Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Plainfield Township Zoning Office denies Synagro biosolids plant permit for 2nd time and determines at least 8 zoning variances required

Note: this post primarily concerns the Zoning Office letter which was published the afternoon of June 12, not the Site Plan review by the Planning Commission that evening.

On June 12, 2017, the Plainfield Township Zoning Office issued a letter to Synagro, determining that at least eight (8) specific variances are required for its planned crap bakery as a permitted use in the Solid Waste Zoning District.  Several other Zoning Ordinance requirements are questioned, and compliance is reserved to be determined at a later date.  Just because it's permitted doesn't mean it can happen.  This is a major setback for Synagro - variances are heard by the Zoning Hearing Board, whose decisions are appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, then the Commonwealth Court, etc.  There are specific criteria that must be met to justify variances - often glossed over by Zoning Hearing Boards, but are the ultimate determining factor in whether a variance is justified.  If your township's zoning hearing board is a Kangaroo Court, as was displayed in West Penn Township last evening (water extraction matter), its decisions can easily be overturned on appeal.

For good measure, a Zoning Permit for Synagro was denied for the second time - in the first Zoning Office's review letter in April the permit was also denied.  This is SOP, due to the requirement to approve or deny a permit within a set time frame, and a Site Plan approval required that takes longer than that time frame.  In the case of a Site Plan review, up until a permit is issued following a review and recommendation to the Zoning Officer, variances may be required; the determinations made June 12 do not exclude the possibility of additional variances being required later in the process.

Some top level questions in the township's letter that are identified are:

  •  "Can Syangro use Plainfield Township property (Recreational Trail) under the terms of an agreement that granted Grand Central (Waste Management) the right to use said property until the land fill closes?"  The land fill is expected to close roughly between 2030 and 2035.
  • Can the subdivision that created the Green Knight Energy Center parcel be "undone"?
At the June 12 Planning Commission review of Synagro's Site Plan, Solicitor Backenstoe addressed concerns about the Recreational Trail use agreement with Grand Central, and indicated he would review it more closely in order to give guidance on it prior to the continuation of the Planning Commission review.

It is expected that prior to the next Planning Commission meeting, Synagro will submit variance applications for the variances identified, since the Planning Commission reviews variances prior to the Zoning Hearing Board voting to approve/disapprove them.  Basically, Synagro is up Shits Creek - screwed.  They can't possibly meet the criteria specified in the Municipalities Planning Code.to be granted variances on the proposed site.  Here are the variances determined to be required.  Each line item is a reference to an Article in the Ordinance:
  • (Use) 315(B)(35)(b) Entrance/Exit drives shall be separated and accessed from an arterial or collector road
  • (Dim) 505 areas within 50' of a pond shall be open space
  • (Dim) 318(I) Front yard setback of 50'
  • (Dim) 704(B)(3) Maneuvering room shall be outside required buffer and yard areas
  • (Use) 402(A) Street frontage
  • (Use) 201(B) Front yard definition
  • (Dim) 703(G)(1) Parking space and access drives shall be at least 10' from side/rear lot lines
  • (Dim) 703(G)(2) Areas that are not parking spaces, access drives, walkways shall be landscaped
"Use" is a use variance, "Dim" is a dimensional variance - as determined by this blogger.  Use variances are rarely granted.  The pond setback variance was identified as "use" because Synagro proposes not only building too close to it, but in the pond.  Amphi-truck, anyone?

Here is the biggest problem with Synagro's Site Plan - they have far less space (less than 50%) than they need, so they made up their own definition of front yard to fit their building in, and in the process triggered two of the variances above.  In the process, they chose an arbitrary point (red circle in diagram) to transition from the front yard to a make believe side yard.  The SALDO specifically provides for lots along curved roads, in which the entire frontage is the front yard, there are two side yards that meet at the rear, and there is no rear yard.  Synagro came up with a fantasy yard layout, in order to deal with only a 25' setback along the recreational trail - which in their imaginary world they call a side yard, adjacent to township property not even identified on the site plan that Synagro plans to use for the life of its proposed plant.  The green line in the diagram depicts yards that actually comply with the SALDO and Ordinance.  What Synagro did is bull shit - let's start the side yard at this random point Joe chose to make everything fit.  Hey, great idea!

Synagro's fantasy yard layout (black), compared with the yards as defined in the SALDO and Zoning Ordinance (green)

Employees will need one of these to park in the pond.  A larger version is needed for sludge transport near through the parking area

Here is the Zoning Office's June 12 letter:

No comments:

Post a Comment