Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pandora's Box open? - Limerick approves zoning changes

Well, folks, I went to Limerick Township's board of supervisor's meeting tonight.

What a rather strange affair*.

I don't know any of the board members, but I was told that there were at least 3 supervisors there, engineers, and the township attorney, a Mr. McGory, who officiated as they moved between the hearings and the township meeting. My first attendance at a Limerick meeting caused me some surprise due to the fact that there was no real discussion of the issue other than interjections by the attorney during the time I was there.

I realize you want to know the outcome so I'll get right to that, and come back with details from my perspective, later.

The public hearing on "Ordinance" - "Repealing a Power Plant Use from the HI District" - approved, unanimously.

The public hearing on "Ordinance" - "Establishment of an HI/E District" - approved, unanimously.

The public hearing on "Ordinance" - "Zoning Map Change - Assigning the HI/E District - approved, unanimously.

So there you go. Those of us who discussed the outcome afterwards wonder if the next step may be a request for proposals from developers. Stay tuned.

I have to comment on several observations I made, some of the *rather strange I referred to earlier.

I was handed an agenda which was prefaced with the press release from the township regarding the trash to ethanol plant which I posted earlier today. It was read into the record. Attached to that and again prefacing the agenda was a 9 point "Meeting rules". I have never seen anything like this handed out at a governmental meeting. I do not know if this document is presented to the public at every meeting or if it came out just for this one, but it certainly put me in a sour mood right from the beginning.

According to the document these rules were adopted and followed by the Board for almost 2 years.

Here they are:

1) Each speaker must be a resident or taxpayer of Limerick Township.

2) Each speaker will be limited to 2 minutes.

3) All comments must be courteous and not contain any offensive language.

4) Yelling, chanting and other distruptive behavior will not be tolerated.

5) Questions must be directed at witnesses and not Board members or other speakers. If there are witnesses, then each speaker must give public comment without interrogating anyone else in the room.

6) No signs will be permitted in the Township building. However, signs may be displayed outside the township building.

7) Any distruptive behavior will not be tolerated.

8) The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors has the discretion to waive any of the above requirements.

9) Anyone not following these procedures will be asked to leave the Township building.

What happened 2 years ago which caused the supervisors to draft and adopt these "Meeting Rules"? The residents I met from Limerick certainly seemed in full control of their faculties. They seemed calm, trustworthy, and able to maintain their decorum. I hope I made some friends while there. They are good people united by a deep concern for the future of their home. The kind of people I would like to get to know.

I wish everyone could see the manner in which the township adheres to the 2 minute per speaker rule. A giantic screen is positioned along one wall in view of the supervisors, the speaker, and anyone else angled right who can see it. The screen is in line with a projector, which actually counts down the 2 minutes and shows the time left on the screen. Amazing. I think half the speakers were distracted just by having to keep an eye on the countdown. What happens to the poor speaker who goes over the limit?

Lastly, on the *rather strange stuff is the item I thought odd on the agenda. The following statement is typed bold and all capital letters...."THIS MEETING IS BEING RECORDED". Ok. And, the reason that is so boldly mentioned is...?

Limerick residents were not bashful about stating their thoughts on power plants being built in their area. Not one person spoke in favor of the concept. Every single speaker gave their reasons to the board as to why they should not approve the zoning changes. Kudos to them. I'd be proud to call them neighbors and friends. More than once as they spoke, I found myself thinking that the township has many, many good and well informed people in it's boundaries and Limerick is in good hands. What I don't understand is why those they elected did not represent their overwhelmingly negative opinions when they voted on the ordinances.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention and applaud several women from outside Limerick township who did try to speak even in view of the above mentioned "Rules". Donna Cuthbert from The Alliance for a Clean Environment was escorted from the microphone while the room burst into boo's and calls to let her speak. The same happened when Elaine Milito from Concerned Citizens from East Vincent tried to speak. Chris McNeil, township supervisor from East Vincent made a plea for courtesy and permission to speak as a fellow colleague, a neighboring township supervisor, but she was denied, also. I believe there may have been another woman who was not permitted to speak who's name I did not catch. I commend all of you for your courage and fortitude.

Whenever I see, hear, or learn that someone is denied the right to speak, particularly in a situation such as this one where the ramifications of a vote can affect people far outside a juristdiction, my blood boils. I respectfully suggest a check of the state laws on the rights of the public to speak at a governmental meetings.

As the meeting recessed for a break, I (at a rolling boil, remember?) siezed the opportunity to speak from the side on behalf of the many concerned people from all the neighboring areas who were unable to attend the meeting tonight.

I promised the board that I would bring YOU with me to the next meeting. :)

Within the next few weeks, preliminary plans should be complete to centralize information at an interactive website or blog for updates for the public regarding any future efforts by Limerick.

It's time to organize.

I will post information here as I receive it.


Anonymous said...

Obviously, after the casino incident, the Board took steps to make sure the meetings were held as they see fit.

If state or federal money is involved, the Board can't forbid "outsiders" from speaking.

After two years of these rules, a precedent has been set. It's going to be difficult to overturn them, but lawyers should be consulted. A check with the ACLU is probably worthwhile

Anonymous said...

From the Concerned Citizens of East Vincent website (

The Limerick Supervisors unanimously passed the three curative amendments to their zoning ordinance at the hearing tonight(Jan.24, 2008). They did not precede the hearing with any description of the contents of the amendments and in addition there was no information on their website about it. There was no zoning map on display to see the location of the amended ordinance. Only residents and taxpayers of Limerick were allowed two minutes to speak. All others were threatened with police action if they tried to speak. Police surrounded the entire room. Non-Limerick residents were told to go and speak to their own township supervisors about it. Unfortunately they did not allow township supervisors from other townships to speak either, even though one requested a waiver because of the regional impact of the amendment.

I was completely impressed with the impassioned pleas of the Limerick residents who spoke. They unanimously spoke out against the amendments and any future actions by the supervisors to bring energy generated plants into their township and most decried the fact there was no information given to them in advance.

The reason given for this curative amendment was that the current zoning is exclusionary, in that it allows for no more power plants in the township, but that is not what exclusionary zoning is. The general rule in Pennsylvania is that all land uses must be permitted somewhere in every municipality. Limerick Township has a nuclear power plant and thus their zoning has permitted this use and it is not excluding it. In order to prevent some future unknown developer from filing a curative amendment the supervisors did it themselves.

The clause that forbids a power plant to be built within a mile of the nuclear power plant will be deleted in this new district that was formed.

Any new Public Power Plant will no longer be subject to “Conditional Use” but will be able to be built “By Right” anywhere in the new HI/E district. That means there can be no discussions on the suitability of the project, and no conditions can be put on the developer. Health and safety concerns cannot be questioned. Environmental issues cannot be addressed.

Private Power Plants will still have to go through the Conditional Use Process, but the entire section on Community Impact that is in the current HI district is no longer in the HI/E district.

Please continue to sign the petition to show support and to be kept up to date on any further issues concerning this. Over 450 residents have signed it as of this evening.
Sign the Petition

Testimony that was not allowed to be given. Will be posted as I receive it.

Karen said...

From today's Pottstown Mercury:

Limerick residents against
more power plants

By Michael Hays,

LIMERICK — Residents delivered a unified message to the Board of Supervisors Thursday night: another energy plant — electric, nuclear, or otherwise — is not welcomed in the township.

A large audience spilled over into the adjacent meeting room and close to 20 people spoke on the issue. But several interested parties, including two East Vincent officials, a local environmental group, and the wife of an East Coventry supervisor, were refused the right to speak. Limerick officials said they would be following a rule adopted two years ago that affords only township residents the right to comment at meetings.

Board Chairwoman Elaine DeWan could have suspended the rule, according to Supervisor Renee Chesler, but chose not to.

Supervisors unanimously approved the zoning changes. Certain utility plants are now permitted closer to Exelon’s Nuclear Generating Station than before. This move is expected to affect the Publicker property on Linfield Trappe Road, which sits just over one mile from the power plant.

Township Solicitor Joseph McGrory told the audience that they should be in favor of the changes because they prohibit a “power plant” from the heavy industrial district. Publicker is in the HI district, as is the nuclear generating station. Such utility plants are allowed in the newly created HI energy district.

“We’re trying to defend you,” he said and urged residents to read the entire ordinance.

According to information provided by township officials, all currently allowable HI uses will remain on the books.

The public comment portion of the meeting was heated at times and McGrory summoned the police to the front of the room on two occasions.

Jeff Cusumano asked whose interests the township is going to bat for. He accused the board of “trying to turn back the clock five years.”

Limerick considered permitting a natural gas plant several years ago, but the public spoke out against it and the project never moved forward. Back then, the board was “guilty of spot zoning,” Cusumano said.

Kristen Briney said “thousands” were against that plant. She questioned why the township appears to be inviting heavy industrial plants to the area.

“It is beyond infuriating. We look at those towers every day. Don’t ram these changes down our throats,” Briney said.

Donna Cuthbert, vice president of the Alliance for a Clean Environment, was denied the opportunity to speak because her address is in Pottstown.

“Ma’am, we are not recognizing you tonight,” McGrory said, shortly before calling Chief William Albany to the front of the room.

Cuthbert sat down after holding up a poster showing where area schools are located. ACE opposes any new polluting plants in the area and often cites higher rates of asthma and other ailments among children in Montgomery County.

After the meeting, Cuthbert was upset. She said she had never seen such a “lack of democracy.”

“It was disgusting. They should be ashamed,” Cuthbert said.

East Vincent Supervisor Christine McNeil was also denied the microphone.

“Regional voices deserve to be heard. What would George Washington think of this,” she said.

East Vincent planning commissioner Elaine Milito and Sheryl Roland, wife of East Coventry Supervisor Tim Roland, were also denied a voice on the issue.

But Kevin Smith of Linfield used all of his two minutes, which ticked down on a large projector screen. He said it was “interesting” that a press release came out the day before this meeting stating that a trash-to-ethanol plant is no longer under consideration for the Publicker property. But a natural gas plant is still a possibility, in addition to other technologies on the abandoned site. Limerick has extended an offer to purchase the 125-acre property.

Informational flyers and better communication with the public could have cleared up some confusion on these rezoning matters, Smith said. Like just about everyone else who spoke, Smith said no more polluting plants are needed in this region.

“We live with the stigma of having the Limerick power plant. That’s all we need,” he said.

One woman asked McGrory what kind of information he had for the public. The solicitor said the zoning ordinances were published in the newspaper. A map of the affected area was never published by the township, but rather “metes and bounds,” engineering descriptions, were published.

Mike Pincus is the community outreach coordinator for the board. Asked if the township did everything it could to inform the public on the ramifications of the zoning changes, he said, “Yeah. We did everything pursuant to the laws and township code.”

One resident asked why the individual supervisors haven’t been more vocal in explaining these zoning changes. About two months ago, Supervisor David Kane, then the chairman, requested that all questions from the media go through Pincus first. At the Dec. 20 meeting when these zoning changes were first announced, Pincus said the board would not be commenting on this matter that night and asked that all questions be directed to him first.

He recently retracted a previous statement provided to a reporter, when he said the changes adopted Thursday had “nothing to do with the Publicker site.”;jsessionid=JNTPHZtK7J3Pl4XQblNpz1dnTLMwQNmpvQpFYJDpNm5NdWpvL9vk!2132239215?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_article&r21.pgpath=%2FPTM%2FHome&r21.content=%2FPTM%2FHome%2FTopStoryList_Story_1477445

Anonymous said...

I am a resident of East Vincent which is just minutes from this proposed energy site. I am appauled at the limerick township supervisors lack of respect for those that they serve. After reading the article in the Mercury today and your own blog, I am getting the feeling that Limerick is more of a dictatorship than a democracy. I think that any resident of sound mind and body would prefer to not have pollutents in their air, etc just in order to reduce township taxes. The ends do not justify the means!

I am extremely proud of those women that have spoken up on behalf of East Vincent residents and our children. Our children are the ones that will suffer the most since they are likely to spend long hours outside breathing in these potential toxins. Can these township officials not think outside of the box and look for more creative ways to reduce taxes other than industrial and energy development? Can they not look at industries that don't polute or corporate offices that would help to reduce tax dollars? Limerick is an area of developmental explosion and I feel badly for the residents.

I hope that when elections roll around again, the people remember what has happened to their township and vote appropriately.

Jeff said...

I am a member of Limerick township, I attending the meeting last night. As a township a united front we as township residents need to find a legal way to remove these individuals from thier!

Anonymous said...

I could not believe what transpired at the meeting! Exactly as I thought, the trash to ethanol issue was thrown in in order to confuse and redirect the issue.

No one from outside the township was permitted to speak, upon threat of forceful removal. People who were permitted to speak were limited to exactly 2 minutes and were cut off mid sentence. Everyone who spoke was against a power plant. Many voiced their frustration and mistrust toward the board of supervisors. People asked for information, maps, etc. for a visual on what was being discussed, but none was provided. No one was given copies of the ordinances, yet were told that if they read them, they would be surprised that they were actually getting what they wanted. It seemed the ordinance changes were deliberately worded in a way to make the changes even more confusing. The board members refused to answer questions, but took offense to those who said they felt like their interests weren't being represented and listened to. The speakers were treated in a very condescending manner. The zoning changes were made in spite of the speakers. It didn't in the least feel like a democratic process!

I don't think half or even a quarter of the people there really understood what is at stake. Mostly because no one knew exactly what the ordinances were. Something just doesn't seem right here. I have to wonder what the board of supervisors will gain from making a unilateral decision like this. I would venture to say the motivation is most likely a lot of money from an energy company that is interested in the parcels of land that have been rezoned. I also wonder why it was so important to them to make sure the general public were kept in the dark about all aspects of the meeting. One would think it would be much better to have a well informed public. Having their actions shrouded in mystery only adds to the distrust the public has of the board of supervisors.

I have never been to one of these meetings before. All I can say is my faith in our government has not been restored!

Veronika Berry

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that it is Limerick Township itself that builds a power plant in the new HI/E zone. There would be no recourse since public power plants are allowed without a conditional use process in this new zone. Isn't there talk of the township buying the Publicker site? Since no map was shown it is not clear whether the Publicker site is in the new HI/E zone. I definitely think this decision should be appealed. The residents have 30 days to do so.