About 30 property owners in a Macungie townhouse development soon will be getting letters from the borough zoning officer instructing them to remove fences, sheds or any other obstructions that block a pedestrian easement behind their properties.
Those people are violating the borough’s zoning ordinance, said Macungie Solicitor Patrick Armstrong at Monday night’s borough council meeting.
They will be given until April 30 to “remedy” the situation by removing the obstructions.
The blocked pedestrian easement is behind homes in Village Walk, a townhouse development just north of the CVS Pharmacy along Route 100.
The homes are along Village Walk Drive, a looping road off Brookfield Drive. Those with the most violations are on the outer side of that loop, according to borough manager Chris Boehm.
Armstrong said the borough’s zoning law states no structures can be installed or constructed within pedestrian easements that obstruct the purpose of those easements.
He said a fence that encroaches one, two or three feet into the easement probably is not in violation. But a fence or shed that crosses the entire easement and leaves no room for pedestrian traffic is in violation.
Council member Debra Cope, who lives in that neighborhood, doesn’t have a backyard shed. She keeps the lawn mower in her garage in the front of her house and uses the pedestrian easement to push it back to her backyard.
“We have to be able to get behind people’s properties,” she explained. “If I can’t get around those properties, I can’t get into my yard.”
Boehm said another resident wanted to put a deck on the back of a home, but the contractor could not get through to do the work.
Boehm explained residents own the easements, but cannot build on them.
Armstrong said some easements in that neighborhood are 10 feet wide, others are 15 feet wide.
Last summer, more than 120 property owners in the neighborhood were sent letters about the encroachment issue by Brian Nixon, the borough’s zoning officer.
Since that time, the zoning officer has inspected all the properties to determine which are in violation of the zoning ordinance.
“There clearly are not 120-some people in violation,” said the solicitor.
All those property owners soon will be getting another letter from the zoning officer, said Armstrong.
Some will be told they are not encroaching on the easement. Some will be told they are encroaching, but not to the extent that they are violating the zoning ordinance. And some – probably 20 or 30 --will be told they clearly are in violation and must remove the obstructions.
“Nothing has gone out yet,” said Armstrong, who predicted letters will be sent in a week or two.
The solicitor said some other property owners in that neighborhood will be getting a different kind letter, telling them they installed fences without getting permits from the borough -- even if those fences are not encroaching on the pedestrian easement. He said they will be required to get those permits by next month.
Concerned about hearing complaints from residents once those letters are sent, council president Chris Becker asked Armstrong if some criteria has been developed to determine “this is the point where it’s blocked.” Without such criteria, he questioned the fairness of how those judgment calls will be made.
Becker also asked if other people want to erect a fence that partially goes into that easement in the future, will the borough say they have to stay out of it completely or will it allow them to go as far into as some of their neighbors already have done?
Armstrong said all new applicants will have to stay out of the easement.
He also said even individuals getting letters telling them they are not being required to remove anything by April are being put on notice that they will to remove them if in the future the borough does decide they also are obstructing the easement.
“If you’re obstructing it by one or two feet, it’s not giving you a free pass,” said the solicitor.
Saying those homes have been there for about 25 years – another resident said 28-- council member David Boyko asked if a complaint from a resident spurred the action being taken by the borough. He was told there was such a complaint.