Thursday, December 15, 2016

Synagro biosolids plant determined to not be a permitted use by Plainfield Township Zoning Officer

Today, the Plainfield Township Zoning Officer made an official determination that Synagro's proposed use on the Grand Central Sanitary/Waste Management site is not permitted.  Therefore, a Use Variance is needed.  This is the second Use Variance Synagro needs, since a week ago it was determined they are adding a principal use and only one per lot is allowed by right.

This variance is even more substantial than the first one, because zoning is based on land use, and determining where each kind of use should be allowed.  It was determined when the district was designed to allow thermal processing of sludge in the SW (Solid Waste Processing and Disposal) zoning district only, since it is a solid waste processing use, but the proposed site is in the C/I (Commercial Industrial) zoning district.  Simply put, a use that is defined in one or more districts is only permitted in those districts.  A variance to put a use in a zoning district where it is not permitted is the hardest variance to obtain.  Synagro's ridiculous argument in its application for a variance to have multiple principal uses can't prevail; it will be interesting if they fashion an even more fantastic argument to be granted this variance.

Excerpt of Plainfield Township Zoning Map
Poorly selected location of solid waste processing facility - outside of Solid Waste district

"I know - we'll put the solid waste processing plant NEXT to the lot that permits it"

The Zoning Officer initially ruled that Synagro's proposed use is similar to a Recycling Facility, which the zoning ordinance defines as the reprocessing of manufactured goods such as glass, cardboard, aluminum containers, etc for use elsewhere.  The Zoning Officer either did not consider or for some reason did not choose a perfect match in the ordinance of "Materials Separation Facility" - which is defined as treating solid waste by means including thermally, for use elsewhere.  This use is only permitted in the SW district.  He corrected this error in his ruling today.
Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance Definitions and SW district purpose and permitted uses

What were the Green Knights and Waste Management thinking?
The Green Knight Economic Development Corporation (GKEDC) is a nonprofit that is supposed to be acting in positive manner to benefit Plainfield Township, Wind Gap and Pen Argyl.  Waste Management is a huge for-profit company.  How it is possible that Green Knights and Waste Management did not realize their error, when they agreed to partner with Synagro to place a sludge processing plant in the C/I district, is beyond belief.  These organizations are the sole tenants next door in the SW zoning district, and they may have been involved in shaping the regulations of the district, since it was designed to host the landfill.  Surely they must have realized that Synagro's use is specifically permitted in the district they have a monopoly on, but is not permitted next door in C/I.  The advertising literature indicates those involved spent a year researching and designing this project.  How did they screw the pooch figuring out where it is allowed?  Throw a dart blindfolded and you could do a better job picking a site.  The SW district also allows for multiple uses (see 318.B above - "combination of principal uses") - this is where Synagro's use is permitted by right, and you can have multiple uses to boot.  This isn't rocket science.  Why didn't they put it in SW?  They can't fit it because there is too much shit there already.  Literally.  That doesn't mean you have cause to put shit elsewhere.

Why didn't Bob Cornman of both GKEDC and the planning commission participate in questions of the principal use at the November 21, 2016 review?
When companies decide to develop a lot, they scour the zoning ordinance to see if they comply.  GKEDC Vice President Robert Cornman, Jr was the long time Chairman of the Plainfield Township Planning Commission, is now its Vice Chairman, and holds himself out as an authority on zoning.  He is named as the GKEDC spokesperson for this project.  How did he not see that what they were proposing was not allowed by the ordinance?  GKEDC advertising indicates they have patiently been waiting years for the "right project" to come along to capture and use their waste heat.  Really?  You should have waited longer.

Determining if your use is permitted is critical.
If not, the rest is masturbation and costly

At the November planning commission review, Plainfield Township Manager Tom Petrucci questioned why Synagro's proposal did not violate the ordinance, which limits principal uses in the CI district to one.  Mr. Cornman did not participate in the inane discussion on this point that ensued, in which the Zoning Officer incorrectly stated that this lot can have multiple principal uses "because of its history".  This Zoning Officer required a variance on this same lot just two years ago for multiple principal uses to add a simple retail gas pump, and variances do not set precedent.  Waste Management representative Scott Perin suggested that because the lot is "200 acres", they shouldn't have a problem adding uses.  Did Mr. Cornman advise Mr. Perin on this point over the last year, because that statement is nonsense.  Come on, you know there were multiple meetings in the posh Green Knights Board Room, which is said to have high-backed chairs and portraits of its own board members (!) on the wall.  "Let's talk about the most important thing before we start - is this use allowed?" doesn't seem to have occurred to matter to them.  The Zoning officer didn't agree with what Green Knight, Synagro and Waste Management originally came up with after their diligent work - the application stated they were permitted as an agricultural use.  The Zoning Officer quickly rejected this, since crap and field crops are not the same thing.  The problem is the Zoning Officer turned around and "matched" the use using an equally sucks-ass interpretation of recycling facility.  Crap is not the same as cardboard, paper and glass.

Oh shit

Mr. Cornman could not restrain himself from suggesting in every way he could think of to see that the planning commission approve Synagro's site plan at the Nov 21 review, yet he was totally silent on why Synagro doesn't need a variance for multiple principal uses.  He also didn't point out that Synagro's use is not even permitted on this lot,  but it is next door where GKEDC and the landfill are located.  The Zoning Officer has since ruled that Synagro needs a Use Variance for each of these violations of the ordinance.

This leaves open what the course of action now becomes for the December 19 planning commission meeting, since Synagro's application is no longer a special exception - which has a prescribed review procedure.  Now, Synagro has a non permitted use, so it begs the question of how it can even be reviewed for compliance with the ordinance.  Logically, the first step would be to (attempt to) get the variances required from the Zoning Hearing Board.

Edit 12/16 - The Synagro application has been tabled until the Tuesday Jan 17, 2017 Planning Commission meeting
Edit 12/29 - The Jan 17 planning commission meeting has been moved to Monday January 16.

The Zoning Officer's Dec 15 opinion:
Letter From Plainfield Township Zoning Officer to Synagro, finding Synagro's use is not permitted on Scribd

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