have to be built, but it would not be visible.
    Some setback variances would be needed from the Borough, as well as a variance to the height limit. The Borough has a 35 foot height limit, unless a variance is given. The peak of the addition would be 44 feet high, which is lower than the apex of the front of the present courthouse. The cupola of the courthouse reaches 75 feet.

        calendar