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County planning commission to study curative amendment draft

POTTSVILLE – The Schuylkill County Planning Commission on Wednesday received a draft for a curative amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance. That amendment adds definitions and revises regulations regarding wind turbines, medical marijuana facilities and compressor stations.

Commission members decided they would study the draft and set a date for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, to meet with the zoning and land use consultant hired by the county who drafted the amendment, Charlie Schmehl, of Bethlehem.

Members offered no comment Wednesday specific to the draft.

State law requires that a draft of the amendment be submitted to the planning commission at least 30 days prior to the adoption by the county commissioners, according to Susan A. Smith, county planning director. If there are any recommendations that may come from the planning commission, they may be considered by the board of commissioners but are not required to be adopted by the commissioners, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Virginia Morton, founder of the grassroots online citizens’ group Schuylkill County Wind Energy Concerns, alerted the commission to some problems she sees in the 8-page draft amendment.

Morton, of Tower City, suggested, in part, the following:

• Height limit set at 500 feet verses the 400 feet that all of the involved municipalities requested.

• Guidelines for spacing between turbines. Currently, there are no guidelines on spacing listed. The recommended industry standards are seven times the blade (rotor) length at a minimum to avoid downwind turbulence, noise and maximize energy production, Morton said. “This will be particularly bad for our narrow valley because of the fact that there will be turbines on both the north and east mountain ridges,” she said.

• The setback to occupied dwellings is only four times the total turbine height. Ten times the turbine height, or 5,000 feet, was what was requested. In addition, this setback should be to the property line of the occupied dwelling, not the building, Morton said.

• The notice requirement is only given to landowners within 1,500 feet of a turbine. Therefore, essentially no landowners will likely be receiving notice of the permit applications, hearings, etc., she noted. “This is contrary to the current code, which stipulates that notice should be mailed to all landowners contiguous with the lots where the project is located. If they want to use a distance from the turbine it should be 5,000 feet,” Morton said.

There are no provisions on property value impacts or visual impact effects on the area or communities within the view-shed of the turbines, she said.

Some of the draft revisions include:

• Section 306.M.1.oooo allowing wind turbines as a permitted by right use in the Industrial Commercial District is deleted. Instead, a new section, 306.M.2.s is added to allow wind turbines, that aren’t an accessory use, as a special exception in the I-C district. (Accessory use turbines are not the commercial, larger size wind turbines, but the smaller ones that are often used for residences.)

• Section 306.N.1.vv which currently allows wind turbines as a permitted by right use in the Conservation Mining District is deleted. A new Section 306.N.2.s is added to allow wind turbines as a special exception use in the CM district.

• A new section 306.M.2.t is added to allow pipeline compressor stations as a special exception use in the I-C district.

• Three new sections are added to allow medical marijuana dispensary as a special exception use in the C-3, C-4 and I-C districts.

• A new section 306.M.2.u is added to allow medical marijuana grower/processor as a special exception use in the I-C district.

The commission reorganized Wednesday, keeping John Malinchok in his post as chairman and Gary Bender as vice chairman. Other board members are Robert “Bob” Lettich, David Briggs, David Sattizahn, Joseph Palubinsky, Nicholas Boyle, Jesse Fey, and Travis Smeltz.

In other action, the commission approved:

• A final plan for an annexation for Rick R. Kehler, Ray A. Zimmerman and Samuel R. Zimmerman, in Eldred Township.

• Granting a water and hydrant waiver for Hexcel Pottsville Corp.; and conditional final plan approval for building expansion and parking layout at Hexcel’s Industrial Park Road location in East Norwegian Township.

• The Stakem-Ruth lot annexation in Porter Township.