The Warren County Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit for the proposed charter school site during a public hearing Wednesday morning, but not before discussing whether the permit was necessary following a request from the Farmington Township Supervisors to withdraw the township from the county's zoning ordinance.
"We are here to have a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance change, in the meantime, since this was scheduled, we have had a request from Farmington Township that they withdraw from zoning. We're not sure how to proceed," Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said.
The property 125 acres owned by Brian Haner on the north side of Route 957 between Lander and Sugar Grove was brought forward as an alternative site in the Community School Ownership Initiative's charter application.
The resolution signed by Township Supervisors Edward Beardsley and Scott Wenzel on May 1 says, "Farmington Township Board of Supervisors cannot find any evidence that the township aspired to be a part of the County Ordinance #14."
It also states, "...the current Board of Supervisors questions the validity of our participation, and our own research is unable to verify any action by Farmington Township which would substantiate our relinquishing planning and zoning activities to the county."
And further, it states that the supervisors are not "satisfied with the administration of the Zoning ordinance by the Warren County Planning and Zoning, it is our desire to take full responsibility for the Governance of Farmington Township set forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Second Class Code of May 29, 1935."
"Mr. Chairman, that's not quite accurate, they have said that they will administer their own zoning," Commissioner John Eggleston said. "They will not be part of the county program, that they would administer it themselves."
"If that is the case, then we don't know if we can hold them to be part of county zoning, then this is a issue to take up with the township at this point," Vanco said.
"The effective date of the letter was stated May 1, that was their intent was to get out of the county-administered zoning and do zoning on their own," Commissioner John Bortz said.
County Planner Dan Glotz said there is a formal adoption process to go through to "switch the zoning into the township's hands" and Farmington Township is currently under the jurisdiction of the county until the resolution becomes effective.
The exit clause for a local governing body requires a zoning ordinance and a zoning map dividing the municipality into different zoning districts, followed by a public hearing on the proposal and completion of the formal adoption process at a township meeting, Glotz said.
"There are a number of steps that are involved in the process, but it is a public process from beginning to end," he said.
"So despite what you're stating now, Mr. Glotz, a municipality just cannot unilaterally stipulate 'we're out' that there is in fact a number of public steps before they can say we're out of..." Bortz said.
"Yes, because our county zoning ordinance specifically identifies that township as one of the municipalities covered by the county zoning ordinance it would take an amendment of the county zoning ordinance to remove their name from the ordinance itself," Glotz said. "Once theirs is adopted, it effectively rescinds the counties."
"Something about that just doesn't ring square, I can't see how an administrative process on our part would stipulate their action... I don't know if I quite follow that," Bortz said.
Eggleston suggested the request be postponed "until we get some clarification on this."
"There's no compelling reason to advance this today," he said. "They're not ready to start doing anything with that property for a very long time."
"We have folks here, I'd like to hear what they have to say," Bortz said.
"There are people here I want to hear their comment before we do this," Vanco said.
"I don't have any problem with that, it just seems like we're spinning our wheels, we don't even know legally what we're allowed to do and not allowed to do," Eggleston said.
"I'll preface our comments, we can take action contingent upon, so if again, based on what the folks here have to say," Bortz said.
"I think getting out of zoning is going to cause a lot of hurdles, I don't think this particular project can wait for Farmington (Township) to decide whether or not they're part of their own zoning or Warren County zoning, so if they lose one of these particular hurdles, why do we want to come back here again and waste time to begin with. And this project needs to be moved forward," George Sanders, who attended the meeting, said.
If the commissioners took action and the Farmington Townsip supervisors did enact their own zoning, then "they could act either way," Vanco said.
"I think probably, whether it would be binding or not, we could make a decision today, I don't know," he said.
Glotz said the decision would be binding because the process was started under the county zoning ordinance which is still in place.
"The way the law is written, is the ordinance that's in place at the time of application is what carries through the rest of the process," Glotz said. "In all fairness, you can't change the rules and regulations part way through a procedure."
During the regular meeting, Eggleston moved to approve the conditional use permit and was seconded by Bortz.
"This is one of those things where an application was made to us, we have a responsibility to act on that application. During the period of time in which this application was in process, we received this request from Farmington Township, there is still some degree of outstanding issue relative to how that process is still to proceed, pertaining to Farmington Township getting out," Bortz said. "Now, with that in mind, that's a separate and apart issue, we still have jurisdiction on this. We must act, and if the decision we have today is found to be questioned, there's a process they can go to to challenge that. But we feel we're acting within our jurisdiction to move this process along today."
The Farmington Township supervisors were not available for comment.