Friday, April 29, 2016

Documents do not reflect that Monroe County Planning Commission reviewed the 2014 Eldred Township water extraction amendment

The PA Municipalities Planning Code requires an amendment to be submitted to the county planning commission for review.   There are several other steps required by the MPC and the local regional planning agency CJERP (known as CJER in 2014), and we have seen that virtually every single step was not followed properly.  This post takes a closer look at the review of the amendment that was supposed to be done by the preeminent planning agency in Monroe County {drum roll} the Monroe County Planning Commission {streamers, horns, bell ringing}.

First, recall that CJER held a meeting on March 27, 2014 at which comprehensive amendments and SALDO changes were to be adopted by each township. It was decided at the meeting that the adoption would be postponed until May 1, 2014, and that there would be “minor” amendments (Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich emphasized they would have to be minor) that would be added before the the May meeting.  

Document review
The following materials via Right to Know Requests:
·         Cover letter from Eldred Township dated April 1, 2014, requesting a review of Eldred Township ordinance amendments and SALDO. footnote: Sharon Solt, who sent this request, told the Eldred RTK officer in April 2016 that she didn't send this letter - it would have come from CJER.  The letter was subsequently obtained from the planning commission.  How could Solt forget that she hand carried this to the PC?
·         Recommendation initialed by county planners Eric Koopman and Christine Meinhart-Fritz, dated April 25, 2014, that the zoning ordinance amendments and SALDO received on April 1, 2014 for review were consistent with the comprehensive plan and should be approved.

The following resulted from a meeting with Eric Koopman, Senior Planner at the Monroe County Planning Commission:
·         Mr. Koopman supplied four pages of amendments, including the water extraction amendment, first page date stamped “APR 1 2014”, that were included in the April 1 submission.  (These are the “minor” amendments that planning consultant Helfrich mentioned)
·         Mr. Koopman also displayed the full drafts of the ordinance and SALDO, which were to be adopted on March 27, 2014.  He indicated that the April 25, 2014 recommendation was based on review of these two draft documents and the four pages of amendments were what were received on April 1, 2014.
·         Mr. Koopman indicated that the county review of the April 1, 2014 submission was a “technical review” as a funding requirement for the comprehensive update project (this is mentioned in the recommendation letter).
      footnote: Mr. Koopman stated during this meeting that consistency was a top priority of the planning commission in preparation for the 2014 comprehensive updates, yet the water extraction amendment altered Eldred's definition of to be different than the uniform definition in Chestnuthill, Jackson, and Ross townships and the one the Edlred would have adopted on March 27.

The following is seen in a review of these documents:
·         There is no mention in the April 1 cover letter of the four pages of amendments in addition to those in the draft previously reviewed by the Monroe County Planning Commission are to be reviewed.
·         There is no mention in the April 25 recommendation letter that additional amendments to those previously reviewed were reviewed.  There is no mention of the additional amendments at all.
·         The recommendation letter states that the amendments reviewed were the same as those reviewed on March 26, 2014 – before the additional amendments even existed, and that "previous comments have been addressed".

It this observer’s belief that this record reflects the four pages of amendments including the water extraction were not reviewed by the county planning commission.  In addition to the recommendation stating that the amendments reviewed were in existence on March 26, 2016 (those on the four additional pages were not), it is inconceivable that the county planners overlooked:
·         that the water extraction amendment violated the county planning commission’s goal of consistency in definitions across all CJER townships, since the amendment made water extraction light manufacturing in Eldred Township only, and industrial elsewhere.
·         that the water extraction amendment caused a land use change to a non-commercial use in an industrial zoning district.
·         that the water extraction amendment violated the Comprehensive Plan in numerous ways.

Could these four pages been "accidentally misplaced" at the planning commission, and showed up in the folder containing review materials after the review?  Recall that both Christine Meinhart-Fritz and Eric Koopman were sent the“Wimmer Letter” directly from the attorney of the landowner asking for this amendment on March 24, which described in great detail the ill-conceived amendment – detail sufficient to set off warning bells and flashing red lights.  Even a college intern working at the planning commission would know this amendment violated the Comprehensive Plan and goals that the planning commission had been working towards for over a year.  Heck, an janitor could pick up the existing Eldred Ordinance sitting on the shelf at the planning commission and know something stank worse than skunk.  It doesn’t seem possible that if these 4 pages of amendments showed up at the planning commission a week later, including the water extraction amendment, that 2 and 2 could not be added to make 3 or 5 with the colossally stupid Wimmer Letter and the two-word amendment change.  There is no mention at all in the review letter of the amendment.  The letter states that the amendments were previously reviewed and the planning commissions concerns have been addressed.   Not “we’ve reviewed the additional amendments, and find them consistent  with our goals even though Eldred's definition of water extraction is now different than everyone else's.. blah blah blah.”  Not one damned word!  You just could not make this s!)# up, people.  Corruption, gross incompetence, atmospheric event?

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