Mt. Pleasant Township has been mailing daily citations to an Arlington, Va., resident, repeatedly fining him $578.50, claiming he is in violation of the township’s land-use ordinance because MarkWest energy company is operating a natural gas compressor on property the township believes should have been subdivided.
Samuel Fulton’s property at 101 Washington Ave., Hickory, is the subject of a complaint filed this week in Washington County Court. In it, Fulton seeks to stop Mt. Pleasant Township’s conduct that he considers “harassment.” Fulton also names Larry Chome, the township’s zoning enforcement officer and building inspector, as a co-defendant.
The property owner claims MarkWest applied for a building permit for the compressor station in June 2010, which Chome granted, and the structure was built.
In August of that year, Chome issued a nontraffic citation to Fulton for failing to subdivide his land according to Mt. Pleasant Township’s zoning code as it relates to land development. In October 2012, District Judge Valarie Costanzo convicted Fulton of violating the township zoning ordinance.
Fulton filed an appeal to Washington County Court and Judge Gary Gilman dismissed it, ordering him to pay a fine of $500. Gilman determined the compressor station constituted “land development” as defined by the municipal planning code. Fulton immediately appealed Gilman’s decision to Commonwealth Court.
“Despite the appeal, Mt. Pleasant Township, by and through Chome, has issued daily, nontraffic citations to Fulton for the same ongoing violation in the amount of $500 plus costs and fees of $78.50 for a daily total of $578.50,” wrote Fulton’s attorney, Dennis Popojas, who claims the township’s “actions are intended to harass and force compliance while the matter is pending appeal.”
Popojas wants the township to stop sending citations while the matter is on appeal and he has asked that a Washington County judge issue an injunction to that effect.
Popojas said there are “some underlying issues in this case” so he has not yet presented the injunction to a judge.
Mt. Pleasant Township Solicitor William Johnson said Thursday, “We could’ve been sending them for the last year and a half and we didn’t. He never sought a subdivision. There’s a stay if you get a supersedeas by a lower court, but there’s not an automatic stay.”
Johnson said the township’s position is that a subdivision has occurred on Fulton’s property, “It’s just not an approved one. Fulton’s a nice guy. We’re not out to get him. How do we say, ‘You don’t have to do it, Fulton, but everybody else has to.’”
Johnson said he doesn’t expect Commonwealth Court to decide the matter for six to eight months.
“We’re going to wait to see if they can get some resolution between (Fulton) and MarkWest. We’re not trying to bleed this guy, but the meter hasn’t run for a long time. It’s been a free ride.”