Group appeals board's ruling on ethanol plant

June 15, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - As promised, a group of citizens has filed an appeal of a May 26 Greene Township Zoning Hearing Board decision that cleared some obstacles to the construction of a proposed $80 million ethanol plant in the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

The appeal was filed Monday in the Franklin County Prothonotary's Office, according to Frederic G. Antoun Jr., legal counsel for Citizens for a Quality Environment. Antoun said he also filed a petition with the court Tuesday seeking a stay of all proceedings by Greene Township relating to the ethanol plant until the appeal is resolved.

The township Planning Commission on Monday tabled action on a land development plan submitted May 27 by Penn-Mar Ethanol LLC of York, Pa., according to Glenn O. Shetter, chairman of the planning commission and a township supervisor.

Permitted use

On May 26, the zoning hearing board ruled that the plant proposed by Penn-Mar Ethanol is a large-scale manufacturing facility and thus a permitted use under the township's zoning ordinance. The board also ruled that many of the structures on the 55-acre site are exempt from the township's 45-foot height limit.

Antoun said his clients do not believe the ethanol plant is a permitted use in an area zoned for heavy industry and the decision of the board was based, not on the opinion of the township's zoning officer, but on an opinion stated in a Jan. 11 letter from the township solicitor.

The zoning ordinance does not specifically list an ethanol plant as a permitted use. The zoning hearing board erred by disregarding a section of the ordinance "which provides that only the Board of Supervisors, after a public hearing, may determine a use to be permitted or conditional" if the use is not specifically listed, according to the appeal.

"There is no substantial evidence to support the finding that the proposed use is 'manufacturing' or that ethanol is manufactured," according to the appeal. Penn-Mar officials have made statements that the plant is an "ethanol distillery," according to the appeal.

"It's a very complex issue. That's why we want to see it go through conditional use hearings," said DeEtta Antoun, the director of Citizens for a Quality Environment. She was listed as one of the appellants, along with nine other individuals and Citizens for a Quality Environment.

The appeal also faults the board for concluding that a thermal oxidizing stack, boiler stack, biogas flare and evaporators that would be built at the plant qualify as chimneys or towers and are thus exempt from the height limitation. More than 30 structures on the site would exceed the height limit, Antoun said.

"If this decision stands, then there really are no height limitations in the township," Antoun said. Some of the structures exceed the height limit by two or three times, he said.

More claims

The appeal contained a long list of points on which the appellants claim the board made errors, acted improperly or abused its discretion.

Shetter said the 90-day time period the township planning commission has to act on the Penn-Mar land development plan began when it was submitted May 27. He said the commission tabled consideration of it at Monday's meeting, in part, because two of its five members were on vacations.

"For something of this importance, I thought it would behoove us to have the full board present," Shetter said. "More importantly ... all the review comments were not back yet," he said.

Those include comments on the plan from the Franklin County Planning Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Franklin County general authority that runs the sewer and water systems at the Cumberland Valley Business Park, and engineering consultants hired by the township to review the plan and address questions posed by residents at previous meetings.

Shetter said he would recommend the land development plan be denied if all of the review comments are not received by the commission's August meeting, "unless Pen-Mar Ethanol asks for a time extension."

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