By Jami Jones
Fighting city hall, or a county commission in this particular case, is anything but a clear-cut, quick and easy battle. And it’s not uncommon that even with a “victory,” governing bodies sometimes still find another way to stick it to the truckers.
Land Line reader Jerry Stanton from Russell, PA, knows this scenario all too well.
For him, it was the parking flap that started more than three years ago, not long after he and his fiancee, Donna Kriebel, bought a home. In late 2000, Stanton and Kriebel were looking into buying a home on some land – about two acres worth.
“Before we even bought it, I checked with the township (which was responsible for enforcing county ordinances in the area) about parking the truck and trailer,” Stanton said. “They said there wasn’t a problem, and I took them at their word.”
The couple moved in, and from time to time, he would park his rig next to his house on a driveway the couple built just for the truck. Life went on as normal for 13 months.
Then, on Dec. 5, 2001, they received the first letter from the Warren County Planning and Zoning Commission. It told Stanton: Move the truck or pay a $500 per-day fine for parking it there.
The original ordinance banned the “out of doors” parking or storage of machinery, equipment or commercial vehicles with a rated capacity greater than 1 ton.
That meant if Stanton wanted to continue parking his truck on his property, it would have to be covered – in something like an 80-foot-long garage. Given the fact he was home only a couple of days at a time, it just didn’t seem like a cost-effective solution.
Stanton tried to strike up conversations about the problem. He started with the zoning officer for the area, Gary Snook. Stanton said Snook told him the reason he had received the letter was that a complaint had been filed about the truck.
So, Stanton moved up the food chain and tried to negotiate with the county zoning commission. He met with problems there almost immediately – but not in conventional terms.
“The county commission replaced several members of the zoning board right before my first hearing,” Stanton said.
Those members who were replaced were, according to Stanton, familiar with him and the situation and may have even be an asset in the upcoming meeting. Without any known allies of any kind, he tried to reason with the county zoning board and tried to find a solution to the problem.
In the meantime, Stanton was slapped with a fine for $139. Even though he hired an attorney and fought it, the county zoning commission won the case.
As Stanton appealed the June 2002 decision, the stakes got a lot higher.
“Right before the hearing in front of the judge, the commission sued my fiancee for $116,000 for allowing the truck to be parked there,” Stanton said.
Stanton was in the process of filing for a variance with the county zoning commission that would have allowed him to park his truck on his property, when the six-digit fine was slapped down in front of him.
“After being sued by the county of Warren … we dropped our appeal, paid the ($139) fine and moved the truck,” his fiancee, Kriebel, wrote in a letter to Land Line.
The couple suffered another defeat in September 2002. Their request for a variance was shot down.
When most would have quit, Stanton kept going. He could pay another $100 and try for a variance again – but probably wouldn’t get it. Then came the breakthrough he had been looking, waiting and fighting for: The ordinance was up for review by the county zoning commission.
“The process (of reviewing the ordinance) took about two years,” Kriebel wrote. “During that time, the commissioners (who had worked against Stanton) lost their bid for re-election.”
The couple attended several planning commission meetings and two special public meetings of the county commission.
While pleading their case, they were able to present, as they had almost from the start, overwhelming support from their neighbors to allow the truck parking.
“We have a neighbor that has a very expensive home, and he really didn’t want a building built on our land to park the truck in,” Donna said. “The truck is only here a couple days at a time. That building would have been here all the time.”
Finally, on Feb. 14, 2005, the couple made some headway – but come to find out, even with their victory, there are still hurdles truckers will face if they want to park at home in Warren County.
The new ordinance has a laundry list of dos and don’ts that truckers will have to agree to before parking their rigs in their driveways.
They can’t idle for more than 15 minutes. They can’t work on their truck. And the best of all is they will have to post a “performance bond” to pay for damage to the road caused by their trucks.
Warren County Commissioners were unable to explain how it would be determined what vehicles cause damage or how the determination of keeping the bond would be made.
The kicker is that various municipalities in the county will set the bond. Donna said their bond, should they choose to apply, would be $1,000 – for damage that may or may not be caused by their truck, but will be credited to their truck.
Even though his victory comes with a price tag and some restrictions, Stanton says he is proud his fight has given him the option of parking the truck at home instead of off-site, unprotected and inconveniently at a farm several miles away.