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3-3 vote by Catasauqua council stalls development

A key project in the complex development plan to improve access to and throughout Catasauqua was voted down at the Sept. 8 Catasauqua Borough Council meeting.

The defeated project was critical to and woven into the master plan with several projects, including the Iron Works property. The vote stalls and casts a shadow on Catasauqua’s grand development plans.

A resolution to advance the Race, Second and Lehigh streets project was contentious. The resolution was originally passed 4-2. Councilman Brian McKittrick, a strong supporter of the numerous borough projects, was absent.

After the vote, Councilman Gene Schlegel asked for an explanation of the resolution. Following council President Vincent Smith’s explanation of the resolution and its importance, Schlegel asked to rescind his vote.

Smith noted this project has been planned since 2009. He explained Lehigh Street has been unsafe for decades.

“Public safety is paramount. We have an opportunity to improve safety,” Smith said.

Engineer Brent Shriver informed the board Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is in the final stage of planning this project and ready to begin work.

Council member Debra Mellish said voting against this could delay development in that area of Catasauqua for another 10 years.

“If this is delayed, how much will this cost Catasauqua?” Mellish asked.

Shriver reported Catasauqua might lose more than $141,000 if the resolution is defeated.

Councilman Cameron Smith asked how this will affect Catasauqua when it seeks future grants from PennDOT.

“It won’t look favorable,” Shriver said.

Borough Manager Steve Travers noted if Catasauqua does not move forward with the plan, PennDOT may not produce any work in the area for some time to come.

After Schlegel rescinded his vote, a second vote yielded a 3-3 deadlock.

Mayor Barbara Schlegel voted no, thereby defeating the resolution. Council members voting no were Gene Schlegel, Brian Bartholomew and Paul Cmil. In the affirmative were Cameron Smith, Debra Mellish and Vincent Smith.

Gene Schlegel asked why council couldn’t table the vote and compromise. Mellish asked what kind of compromise he had in mind. A discussion ensued that kept the situation unchanged.

It is unclear what can be done to revisit the plans given the potential funding loss and PennDOT’s reaction to the resolution defeat.

Shriver delineated several project updates during his engineer’s report. Vincent Smith expressed these projects are now on hold due to the vote against the Lehigh, Second and Race streets project.

In Barbara Schlegel’s mayor report, she said the new police car has arrived. It needs some prep work and should be operational soon.

Bartholomew asked the mayor if Catasauqua Area School District requested an additional school resource officer. Barbara Schlegel reported the request is on hold due to COVID-19. She added the SROs currently in the district do a great job. The plan for the third one would be to have an SRO at each school.

Cameron Smith gave his public safety report and motioned to advertise the burning ordinance. There was discussion about ensuring each council member receive a hard copy of the ordinance. A concern brought up by Mellish was if there are changes made, council would have to readvertise at another cost to the borough.

The ordinance will require a fee to have a recreational fire. The goal of the fee is to ensure a resident’s fire pit is up to code.

Bartholomew asked if current fire pits will be grandfathered. Cameron Smith answered no. Barbara Schlegel observed there will be some properties that will not be allowed to have a recreational fire pit because of the ruling stating the pit must be 25 feet away from structures. Bartholomew said he believes this is unfair to people who spent money to install a recreational fire pit before the development of the ordinance.

The motion to advertise the burning ordinance was passed by a roll call vote of 5-1.

A resident informed council about neighbors in a congested area setting off fireworks. His mother’s home across the street from the fireworks sustained a broken window.

The woman’s son contacted the police to have a report completed for insurance purposes. He asked what the police can do if the person lighting fireworks is not caught in the act as required by state law.

Police Chief Douglas Kish said if there are multiple complaints about residents setting off fireworks from one property, the police will follow up. An officer will observe the home and inform the residents they will be cited if they get caught setting off fireworks.

Kish noted a person can only set off fireworks 150 feet away from an occupied building. The 150-foot rule excludes many local property owners from legally setting off fireworks.

Mellish informed council there may be substantial issues as 5G technology advances, including numerous antennas placed around the borough. Her concern is state and federal law will govern the 5G development, leaving local authorities unable to influence the development.

The next borough council meeting - a workshop - is 7 p.m. Sept. 28 in the municipal complex, 90 Bridge St.