Washington Twp zoners hear appeal regarding Bult excavation business
Randy Bult of Slatedale appealed a decision against giving him a zoning permit for an excavation business.
Washington Township ruled the land was residential and Bult could not operate a business there.
On Aug. 15, the hearing began with Attorney Dennis Benner asking township Zoning Officer Todd Weidman questions about the zoning ordinance.
He asked whether a use that was unlawful remained unlawful after a property was purchased.
Attorney Keller Kline III asked if the property in question had been zoned medium density residential.
Weidman replied it was.
Bult’s properties are at 3755 and 3837 Main St., Slatedale. The larger of the two properties was a former slate quarry.
A home and garage was on the second property with the garage also partly on the quarry property.
Bult said he started a reclamation project in 1989 and it is finished with the exception of replacing the overburden.
He estimates using his time and equipment he has $400,000 invested.
He said the Lehigh County Conservation District visited the site and apparently found no problems.
At first Bult worked with a Snap-On Tool business out of his home and later began Dirt Work Solutions, a heavy equipment company which works off site.
He has 20 employees who come in at 6 a.m. and return between 5-7 p.m. Workers’ cars remain on site during the day and most use company pickups for transportation.
On Jan. 3, 2005, Bult formed a limited liability corporation.
Benner asked what kind of work was done.
Bult said it includes digging ground, excavating foundations, spreading stone, digging septic systems, etc. He showed invoices for some of the work done over the years.
“I did a lot of work for Washington without charging the township,” he said. Some of the work was on the rail-trail and at Eagles’ Nest Park.
He did not expect any quid pro quo for the work. The township never asked if he had a zoning permit.
Benner asked if the township knew what his business was.
Bult replied he believed it did.
Bult said he has a maintenance shop and that there are other businesses in the area such as a gas station and water supplier. Benner asked if the other businesses had zoning permits and Bult didn’t know.
He was asked if he was paying a commercial tax rate rather than residential which is lower, but was not sure.
John Ashley, attorney for the township, said assessment records tax it as residential.
Jeff Kunkle was asked if he knew Bult’s business.
Kunkle replied he has sold him supplies for masonry and landscaping since 2005.
Bult bought the property from Pete Papay of the Penn Big Bed slate quarry.
Papay said the land was zoned industrial-light commercial when he sold it.
He knew about the work on the rail-trail because he was one of the people who began the trail.
The township never discussed whether it was an unlawful business.
Jean Boyko has a hotel and convenience store in the area. Benner asked how long it had been a business. She said for 15 years so it preceded the 2006 changes to the zoning ordinance. She is bothered more by four-wheelers.
To build residences on the property would be difficult and very expensive, said Bult.
Attorney for the Zoning Board Jim Nanovic asked if anyone from the audience wanted to make a statement.
Sue Bortz said she hears equipment noise all the time: air brakes, engines racing, trucks banging, other businesses not in the residential zone, “but this is right on top of us.”
Kline asked when the noise was heard. She replied that it was 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with occasional weekends.
Chris Brazes said he lives closer than anybody at 3737 Main and thinks the noise complaint is harassment.
Julie Hummer said she thinks it is wonderful that the business employs so many young people.
She said a farm in Germansville is noisier and has longer hours but it is just part of having a business.
Dave Watson works for the township and said the supervisors all knew what Bult was doing.
Ashley said it was a lawful nonconforming use before the zoning changes in 2006. He said something has to be done with the property and maybe a lot line adjustment and getting necessary permits could resolve it.
The board retired for an executive session. When they returned Nanovic said since it was a nonconforming use a variance could make it permitted. The variance was granted with the conditions that unlicensed cars and junk be removed or under cover and screening should be added along Main Street and between two access points.
Bult will receive a written decision within 45 days.