Group seeking watchdog for L. Makefield A petition alleges that the Board of Supervisors acted improperly when it approved a development.

Posted: March 04, 2002

LOWER MAKEFIELD — A group of residents has filed a petition with the Bucks County Board of Elections seeking a ballot referendum that would establish a commission to study the township's government.

The 48-page referendum petition was filed last month by Better Government for 2002. The petition alleges that Lower Makefield's Board of Supervisors acted improperly when it approved the Matrix Development Group Inc.'s plan to build the $200 million Octagon Center, a 185-acre hotel-retail-office complex, in December 2000.

Better Government for 2002, which has ties to the Residents Against Matrix group formed last year to fight the development, seeks to assemble a nine-member commission that would suggest ways of improving the township's government.

Gary Cruzan, a member of both groups, said the supervisors' failure to act on behalf of the residents in the Matrix decision was the latest example of how they are unresponsive to the people.

"We really think it's time to study the government in Lower Makefield. This government is not very democratic and not responsive to the people," he said. "We don't feel like we were adequately represented [in the Matrix decision]. We believe in democracy, and we believe we have a poor democracy in Lower Makefield. They are acting more like a monarchy than a democracy."

The Board of Supervisors held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the petition. Board chairman Frank Fazzalore said he did not think the best course of action for residents displeased with the Matrix decision was to try to change the governmental structure.

"You have to wonder about the group that is doing this," he said. "They think we were unresponsive to Matrix. Well, they should have the matter settled in court, not by trying to change the government. To change the government because we didn't satisfy the desires of one group is extreme.

"We took the advice of our solicitor, and we had no choice because [Matrix] didn't violate any ordinances. I think the issue of Matrix with the respect to the supervisors is over. It's the courts' decision now."

According to county election law, during the same election in which the question of whether to have a government study commission is on the ballot, voters are also asked to elect the designated number of members for the commission. Candidates interested in running for a seat on the commission have to circulate a petition and collect 199 signatures by March 12. The referendum would be voted on in May.

Deena Dean, director of the county Board of Elections, said that the last time a referendum to establish a government study commission was on the ballot was 1986 in Bensalem. That ballot item passed. In 1987, the township's government was changed from five supervisors and a township manager to a mayor and five council members, according to the mayor's office.

In 1985, Board of Elections officials said, a similar commission was formed to study county government, but no alternative governmental plan was adopted.

If approved, the commission would study for up to nine months various forms of government and make a recommendation.

Residents Against Matrix has been at odds with the township since Lower Makefield approved the proposal to build the Octagon Center, a project at Big Oak and Old Oxford Valley Roads that the group believes will bring traffic and environmental problems.

Residents Against Matrix filed two appeals of the supervisors' actions last month in Bucks County Court. An appeal filed in June 2001 was dismissed because it was not submitted in time.

Contact Kayce T. Ataiyero at 215-702-7805 or kataiyero@phillynews.com.

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