Dr. Dorothy Cooke, a retired internist, recently spoke before a Town and Country Board of Aldermen meeting concerning the city's lack of enforcement over a new home being built that is dumping storm water onto her property.
"I understand from Alderwoman Avioli that the board is looking at improving the ordinances regulating water runoff during construction. I might suggest that you first look at enforcing the ordinances that you currently have," said Cooke.
She then listed what she thought were all the violations in connection with a new house being built at the dead end of Claymark Drive which backs up to her property.
"What's going on here? This builder seems to think he can do as he wishes and get by with it. And right now I must agree with him," she said. "So before you put more ordinances in (the) book, I suggest you decide what to do with the one's that already exist."
Cooke points out a problem I have been noticing in Town and Country for several years. All the ordinances look great on paper, but nobody is willing to enforce them. In the 30 years that I worked in city and county government this has been called a "laissez faire" style of enforcement or taking action only when someone complains. From what I've seen, I feel Town and Country takes it one step further by taking no action even when people do complain.
In 2007, DeShelter Homes stopped building a home at 22 Chapel Hill leaving an open foundation, gravel driveway and open pool. This was a violation of city law. Despite complaints from neighbors no action was taken for two years. On June 1, 2009, the city's building inspector sent DeShelter Homes a letter telling them they have been in violation of the city law and if they don't level the lot within 30 days they will be cited.
Thirty days later there were no citations issued. One hundred and sixty-eight days later there were still no citations issued, but there was another warning letter sent giving DeShelter another 30 days. At the end of that second 30-day notice, DeShelter said they would begin building the house in the spring. No enforcement action was taken for a violation spanning three years.
For the two years I was an alderman in Town and Country, I would drive around Ward-2 and report builders that had failed to put up erosion fences or whose fences had failed leaving streets covered in mud and rocks. On one construction job of a house the size of a hotel on Mason Road, every time it rained mud flowed across Mason Road and down Buckland Hall Road. One warning after another was issued while the mud continued to flow after every rain.
When a builder gets a building permit, it should be given a list of ordinances that will be enforced at its site. That should be his warning. If you immediately start with $100 citations you will normally get quick compliance. When you start handing out warning after warning, you send the message that the worst that will happen if you break the laws is you will get multiple warnings, but save money.
In another case a new Town and Country resident opened an office at Mason Road and Highway 40. The new resident happened to have previously served two years in the Allentown Pennsylvania Federal Prison for manufacturing and selling drugs.
For three years he failed to get a business license or a required fire inspection and occupancy permit. During those three years, 13 complaints were filed with the Attorney General's Office and a half- dozen lawsuits were filed in Circuit Court, all claiming he was running a fraudulent Ponzi-like sales scheme.
When I complained to the police chief and asked that citations be issued for the years the man failed to have a business license nothing happened. A decision was made by the city attorney not to prosecute him because when contacted he did go and buy a business license. Again, I felt it sent a message that city laws did not need to be obeyed.
Town and Country is a "Tree City" and even has a flag from Tree City USA. There is an ordinance that requires people who own more than three acres of land to get a permit if they are going to cut down trees. The same guy running the business for three years without a license decided to put a wrought iron fence around his house that sits on five acres off Topping Road. To put up the fence he cut down a number of trees without a permit. When a complaint was made to the city, a warning letter was promptly sent out.
Perhaps the most alarming instance of the city refusing to take action involved the sale of liquor to teenagers. A 2008 police sting caught two establishments selling liquor or beer to an 18-year-old girl.
Police cited the employees for selling booze to kids but no one was going to take any action against the businesses for not training and supervising the employees so they would not sell to kids. The law was on the books but it was going to be ignored. I was an alderman at the time and introduced a resolution to take action. The liquor licenses could have been suspended for a half-day or longer. What happened? The Town and Country Board of Aldermen voted to issue a written warning.
I actually voted for the warning, when it was made clear in debate no one would even consider a suspension. One alderman even suggested I write a new ordinance. Why? Nobody was going to enforce it.
Dr. Dorothy Cooke has made complaints and had nothing happen for two years. Town and Country certainly has a thick city code book full of laws for almost any and everything you can think of, but when you refuse to enforce the laws the book might as well not exist.