Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Synagro's latest proposed biosolids crap bakery in Plainfield Township requires 11 variances - review of March 31, 2017 Site Plan

In yesterday’s post, we reviewed the kinds of uses (Permitted by Right, Special Exception, Conditional) and variances (Use, Dimensional, De Minimus), as well as the standardized criteria to obtain a variance and the difference in how the criteria may be evaluated depending on the type of variance.

Today we will look at the variances that may be required because Synagro’s Site Plan is not in compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.  There are several, and every one is needed because of the postage stamp of land that Synagro is attempting to locate its plant on is comprised of 80% steep slopes and a former quarry.  Everything that could go wrong does. As a preview, employee parking is so close to "unloading" (bwa ha ha) that the employees may get a poop spritz facial whilst going to or coming from their cars as trucks are washed - assuming they are.

Before we get technical on the merits, why on Earth is Synagro still here?
Let’s get two unrelated but significant details out of the way.  First, not one person this blogger has met or heard from, other than someone with a connection to Waste Management, Green Knight or Synagro, is in favor of Synagro’s proposed plant.  The governments of Plainfield Township and Pen Argyl have voted to oppose the project, while Wind Gap’s government has remained silent.  Second, Waste Management’s predecessor Grand Central signed a legally binding agreement with Plainfield Township, on file with Northampton County, in which Grand Central (now Waste Management) is to return land of the township’s that is currently being used by the landfill and energy center (and which Synagro would use) to the township when the landfill closes.  Synagro has announced it plans to remain long after the projected date of the landfill closing,  approximately 2035.   Waste Management apparently has neither alerted Synagro to this agreement, nor alerted Plainfield Township to its plans to possibly violate the agreement.  Yo! Yo!  Mr. Hambrose - WTF, do you have our back or are you looking use it?  OK, now that we see that in a normal situation, the Applicant would have folded his tent and left months ago,  let’s see what a cluster Synagro’s latest application is.

Where to find the Ordinance and SALDO that are used to determine compliance
First, you need to know where to go to find a few things:
  • The Zoning Ordinance is here.  
  • A comprehensive amendment to the Steep Slope section of the Ordinance is here.  
  • The SALDO is here.  
  • The Site Plans are at the bottom of this post - sheets 2 and 3 are the most helpful.
Note. A reference such as "Sec 318.x" refers to an article in the Zoning Ordinance.  All references to Sec 503 require using the Steep Slope amendment linked to above in lieu of the no longer applicable text in Sec 503 at the link to the entire Ordinance.

Warning: The Ordinance (3+ Mb) and SALDO (7+ Mb) are large files.  They are also text only and tedious to search through.  No pain, no gain.

 Synagro’s March 31 Site Plan requires 11 variances and a SALDO waiver
This blogger believes that Synagro’s March 31 Site Plan for the site on which it is a Permitted Use by Right will require nine Use Variances, two Dimensional Variances, and a SALDO waiver (granted by Supervisory body).

Steep Slopes (2 Use Variances)
Sec 503.J.1.c & 503.J.1.d   Pockets/areas of land 1000 sq ft or more with a slope 25% or greater were identified in order to locate Class A slopes.  The following was found:

  • 13180 sq ft of contiguous Class A slope under the proposed  plant, driveway and parking area (5260 + 7920 on diagram)
  • 1040 sq ft of contiguous Class A slope under the WWTP accessory building, as well as an additional 170 sq ft with slope greater than or equal to 25%.
  • 51300 sq ft of Class A slope in the “sediment basin” to have fill added @ plant
  • 4480 sq ft of Class A slope in the “sediment basin” to have fill added @ WWTP
It is proposed to develop driving and parking areas as well as the plant and accessory building on Class A slopes, as well as to grade and add fill to Class A slopes  – these are all prohibited activities.  A total of approximately 70000 sq ft of Class A slopes are proposed to be developed in a manner prohibited by the Ordinance.

Front yard as proposed for Synagro lot (1 Dimensional Variance or SALDO Waiver)
Sec 318.I & SALDO 10.7.D It is proposed to eliminate the existing lot that the Energy Center is on and to re-subdivide.  The proposed yards (front, side, rear) for the 7.01 acre lot are not in accordance with the SALDO – at a random point the front yard inexplicably changes to the side yard.  Laying out a new lot not yet developed would call for starting from scratch, and that the front yard would extend all along the paved road – through the curve.  Side lines would be perpendicular to the road, and in this case meet such that there is no rear yard – as provided for in the SALDO.  A proper layout would result in the proposed plant being in the front yard by over 20’.

Note 1: To understand how yards are defined and determined, you will need to research the definitions of Lot, Lot Line, and Yard in SALDO section 2, as well as SALDO 10.7.D

Note 2: The keen observer will note that the Energy Center has only a 25’ setback from the road.  It is beyond the scope of this review to discuss how or why this happened or who (initials R.C. Jr) was involved in 2000.  It is submitted that during re-subdivision the Energy Center should become a nonconforming use with a 25’ front yard setback.

Accessory Use of GKEC (1 Use Variance)
Sec 201.B An accessory use to the Green Knight Energy Center (Switch gear - interface of GKEC to power grid) is proposed to be located not only not on the proposed GKEC lot, but in another zoning district altogether and with another property owner’s land (Plainfield Township) in between the two.  An accessory use must be on the same lot as the principal use.

Off-Street Parking (2 Use Variances)
Sec 703.D The access drives for Synagro's lot are not at least 10' from the rear lot line, and there is no way to screen the drive since it passes over the lot line
Sec 703.A.7 The GKEDC and Synagro parking areas depicted on Site Plan Sheet C-02 are interfered with by the truck traffic of another use - Synagro's loading/unloading truck traffic.

Off-street Loading (3 Use Variances)
Sec 704.B.2 The parking space maneuvering room is in conflict with off-street loading on both Synagro and GKEDC's lots
Sec 704.B.3 The maneuvering area for unloading is not entirely on the lot being served, so the "yard area" boundaries are exceeded
Sec 704.B.6 The traffic pattern constitutes a hazard to vehicles accessing or departing parking areas, and trucks entering and departing are in conflict with each other.

Additional Standards for a Material Separation Facility (1 Dimensional and 1 Use Variance)
315.B.35.a The proposed 7.01 acre site has only 1.65 acres of usable area, due to a former quarry being located in the center of it.  The proposed area is clearly not in accordance with the intent of the Ordinance to provide an additional 2 acres for each additional 100 tons capacity over 300 tons per day.
315.B.35.b The entrances and exits are not separated as depicted on the site plan. The two proposed accesses are bidirectional – not in accordance with the requirement.  One of the access drives is not located along the road, but rather across the proposed lot adjacent and sharing that lot’s access drive.

edit 4/16 - Plainfield Township's review letter published after this post details an additional apparent deficiency - parking areas, driveways, buildings must be set back at least 50' from a pond.  This would create a need for variances from Sec 505 and Sec 315.B.35.g, bringing the total to thirteen.

Site Plan Sheet 2
Setback, traffic patterns and parking shown on this diagram
Site Plan Sheet 3
Lime green outline and emphasized elevation lines indicate proposed 7.01 acre lot boundary
Site Plan Sheet 1
This sheet depicts wetlands - the only level area left in Solid Waste is wetlands - at lower left

What are the chances Synagro can prove it has a hardship?
Let’s cut to the chase and look at one criteria to grant a variance.  Waste Management’s property on which the landfill is situated generates untold millions in profits a year.  The land on which the Energy Center is located generates a net of over a million dollars each year, and the Energy Center is a non-profit.  It simply is disingenuous to argue that the land owner (WM) or equitable owner (GKEC) as the case may be is not making productive use of his property – one of the hardships that must be proven.  There is no justification to grant this colossally ill-conceived project zoning relief.  This applies also to Synagro's first site plan, for a site where its use is not permitted.  That lot is also owned by WM and has operations on it that are generating phenomenal income.  You don't deserve no relief, you big dummy!

What if Syangro argues that all the land in the Solid Waste district is used?
Tough poop.  The zoning has not changed since 1989 for this use - it was permitted then.  So Grand Central planned poorly when they used every last square foot of space, and WM bought that and did its own expansion.  Greed is a horrible thing.  If a measly 5 acres had been set aside for this use, Synagro would be all set to fling the poop at the fan.  Pardon me whilst I locate a Kleenex - I'm all choked up.  That's called a self-created need for a variance.

What is next?
The township Zoning Officer will issue a response to Synagro by the end of this week, and the township engineer will weigh in with a review prior to the review in May.  In the case of Steep Slopes, it is likely Synagro will be asked to denote on the Site Plan where they are, as provided for in the ordinance.   They may be asked for other additional details of as well.

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