Carl Behr is not backing down.
A day after receiving a letter from the Borough of Baldwin telling him to take down a 24-foot-high lighted wooden cross attached to a tree in his yard or face penalty, Behr took an invitation for public comments at a Feb. 15 Baldwin Borough Council meeting to tell borough council that he won't be taking down that or any other wooden cross from his property.
Though it was unclear at times who or what Behr was referring to during his speech at the borough's municipal complex, he made it clear that his stance against the borough comes in an attempt to protect his faith.
"I'm here tonight to tell people that the time has come to choose a side," Behr said. "Atheism and devil-worshippers are trying to close the door on faith. It's time to slam the door on them.
"Forty-three years ago, a soul named Salvation was sent to Earth, and she made an unselfish choice of peace for mankind. As a result of that decision, the worst parts of the Bible will not take place.
"Instead of embracing this choice, the above people that I've mentioned have decided to take revenge on her. You all know who I'm talking about as far as 'the people above.'
"As for my crosses, they are related to this story. Some people are trying to twist the facts. It's been about the Lord since the beginning, and if anyone tries to make me remove them, they will only anger the Lord.
"This isn't no crackpot. It's come to a place where a fellow man can't even say 'Merry Christmas' to somebody without getting offended. That's what the world's coming to. It's time to make a stand.
"I do [apologize] if this is any inconvenience to anybody ... the crosses aren't coming down. They're staying where they're at. This is a message that I have to deliver, and I have to thank my neighbor for turning this into what it is, because now, I'm able to spread my word farther than I could've imagined."
The Baldwin-Whitehall Patch contacted Pastor Dale DeNinno of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church (in Baldwin Borough) on Feb. 16, where Behr said in an earlier interview on Feb. 15 with the B-W Patch that he worships at, to try to find out what Behr meant by his "43 years ago" statement, but DeNinno declined comment on any matters related to Behr.
While DeNinno would not discuss anything related to Behr, Pastor John R. Haney of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Church (in the Borough of Whitehall) would. Haney, though, told the B-W Patch on Feb. 16 that he could not identify what Behr was referring to.
Both Saint Elizabeth's and St. Gabriel's are Catholic parishes.
Haney went on to comment on Behr's efforts as a whole.
"To flaunt religions," Haney said, "when in that neighborhood, there's probably Jewish people maybe, might be some people on the fringe of religion ... that can do more harm than good at times.
"People need to get along with each other. That's the big thing. That's real religion. That's what God wants us to do.
"There's a time and place for everything. I don't think a neighborhood is a place to put that symbol up like that. There's nothing wrong with it, but if it does disturb people, it doesn't seem like true religion to me.
"I can't find the word, but he is being 'over-religious.' I don't know what happened 43 years ago. I never heard anything that I can recall in my priesthood."
Behr received the aforementioned letter from the borough after the borough received complaints from his neighbors that his crosses – specifically, the well-lit, 24-foot-high one in his yard – were becoming annoying.
Behr lives at 1210 Robbins St., and numerous complaints have come from Behr's next-door neighbor, Lisa Fera, of 1204 Robbins.
Though Fera did not speak about the wooden crosses at the Feb. 15 borough meeting, another female resident of Baldwin Borough did. That woman thanked council members for passing a new lighting ordinance that night (No. 833) before turning her attention to Behr.
"[The cross] is obnoxious, sir," she said. "Love thy neighbor. Respect thy neighbor. The end."
Baldwin Borough Council did indeed pass ordinance No. 833 on Feb. 15 (unanimously), though it is not the new lighting ordinance that the borough is using to force Behr to take down the large cross in his yard.
Instead, the letter sent to Behr said that, specifically, his 24-foot-high wooden cross violates borough ordinance No. 168-54, which is structure code and covers "Requirements for permits."
Ordinance No. 168-54 states (as seen here), "A permit shall be required prior to grading, erection, construction, alteration or demolition of any building, structure or any portion thereof, prior to the moving of a building into the Borough, from one place in the Borough to another, prior to change in use of a building or land and prior to the change or extension of nonconforming use or questionable use."
Behr has until Friday, Feb. 18, to take down the large wooden cross in his yard or face a fine of up to $300 everyday after that until he does take it down.
As Baldwin's Borough Manager John M. Barrett stated, though, Behr could always plead his case before District Magistrate John Bova before actually paying any fine(s).
Of course, Behr could always apply for a permit as well.
Ironically, the new lighting ordinance (as seen here) may not even be applicable in Behr's situation – at least not right away – since the wording in that ordinance allows for a three-year grace period for structures existing prior to the ordinance's approval.
Barrett says, though, that the new lighting ordinance may still affect Behr.
"There's a clause in there, if you read closely," Barrett said, "that talks about pre-existing conditions. If council were to deem it a nuisance, then we could act on it immediately.
"We'd have to talk about how we could deem it a nuisance, but I'm thinking we'll likely look to enforce that ordinance for the illumination of the cross."
Indeed, many of the complaints about Behr's crosses – especially the 24-foot-high one – stem from the heavy lighting that they cast at night when Behr turns on holiday lights attached to them.
Borough Solicitor Stanley B. Lederman said that the purposes of the new lighting ordinance are "to abate nuisances" and "to abate potential safety hazards," especially related to operating vehicles.
The Baldwin Borough Council begins every regular meeting, such as the Feb. 15 one, with a prayer.
The Feb. 15 meeting was not without other agenda items. Some of the other highlights from the meeting are as follows.
Baldwin Borough Police officers Kim Reising and Ralph Miller were promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Reising and Miller both came to the Baldwin Borough Police Department on the same day, Miller said, which was about 12 1/2 years ago.
Miller, who lives in Baldwin Borough, was formerly a patrolman in Cheswick Borough. Before that, he was a truck driver looking for a "career change" and "advancement."
"And a desire to serve," he said.
Miller's sons, Scott and Matthew, are also pursuing careers in law enforcement. Scott is a part-time policeman in Homestead, and Matthew is entering the U.S. Marine Corps in August to be a military policeman.
Reising said that she was formerly a sergeant in Toledo, Ohio, but that she had to start the process of earning that promotion all over again in Baldwin. She now lives in the nearby Borough of Pleasant Hills.
"You have to have a number of years and experience," Reising said. "Be in good standing and all.
"I've been a sergeant, went back to a patrolman, now a sergeant again."
As sergeants, Miller and Reising will earn a pay raise. Though, they will also have more on their plates now.
"More headaches," Reising said. "More responsibility. You're in charge of a shift [now] unless you're relieved by a superior officer. That, right now, is the chief [Michael Scott].
"You try to take a little bit of the heat off of him and act as a liaison between the officers and the chief."
The Baldwin Borough Police Department now has four sergeants, according to Reising.
Also during the meeting, council member Larry Brown gave the borough's Public Safety report for January. (Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. was absent.)
Brown reported 602 police reports on 963 emergency phone calls in the borough.
He also reported that Baldwin Emergency Medical Services responded to 308 calls that month with an average response time of 6 minutes, 26 seconds.
Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1 had 14 incidents in January with an average response time of 5:12. Becks Run Volunteer Fire Department responded to six incidents with an average response time of 5:00. Option Independent Fire Company responded to 21 incidents with an average response time of 7:51. South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company responded to 14 incidents with an average response time of 8:47.
After the Public Safety report, Lederman read a resolution that the borough council passed unanimously. The resolution is essentially a protest on behalf of the Borough of Baldwin against upcoming Allegheny County property reassessments.
The council stated its opinion that Allegheny County is being put in an unfair situation in respect to the rest of the state of Pennsylvania since most of its other counties continue to use a base-year system to assess property values.
"[It] creates an unfair economic advantage with these other counties," Lederman read.
Also during public-comments time, Brian Sigel, who owns a rental property at 5100 Old Clairton Road, introduced one of his tenants, who wished to voice complaints against a nightclub that she said recently opened near her residence.
Sigel and his tenant claimed that that nightclub is abusing the area's parking situation and being too noisy for residents living in neighboring space. The tenant also accused the nightclub of violating borough alcohol regulations.
The borough council accepted the tenant's complaints and directed her to speak with Barrett and Scott.
The meeting adjourned at 8:13 p.m.
For more information on this or other Borough of Baldwin meetings, call 412-882-9600.
The borough's next regular council meeting will be Tuesday, March 15, at the municipal complex at 7:30 p.m., but a council agenda meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 8, at the municipal complex, also at 7:30 p.m.
The full 2011 Baldwin Borough meetings schedule is available here, though interested attendants are encouraged to call ahead in case of schedule changes.