Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Part 3 - How the Water Extraction Amendment Came Into Being: Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich Forwards Wimmer's Curative Amendment to Three Monroe County Planning Commission Members, Individually

Review of Part 1
In Part 1 of this series, landowner Ricky Gower's Attorney James Wimmer appeared at the Eldred Township Planning Commission on Thursday March 20, 2014, and verbally presented a suggestion that the update of the definition of water extraction in the proposed ordinance to be adopted on March 27 be changed, so that his client could retain an existing ability to have a water extraction operation on his property.  It is believed that Mr. Wimmer did not present anything in writing to the planners, either prior to or at the meeting.

Review of Part 2
In Part 2, we learned that the very day following the appearance of Attorney Wimmer at the March 20, 2014 Eldred Township Planning Commission meeting, he sent a letter containing what ostensibly is a landowner curative amendment directly to CJERP Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich, the person who authored the 2004 Eldred Zoning Ordinance, as well as the 2014 draft updates to create uniform definitions and regional uses across CJERP townships.  Mr. Wimmer is believed to have not copied anyone at Eldred Township on this letter, including planners he met with just the night prior. Mr. Wimmer makes reference to having contacted Mr. Helfrich the day prior, so it is evident that he had multiple contacts with the regional planning consultant about matters in Eldred Township without putting Eldred Township in the loop.  Mr. Wimmer makes the following misrepresentations in the letter:

  1. Eldred Township planners endorsed and recommended his changes the previous night - in fact, it is believed that Mr. Wimmer never presented his curative amendment in print to Eldred planners, and the record shows planners made no recommendations on March 20, 2014.
  2. The amendment would "preserve" water extraction as a use on his client's property - in fact, it was not currently and had never been permitted as a use since the inception of the ordinance that Mr. Helfrich authored in 2004.
Mr. Wimmer requested that Mr. Helfrich make the changes to the Proposed Ordinance and get back to him to confirm it was done prior to the March 27 meeting six days later.
Part 3
Instead of Mr. Helfrich returning Mr. Wimmer's letter to him, and informing him:
  1. that he is not authorized to receive amendments from anyone but his clients (the townships), and that the amendment had to be sent directly by Mr. Wimmer to the Eldred Township BOS, and
  2. that his amendment contained deficiencies (justification of the amendment, effect of the amendment causing a land use change, and destruction of identical definitions he had just created across CJERP),
incredibly on Monday March 24 Mr Helfrich forwards Mr. Wimmer's letter containing misrepresentations of what was recommended at Eldred Township, and a faulty amendment, onto a single Eldred Township Supervisor, Sharon Solt, and copies individual members of the Monroe County Planning Commission, Christine Dettorie (Director), Eric Koopman (Senior Planner), and Christine Meinhart-Fritz(Senior Planner, Lead).  Mr. Helfrich copies neither Eldred Planning Commission Solicitor Lyons or Eldred Township Solicitor Kaspszyk, nor the Eldred Planning Commission, nor the other two Eldred supervisors.:

Header to the email in which Mr. Helfrich forwarded the Wimmer letter/amendment

Setting aside the gross deficiencies of Mr. Wimmer's amendment, and that somehow they were apparently overlooked by Planning Consultant Helfrich, referring back to the Municipalities Planning Code Section 609.1, it is the responsibility of Eldred Township Supervisors to submit amendments to the Monroe County Planning Commission, once they have authorized the process to proceed.

Just three days later, Carson Helfrich announced at the March 27, 2014 CJER meeting that he "did talk to a resident's attorney".  He did not say "I have received an amendment proposed by a resident's attorney, and while it should have been sent to Eldred Township, I have it here and it causes a change of use - something that should be carefully considered by Eldred Twp, CJER and the MCPC, and not something to be done on such short notice."   In fact, later in the minutes, Mr. Helfrich makes very clear that any changes made before May 1 would have to be "very simple" ones.  But Mr. Helfrich presses on and says that "if you authorize that," he would prepare the changes, but the transcript does not reflect that he was authorized to move forward.
  1. Was he ever authorized to prepare the faulty amendment to water extraction?  
  2. Were the Eldred Township supervisors aware at the March 27 CJER meeting that their planning commission had not made a recommendation on the Wimmer amendment, which apparently was first put in print the day following Mr. Wimmer's appearance before the planning commission?
  3.  That the amendment had apparently not been sent to CJER or the other CJER townships as required?

Note that Christine Meinhart-Fritz, who was copied on Wimmer's letter (thanks to Mr. Helfrich), offers commentary that is total nonsense - that the use is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  The change is absolutely not consistent.  Water extraction is not a "commercial" enterprise, as she suggests, and as defined in the other four CJERP townships.  This is total garbage.  She doesn't mention "I received this amendment along with two of my colleagues at the MCPC from Carson here, and we noticed right away it is a change of use and places an industrial use in the Commercial district, and destroys our number one goal of creating consistency in uses and definitions across CJER, and soon to be CJERP.  We would have to recommend against this amendment."  Also, Ms. Christine Meinhart-Fritz has not even had the amendment officially submitted to the Monroe County Planning Commission for review, yet she is commenting on it.  This from the now Director of the Monroe County Planning Commission.  What the hell is going on in Monroe County?

Last, note that "the resident" is there.  Wouldn't you be, if Nestle/Deer Park had been testing your property for over a year?  I would take a front row seat.  Also, that Ms. Solt says "I have a resident" and "he owns a property..."  She doesn't say, "in Eldred Township, we would like to make a change to our Commercial district."  (bold emphasis added)  You don't change land use across an entire zoning district for a single land owner that wants to increase his income.  Mr. Helfrich and Ms. Meinhart-Fritz should know that, and the question is should these "professionals" be in the positions/employ that they are.

The reason standard procedure is to include Board and Planning solicitors in the process is so that procedures are followed.  By Mr. Wimmer and Mr. Helfrich leaving all the relevant solicitors out, as well as all Eldred Township officials and representatives except Sharon Solt, the result is what ultimately happened - a faulty amendment was passed, by a process that violated that dictated by the MPC and CJER from start to finish. 

In Part 4, we'll look at what happened to the Wimmer letter/amendment after March 27, 2014.

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