Lawyer: Exeter Twp. has no grounds to block rehab center

By Jennifer L. Henn - For Times Leader
A hearing cancellation notice is seen on a fence outside the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary school in Exeter Township, where an area doctor would like to open a rehab facility. - Jennifer L. Henn | For Times Leader

EXETER TWP. — The latest in a series of legal volleys over a proposed residential addiction treatment center in the village of Harding was lobbed in Luzerne County Court on Thursday.

Attorney Bruce J. Phillips of Plains responded to Exeter Township’s appeal of the approval his client, Dr. Robert Dompkosky of Mountain Top, is claiming he already has to open his proposed Sutton Creek Center for Change.

In it, Phillips essentially says that since his client never agreed to an extension of a key deadline, the township has no grounds to stop him.

Dompkosky, an emergency room physician, is proposing a 50-bed inpatient drug and alcohol counseling facility at the site of a former elementary school in a residential area. To move ahead, he needs a zoning exception, which he requested in February. When the township’s Zoning Hearing Board failed to hold a public hearing on that request by a state mandated deadline, the doctor and his lawyer claimed victory by default.

The township’s Board of Supervisors appealed the doctor’s claim of approval by technicality in Luzerne County Court on June 22. On July 3, a group of people who live near the site of the proposed facility followed suit, filing their own appeal.

The court has yet to take action on the case.

In Thursday’s filing, Phillips admits he corresponded with Zoning Hearing Board Solicitor Thomas J. Killino about scheduling the public hearing on Dompkosky’s request, but said neither he nor his client ever agreed to extend the deadline by which to hold it.

State law requires a hearing on a request for a zoning exception be held within 60 days of application for it, unless the applicant agrees in writing to an extension. In Dompkosky’s case, he requested the zoning exception February 21. The 60-day deadline expired April 22.

None of the letters exchanged by Phillips and Killino between April 18 and May 7 mention the idea of extending the hearing deadline, which Phillips argues proves his point. But Killino said Thursday, the fact that Phillips, in his letter dated April 18, suggested eight hearing dates in May—all after the original deadline—actually bolsters the township’s position.

“My point is this, the letters were going back and forth purely to accommodate his client and why would he submit dates beyond the deadline he thinks we should be held to,” the solicitor said. “I’ll tell you why. Somebody figured it out later and decided to try to pull a fast one.”

In response to Phillips’ April 18 list of proposed hearing dates, Killino wrote a letter April 25 requesting additional dates in June because few on the first list would have given the township time to adhere to the 30-day public notice required to be given of a scheduled hearing.

Rather than offer additional dates, Phillips notified Killino in a letter May 15 that, after reviewing his files, the lawyer found the township was “currently well beyond the time period in which the required hearing must be” held. As a result, Phillips claimed an automatic approval and requested the zoning board give public notice of it.

When the township failed to act on that, Phillips and Dompkosky did so, filing notice of a deemed approval with the township and neighbors within 200 feet of the property. They also posted notice at the property itself, and had a notice published in the local newspaper.

In the meantime, Killino scheduled a public hearing for June 25 and Phillips indicated in interviews with a local newspaper he and his client intended to attend for informational purposes only. Later, Phillips reconsidered and after telling Killino he and Dompkosky would not attend, the hearing was canceled.

A hearing cancellation notice is seen on a fence outside the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary school in Exeter Township, where an area doctor would like to open a rehab facility.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_rehab_sign-1.jpegA hearing cancellation notice is seen on a fence outside the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary school in Exeter Township, where an area doctor would like to open a rehab facility. Jennifer L. Henn | For Times Leader

By Jennifer L. Henn

For Times Leader