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Posted by Craig W on April 25, 2003 at 19:35:58:
Judge Gives Snakes A Hard Day In Court (The Northern Pine Snake)
Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 10 April 03 Mount Holly: The Northern
pine snake lobby and the developers squared off in Superior Court yesterday, and
if Judge John Sweeney's remarks were any indication, it was a bad day for the
"Tomorrow, frogs will be found, and then maybe it will be butterflies," Sweeney
said as he heard arguments from attorneys for the Pinelands Commission and for
an upscale Evesham subdivision.
"How far does this have to go before we say it's over?" Sweeney asked. "Why
should you be able to hold up a whole section [of the development] because a
snake was found several roads away?"
Sweeney said he would wait two weeks to rule on the lawsuit. The suit was
brought by Signature Homes, one of the builders of the partly complete Sanctuary
development, against the commission.
An earlier lawsuit was settled in November 2000, accommodating the endangered
Pinelands timber rattlesnake, which was discovered five years ago when the
Sanctuary was one-third built.
In October, the Pinelands Commission halted construction in the northern section
of the 663-acre community bordering Wharton State Forest, five months after a
threatened Northern pine snake and 10 of her eggs were found.
The lawyer for Signature Homes asked Sweeney to overrule the Pinelands
Commission and allow the company to begin building on 22 lots it owns in the
development. Last month, the builder sued the commission and also Evesham
Township, arguing that it had obeyed the terms of the 2000 settlement.
Signature Homes has invested money for sidewalks, roads and utility lines since
the settlement, argued the lawyer, Richard Hluchan.
"The Pinelands Commission can't just change its mind $7 million later," he said.
But Ellen Barney Balint, a deputy attorney general representing the Pinelands
Commission, told Sweeney that the discovery of the pine snake was a separate
legal issue from the rattlesnake settlement. Pinelands regulations require
Signature Homes to survey the snakes' habitat and make arrangements to
accommodate them, she said.
"The idea behind the Pinelands Commission is to reduce or regulate development,"
she said. "[Signature] is the one who chose to go through this process."
The Pinelands Commission has halted construction on 71 lots, 22 of which are
owned by Signature Homes. Pine snakes need about 100 acres for their habitat,
Attorneys for the two other builders affected by the commission's action sat on
one side of the courtroom, while representatives from environmental groups sat
on the other. Both sides may petition Sweeney to let them join the case, lawyers
"The builders created this situation [with the snakes], and now they are
claiming to be the ones who are victimized," said Carleton Montgomery, executive
director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.