EXETER TWP. — Township residents and officials looking forward to hearing from — and being heard by — the doctor proposing an addiction treatment center in the small rural village of Harding are going to have to wait a while longer.
The much anticipated public hearing scheduled for next week was canceled Wednesday and it’s likely the case is moving to Luzerne County Court.
Exeter Township Zoning Hearing Board Solicitor Thomas Killino abruptly canceled the hearing shortly after Dr. Robert Dompkosky’s lawyer announced neither he nor his client would attend the proceedings. Participating in the hearing, attorney Bruce Phillips said in a letter to Mr. Killino, would jeopardize the doctor’s legal position that he already has all the township approval he needs to move forward.
The hearing, he said, is a “legal nullity”
“My client is prepared to discuss, in complete detail, his plans for the property and answer any questions in a public forum,” Mr. Phillips wrote in his letter Wednesday, “however, this cannot take place at the scheduled public hearing.”
An emergency room physician from Mountain Top, Dompkosky plans to convert the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School to Sutton Creek Center for Change, a private, family owned 50-bed residential addiction treatment center. The for-profit rehabilitation facility would be similar to Marworth in Waverly, he said.
To move ahead with his plans, he needed a special zoning exception because the property is in a residentially zoned area.
Dompkosky and Phillips claimed a win by default earlier this month, saying the township’s Zoning Hearing Board missed a deadline to hold the public hearing on the case. The missed deadline, they said, triggered an automatic, or deemed approval of Dompkosky’s plans. Township officials disagreed and vowed to hold the hearing anyway, and the doctor and his lawyer said they planned to attend anyway.
Both sides reversed course and now the township’s supervisors are planning to appeal the deemed approval. Township Solicitor Gene Molino said he is drafting that appeal and plans to file it in Luzerne County Court in the next few days. It will be based on the idea that the zoning request deserves a full hearing on its merits.
“And at that hearing, he’ll have a chance to present his evidence and arguments in favor of the zoning change, and residents will have a chance to voice their opinions,” Mr. Molino said Wednesday evening. “At this point, that’s all the board of supervisors is looking for and I’m fairly confident they’ll get it.”
Phillips arranged for a public notice of the deemed approval for Sutton Creek Center for Change to be published in local newspapers and given to a dozen of the property’s immediate neighbors June 5. That move set a timeline of 30 days for township residents to appeal it. The deadline for appeals to be filed is July 5.
At least one township official said Wednesday he suspects the hearing would have been a waste of time.
“My thinking is, why put everybody through all of it if we’re going to have to meet him in the Luzerne County Court system anyway?” Exeter Township Supervisor Chairman Robert Kile said.
In addition to supervisors, residents have the right to file appeals as well. Killino said a group of neighbors have hired attorney Mark McNealis to consult on the matter. McNealis could not be reached for comment at press time.
According to the Pennsylvania Municipalities Code governing zoning boards, the first hearing on a request must be held within 60 days of receipt of the application, unless the applicant has agreed in writing to an extension. Township zoning officer Carl Alber denied Dompkosky’s initial application Feb. 7. A week later, the doctor filed for a special exception, appealing to the zoning board to overturn the denial.
Phillips said he and Dompkosky tried to coordinate with the township to schedule the hearing, but nothing happened. Killino claims the doctor and his lawyer were the ones dragging their feet while the township was acting in good faith.