A zoning proposal in Robinson, Washington County, includes new guidelines for Marcellus Shale development and a new district to encourage business along the planned Southern Beltway.
More than 100 people attended a four-hour series of meetings Monday night on a proposed overhaul of the township zoning ordinance.
Some landowners and farmers voiced opposition to their land being included in the new Interchange Business Development district, created along the planned extension of the Southern Beltway, which would connect Route 22 and Interstate 79.
Marcellus Shale leaseholders, along with a representative of driller Range Resources, opposed an overlay district for natural gas drilling.
Brian Coppola, chairman of the supervisors, said the current zoning code is full of mistakes, and an update has been in the works for about five years.
He said the proposed ordinance “may need some fixing, but it’s a thousand times better than what we’ve got.”
“I think it’s a thousand times more restrictive,” said Stephen Duran, a farmer who has been elected to serve as a supervisor starting next year.
Supervisors did not vote on the new zoning regulations. Mr. Coppola said the board will review the public comments and questions and possibly revisit the issue on Dec. 9.
Many speakers asked the board to delay action until after two new supervisors join the three-member board in January.
Mr. Coppola and Terrance Love will be replaced by Mr. Duran and Rodger Kendall, who have publicly supported gas drilling. Mark Brositz will remain on the board.
Current zoning code allows gas drilling as a conditional use in all zoning districts, meaning each well pad, for example, is considered on a case-by case basis and is subject to an application process, a public hearing and site-specific requirements.
The proposed overlay district indicates limited areas where well pads, rigs and related surface development are allowed.
From those locations, Marcellus Shale gas could be extracted from beneath the entire township via horizontal drilling, Mr. Coppola said.
"We have to find a way to accommodate everybody in the township so they can drill,” he said. “The overlay district was the most logical way we could do it."
He said drillers could seek a special exception or variance from the zoning hearing board if they wanted to build a well pad on land outside the overlay zone.
Shawn Gallagher, an attorney for Range Resources, said the gas overlay excludes new drilling development.
“There’s no rational basis for the creation of this district,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Donna Valentino, who lives on Donaldson Road in the southeastern part of the township, said, “It looks to me like the only place where Range Resources can drill is so far away from my leased property that I don’t stand a prayer of getting included in a unit.”
Judy Kramer, whose family owns 13 acres on Robinson Church Road, opposed her property being rezoned from rural-residential/agricultural to business, saying it could affect her taxes and the possibility of drilling on her landl.
“If we are not allowed to develop our properties as we wish, then this board is not looking out to protect us,” she said. “They’re looking out to punish us for our vote [in the supervisor elections].”
Mr. Coppola said the timing of the zoning update had nothing to do with elections.
Most of the land in the proposed Interchange Business Development, or IBD, district currently is zoned as residential and agricultural land.
Richard Grossman, a professional planning consultant from Slippery Rock, said he created the IBD district to accommodate commercial, business park and light industrial growth around the planned Southern Beltway extension.
The 13-mile highway would cause “the single largest change to land-use patterns in your township’s entire history," he said.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission plans to extend the Findlay Connector (Turnpike 576) from Route 22 in Robinson to I-79 at the Allegheny-Washington county line.
“It’s going to change Robinson Township from being a fairly inconvenient place to get in and out of to becoming a very convenient place,” Mr. Grossman said.
Imperial Land Corp. and Aloe Family LP — owners of more than 2,450 acres in Robinson — supported the proposed business district.
"Based on the current zoning, we can't do anything with the residential [district]," Imperial Land development manager Brian Temple said.
Mr. Temple asked supervisors to expand the business zone in areas around Fort Cherry Road and Route 980, and adjacent to the company’s business parks in Findlay, at the Westport interchange of the Findlay Connector.
John Campbell of Campbell Road said he gathered about 250 signatures on a petition against the zoning ordinance.
Farmers said the proposed zoning rules do not address the needs of the traditionally agricultural community.
“This whole ordinance is limiting our way of life,” Mr. Duran said.