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Schuylkill County meets first deadline

On Sept. 4, the Schuylkill County Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring portions of the county zoning ordinance to be “substantively invalid.” When the ordinance was last revised in 2010, business ventures such as natural gas compression stations, growing and dispensing facilities for medical marijuana and wind turbines didn’t exist locally.

Once the county took that action, a clock started ticking. The commissioners had 30 days to make specific findings regarding the declared invalidity of the ordinance, and 180 days (from Sept. 4) to develop a curative amendment to the ordinance.

During a workshop meeting Wednesday, the Schuylkill County commissioners met that first 30-day requirement by adopting a resolution called “Specific Findings Curative Amendment, presented by Glenn Roth, county solicitor’s office.

The resolution includes the following findings:

There are no regulations or provisions within the county zoning ordinance for the use, operation and design of a facility to be used for a natural gas compression station.

There are no regulations or provisions within the ordinance for the use, operation and design of a facility to be used for the purpose of being a grower/processor pursuant to the Pennsylvania medicinal marijuana act; or for the use, operation or design of a facility to be used for being a dispensary.

There are currently regulations for wind turbines in the ordinance. The county, however, believes that the current regulations may be insufficient to protect the public health and safety, to provide land use compatibility and to address impacts upon various species, considering that there has been significant increase in the typical heights of wind turbines, and the current ordinance may not adequately address noise impacts and enforcement of noise levels over time. In addition, the current regulations for wind turbines may not adequately protect the Appalachian Trail corridor.

Based on those findings, the ordinance is declared substantively invalid because it does not allow or permit current and best method practices associated with those ventures. Schuylkill County will begin to prepare a curative amendment to the ordinance “to correct the declared invalidity and to protect, promote and ensure the public health, safety and welfare” of its residents.

The 180-day time span was established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1968 as the necessary period needed to include development and review by county planners, public comment and official adoption of the revision. During that 180-day period, no permits will be issued for those uses.

In recent weeks, Tower City resident Virginia Morton had spoken during the public comment portion of commissioners’ meetings to express her concern about a potential wind turbine project in her area. Morton said that a company called Clean Air Generation had leased 12,672 acres owned by Rausch Creek LLC, lands which include acreage in Hegins and Porter townships.

Porter Township uses the county zoning ordinance; Hegins Township has its own. Morton said that the project could encompass four townships and include 75 to 100 wind turbines. During a meeting last month, Hegins Township also adopted a resolution declaring its zoning ordinance “substantively invalid” and is in the 180-day period to create a new ordinance.