Meadville Tribune

Local News

February 21, 2014

Judge: Unsightly property hearing delayed due to no-show

MEADVILLE — Crawford County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Anthony Vardaro has ruled a contempt hearing for a Venango couple must continue next month.

John W. Woodward Sr. and Barbara Woodward of Venango were back in county court Thursday for a continuation of a contempt hearing that initially began Jan. 31. It reconvened Thursday, but Vardaro ordered it be continued again after all witnesses in the case didn’t return to court.

The Borough of Venango wants county court to impose sanctions against the Woodwards for allegedly violating a court order to clean up three properties the couple owns in the borough — including a former service station.

Among the sanctions the borough wants are: additional costs associated with the cleanup; the borough to arrange immediate removal of all items on the properties; direct the Woodwards and anyone else to not interfere with the removal in any way; and authorize police to make arrests if necessary.

The Borough of Venango’s code enforcement officer found violations of the borough’s dilapidated-buildings ordinance, which the Woodwards are accused of violating at the service station and two vacant homes they own in the community.

Vardaro issued court orders twice last year — April 2 and Aug. 9 — directing the borough and its contractor remove debris from the three properties. The Aug. 9 order gave the Woodwards 30 days to clear the properties of debris.

Amy Schmidt of the Crawford County Planning Office testified Thursday that when the contractor, Paul Gosik, attempted to remove debris on Sept. 30, the Woodwards interfered with the removal and that Pennsylvania State Police had to be called to the scene twice that day.

Schmidt said Gosik quit working later that day because of the alleged interference by the Woodwards.

The county planning office is involved since it is using federally-funded Community Development Block Grant money for blight removal in Venango. Schmidt is the county’s grant administrator.

Schmidt testified that the Woodwards were argumentative with both herself and the contractor.

Schmidt also testified that part of the contract with Gosik stipulated that he could salvage the items as well.

Cross-examined by John Woodward Sr. about why Gosik was paid when the work wasn’t completed, Schmidt said, “He could have sued (the county) for breach of contract twice” because of the alleged interference.

Gosik, who was at the Jan. 31 hearing, didn’t return for continued cross-examination by the Woodwards at Thursday’s continuation. Gosik is out of the area on vacation until March 10.

Vardaro ordered Thursday’s hearing be continued to a date as soon as possible after March 10 and to have Gosik present so the Woodwards may cross-examine him.

But, Vardaro also reminded the Woodwards that his two orders from 2013 had given the Woodwards time to remove the items they may have wanted.

“I want these lots cleared,” Vardaro said. “This is pretty simple stuff.”

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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