Harding residents plan appeal in Exeter Twp. rehab center case

By Jennifer L. Henn - For Times Leader
Attorney Mark McNealis is seen at a Wilkes-Barre zoning hearing in 2016. McNealis has agreed to represent Harding residents in an appeal to prevent plans for an addiction treatment center from coming to fruition in their residential Exeter Township neighborhood. - Times Leader file

EXETER TWP. — Residents in the rural village of Harding have banded together and are taking matters into their own hands this week, filing an appeal to prevent plans for an addiction treatment center from coming to fruition in their residential neighborhood.

Attorney Mark P. McNealis of Sweet Valley, a zoning and planning expert, expected to submit the legal documents in Luzerne County Court early Tuesday on behalf of nearly 90 concerned citizens. The appeal challenges what Dr. Robert Dompkosky claims is the deemed approval he won for his proposed inpatient rehabilitation facility when Exeter Township’s Zoning Hearing Board missed a deadline to hold a public hearing on the matter.

In fact, McNealis said the residents can make a strong case — based on another technicality — that the failure of the board to hold the hearing should result in a deemed denial. And though Dompkosky would have had the right to appeal that, he missed the deadline to do so.

Dompkosky is proposing a private, for-profit residential addiction treatment center on the site of the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School on Sutton Creek Road. The facility would treat up to 50 patients at a time, he has said, though the applications he filed with the township contain none of those details.

To move ahead with his plans, Dompkosky needs a special zoning exception because the property is in a residential area.

The residents’ appeal comes a little more than a week after Exeter Township supervisors filed a similar challenge to Dompkosky in county court. The basis for both are similar and McNealis said it’s likely the appeals will be consolidated by a judge when one is assigned to the case.

In addition to the individual residents who signed on to the appeal, McNealis confirmed there are 200 or so neighbors who have been participating in community meetings and working to form a non-profit called Exeter Township Citizens, also in opposition to the rehabilitation site.

Aside from the zoning code technicalities both sides are using to make their cases, the township and residents question if Dompkosky even has the legal standing to ask for approval since his name is not on the deed to the property. The land in question is owned by Sutton Creek Properties LLC, a limited liability corporation the doctor said he formed. But the application he filed for a special zoning exception lists Dompkosky as the applicant and Janet Serino as the owner. Serino is the superintendent of the Wyoming Area School District. The transfer of the property had not been completed at the time.

“The bottom line is, we are looking at multiple grounds we can argue this case on and they all have to be considered,” McNealis said Monday. “(Dompkosky) does not have an automatic victory to essentially do whatever he wants out there.”

The attorney was also quick to point out the residents are mostly concerned with the idea of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week commercial business being allowed to operate in the middle of a residential neighborhood — not that the business would be an addiction recovery center.

“You’ll notice the words drug or alcohol don’t appear once in our appeal,” he said.

McNealis, who has worked on both sides of zoning cases and serves as solicitor for several zoning and planning boards including those in Harveys Lake and Nanticoke, is confident in the residents’ position.

“Let me put it this way. If I wasn’t confident they had a case here, I wouldn’t have agreed to represent them,” he said.

Attorney Mark McNealis is seen at a Wilkes-Barre zoning hearing in 2016. McNealis has agreed to represent Harding residents in an appeal to prevent plans for an addiction treatment center from coming to fruition in their residential Exeter Township neighborhood.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL120816Zoning2-2.jpgAttorney Mark McNealis is seen at a Wilkes-Barre zoning hearing in 2016. McNealis has agreed to represent Harding residents in an appeal to prevent plans for an addiction treatment center from coming to fruition in their residential Exeter Township neighborhood. Times Leader file

By Jennifer L. Henn

For Times Leader