Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Plainfield Township ex-planner has history of ignoring zoning ordinance to grease skids for Waste Management/Green Knight Economic Development Corporation

On Wednesday April 4, 2018 at 7pm the Plainfield Township Planning Commission will meet to review the Land Development Plan to locate a Synagro biosolids crap bakery on land owned by Waste Management.  In the room, as he has been for every meeting thus far, will be Green Knight vice chairman and Synagro crap bakery project representative Robert Cornman Jr, who is also an ex-Planning Commission member and  its long time chairman.

When Synagro first slithered silently into Plainfield Township in November 2016 with its proposal, Cornman was still a Planning Commission member.  Despite stating he was recusing himself, he participated in discussion and suggested multiple times at the November 2016 review of Synagro's proposal that it be given conditional approval that evening to locate on a parcel in the Commercial Industrial (CI) zoning district.  It was subsequently discovered that Synagro's use was not even a permitted in the location proposed, and therefore it would require a use variance.  Without any hardship, it would be impossible to obtain a use variance.
November 2016 Synagro Site Plan, with proposed plant location in gray area
north of haul road in CI zoning district (North is to right side of screen)
Planner Robert Cornman Jr suggested this site plan be granted conditional approval

Planning Commissions are responsible per the Municipalities Planning Code for maintaining and updating a municipality's zoning ordinance.  As the long time commission chairman, Mr. Cornman was uniquely positioned out of all township citizens as the single best authority on the township's zoning ordinance.  As it turns out, since July 1, 1988  Synagro's use was permitted in the Solid Waste District.  One should ask, is it possible that Mr. Cornman did not know this, and actually encouraged approving this use to be located in a district where it is not permitted.

Let's pause briefly to note that in 1988 an extensive Solid Waste addendum to the township's comprehensive plan was adopted, to plan for responsible and strategically located solid waste uses.  Immediately, Zoning Ordinance amendment 192 was adopted, which provided for six (6) uses by right in the Solid Waste district, including a material separation facility (Synagro's use) and a landfill gas to energy plant (Green Knight Energy Center).  This list of uses has not changed nor where they are permitted since 1988.

As it turns out, both Mr. Cornman and Waste Management were very much aware in November 2016 that a use related to Solid Waste could not be located on the site in question, because 17 years earlier Mr. Cornman, while he was Planning Commission Chairman, attempted unsuccessfully to shepherd on behalf of Waste Management another Solid Waste use into the same precise location!

In 1999, Waste Management applied for a use variance to locate the Green Knight landfill gas to energy plant in the CI zoning district.  Here is a site plan that was submitted with the application:
1999 proposed location of Green Knight Energy Center, in CI zoning district in exact same location as 2016 proposed Synagro plant - same shit different year.  Planning Commission chairman Robert Cornman Jr testified at the ZHB hearing on the alleged economic benefit while ignoring the fact the was no hardship to justify a variance - which was his responsibility to know.

Planning Commission under Chairman Robert Cornman Jr recommends Waste Management be granted a use variance, despite there being no hardship

Several objectors testified at the zoning board hearing for the variance.  Pen Argyl was represented by attorney John Molnar, who showed that the proposal was counter to the 1988 comprehensive plan, as well as the zoning ordinance, and that extensive cost and effort had recently been put into updating both documents to accommodate Solid Waste uses.  Yet Robert Cornman Jr totally ignored both the spirit and letter of the zoning ordinance that as a planning commission member and chairman he was obligated to uphold for all land owners of the township.

Planning Commission chairman Robert Cornman Jr puts the good word in for
Waste Management - recommending approval to place the energy center outside the Solid Waste district, in total disregard of the Ordinance and a clear conflict of interest.
Ever hear of a designated hitter batting for both teams?

The Zoning Hearing Board did the right thing - they went through the five criteria for a variance, and found that Waste Management had no hardship whatsoever.  "Benefit to the community" is not a hardship.

Zoning Hearing Board facts and findings in case of Waste Managment's attempt to violate Plainfield Township's zoning ordinance - with Robert Corman Jr's blessing.  The ZHB was not swayed.

The township supervisors did the right thing by kicking Mr. Robert Cornman Jr to the curb, and he should never be reappointed to the planning commission.  Ethics requires a municipal official to put aside their own desires and outside special interests, and promote uniform and unbiased adherence to local laws and regulations.  There is a rumor that he submitted a letter of interest to be appointed back onto the commission in Jan 2018 - the size of those balls are impressive indeed.

Footnote: the five criteria enumerated above in the Facts Findings of the 1999 variance are the same criteria which would have to be met by Waste Management/Synagro in order to be granted the variances that are needed for the Synagro plant to be approved.

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