Monday, December 28, 2015

Letter to CJERP requesting information about planning review of water extraction amendment in Eldred Twp

The purpose of this blog is to document the events surrounding the adoption of a Zoning Ordinance amendment on May 1, 2014, which had the effect of adding an industrial use (water extraction) to the Commercial zoning district.  This amendment violates the basic land use tenant of locating uses by intensity of use - districts zoned commercial never permit industrial uses.

Background - Five townships in Monroe County, Chestnuthill, Jackson, Eldred, Ross and Polk were approached by the county planning commission, and asked to consider regional planning.  The advantage of regional planning is that uses can be spread out over all the member communities, and each community need not provide for all uses.  Uses are standardized with uniform definitions and are called Shared or Regional Uses.  The county obtained funding for this effort, and promoted it heavily.

As of 2014, all townships except Polk had joined together, to form a planning body called CJER (the first letter of each member township).  After six years of work, zoning ordinances in each township were made compatible with each other, and definitions made identical across the townships.  The work done to revise the ordinances was not done at the township planning commission level, but rather by CJER's planning consultant.  In February 2014, Eldred Township was delivered its draft for review by its planning commission, and at its March meeting, the planners unanimously rejected it.

"Don't worry dear, the fluids and tires were checked - everything is under control"

The ordinance updates were scheduled to be adopted by the four township's Boards of Supervisors on March 27, 2014.  Ross Township was not ready the night of this meeting, and no votes were made.  The meeting was rescheduled for May 1, 2014.  At the March 27 meeting, CJER planning consultant Carson Helfrich announced that he had an amendment for Eldred Township, which altered the definition of water extraction.  Eldred Supervisor Sharon Solt indicated this change was related to a concerned resident that was afraid a use would be lost unless the change was made (this was not true - the use was never permitted on the landowner's parcel).  However, this amendment only came into existence after March 20, and therefore could not be adopted this night because it had not been advertised in advance.

The amendment that Helfrich had drafted, apparently on the direction of Solt, changed the definition of water extraction in Eldred Township only.  The ordinances that were to adopted that night would have made the definition identical in all four CJER townships.  Helfrich did not warn those in attendance that adoption of the draft amendment would negate his work to to make uses identical across member townships, and that it also had the effect of adding an industrial use to a zoning district where only light manufacturing was permitted.  In short, the amendment was counter to land use planning principles, and violated the entire premise that CJER's formation was motivated by - to create shared uses defined identically.

As of December 2015, Nestle/Deer Park is targeting a parcel in the Commercial district, so it is evident the zoning amendment was passed with this particular parcel in mind.  The amendment is illegal, because it was not advertised as adding a use to the Commercial district, permitting other land owners the opportunity to appear and comment at public discussion.  Also, no planning agency reviewed this change of use as required by the Municipalities Planning Code.  CJER is now known as CJERP, with the addition of Polk Township to the regional planning body.

Here is a letter dated December 7, 2015 from Solicitor Fareri of CJERP, describing the process of CJER formation through amendment adoption.  It looks for all the world in this letter that everything is in order - but people once looked and thought that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

Watch out for uncovered potholes

Here is a letter dated December 17, 2015 sent to CJERP representative Matt Neeb, and copied to planning consultant Carson Helfrich and CJERP solicitor James Fareri, requesting an explanation of how this error in planning could have occurred.  A response has not been received, other than "thank you".

Here is the advertisement of the amendment of the definition of water extraction, in Eldred Township only - even though the September 2015 CJERP minutes indicate that representative Matt Neeb stated it is a shared use, and should therefore be defined identically across all CJERP townships. Edit: As of December 30, 2015, it is reported by multiple partied present at this meeting that the approved CJERP minutes incorrectly report that Mr. Neeb made this statement.  He is reported by these people as stating the opposite - that water extraction can not be a shared use due to a different definition in Eldred than the other townships.

Here is the CJER Intergovernmental Agreement, referred to in the December 17 letter to Mr. Neeb.

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