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Developer appeals ruling

April 22, 2006|By DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, PA.

The developer of a quarry has appealed to a higher court a Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court decision that St. Thomas Township Supervisor Frank Stearn may vote on issues related to the controversial project.

In February, Judge Douglas W. Herman ruled that Stearn's "personal opposition to the quarry project" did not rise to the level that rendered him incapable of being objective. St. Thomas Development Inc. filed a notice of appeal Monday with Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, according to a letter sent to the township.

"It's a warning to the voters that they should not elect someone that has a point of view or an opinion," Stearn said Thursday of the St. Thomas Development Inc. appeal. "At this point, the court has ruled in my favor ... I'm a full voting member until the court makes a decision otherwise."

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The dispute started with a February 2004 letter from the law firm representing the developer stating that Stearn should recuse himself on votes regarding the quarry because he had "clearly exhibited a bias in the matter" as a member of the anti-quarry group Friends and Residents of St. Thomas (FROST) prior to his 2003 election.

The letter cited a "strikingly similar" 1962 case in which a supervisor in Chester County, Pa., was a member of a group opposing a quarry. A court found that the supervisor should not vote on matters pertaining to the quarry, according to the letter.

"The appeal is a precautionary measure only, and my client is presently assessing the necessity of continuing the appeal," attorney Bryan Salzmann said Friday. The outcome of a federal lawsuit by FROST against St. Thomas Development could determine whether the appeal goes forward, he said.

"It appears that the continuing pursuit of the lawsuit by FROST is complicating the matter," Salzmann said.

"I'm not sure how it would because we got knocked down again at the appellate court," FROST President Francis Calverase said.

A few weeks ago, the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier U.S. District Court decision dismissing FROST's $49 million lawsuit, Calverase said.

"There's the possibility of going on to the (U.S.) Supreme Court," Calverase said. "I'm not sure we'd do any better, but we're looking into the possibility of doing that."

FROST contended in the suit that township residents "were denied our civil rights. By muzzling Frank, our votes didn't count," Calverase said.

In March, Stearn voted in favor of the final land development plan for the quarry. He did so because the plan did not violate any township ordinances, Stearn said Thursday.

Site work on the quarry recently began, Stearn said.

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