Cracking the Code
Recently, Swarthmore Borough issued notice to owners of adjoining properties at 311 Cedar Lane and 406 College Avenue that the structures are unsafe for human occupancy, that rehabilitation is not feasible due to the degree of deterioration, and that the structures should therefore be demolished, according to Borough Manager Jane Billings. The owner of 311 Cedar Lane has appealed the notice. This activity has prompted borough leaders to address long-dormant apparatus of government which may soon be needed to hear the appeal.
At its meeting on Monday, August 12, Swarthmore Borough Council voted to appoint members to two Boards of Appeals. Planning and Zoning chair Betsy Larsen said that the borough’s Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code Board of Appeals was constituted per state law in 2005, but has never needed to convene. The Board exists to hear and rule on appeals, requests for variances and time extensions based on claims that the UCC has been incorrectly applied in municipal building code enforcement and decisions. It also may review and approve plans which, though strictly non-conforming, a party contends are equivalent in function, safety, or impact.
Board membership is unchanged since its founding, said Billings, notwithstanding the death of one member and the move of another from the area. Per Monday’s unanimous vote, these two spots on a board which calls for particular knowledge of building, zoning, and permitting will be filled by Media architect Robert Linn, and James Jeffrey, whom Billings called “the god of code enforcement in Delaware County.”
Council then approved an ordinance designating the members of the UCC appeals board also as the Property Maintenance Code Board of Appeals. This board will hear the appeal regarding 311 Cedar. Manager Billings will also be an ex officio member of this second board. The other members of the double-duty board are Dan Honig, Brian McGillin, and Mike Perrone.
Swarthmorean Conlen Booth was appointed to the Borough’s Civil Service Commission, replacing Vicki Herr, who has moved away. The commission oversees borough personnel matters, including the hiring of police officers, a process which is now under way. Chief Ray Stuflett reported that all 21 applicants passed the qualification exam. Candidates will next undergo a physical agility test, with interviews to follow.
Public Safety chair Mary Walk reported her committee’s recommendation of the purchase of an ENRADD (electric non-radar device) speed monitoring system, following a trial of a similar unit loaned to Swarthmore Police by Nether Providence Township, where it has been successfully used. The cost is expected to be $4,000- $5,000; the system requires two officers to operate and monitor. Council unanimously approved the purchase.
Walk also described plans to increase security of the borough office and staff by installing shatterproof glass and a buzzer/latch system for entry through the office door. The committee will review three proposals; cost is expected to be under $10,000.
Finance chair Michael Carey reported that replacement of the failing HVAC system which serves the firehouse will require approximately $30,000 of the $50,000 in capital funds allocated this budget year to refurbishing Borough Hall. Replacement of some windows in the building will require the remaining funds.
Finally, Solicitor Robert Scott sought and received Council’s ratification of a decision it made last month in executive session, regarding a residential property at 211 S. Chester Road that has accumulated many code violations. Council appointed a conservator — Bastogne Development Partners — who would be responsible, Scott said, “For submitting this property to court, and for submitting a plan for abating the code violations through demolition or renovation, giving the property owner a chance to appear and possibly take control of the situation, or have the conservator do it if the property owner can’t.”