2212 Sullivan Trail Forks Township Pa. 18040 610-258-2963
Forks Township Verses Us 1990-2017
Forks Township 1984 was a diverse community of about 5000 people. Most of the services a community needs were located within Forks Township. Automobile, Fuel, Parts, Repairs, Tires and Batteries, along with several Auto Body shops were located in Forks Township. Laneco the model Wall-Mart would study in the planning of its first superstore was located in Forks Township. Forks Township had a wide variety of dinning opportunities.
Forks Township had a large industrial commercial presence with Victaulic, Crayola, Met Ed and Sammons communication (Service Electric) just to name a few. Forks Township officials welcomed the industrial development as a way to replace the shrinking agricultural industry.
Sandt Farm; Paul Sandt would quit his farming operation a decade before we acquired the Sandt farm in 1984. The Sandt farm was to become a complete residential community with single family housing, apartments, and recreation. The developments recreation complex included tennis courts and a swimming pool. After the developer failed to find financing It was “The Party House” as it was rented to a group of young men. Over the years I met occupants party attendees and herd the stories, including a story of a Father who showed up with a baseball bat to retrieve his daughter. A disagreement between the tenants and a heating system failure would bring an end to the party house as the water bed in the mirrored ceiling room would freeze solid. The next occupant would be a squatter who rented a shed for storage space and started to remodel the house. When we took over the property it was overgrown almost invisible from the street with a homeless man living in the barn.
The Store; at the time of the purchase my Father was more interested in purchasing the real estate then opening another store. However with the closing of our Palmer Township, and Macungie branch store’s he had enough surplus rental inventory to start another store. The Forks Township branch was more of an afterthought then a business plan because the plan. With the limited funds put into the project the plan was to use the existing buildings for the business. The existing farm house was the only solid semi leak proof building on the property with electric and plumbing. The Barn had almost no roof and the floors were badly rotted. The other sheds were in a state of near collapse. The farm house would become the main building. The house would contain the office showroom and shop. The barn would get a new roof and the floor would be repaired.
The Honeymoon is over; when we opened, Forks Township officials welcomed us into the business community, however this was before Forks Township started to expand as a bedroom community for those escaping the escalating taxes of New York and New Jersey. The new residents would rally against the business community. The last smiles that came from the new faces that occupied Forks Township Board of Supervisors came when Forks Township purchased the land for the recreation center and park from my Father. My Father would price the land at less than ˝ of its value feeling he was building good will. As soon as the ink was dry the same Supervisor who negotiated the deal would send in his Zoning Officer to pick apart our business.
Thugs, Goons, and Idiots; a few years ago when I opened our Forks Township file box to defend our property over a restrictive Historic ordinance I would discover the battle to protect our business and our property rights had been going on for over 20 years.
Amish Barns; we originally introduced the back yard storage barns to the Lehigh Valley in the Bethlehem store in the 1970’s. In Forks they were as popular as they were throughout the valley until the Thug zoning officer declared war on them. He would use the rule of one shed per property to demand we remove all but 1 of our display barns. The Zoning officer would require that our display barn had to be behind my showroom. He then he went after our customers. He would force the customers into expensive land surveys then require that some Barns to be moved to the center of back yards, as he made up rules as he went along. Because of his harassment we would give up the barn business. It wasn’t just us, this zoning officer would use uncontrolled authority to harass almost every business in the Township. From signs to mail box posts he was out to destroy the Forks Township business community.
Our Building plans; the first attempt to replace the house and some sheds with a modern rodent proof building was in 1994. Even though it was beyond his authority the Thug zoning officer would reject our plans without submitting them to the Township officials. It was obvious we would be wasting our money trying to acquire a permit while the Thug ran the zoning office.
Year 1999 the Thug was gone however the business environment in Forks Township is not good. 1999 we would see the formation of the first “Citizens Against Everything” group. This anti-business citizens group was formed to shut down a small airport that had been operating since the 1930’s This group would tell stories of corporate jets, traffic jams and planes falling out of the sky.
In 2002 we would hire an engineer to update our building plans. We spent a year in the Forks Township Planning commission dealing with lost paperwork and incomplete reviews. The Planning commission would demand features that they couldn’t explain. During one meeting we were asked to add a feature the next month we were told to remove it. One meeting the chairman would stand up and angrily point his finger at me and say “Give us that land or your project is dead”. When our plan was legally complete it was sent to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
I learned that this meeting was going to be a simple rubber stamp rejection because we did not give up our land. I would verify that the Township engineer had submitted the proper documents to the Zoning officer and the zoning officer would acknowledge he received them.
Learning that a year of meetings and over $5000.00 in fees were wasted in attempt to do a simple footprint swap I would lash back with a sign. “In North Korea, Cuba, and Forks Township government thugs can confiscate land without compensation”. I expected the Zoning officer to visit on Monday morning and demand the sign be removed; he didn’t show up. The sign would attract attention for a few years until it was removed by someone I trusted.
The Meeting; I was on the Supervisors agenda for the July 3 2003 meeting. I entered the meeting and sat down in the front row. One supervisor was screaming at me and wanted me removed. He would then be restrained by another supervisor as he tried to come after me. When I was called to the podium to address the Board I was continually shouted down by supervisor Henning Holmgaard. Holmgaard would then make a motion to deny the project and to send Forks Township workers onto the property to tear down the building the sign was painted on. This motion would be approved.
Traffic Light 2006 - 2012; Forks Townships attempt to confiscate our entrance in 2001 would make sense in 2008 when Forks Township attempted to shut down our main entrance. In 2008 we would be contacted by Pennsylvania department of transportation about ongoing plans to rebuild the intersection in front of our business. We would learn that Forks Township refused to include us in the planning as was required by PennDOT. In one meeting with PennDOT we would agree to a change in our entrance that would mirror the changes the Forks Township Planning approved years earlier
Forks Township Supervisors lead by Supervisor David Howell would demand that we move our entrance to the rear of the building. It would have required us to tear down one of our buildings, remove eight 50 year old Maple Trees, and tear up a 100 year old stone corral. The Plan Supervisor Howell wanted us to accept would have destroyed our business and cost us an estimated $50,000.00.
Forks Township officials would refuse to meet with us and would send verbal demands via the township Engineer. In one such visit the Township engineer would ask us sign and notarize a blank contract. Supervisor Howell how dumb do you think I am? Forks Township would waste 10’s of thousands of dollars submitting incomplete plans to PennDOT. When everything else failed Supervisor Howell would go to the press and blame us on the stalled project. Eventually Forks Township would accept the PennDOT plan and we would sign off on the entrance we agreed to in 2002. The project would take an additional 3 years because Forks Township was so intent on hurting us other parts of the planning were still incomplete.
Historic Ordinance 2010 and again in 2014;
Will those guys ever give up?
In 2010 we received a copy of a proposed Historic Ordinance. Under this ordinance my 1.5 acres would go from Town Center retail to untouchable Historic. Township officials generated a list of historic properties by overlaying a 1870’s map over a current map and every property that had a building on in 1870 was included regardless if the building still remained. Township planners never undertook a historic study before stripping the property rights of over 200 landowners.
Under this ordinance repainting a living room may generate $3000.00 in township fees as the Planning commission, Board of Supervisors, solicitor and the zoning officer would need to conduct a full historic review before a color is approved. Original true to the period products would need to be used in any repair or remodel.
When 100 of us showed up at a meeting with our Tar and Pitch Forks the Chairman whose name was on the ordinance claimed he never read the document he supposedly wrote. After 2 more contentious meetings the Supervisors would pull the funds from this project. In 2015 the Historic Ordinance that once appeared to be dead seems to have quietly come back to life.
Business Association Forks Township to the rescue ? While the name sounds like a proactive business organization; it isn’t. BCAF was formed by the Forks Township Supervisors to reach into the deep pockets of corporate Forks Township to fund Supervisors pet projects. Its Board of Directors includes a Supervisor, the Forks Township Manager a few residents and some local Bankers. The BCAF board is lacks entrepreneurs and has no interest in helping the small independent business's acquire the tools they need to succeed. Recently BCAF showed up for photo’s for the opening of a Sub shop, However when there sign for the sub shop was attacked by a Citizens Against Everything group member BCAF was nowhere to be found.
Where do We go from here; In the Summer 2009, As we were getting ready to defend our rights to our Sullivan Trail entrance. I realized that we have been fighting a battle for the right to operate our Business in Forks for almost 20 years. I was 30 years old when I opened this business in 1985 Without the ability to grow our business to meet the needs of our customers this leaves our business with little value. The physical 60 hour weeks that I have worked since graduating High School are starting to take there toll on my body.
Forks Township 2016 Update; A few weeks ago one of the newer Supervisors rented some equipment from us. When the transaction was over he introduced himself to me. He asked about my relationship with the current Board of Supervisors and remarked what a cohesive group they were. I have an ok relationship with the current board, however I have not asked to make any property or business improvements. I have had some requests to sell the property however the offers were not acceptable. With retirement coming sooner rather than later I will most likely operate at this location until I retire.
Every morning as I unlocked the front door I go back to the lessons of my father and say “how do I make the business better”. With knowledge and experience I beat my competitors, and thrived under the shadow of the Big Box retailers.
However, when I tried to grow my business I ran into an obstacle I couldn’t cross. The bullies, thugs that blocked my way were the township officials elected by the new residents of Forks Township. The Forks Township officals and the Citizens against everything groups would now control my business and my future. Even today the hatred of the local business community by Forks Township residents can be read in social media posts.
You can read a cliff notes version below.
Our first attempt to replace the old farm house was 1994. The Zoning officer at the time rejected our plans without even unrolling them.
By 1999 I was still deep in debt from the purchase of the business in 1995, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The business was growing, however we needed a clean rodent proof building to expand the party business into items like dinnerware, glassware and linen’s. By this time we had an opportunity to grow the Toro Lawn equipment business beyond just walk behind mowers. We had recently acquired the contracts to sell and service Toro riding products and Toro Landscape equipment. All we needed was a larger showroom to display the new lines of equipment.
Our plan was simple and affordable, tear down the old house and an old shed and build on top of the existing foundation. The new building would give us a clean modern showroom for mowers with the cleaning facilities we needed. At the same time the new building would enhance and preserve the barn. During our attempts to grow our business we were never allowed to explain our project to Forks Township officials. Forks Township officials had only one idea and that was to grow a high density residential community without business’s. What I had planned decades ago would have enhanced and preserved the rural character of this property.
Below is what could have been but never will be.
The Morton Horse Barn plans that I chose would have wide open doors on the outside and exposed beams on the inside. It would have given us the efficient clean showroom we needed to meet the customers needs well into the future.
Allowing us to replace the old house would have allowed us to increased our product offerings and hire more staff. A more efficient operation would mean lower prices, higher wages, and quicker service. I could have grown the business into something that could have survived my involvement.
This new building would have enhance the character of the property and preserved the old Barn well into the future.
What happens next?
I plan on operating a scaled back business for the foreseeable future.
The Property and the business are for sale. If the property is sold it is likely that I will open a scaled back version of the business somewhere locally but outside Forks Township.
I don’t expect to find a purchaser of the business that is capable of providing the same level of expertise.
What about the Barn?
If you take a realistic look at the property the current buildings would be unusable for any other type of business. Under the siding on the north side of the current showroom is the outside wall of the original corn crib
Unfortunately under current Forks Township rules the Barn would need to be removed and the property needs to be cleared before the property changes use.
Hoping that the barn can be saved I have searched out companies that will disassemble, remove, and reuse the Barn in another location.