No one got everything they were asking for, but the composters who requested variances from the Zoning Hearing Board were happier than the residents who have been opposing them.
The three zoning hearing board members, Robert Pepple, Steve Barbone and Rich Frampton heard months of testimony and reviewed written material before convening on Sept. 19 to decide on the variance requests by Andrew Jones and Mike Losito. Jones and Losito sought the variances to allow them to start a composting operation on two lots totaling 49 acres that they plan to purchase in the industrial zone on Reedville Road.
"I can say this is probably one of the most difficult hearings I've had to deal with," said Sam McMichael, solicitor for the zoning hearing board.
"To the township's credit, we have a board that has taken this very seriously."
Once the board made the initial ruling that composting was a permitteduse in the industrial zone, they proceeded one by one down a long list of waivers requested by the composters, granting almost all of them to one degree or another.
"At the end of the decision, where they have gotten us will permit us to do what we wanted to do without being too restrictive. I think we can live with those restrictions," George Brutscher, attorney for Jones and Losito said following the hearing.
"I'm not happy with some of it, I'm happy with others," said Rich Higgins, president of the Southern Chester County Concerned Citizens Organization (SCCCO). "I think it's a typical situation where we were looking at getting everything we wanted to get something reasonable.
Higgins was pleased that the zoning hearing board ruled on the most recent plan submitted by the developers, which puts the composting operation inside a three sided building. The developers must also construct a lined retention basin and closed drainage system to prevent runoff. They must also obtain a permit for closure of the former land fill that was on the property and all appropriate permits from DEP.
Some of the things that he is unhappy about include the reduction of setbacks from the road to 75' instead of the 300' that must be maintained from residential uses. He also objects to the fact that the zoning hearing board chose not to put any restrictions on the hours of operation at the site and dropping the requirement for an environmental impact study.
In one of the rulings, the board decided to waive the requirement for a water feasibility study unless the usage exceeds 10,000 gallons per day.
Higgins wonders how that will be monitored, so that someone will know if the limit has been passed and a study is needed.
Some restrictions will be decided by the township supervisors when a land development plan is submitted for the property. These include specifications on screening and the amount of the performance bond the developers must submit.
In addition to requesting the variances, Jones and Losito challenged the validity of the township's composting ordinance on the grounds that it was too restrictive, exclusionary, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The zoning hearing board chose not to address those charges, but they could still impact the project. The Lower Oxford composting ordinance has been challenged in state court as being in violation of the ACRE law which prohibits restrictions on agriculture.
If the decision in that case goes against the township, the situation could change. It is also possible that the township or the SCCCCO could appeal the zoning hearing board's decision if they choose to do so within 30 days of the final decision.