During a meeting last week, the Schuylkill County Planning Commission released a draft for the proposed “curative amendment” to the county’s zoning ordinance which would change the use of wind turbines from “allowed by right” to requiring a “special exception.”
In September, the Schuylkill County Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring the existing ordinance “to be substantively invalid with respect to use of property” for business ventures such as wind turbines, natural gas compression stations and dispensing facilities for medicinal marijuana. The board took the action after hearing concerns from Tower City resident Virginia Morton, who spoke during public comment at several meetings in 2019.
Morton said that a company called Clean Air Generation has 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 and is currently working on its own curative amendment. Morton said that the project could encompass four townships and include 75 to 100 wind turbines; to date, no application for such a project has been submitted to the county.
The county’s ordinance was last revised in 2010. The commissioners declared the ordinance invalid Sept. 9; the county has 180 days from that date to develop a curative amendment. During the 180 days, no permits will be issued for such ventures.
In the proposed curative amendment, the use of wind turbines would require a special exception in Industrial Commercial and Conservation Mining districts. In the current ordinance, the use of wind turbines was “permitted by right in both the IC and CM districts. County solicitor Glenn Roth explained the difference.
“Allowed by right means that the use is permitted in the zoning ordinance and the owner has the right to use his/her property for that use without getting the use approved,” Roth said. “A use by special exception requires the owner to obtain permission from the Zoning Hearing Board, and the Zoning Hearing Board has the power to place restrictions on the use it deems necessary to protect the surrounding neighborhood – however, the restrictions cannot be greater than what the zoning ordinance requires.”
The proposed draft of the curative amendment also addresses pipeline compressor stations, which would be allowed by special exception in an IC district.
A medical marijuana dispensary would be allowed by special exception in an IC district and C3 (highway commercial) and C4 (regional highway commercial) districts. Medical marijuana grower/processor would be allowed by special exception in the IC district.
The draft of the proposed curative amendment also notes additional requirements for wind turbines, such as setbacks, controls on noise, shadow flicker and removal of turbines that are no longer being used. There are additional provisions to minimize conflicts between wind turbines and military operations, including nighttime helicopter training.
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