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Zoning Stifling Industrial Development in Wyalusing

 

When it came to a pipe yard proposed for a 4.5 acre site behind the Farm and Home Plaza in Wyalusing, a problem surfaced at Monday night’s meeting of the Wyalusing Borough Council that few had apparently anticipated—the proposed site’s zoning is classified for Business Two, which rules out facilities like the pipe yard.

Daniel T. Driscoll of Utility Line Services (ULS) was in the process of describing what he called a fabrication laydown yard to the borough council when Pat Couch, chairperson of Wyalusing’s Planning and Zoning Commission, asked if she could speak.

“I think we’ve gotten our cart before the horse in this situation,” Couch said. She explained that Driscoll had contacted her in late March, whom she said had been referred to her by the borough. 

“I told him we would need a narrative presented to the council, so that we would know exactly what this operation entails,” Couch said.  She went on to explain that she told Driscoll that she would be away for a week, however, when she came back, there was an article in the Rocket-Courier about how the project was moving forward. 

“I was absolutely stunned,” Couch said. “Because I told him once the borough council read the narrative, I would be brought in for deliberation or research or whatever needed to be done. And that obviously didn’t happen. Nor was I asked until this morning when George (Council President George Anderson) asked me if I’d mind being here tonight,” Couch said.

Couch continued to explain that she put together some information that she and others had researched on the matter and gave it to council for a meeting that took place the previous Monday. She said the planning commission’s research had determined that the proposed facility is “definitely an industrial operation” and that the proposed site is “not an industrial-zoned district.”

Couch continued to explain that the borough has just one area designated for industrial use and it’s occupied by Arrow United. “That is the only place in the borough where this could possibly exist,” Couch said. “It cannot exist on that property which is designated for goods and services along the Route 6 corridor,” Couch said. “I regret that you traveled this far,” she told Driscoll, “because this is not going to fly. It’s absolutely not going to fly.”

A letter from the borough solicitor, Couch said, confirmed that her interpretation of the zoning ordinance, which she said she had reached with assistance from Wyalusing Planning Commission member Bill Snyder, was exactly correct. “The district is for goods and services,” Couch said. “It’s zoned for Business Two, which definitely doesn’t include this sort of activity, and I’m really sorry, Dan, that this has gone this far because it definitely can’t happen.”

Driscoll asked Couch which part of the proposed facility didn’t fit into the Business Two area. “Business Two does not include industrial,” Couch replied.  She said the area occupied by Arrow United is the borough’s only industrial area and according to the borough’s comprehensive plan the “only one in the future.”

“This is not a fit,” Couch reiterated, “and I’m so sorry it went this far.”

Driscoll said the proposed facility is being classified as temporary. “That doesn’t matter,” Couch said. “That doesn’t change the color of the horse.”

“Would I have to make a request for a zoning variance?” Driscoll asked

“No,” Couch replied. “There is no variance that could happen. The district is strictly a Business Two District. It runs into residential and it’s along the Route 6 corridor and it’s set in stone and it can’t be changed. It can’t be changed. “

“I don’t understand why we can’t make a request for a zoning variance,” Driscoll said.

“It can’t happen in that district,” Couch replied.  “A variance wouldn’t do it. I’ll go to the county,” Couch continued. “We work closely with them all the time. There would have to be a lot of meetings, advertising and the whole thing.”

Driscoll said he was familiar with the variance process. “I designed and installed a laydown fabrication yard in Lycoming County. That facility was zoned ‘countryside and resource protection,’” he said, “and I got a variance right away from Lycoming County.”

“If you would like to pursue it, we’ll get our council and proceed,” Couch said.

“It takes a long time,” Driscoll said.

“And I don’t foresee that it would ever happen,” Couch responded. She added that she felt public opinion would prevent it from happening.

“It’s certainly not going to happen on the Route 6 corridor,” Couch said, “and I feel a lot of people would stand behind that. It’s an industrial endeavor, and we don’t put industrial in with our business and residential. It’s not a mix, and I wish that I had been involved in this sooner than now.”

David Burgess asked if the site was just used for storage and not welding and fabrication could it be used? Burgess is a shareholder in the Hayseed Group, which owns the property.

“No,” Couch responded to his question. “It’s still industrial activity. It doesn’t come within the definition of Business Two.” She said that includes stores and gas stations and 42 other businesses. “There’s no way you could stretch it to include something like that,” Couch said.

Anderson said Business Two included an exception for light industry. “They could ask the zoning board for a variance for light industry,” Anderson said. “Am I wrong?”

Couch and Snyder said it would have to go through a series of public meetings.

“I’m very familiar with the process,” Driscoll replied.

Couch asked if there were other areas where Driscoll could locate the facility and he said he could possibly reach out to the township. He said pursuing the zoning variance in the borough could take at least three months, but those would be prime time fabrication months He added that he had already submitted the entire site package to the Bradford County Conservation District, which would review it for erosion control and other conditions. The Conservation District’s review of the site began last week, Driscoll said.

Burgess said he was “a little taken aback by all of this. We came to the council and said what do we have to do and you told us. Mr. Driscoll’s company has spent $10-$12,000 at this point. And all of a sudden it’s like wham.”

In his description of the operation to council earlier in the meeting, Driscoll said plans called for building six-foot berms along State Street behind the Farm and Home, which would obscure it from view. He explained that the facility would be a five-day-a-week operation that would employ up to 50 people, primarily during daylight hours. There would be no electricity or water connected to the facility, which would be used to construct what he described as manifolds or headers used on gas wells. He said the operation would include welding, which would be done under canopies or tents. A couple truckloads per day of pipe would be delivered to the facility and about the same number needed to haul away finished products. He said most of the employees would be union welders.

Tracy Keeney, another principle in the Hayseed Group, said the changes to the site that ULS would undertake would make the property more suitable for business development when ULS departed.

Driscoll said if necessary he would limit his lease with the Hayseed Group to three years.

“So we’ve closed the door to any additional industrial development in Wyalusing?” Keeney asked Couch. “I would say so, yes,” she responded.

“That’s due to the work that was done years ago,” Snyder added. “This could have been brought to us a lot earlier and maybe we could have gotten some public meetings going, but it’s way too late for that now.”

Driscoll said it wasn’t until gas exploration companies and others came to ULS and requested that they build a fabrication yard that he began to pursue the matter. “There were a number of major companies who approached us and said ‘we need this stuff now,’” Driscoll said. He said this happened in March and he approached the borough in April.

“Unless you can work something out with Arrow,” Couch added, “that’s the only place it will happen.”

“Nobody figured on the gas industry coming here back when these ordinances were written,” Anderson said.

Couch said the proposed site had already been rezoned from residential to permit construction of a retirement facility that the Hayseed Group had earlier proposed.

Keeney asked Couch for a timeline on the variance question.  She said she would begin the process the next morning.

Driscoll asked Couch if zoning exceptions would come from the county or at the local level, and she said it would be the local level.

The discussion ended with Driscoll confirming that he planned to pursue a variance.

Other business included:

—Holding a brief executive session to discuss personnel matters at the request of Mayor Jean Reinhart. There was no action taken regarding the closed-door discussions.

—Awarding a contract to Hud Ellis for renovations to the borough garage. His bid for the work was $19,200, with the borough supplying materials. The work involves raising the roof to permit storage of borough vehicles that currently will not fit inside.

—Discussing possible alternatives with Carolyn Harrsch to resolve her parking problems on Route 6.

— Discussing the purchase of more video surveillance cameras.

—Considering using inmates from the Bradford County Correctional Facility for work details in the borough.

—Hearing that the borough has received approximately $9,000 for timber cut on its Brewer Hollow property in an area where a gas well pad is expected to be built, and that an additional $5,000 is likely yet to be cut.

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