EASTON, Pa. – The Easton City Council has granted an appeal filed by Lafayette College over language that would have required the school to provide a timeline for demolition in a portion of its Phase 2 project.
On Wednesday, council voted 6-0 at the appeal hearing in favor of deleting some wording placed by the city planning commission in a portion of the overall preliminary conditional land development application.
Councilman Roger Ruggles recused himself from the vote due to his affiliation with the college.
“The (planning) commission is powerless to add these changes to this condition,” argued George Kroculick, an attorney representing the college. “That admonition and advice was given twice to the planning commission.”
The college appealed after an Aug. 5 decision by the planning commission that included granting a three-year extension to keep modular student housing on the campus.
However, the commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of approving the preliminary conditional land development but with the amendment requesting that a timeline be provided on demolition of the property at 517 Clinton Terrace.
“It should be stricken because it is a by-right plan,” Kroculick said. “The uses are permitted by right. ... When these types of applications are submitted, the governing laws state that the plan shall be approved. It is entitled to approval.”
Municipal attorney Joel Scheer said that he notified the commissioners at the meeting that there was no legal basis for adding the language for a demolition schedule to the condition.
“My concern has always been that our planning commission goes beyond of what is allowed by the MPC (Municipal Planning Code),” said Mayor Sal Panto. “I think this is the perfect example.”
Phase 2, also known as the McCartney Street project, includes constructing additional student housing, counseling services, a center for health and moving the current home of the Portlock Black Cultural Center at 517 Clinton Terrace to a location next to Hillel House.
But the college said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not made a final decision on when Phase 2 will begin.
While the college has no official start date for construction, the commissioners requested that the school provide an estimated timeline for when it might begin demolition of the old buildings.
“They have not imposed this condition on any other applicant in the last five years,” Kroculick said.
“They’ve approved plans without ever, ever asking a question about demolition,” Panto said.
But Councilman David O’Connell said that while the commission had no legal justification, “in the spirit of cooperation” the college should have provided a timeline for demolition.