Bushes and boxes Neighbors at odds over intersection safety

By on October 17, 2012

By: MELINDA S. ELMER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer



Photo by Preston WhitcraftBushes and mailboxes at the intersection of Acorn and Long lanes in Elizabeth Township have been a sore subject. Last week, township supervisors concluded that they were out of legal options.

"The township may act as a mediator, but it can’t compel people to move their mailboxes to Acorn Lane, and it can’t compel the post office to deliver up there," Josele Cleary, solicitor for Elizabeth Township, told residents of Acorn and Long lanes in an attempt to resolve an ongoing problem at the intersection.

Residents attended the Oct. 8 Elizabeth Township Supervisors meeting to discuss the matter. By the end of the night, supervisors concluded that they were out of legal options.

A group of neighbors led, by resident Harry Turner, months ago asked the supervisors to do something about the allegedly dangerous intersection. Acorn Lane residents assert that bushes on a property at the corner of Long and Acorn obstruct the view of traffic.

Long Lane is a township road; Acorn Lane is a private driveway that tees off of Long Lane and leads to about 30 homes.

Cleary explained that the township has jurisdiction only over public roadways. The right-of-way on Long Lane is 33 feet wide, or 16 1/2 feet on each side of the center line. Acorn Lane was constructed as a private road and was never given to the township; the township has no responsibilities or rights on Acorn Lane.

The subdivision plan that created Acorn Lane indicates clear-sight triangles on both sides of Acorn Lane, but because the property on the east corner of the lane was pre-existing, the new subdivision could not make demands on that property. Cleary explained that Pennsylvania property law is firmly on the side of the property owner. Pennsylvania property law would not disallow a property owner’s right to subdivide lots because of existing conditions on an adjacent property, and a newly created lot may not make demands on an existing property.

The Acorn Lane residents contend that bushes in the front yard of the property at the east corner of Long Lane are causing the sight problem. The homeowner says that the 33 Acorn Lane mailboxes placed on her property without her permission are the problem. The township says the mailbox posts are in the township right-of-way, not on private property.

Cleary said the township has the right to remove brush, vegetation and trees in the right-of-way, and Township Road Superintendent Glenn Martin has trimmed the bushes in the right-of-way at this location. Cleary explained that residents do have the right to place mailboxes within the township’s right-of-way, but not wherever they want in the right-of-way. The township does have the right to tell people to move mailboxes to another location to improve the right-of-way.

Acorn Lane resident Dirk Schoenberger said that the supervisors had been asked "to improve the sight distances at the intersection, but were intimidated into thinking this is a mailbox issue by a woman who has never gone through proper channels." He said the township seems willing to "inconvenience 33 people to appease one."

Schoenberger says he can see over the mailboxes when he tries to pull out of Acorn Lane onto Long Lane; the bushes are the problem.

The homeowner will not remove the bushes as long as the mailboxes are in front of her house, in an attempt to preserve her privacy.

Supervisor Chairman Brian Wiker said the township engineer had done a study that determined that the mailboxes were more of an obstruction than the bushes. "I’m satisfied that we didn’t follow through with our original motion (to remove the bushes) because it was wrong."

Supervisor Jeff Burkholder noted that the bushes had been trimmed recently.

A resident asked where the mailboxes might better be placed. Past discussions included options on Acorn Lane and two locations on Long Lane. The U.S. Post Office will not make deliveries on private, unimproved and unmaintained lanes, which it contends is the case with Acorn Lane. The two locations on Long Lane are also unacceptable.

Wiker replied that the township cannot tell residents where to place their mailboxes; they can only say where they may not be placed.

Schoenberger said the supervisors have done nothing, even though the township’s insurance agent said the bushes must come down. Cleary repeated that the township does not have the right to go onto private property, outside of the right-of-way, and remove vegetation. The insurance agent may say what is safer, but does not have the legal authority to make requirements.

Wiker agreed with Schoenberger that the board has decided to do nothing. "We all want people to be safe. Harry Turner originally approached us because of safety at the intersection, but sometimes good intentions backfire. The engineer says the (Acorn Lane resident’s) mailboxes are more of a problem than the (Long Lane resident’s) bushes. I’d rather back off and take no action."

"An alternative is to move the boxes, and you figure out where to put them," Wiker continued. "Another alternative would be to ask the post office to deliver up the lane."

Supervisor Rodney May offered blank U.S. Post Office petition forms for the Acorn Lane residents to fill out to request mail delivery on their street. There were no takers.

One resident said the petitions wouldn’t make a difference; it wouldn’t improve safety at the intersection. Another said that the post office has already said it will not deliver up the lane.

May said, "I feel helpless sitting here, but we can’t do a thing about it."

The supervisors did pass a motion to post a speed limit of 40 mph on Long Lane.

They passed another motion "to end this discussion as a business item and leave well enough alone, but to support a petition of the post office to move the mail boxes."

Resident Harry Turner said he will go to the zoning hearing board for redress. The supervisors said there is nothing more legally to be done. Turner then said he’d go to the county commissioners to get something done since the supervisors won’t do anything.

On another topic, Dave Snavely, representing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, presented the supervisors with checks totaling $3,500 for the purchase of bronze plaques representing all branches of the armed forces. These plaques will be placed on the memorial wall at Elizabeth Township Park. Remaining funds will be used to "add a plaque with the names of local service members who died, with additional room for … hopefully no more names," said Snavely.

The supervisors thanked the veterans. May also thanked the residents who use the park and pavilion and keep it clean and tidy. He said the restroom facilities will be open into November, weather permitting.

Resident Barry Lieberman noted some erosion in the Elizabeth Township Park in the "swamp" area. May said the township is aware of the problem and it will be addressed.

The supervisors received a letter from the insurance company stating that cancer is now considered an occupational disease for firefighters. The township helps to cover insurance costs for volunteer firefighters.

In other business:

? The Brickerville Fire Company responded to eight fire calls, 30 ambulance calls and 10 fire police incidents in September.

? The zoning officer issued six permits in September for work valued at $269,000.

? Road Superintendent Glenn Martin reported grass seeding and tree planting is progressing at the Elizabeth Township Park.

? The supervisors voted to join the Cocalico Creek Watershed Association.

? The annual budget preparation meeting was held Oct. 15. There were no surprises. Supervisors are not planning on any new taxes in 2013, and the long-standing tradition of no real estate tax will continue. The biggest discussion was whether to budget for the purchase of a new backhoe. The upcoming year is the last year before new emissions regulations go into effect.

? The monthly collection of recyclables will be Saturday, Nov. 3, from 8 until noon at the municipal building on South View Drive.

? The planning commission’s next regular meeting will be Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. More ELIZABETH TOWSHIP, page A3

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