Robinson Township residents are at odds over proposed amendments to the township zoning ordinance and map, and nearly 100 people attended a public hearing at the Fort Cherry High School auditorium Monday to voice their opinions on the possible revisions.
The current zoning ordinance, passed in December 2013 by the previous board, included amendments to how the township would address agriculture, the oil and gas industry and property subdivison. However, supervisors Rodger Kendall and Steve Duran, who won their seats in November, announced intentions at that time to repeal or make substantial changes to the zoning ordinance and map as soon as they took office.
The zoning ordinance and map are being revamped to prepare for the arrival of the Southern Beltway, which will run through Robinson Township. The second leg of the beltway will add 13 miles of toll road to the southern end of the existing six-mile Findlay Connector, starting at Route 22 in Washington County and heading southeast in Allegheny County near McDonald to tie into I-79 at the county line.
In all, 21 residents took to the podium during the hour-long meeting. Overwhelmingly, residents addressed the topics of gas drilling – which, under the proposed ordinance, will be permitted in four districts: agricultural, industrial, Residential 1 and IDB, and will require conditional use approval in special conservation, commercial, general residential, and Residential 2 districts – and farming regulations.
“I support the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance and zoning map. The new zoning districts allow for growth along the new turnpike and state Route 22 if developers choose to do so. It still keeps agricultural and rural residential areas in the township. I am in favor of this amendment and I support the new supervisors,” said Bob Foley of Bulger.
Many residents voiced support for the supervisors and the proposed zoning ordinance, including Jim Cataney who spoke on behalf of his family and said, “We are in favor of the zoning changes and thank supervisors for looking out for the best interest of our township.”
Others did not share that sentiment.
Resident Cathy Lodge contends that the proposed ordinance is a “re-enactment of the unconstitutional portions of Act 13 and proposes to allow gas drilling in all zoning districts.”
Said Lodge, “This is a clear violation of the Supreme Court ruling and in violation of the state constitution. No municipal government may simply decide what they wish to allow where.”
Lodge said the proposed zoning ordinance is illegal and that residents can, and should, challenge it in court.
Attorney Michael Oliverio, representing former supervisor Brian Coppola, who voted in December to approve the current zoning ordinance, also said he believed the ordinance is unconstitutional.
And Andrew Zimmer said he believes the proposed zoning ordinance does not do enough to regulate gas companies.
“If you pass these ordinances as they are now, you can’t go back. If you give the gas companies free reign, the damage cannot be undone.”
Kendall and Duran said following the public hearing they are confident the proposed ordinance is legal, and the current one contains dozens of problems and restrictions on property owners and farm owners. Before the current zoning ordinance was approved in December, companies could apply for permits by conditional use. That was changed, and the current ordinance requires companies to apply for permits through a special exception application.
“The gas companies have to meet four pages of conditions in order to get approval,” said Duran.
They also believe the current ordinance places too many restrictions on farmers, including limiting the operation of equipment to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and think the proposed zoning ordinance addresses those issues.
Supervisor Mark Brositz said he thinks some parts of the proposed zoning ordinance will benefit the township, specifically those items that address farming, but he said he cannot support the entire ordinance.
“I feel like it’s a wholesale rezoning of the township. There’s no line item veto, where I can vote against the parts of the ordinance I don’t agree with, so I can’t support it,” said Brositz, who thinks the ordinance is not strict enough regarding oil and gas regulation. “I’m not against any kind of drilling, I just want rules. I don’t feel we should give up some rules for energy security because I don’t believe it’s giving us energy security. The gas is sold to the highest paying customer, even if it’s outside the continental United States.”
Robinson Township holds public hearing on proposed zoning ordinance and map