So what exactly does “exclusionary” mean, and why does it matter? Normally Zoning Ordinances aren’t too exciting, but the Borough of Jessup’s has an interesting twist. It says that a power plant can only be built in a certain area, but because of other restrictions that exist in this area, it is in fact impossible to build a power plant there. That makes Jessup’s Zoning Ordinance “exclusionary” – meaning it is written in a way that illegally excludes development that would otherwise be allowed.
This issue is at the heart of the months-long hearing process that the Jessup Borough Council has been conducting to determine whether the Lackawanna Energy Center can be built on its proposed site. On Monday evening, lawyers on both sides of the issue submitted briefs to the Borough Council summarizing their positions. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the following restrictions that exist in the “M-2” zone make it impossible to build a power plant there:
- A setback requirement of at least 2,000 feet from existing developments;
- A height restriction of 70 feet; and
- A requirement that structures be entirely enclosed.
As multiple well-credentialed experts testified during the hearings, no modern power plant can conform to these limitations. This makes the development of any power plan in the “M-2” area effectively impossible. Pennsylvania law prohibits this kind of exclusionary zoning. To resolve this issue, Invenergy has proposed that the Borough adopt an amendment that would allow development of this project to proceed in a different, more suitable zone, designated “M-1A.”
In making their case, the opposition relied on different “experts” to argue that a modern power plant could be built in the M-2 district. Yet neither of these witnesses had experience in the design or construction of power plants. Moreover, the key witness hired by opponents even conceded that the 2,000 foot setback provision would require a 300-acre swath of vacant land, confirming the impossibility of building a power plant in the M-2 district.
Before the Borough hearing process began, the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission conducted a thorough analysis of the Zoning Ordinance and proposed project. Their conclusion: “[T]he zoning ordinance as written is exclusionary in regard to electric power generating plants serving a power system.” The Commission also stated that the proposed location of the project in the M-1A district is appropriate in part because if located there rather than in the M-2, the plant would be further from all existing developments, including residents’ homes.
On August 26, the Jessup Borough Council will gather to vote on this issue, which is critical for the Lackawanna Energy Center to move forward. This project will create $50 million in new community investment, 600 local union construction jobs, and 30 good paying permanent jobs. Now is the time for supporters to make their voices heard by attending the meeting at Valley View High School on Wednesday, August 26 at 7:00 pm.
Click below to join the effort and show your support!