Friday, April 21, 2017

Plan B for biosolids plant in Plainfield Township hits skid mark row, as Synagro requests yet again for its plans to be tabled

Synagro has submitted site plans for two different sites proposed to be leased from Waste Management, to locate a 400 ton per day crap (biosolids) plant.  These sites are near the Green Knight Energy Center's methane to electricity plant, which is on a parcel also leased from Waste Management.  It was just announced that Synagro will again delay review of its plans.

According to press releases, the Synagro plant represents a "17 year effort by Green Knight Economic Development Corporation to make use of waste heat at the Green Knight Energy Center."  In fact, the plan lasted less than a few years, because it was never intended to locate a consumer of the waste heat on Waste Management property - the plan was to miraculously find a consumer who would locate on one or more parcels on the land now owned by Techo Bloc.  When Techo Bloc announced it had no use for the Energy Center's waste heat, and that it wanted all three parcels, the plan died.  Now we are asked to believe Green Knight has been working diligently since 2000 to find the right customer for the waste heat, and that shoehorning a biosolids plant into 1) where it isn't permitted or 2) where it is permitted but only 30% of the required space is available is the culmination of that hard work, which is a load of hooey.

For Synagro's part, they misrepresented at the November 2016 Planning Commission meeting that their proposed plant "meets all zoning requirements", yet oops, it isn't even a permitted use where they proposed it.  They are supposed to have professional engineers that check minor details like that.

In March, Synagro announced in a press release that they submitted a "building permit" which isn't even possible, for a new site where their use is permitted (congratulations for getting that part right), and that after a "three month ... comprehensive redesign" they have arrived at a new application in "that fully complies with the zoning officer's determination" the first plan was a non-starter.  That may be true, but the press release omits the fact that the new design deviates significantly from several other requirements of the Ordinance.  This is brought to Synagro's attention in the township's 16-page response to the new application.  It requires approximately 13 variances, most of them use variances - not minor dimensional shortcomings.  And Synagro does not have the hardships to merit the variances.

On April 19, Synagro announced it will table both Plan A (October/December site plan for first site) and Plan B (March site plan for alternate site).  What will they do next?  Fill in the quarry hole on the alternate site?  That will solve some issues, but they still have a major problem - access.  The Ordinance requires access to this plant be via an Arterial or Collector road.  Neither plan satisfies this requirement, and furthermore the new and improved plan requires use of Plainfield Township property as an access drive to access the site.  Synagro's site plan doesn't even show that Plainfield Township owns this land.- a deficiency (label added by blogger showing owner and tax parcel).  Another crappy plan from a company that specializes in crap.

A road runs through it -Synagro rep Jim Hecht stated April 5 that he is unaware that the yellow shaded area is to be returned to Plainfield Township's use when the landfill closes, and Synagro plans to continue operating after that.  Note Synagro's trucks must use township property.  Bummer, dudely.

No one except Waste Management, Green Knight and Synagro wants this plant in Plainfield Township.  There is no site that satisfies the Ordinance.  Pack it in and descend on another community where you are wanted - if you can find one.
Synagro announces it will not appear at May 2017 Planning Commission meeting for review of its two Site Plans

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Analysis: Synagro can not meet variance criteria for Plainfield Township Slate Belt biosolids plant sites

The whimsically named "Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center," which would be more aptly named "Synagro Biosolids Plant" has been proposed for two sites in Plainfield Township.  Both are owned by Waste Management, are located on parcels divided by a former rail trail that is owned by Plainfield Township and currently being used as a Waste Management and Green Knight Energy Center service road, and it is proposed that the land for either site would be leased to Synagro.  One site is in the Commercial Industrial Zoning District, on a parcel on which Waste Management has its offices and truck terminal, and the other is in the Solid Waste Zoning District spanning parcels on which the landfill and Green Knight Energy Center are located.  Lot lines are proposed to be removed and redrawn as shown:

Lot lines for each proposed Synagro site

Obviously, both of Waste Management's parcels (In Commercial Industrial and Solid Waste) are being put to very productive and lucrative use.  The landfill operation generates 10's of millions of dollars a year between the two parcels.  On its own small parcel, the Green Knight Energy Center clears about $800,000 a year on $1.8m of revenue..

We will examine the statewide criteria to be granted a variance, as specified in the Municipalities Planning Code.  It is important to understand that in Pennsylvania, a variance is intended to prevent an undue hardship on the property owner that makes it impossible for him to make use of his land.  A variance is not to be granted simply so he can make greater economic use of the land, and a variance is not to be granted if it is not in the public interest O'Neill vs. Zoning Board of Adjustment.  Additionally to achieve a variance "the spirit of the ordinance shall be observed, the public health, safety, and general welfare secured and substantial justice done" Richman vs. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment.  In short, a variance is to be granted in extraordinary circumstances.  Under the MPC, the Zoning Hearing Board "may grant a variance, provided that all of the following findings are made where relevant in a given case:
  1. That there are unique physical circumstances or conditions, including irregularity, narrowness, or shallowness of lot size or shape, or exceptional topographical or other physical conditions peculiar to the particular property and that the unnecessary hardship is due to such conditions and not the circumstances or conditions generally created by the provisions of the zoning ordinance in the neighborhood or district in which the property is located.
  2. That because of such physical circumstances or conditions, there is no possibility that the property can be developed in strict conformity with the provisions of the zoning ordinance and that the authorization of a variance is therefore necessary to enable reasonable use of the property.
  3. That such unnecessary hardship has not been created by the appellant.
  4. That the variance, if authorized, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the property is located nor substantially or permanently impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property, nor be detrimental to the public welfare.
  5. That the variance, if authorized, will represent the minimum variance that will afford relief and will represent the least modification possible of the regulation in issue."
Remember, all of these criteria must be met.  We'll look at each proposal, and the problematic criteria.

Proposal for site in commercial industrial zoning district (October site plan)
The Site Plan for this site was previously found to require two Use variances - one for multiple uses on one lot, and one for a non-permitted use.  It actually needs more relief - the area allotted is less than four acres, and five are needed (Dimensional Variance), and there is only one access and two are needed (Use Variance).
  1. There are no unique size, shape or topographic characteristics of this site.
  2. Reasonable use is already being made of this lot - it houses the administrative and truck terminal operations of the landfill
  3. Any "hardship" argued is self-inflicted.  The sections of the Ordinance relief is needed to were in place when Waste Management bought the property from Grand Central.
  4. A variance would change the character of the neighborhood and impair adjacent uses and be detrimental to the public welfare.  The planned land use in the Comprehensive Plan for this site does not include solid waste processing; in fact this site is on land intended to be a buffer between solid waste uses and commercial and industrial uses along Route 512.  The Zoning Ordinance implements this land use goal in the uses permitted in the Commercial Industrial district.  A solid waste use past the lifetime of the landfill, currently estimated to be 2035 - would also have an impact on the public use of the adjacent township property (Recreational Trail) after the landfill closes.
Note that Synagro has been (the evidence suggests desperately) trying to find an alternate site for months, so they must believe they can not meet the criteria..

Proposal for site in solid waste zoning district (March site plan)
This site plan needs an Easter basket full of variances - thirteen by this blogger's count.  Nine Use Variances and four Dimensional Variances.
  1. There are unique characteristics on this portion of the lots proposed to be resubdivided.  However, this is less than 1% of the area of the Waste Management parcel that would be subdivided to create the site.
  2. Reasonable use is already being made of this lot - it houses the landfill.
  3. Any "hardship" argued is self-inflicted.  The sections of the Ordinance relief is needed to were in place when Waste Management bought the property from Grand Central, and before the last landfill expansion.
  4. A variance would change the character of the neighborhood and impair adjacent uses and be detrimental to the public welfare - by extending a solid waste use past the lifetime of the landfill, currently estimated to be 2035.  One element of this is the inability of the public to use the adjacent township property (Recreational Trail) after the landfill closes, as agreed to.
No relief is justified for either site
Let's return to the Supreme Court's opinions, cited above.  
  • The proposed plant is not in the public interest, on either site
  • Relief is only needed to make greater economic use of either plot of land, not to prevent the owner from enduring the hardship of owning an unusable parcel.
  • Both of these sites require variances that would result in a use that is not compatible with the spirit of the Ordinance.
Statutorily, as shown above of the five criteria that need to be satisfied, three are not satisfied on either site, and the fourth is arguable as satisfied on only one site.  Since all criteria must be met, neither proposal may be granted the requested relief.