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Kidder residents win first zoning battle against township

Blue Ridge Real Estate Attorney Michael Malloy asks Kidder Township's Supervisors to pass preliminary approval for Blue Ridge's second warehouse.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Blue Ridge Real Estate Attorney Michael Malloy asks Kidder Township's Supervisors to pass preliminary approval for Blue Ridge's second warehouse.

Kidder residents persuaded supervisors to take the first step this week in changing the township’s zoning ordinance.

That decision comes on the heels of months of debate between township officials and residents.

Supervisors held a hearing last week to hear residents' questions and complaints about the township’s zoning rules. Residents argued the ordinance is too lenient towards commercial developers. They cited issues with approvals of several warehouses along a 2.2 mile stretch of State Route 940.

At the supervisor's meeting Tuesday, Chairman Raymond Gluck said the zoning ordinance on commercial and light industrial areas is "invalid." Gluck said the board’s next steps are to fix the township’s rules within a month.

“That kind of starts the clock,” said Gluck. “Within 30 days, we have to provide exact details of which ordinances, or even in the SALDO, what’s invalid. And then, we’ll have six months to come up with a curative amendment, which basically is a change to those ordinances.”

SALDO stands for Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance. It’s the township’s regulations on how developments can affect residents and the environment, according to the ordinance.

However, residents at the meeting said this is only the first in a long line of changes supervisors will have to make to regain their trust.

Beth Hurley, LOVE Kidder Township’s founder, criticized supervisors as they reviewed preliminary plans for Kidder’s third truck terminal. She started LOVE Kidder in December to stop the expansion of warehouses in the township. The organization is a grassroots protest group of mostly township residents.

“You waived ‘Truck Terminal number one.’ You accepted an ineffective EIS for ‘Truck Terminal number two.’ Tonight, we ask that you really honor our ordinances, the ones that we have written to protect all these people,” said Hurley.

EIS, or Environmental Impact Statements, hold developers accountable for their expected effect on the environment. The board waived several requirements for the township’s first warehouse, including its Environmental Impact Statement, according to township Right-to-Know officer Chrissy Lindsey.

LOVE Kidder also worries about the second warehouse, as the group fears the developer’s three-page EIS statement does not cover all possible environmental effects of the project. LOVE Kidder hired an engineer from Meliora Design to review the third terminal. The report alleges the project’s proposed stormwater permit and EIS statement has several problems.

Blue Ridge Real Estate built the first terminal and is the developer for the third. Blue Ridge's attorney, Michael Malloy, questioned the accuracy of LOVE Kidder’s private investigation.

“Even if everything that the public – that the opposition – was saying is correct, it still doesn’t stop you from approving preliminary plan approval,” said Malloy.

Supervisor Noel Torres motioned for the board to approve the preliminary plans. He explained how preliminary approval does not give developers the green light to start construction. Torres added a word of caution. He said the board could not vote against the terminal or table it, adding Blue Ridge would sue the township.

“I just don’t think it’s a prudent way to spend your tax money. I can’t get into any detail at this moment, but I can tell you that I can foresee some legal battles coming up with future projects," said Torres.

Residents erupted, “bring it on!” LOVE Kidder member Chuck Cutshall said the group will bring the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to court if they approve the terminal’s stormwater permits.

Torres told residents he would support the group's decision, adding Blue Ridge followed all township ordinances, but he cannot speak on the DEP’s rules.

“I hope they do because it calls DEP to the table as well. We can’t – the township has no authority to tell the state what they can approve and what they can’t approve. They have their own requirements,” said Torres. “So, in much the same way I respect that they are coming here to put the onus on us, they need to do the same with the state.”

Blue Ridge’s second terminal is "grandfathered" under current township ordinance jurisdiction. Torres said the board has until its next supervisors meeting to decide which parts of its commercial and light industrial use rules are incorrect. Developers also cannot bring any new plans to the board until supervisors change the township’s zoning ordinance.

The next supervisors meeting is at the Albrightsville Volunteer Fire Company on April 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org