Friday, May 13, 2016

"Professional" planner Carson Helfrich billed to make Eldred's zoning consistent with others, but he violated that goal without informing anyone

With Carson Helfrich,  CJERP, CJERP Solicitor Fareri, and the Monroe County Planning Commission at the helm, what could possibly go wrong?

During late 2013 and early 2014, regional planning body CJER was putting the finishing touches on a three-year-long project to align the definitions in the zoning ordinances of the member townships Chestnut Hill, Jackson, Eldred and Ross.  The main agents of this final effort were planning consultant Carson Helfrich of Community Planning and Management LLC, author of Eldred's first zoning ordinance in 2004, CJER and the Monroe County Planning Commission - the ultimate planning and zoning review body in Monroe County.  It has been reported by planner Matt Neeb of CJER/CJERP and senior planner Eric Koopman of the Monroe County Planning Commission that an overarching tenant of this project was consistency.  A project goal that relies on consistency was to share uses between the townships, so that each township would not have to provide for all uses - this state requirement may be spread across municipalities that participate in regional planning (CJER/CJERP) and define uses similarly.  Note: Carson Helfrich refers to the project as "CJERP", though Polk Township did not join until 2015.

Planning Consultant Carson Helfrich refers to the project as "CJERP Consistency Project",
and on the eve of the May 1 adoption bills "final consistency changes"

It should be noted that a planning consultant must be ever aware that changes in definition must be carefully done so as not to inadvertently change land use.  Land use is the concept that different use categories come with different impacts on adjacent uses, and the zoning map reflects a carefully thought out placement of the categories so they do not unduly impact each other.  A professional planner advises local planners (planning commission) and the advisory body (BOS) on changes to land use - it is ultimately the BOS that adopts changes after careful and public deliberation.

This should be child's play, right, because Mr. Helfrich as the original author is the expert on Eldred's zoning ordinance?  Right expectation, wrong outcome...

Mr. Helfrich's task was to go through each township's ordinance, and make the definitions the same in each township.  He did this, prior to the March 27, 2014 CJER meeting at which the ordinances of all the townships would be adopted.  At the Mach 27 meeting, Ross Township was not prepared to adopt, so another meeting was scheduled on May 1 to adopt the ordinances simultaneously.  However, at the March 27 meeting, multiple members of CJER and consultant Mr. Helfrich all spoke of how the changes were "minor", to bring the ordinances into alignment through consistency.  There was no discussion of land use changes to a higher intensity use in a zoning district in any of the townships.

Mr. Helfrich mentioned an amendment to change the definition of water extraction in Eldred Township that he had received from a landowner's attorney (improper - it should come from the township), and he said that he already had the change on his list.  He then said if the Eldred Supervisors would authorize it, he would move forward.  They did not authorize it, but he left this meeting and went forward with it.  Remember, this is a professional.  The transcript reflects that Mr. Helfrich did not:
  1. Remind everyone that he had made the definition of water extraction uniform in the pending ordinances of all the townships that were to be adopted that night.
  2. Point out that water extraction was defined as industry in the pending ordinances, and the landowner's request was to change the definition only in Eldred Township to a light manufacturing use, violating the overarching goal of CJER and the county planning commission to have consistent use definitions across the region.
  3. Point out that the proposed change would define a single use to have multiple use intensities in the planning region - creating a contradiction and violating the entire concept of regional planning.
  4. Point out that a use of industrial impact in the current ordinance (2004, that he authored), would be added to the Eldred commercial zoning district as a result of this change - where industrial uses are not permitted.
Light manufacturing and industry are two very different land uses.  Light manufacturing can be located adjacent to homes, industrial uses should not be. The ultimate and painful irony is that Mr. Helfrich describes what he did in April 2014, when he drafted the water extraction amendment, as "Final consistency changes".  In drafting and submitting this amendment, he violated the core principle the entire effort was based on - consistency - without warning a single person.  Here is the result of Mr. Helfrich's handiwork, which CJER, CJER's solicitor and the county planning commission all looked past without comment:

Carson Helfrich was hired at $80/hr to make these consistent.  How can you have the same use defined in two different land use categories in the same planning region (CJER/CJERP)?  WTF?

When asked by a resident in 2015 how this could have happened, Mr. Helfrich explained that he does approximately thirty ordinances.  Evidently he was saying that as a professional, he has trouble remembering what he is doing.  Yet he bills for professional services.  Fail.

In a recent Pocono Record article, when questioned about receiving the amendment request from the landowner's attorney, Mr. Helfrich replied that he "[doesn't] remember speaking with the gentleman."  Does he receive requests from landowners or their attorneys routinely to change zoning ordinances?  Evidently the definition of "professional" is different for Mr. Helfrich than for the rest of the world.  Mr. Helfrich's memory was a lot better on March 27, 2014:
Mr. Helfrich states that he spoke with the landowner's attorney - today he doesn't remember this conversation

Fail.  OK, so your planning consultant and zoning ordinance author turns out to be a candidate for dementia instead of Mensa..  What happened to the oversight of CJER and the Monroe County Planning Commission?  Simple, they were asleep at the switch:
  1. There is no evidence that CJER Solicitor James Fareri reviewed the water extraction amendment, and he was the sole lawyer to review zoning amendments at the time.
  2. There is no evidence that the Monroe County Planning Commission reviewed the water extraction amendment, as it should have.
  3. CJER cancelled its regular April 2014 meeting, at which the supplemental amendments including water extraction in Eldred could have, and should have been reviewed.  The CJER intergovernmental agreement required CJER townships to review and comment on zoning amendments - this did not happen with the water extraction amendment.  This is something Mr. Fareri should have made sure was done, but apparently did not.  CJER took a powder, and today, CJERP Solicitor Fareri has the unmitigated gall to claim that this amendment was passed properly.  He has to state this, because his law firm agreed to represent landowner Gower, whose entire case relies on the argument it was passed properly.  Mr. Fareri can't admit mistakes were made, because it would compromise the firm's other client.  And CJERP's so-called "leadership" refuses to do what is right, and admit mistakes were made.  Whom are they protecting?  They are hiding behind the patently biased advice of their solicitor - someone who would also have motive to conceal his own potential mistakes.  Most law firms would not have taken on Mr. Gower, due to a conflict of interest.   This CJERP planning body has a built-in structural defect.  It is required to have a supervisor from each township.  As a consequence, it is run by politicians, not citizens with expertise appointed by politicians - which is the typical case for members of your local planning commission.  The result is what you have today - CJERP refuses to acknowledge they screwed up big time, and has pulled a cone of silence over themselves.  Eldred has made statements that it disagrees with CJERP's position, to no avail.  It is disgraceful that CJERP has left member Edlred Township to twist in the wind, while as a body is accepts zero responsibility.  This ignorance is going on under chairperson Gould, who was in charge in 2014 when CJER totally dropped the ball.  Will he apologize to Eldred months from now, when the truth comes out in court?
You just could not make this sh!t up, people - go ahead and try.  You could not.

Carson Helfrich's Island - an $80 per hour tour

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