POTTSVILLE – The Schuylkill County Planning Commission announced a public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the courthouse to address changes the commission recommended to the county’s curative zoning amendment.
During a special meeting Wednesday, the commission heard more comments on the curative amendment, specific to wind turbines, medical marijuana facilities and compressor stations.
Charlie S. Schmehl, the Bethlehem land use consultant the county hired to draft the amendment, offered highlights of the 8-page draft Wednesday.
Two others provided additional comment – Bill Willard, Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport general manager, and Jeffrey Wallitsch, of Annville, an attorney representing the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Willard spoke of the potential impact from wind turbines.
“It will definitely interfere with the navigation, instrument approach,” said Willard, who has served as airport manager for 11 years and is also a pilot.
While safety is the primary concern, Willard said that if turbines are erected, they could also hinder business at the state-of-the-art airport. Fort Indiantown Gap conducts military training there, including nighttime operations, he said.
Attorney Martin J. Cerullo, of Pottsville, representing the Schuylkill County Airport Authority, directed questions to Willard so he could share his concerns with the commission.
Cerullo said the airport authority would ask that the ordinance include a purpose statement to promote and protect airports and national defense facilities, and that there would be a proposed provision that says wind turbines would be regulated as a special exception, meaning there would have to be a public hearing on them prior to any approval. That would give the airport authority an opportunity to participate and protect its interests, according to Cerullo.
Wallitsch had similar comments about safety and said he submitted an impact statement to the commission. He supported military compatibility language be included.
Schmehl said the municipal curative amendment process has strict deadlines.
The county commissioners must adopt an amendment by the beginning of March, he said.
“There’s also litigation right now on the issue,” Schmehl said.
Nicholas Cohen, principal of Clean Air Generation LLC, attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“Respectfully, the planning commission is making a recommendation without our comment to these changes. I just put that forward,” Cohen said.
CAG is a Waverly energy firm that has proposed up to 83 wind turbines total in the county – 40 possible in Hegins Township, which has its own township planning commission, and the remaining turbines in Frailey, Porter and Tremont townships, which are served by the county planning commission.
The company has also filed a civil suit against the county planning and zoning commission. CAG, along with Anthracite Ridge LLC, of Wilmington, Delaware, filed the complaint in Schuylkill County Court in October.
“The county commissioners recognized three things in this process,” said Schmehl, vice president of Urban Research & Development Corp. “One was that the ordinance did not adequately address wind turbines, particularly because there’s been more research recently on some of the impacts and because the typical height of the turbines have greatly increased in recent years. It’s now common to have 750 foot turbines.
“Secondly, there was a recognition that the ordinance did not adequately address at all medical marijuana facilities because there was a state law adopted a couple of years ago, and it did not address pipeline compressor stations. So, this process was started to address those issues.”
The planning commission offered the following recommended changes to the draft, in part:
• To make notice to the county’s emergency management agency for an emergency response plan, not just to fire departments
• To describe measures for fire suppression
• That setbacks be uniformly 1,000 feet for medical marijuana dispensaries, medical marijuana growers/processors and for pipeline compressor stations, instead of multiple distances
• That the ordinance address airport requirements and guidelines
• That there be a 2,700-foot setback from the property line for wind turbines, if the property is in a residential or agriculture zone and the slope is less than 25%, instead of the setback starting from an existing structure and not from the property line
• Require security cameras seven days a week to monitor a wind turbine site
John Malinchok, commission chairman, noted that the planning commission has reviewed the amendment and was not making any sort of recommendation on a specific project.
Members voting 8-0 to approve and forward the curative amendment with the recommendations were Malinchok, Gary Bender, Robert “Bob” Lettich, David Briggs, David Sattizahn, Joseph Palubinsky, Nicholas Boyle and Jesse Fey. Member Travis Smeltz was absent.
Attorney Glenn Roth, the assistant county solicitor, said the final draft needs to be advertised and sent to the county’s law library and to the newspaper.
“On behalf of the county commissioners and county administration, I would say that we have tried to take into account all of the comments and points of view that we received from all sides, whether it’s the neighbors living in the area, Fort Indiantown Gap, as well as the property owners.
“We consulted with Mr. Schmehl and we hope that this ordinance that has been prepared does a balancing of addressing those concerns, as well as adequately protecting the county, while allowing land development and projects to continue to be economically viable,” Roth said.
Schmehl said he expected to have the final draft completed and in Roth’s office as of late today.
The commissioners could consider, or reject, the planning commission’s recommendations at their regular meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, the day after the public hearing.
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