Friday, December 16, 2016

Synagro biosolids plant review in Plainfield Township tabled until January 2017

The Synagro special exception application to site a 400-ton per day crap bakery in Plainfield Township, which has morphed into a non-permitted use application requiring two major variances, has been tabled until the planning commission's Tuesday January 17, 2017 meeting.

Excerpt of Zoning Officer's "Dear John" review letter dated December 15, 2016

While Synagro's application has been removed from the planning commission agenda for December 19, Sludge Free UMBT (Upper Mount Bethel Township) will be at the Plainfield Township Fire Hall on this evening to hold an information session and present a video on sludge.

It isn't clear how the planning commission will be able to review an application for a permit in a zoning district where something is not allowed to be.   Attempting to obtain the variances seems like the logical place to start.  More will become known in the next few weeks.

Note: January 16 is the third Monday, but it is a holiday.  The planning commission's regular meeting will be Tuesday, Jan 17.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Amid controversial Synagro proposal, Grand Central Sanitary Landfill snaps up residential properties in Plainfield Township

In Plainfield Township, there is a shit storm in progress.  Synagro has an application under review to place a 400 ton per day sewage-baking plant on Grand Central property in Plainfield Township.  As reported here, there is already one use variance required of the Applicant, and another may be on the way.

Grand Central bought the house at 905 Grand Central Rd on Nov. 1, 2016 for $350,000.  It already owns the one at 1859 Delabole Rd.  There are rumors that Grand Central has agreements in place to purchase even more residential properties in this immediate area.  What is this about?
Grand Central expands its footprint in Plainfield Township - and is rumored to be planning to do it again soon

Plainfield Township BOS votes 4-0-1 to send Solicitor and hire expert to fight Synagro at Zoning Hearing Board

David announces he's taking on Goliath

At tonight's Plainfield Township Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board voted to hire an expert in crap, and to send the expert and the township solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board review of Synagro's special exception application and variance appeal.  Supervisors expressed a desire to defend the township against the risks associated with processing 400 tons of crap than already occurs at the Waste Management/Grand Central Sanitary Landfill.  The initial budget approved for the expert was $15,000, and amount which will be revisited as the matter progresses.  The next Planning Commission review of the proposal will be on Dec 19, and the Zoning Hearing Board hearing will likely be mid to late January 2017.

A tale of two Green Knight Economic Development members and conflict of interest
Prior to recusing himself once the motion was made, Supervisor Steve Hurmi (a member of the Green Knight Economic Development Corporation which would sell energy to Synagro for its operation) expressed a concern to protect residents's interests.  Mr. Hurni said that while the Zoning Officer was still to render another review, that supervisors should consider this night if action was needed, and to not wait.  This is laudable, given that one might expect Mr. Hurni to lean a certain direction due to a conflict of interest.  What this blogger observed was the opposite - Mr. Hurni put the citizens first, and there was no hint of favoring Green Knights.  That's ethical behavior, folks.

Two residents in attendance reported that Mr. Robert Cornman, Jr, Vice President of Green Knight and also Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, acted in a less unbiased manner during the Nov. 21, 2016 review of Synagro's application - that he appeared to want the planners to "push" the application forward with a conditional approval that night.  Mr. Cornman:

  • Recused himself from making motions or voting, but requested without objection to participate in discussion.
  • Suggested that rather than the Planning Commission discuss 18 Site Plan deficiencies cited in Hanover Engineering's review letter, that the Planning Commission could make a conditional recommendation to the Zoning Hearing Board with a request that the Applicant make changes to address the engineer's concerns.
  • Stated that the deficiencies were "mostly clerical and drafting items".  (Refuted by member Bob Simpson, who pointed out what he felt 3 were not clerical and were very important, and member Terry Kleintop, who felt 5 were important)
  • Then suggested that Hanover Engineering be asked to go over changes by Synagro before the Site Plan was forwarded to the Zoning Hearing Board (Solicitor Backenstoe pushed back and stated that if the Planning Commission has concerns, they should be addressed there)
  • Then stated that Synagro had completed a Site Plan that meets all of the requirements, and that a future Land Development Plan would cover all these items.
  • Finally he stated he didn't see why the Planning Commission had to "hold up" the Site Plan (to which Solicitor Backenstoe replied the Planning Commission has an absolute right to review the Site Plan)
Clearly Mr. Cornman should not have participated in the discussion, because he repeatedly tried everything possible to try to get the Site Plan approved at the Nov 21, 2016 meeting, despite fellow members insisting there were deficiencies they felt needed to be addressed prior to recommendation.  As it turns out, the Site Plan has a few gross and possibly fatal deficiencies - Synagro's use appears to be not be permitted, as well as already having been found to require a variance for multiple principal uses on a lot.  Ethics score: Mr. Hurni 10, Mr. Cornman 0.

Discussion and vote to send Solicitor Backenstoe and an expert to the Zoning Hearing Board hearing
During discussion on the motion, resident Don Moore presented the Board, Township Manager Petrucci and Solicitor Backenstoe with a handout in support of his belief that the Zoning Officer had made an error in determining the principal use that Synagro was permitted under.  Here is a copy of that handout:

Zoning Officer erred in determining Synagro's use is not defined in the ordinance - it is

Mr. Moore first stated that in his opinion, the Zoning Officer erred in determining that Synagro's use is similar to recycling, as defined in the ordinance; that recycling is of manufactured products (glass, cardboard, etc) and does not include biological products of the human body (ie crap).

Mr. Moore then demonstrated that in his belief there is a use in the Plainfield ordinance that matches Synagro's use - "Material Separation Facility" - a facility that thermally treats solid waste to create a product that is used off site.   The Zoning Officer's Nov. 17, 2016 letter states that Synagro's use is "not specifically permitted in the ordinance," which Mr. Moore argued is also in error since their use is a Material Separation Facility.  This use is only permitted in the Solid Waste Processing and Disposal district, which is not the zoning district of the targeted site.

Resident Joe Barbaras rose, and stated he is 2 miles from the current Waste Management site, but his life is made miserable already by odors from the dump.  He stated that if Synagro's use is approved, Plainfield Township will be the dump headquarters of the East Coast.  Mr. Barbaras expressed disappointment that he only received notice of this project in the last three days, when he received a mailer from Sludge Free Upper Mount Bethel Township.  Perhaps Mr. Barbaras was expressing frustration that Plainfield Township did not notify its own residents of Synagro's application.

Ralph Hahn spoke, and announced that he farms 400 acres, and residents can count on him to not spread Synagro's product on his farm ' "I won't use the stuff!"  Bob Krobath, also a resident and farmer, spoke at length against the use of sludge, and described the impact it has on the earth and environment.  He farms between 1500 and 2000 acres in Plainfield Township, and also said he won't be using sludge.  Mr. Krobath stated that he felt that at the planning review Mr. Cornman was interfering with other planning commission members being able to review the application fully, and it was inappropriate.

A few residents thanked the Supervisors for putting forward the resources to fight Synagro.  There was an attorney representing Synagro present, furiously taking notes, who abruptly left when the meeting adjourned.  He couldn't have been happy - it was a crappy night for Synagro.  The Plainfield Township Zoning Officer is due to issue a review of supplemental materials in Synagro's application tomorrow Dec.15, and if he finds that Synagro's use is permitted in another district but not the one Synagro plans, it will require another variance in addition to the one that Synagro already faces for muliple uses on the lot.  In this observer's opinion, there is chance between slim and none that Synagro will ultimately obtain these variances. Even if the Zoning Hearing Board waves the green flag, there is no justification for them.  A win in court would be child's play.

Given that the Supervisors are showing that they intend to enforce the ordinance, and Synagro deserves no relief to add a Use that is not permitted on a lot already used to the capacity prescribed by the Ordinance, Synagro would be wise to withdraw its application.  If this happens, it will eliminate the need to expend funds on a crap expert - the fight would be won on zoning, not health risks - the latter is a tougher slog through shitsville and would be a waste of time and money in this observer's opinion.

Edit 12/15 8:30pm Today, the Zoning Officer issued an updated opinion that Synagro's use is in fact not permitted on the proposed site, so an additional Use Variance will be needed.

Edit 12/16 6:45pm Synagro's application before the Planning Commission has been tabled until Tuesday, Jan 17, 2017.  Therefore, Synagro is believed to not be appearing on Dec 19, 2016 for the Commission's December meeting.

Edit 1/17 Synagro ultimately tabled its application for January, and is currently scheduled to appear next at the Feb 21, 201 Planning Commission meeting.  However, their plans may change - it should be known by January 23rd if a new plan will be reviewed, the tabled one will be reviewed, or if they table the application again.
The PR packet whimsically refers to Synagro's proposed facility as the
"Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center" - how "green"!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Synagro biosolids plant in Plainfield Township requires two use variances, and doesn't merit being granted either one

As reported here, Synagro was notified after the Nov 21 2016 Planning Commission meeting that they would need a Use Variance for another principal use on the target lot.  Their variance application shows that they are desperate to try to make a square peg fit a round hole, as they argued a variance is merited because there are and historically been several principal uses on the lot, which is crazy talk.  Only recently was a gas pump added, for which a variance was obtained, so there are currently two principal uses on the lot.  Variances do not set a precedent.

Next up, let's examine another Use Variance that is needed that has not yet been flagged.  When a new Use is proposed, the Zoning Officer is to go through the ordinance and see if that use is permitted, and where.  In this case, there is a use in the Solid Waste Processing and Disposal District - SW that matches Synagro's use, called "Material Separation Facility".  This is defined as:
Furthermore, "solid waste" is defined as:

A Material Separation Facility is permitted in only one zoning district - SW.  Since Synagro's use is provided for in Plainfield's ordinance, the Zoning Officer can't use a general "kitchen sink" section of the ordinance to allow it in another district, which is what happened here.  He allowed this use in the CI district, as a use "similar" to a recycling facility.  Here is the definition of that:
There is no similarity between processing crap and the processing of cardboard, paper, glass and metal waste.  But the critical problem is the Use is the same as Material Processing Facility, a use only permitted in the SW district.  This is to be expected - the SW district was designed with processing crap in mind:

Look for the phrase "although the proposed use is not specifically defined in the ordinance..." in the Zoning Officer's interpretation below.  This is not an accurate statement - thermal processing of solid waste is specifically provided for in the ordinance, as seen in the definition of Material Separation Facility shown above.

Plainfield Township Zoning Officer Review of Synagro Application for Biosolids Plant

Since the Use is provided for in the Ordinance in the SW district, placing it in another zoning district (CI) constitutes a Use Variance.  The criteria for a use variance are strict, and you must prove a hardship.  A hardship would be the lot can't otherwise be used, there are unusual characteristics of the lot, the hardship is not self created.  The lot is one of the most productive lots in Plainfield Township, and there is nothing unusual about the topography.  It is self created.  There is no hardship, so there is no chance for Synagro to obtain the needed use variances.
Stick a fork in 'er - she's done