Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What to expect next in Synagro's application to locate a biosolids plant in Plainfield Township on Waste Management property

To understand how Synagro's application may move forward, we first must review how we got here.

Synagro files special exception application
Synagro's October 31, 2016 Site Plan application was for a special exception use in the Commercial Industrial zoning district.  A special exception is a permitted use that is given extra scrutiny and allowed reasonable conditions to be placed on an Applicant to protect the public health, safety and welfare.

Amended Zoning Officer review results in first use variance for multiple uses
The application was reviewed by the planning commission on November 21, and a few days later the Zoning Officer informed Synagro verbally that they needed a variance for multiple principal uses on a site that allows only one.  Synagro was given a few days relief from the normal deadline of 21 days prior to a planning commission meeting to submit new materials, and on December 5, 2016 an amended Site Plan application for a special exception was submitted, along with a variance application.

A special exception must be reviewed by both the planning commission and zoning hearing board.  Variances are also reviewed by both the planning commission and zoning hearing board.

Subsequent Zoning Officer review results in second use variance for non-permitted use
On December 15, 2016, the Zoning Officer issued a new ruling that Synagro needs a second variance, for a non-permitted use of Material Separation Facility.  A Material Separation Facility is permitted only in the Solid Waste zoning district, and for a 400 ton capacity the ordinance requires a 5 acre area.  This likely means that in the highly unlikely event Synagro obtains a variance to place a solid waste use in the commercial industrial district, Synagro's use would no longer be a special exception under the ordinance - it is now a permitted use, but not permitted where proposed.  Synagro would have to obtain a variance from the zoning hearing board for multiple uses AND a variance for a non-permitted use.  In their current Site Plan, the area defined is only 3.5 acres, so they would also require a third variance if no change is made that increases the area to the required 5 acres.

Synagro's application has been stalled since the determination Synagro's use is not permitted
Synagro tabled its application for the December and January planning commission meetings and is next expected to appear on February 21.  The deadline for filing new materials for February's meeting is January 31.

Synagro has submitted no new application materials since December 5, and it is not known how they plan to proceed.  During information sessions on January 9 and January 10, some attendees were told that Syangro is attempting to find a site within the Solid Waste district, where its use is permitted as are multiple uses.

Possibilities of how Synagro may proceed
Here are some options Synagro has:
  1. Continue to pursue the site depicted on current site plan, in the Commercial Industrial district
  2. Change to a site within the Solid Waste district
  3. Petition to expand the Solid Waste district, and develop a site in the expanded area
  4. Withdrawal application and walk away

For each of the numbered possibilities above, here are suboptions/observations:

1.) Continue to pursue current site
  • Proceed with the current Site Plan and one variance request that have been filed.
  • Submit a variance request for a non-permitted use, and proceed with the current Site Plan and current variance request.
  • Submit a new Site Plan with a 5 acre site defined, or submit a variance application due to not meeting the 5 acre requirement.
  • The probability of obtaining the two use variances needed is 0.  Variances are not precedential, so the variance issued in 2014 to add a gas pump to the property has no bearing on a new application.  Furthermore, there is a second variance for a non-permitted use - the most difficult variance there is, and no hardship to justify granting in this case.  Bullshit alert - this blogger was told by someone "Joe Schmo said this is a done deal, because there was a variance previously granted on this site."  Tell Joe he doesn't know WTF he's talking about, and you read it on a blog somewhere.  If this was a "done deal", Synagro would not have tabled its application in December and January.  Besides, they also need a second variance for a non-permitted use.  Come on, Joe, everyone has an ass - don't use it for talking because shit is coming out.
2.) Change to a site in the SW District
  • Submit a Site Plan for a location within the Solid Waste district, along with a variance request if a 5 acre area can not be found.
  • There are steep slopes on much of the undeveloped portions of the Solid Waste district.  A special exception is triggered if the target site is between a 15 and 20% slope, or within 100 feet of such a slope.
3.) Petition to expand the SW district and move to a site in the expanded area
  • The most obvious area of expansion, on the southeast portion of the existing district, is far away from the Green Knight Energy Center's waste heat source, a stream for wastewater, and natural gas as a backup heat source.
  • The probability of the Board of Supervisors approving expansion of the Solid Waste District is slim.
Looking over the possibilities, #1 is a dead end - there is no way in hell Synagro can justify these two variances.

#3, expansion of the Solid Waste district is highly unlikely.

That leaves #2 and #4.  Are Waste Management and Synagro going to walk away from what they believe is a perfect site for a human waste processing plant and big juicy profits?  Doubtful.  Waste Management can virtually go sky is the limit on rent - where else is Synagro going to find a place for this pile of crap?  This blogger's money is on door #2 - find a way to chisel a 5 acre site out of the Solid Waste district.  This is not as easy as it sounds, even with a site of 345 acres, because the dump covers much of the area.  The low lying area of this lot on the western edge is known as Grand Central Woods, and would present interesting environmental and drainage challenges if Synagro sets its sights there to locate its crap bakery.

Note that #2 may lead back to a special exception application, if steep slopes are involved.

A look at the SW district and lot outlines
In the left diagram below, the three lots that Waste Management owns are shown on top of the zoning map.  Synagro applied for use on E8 11 8, but their use in only permitted in the SW district.  Lot E8 12 1A is 4.35 acres and hosts the energy center, so the only possibility is to locate Synagro's plant on lot E8 12 1 - the parcel with the land fill.  It is important to note that Plainfield Township owns the old railroad bed that runs the entire length of the boundary of lots E8 11 8 and E8 12 1 and E8 12 1A.  There is a recorded agreement that until Waste Management "no longer needs use" of it, that the northern half of this right of way (where the Trail veers to the left in the diagram) may be used by Waste Management, including building improvements on it.

Note the diagonal lines - these denote an area of steep slopes.  The blue lines are water courses.  The lower right corner of lot E8 12 1 is currently zoned Farm and Forest (FF), and this is the location of the houses Waste Management has recently purchased.  The land is relatively flat here.  Could Synagro be planning to petition to change the zoning of this portion of lot E8 12 1 to Solid Waste?  Only time will tell.  There is probably a shit-flavored surprise of the month in store for Slate Belt residents.

Location of Waste Management's land fill-related parcels on zoning map

Here is the easement agreement that grants Waste Management to use a portion of Plainfield Township's property that separates lots E8 11 8 and E8 12 1 and E8 12 1A:

That's a lot of possibilities - when will we know something?
The day following the filing deadline for the Planning Commission is the best time to find out what has been filed for review the following month, and if the Applicant plans to appear.  The next filing deadline is January 31.  Note that Synagro may not be ready to do anything in February, and could table its application once again.


  1. I want to thank you for all the information you give us in your blog. Hopefully we can defeat the shit monster.

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