In an unexpected and commendable move during their meeting this past Monday, the Elizabeth Township Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to deny Invenergy’s rezoning proposal. The proposal was needed in order for Invenergy to build a 550-megawatt gas-fired power plant near the residential area of Smithdale and within a half-mile of the Youghiogheny River.
Invenergy, via their subsidiary Allegheny Energy Center (AEC), has had their sights set on developing a gas-fired power plant in the suburban area of Elizabeth Township for over a year. The community has largely resisted the idea that such a heavily industrial operation has any place in a region sought after for its quiet, family-friendly qualities. In June of 2016, both the residents and the Elizabeth Township Zoning Hearing Board made that position clear when they denied Invenergy’s application for a special use variance in order to build the power plant in an area zoned Suburban-Residential in Buena Vista. Invenergy has since appealed that decision, which is awaiting a ruling from the Commonwealth Court.
But in April 2017, Invenergy submitted a new application to develop a different parcel, known as the Casturo Property, in Elizabeth Township near Smithdale and within a half-mile of the Youghiogheny River. In their application, Invenergy suggested a change in the township’s zoning ordinance and zoning map. The proposed amendment would alter the zoning of 140 acres of the land from rural residential to light industrial, with power plants as a permitted use.
Immediately after learning of these plans, community members organized to bring attention the potential impacts on nearby residents and the environment if the township approved such a proposal. However, The Elizabeth Township Planning Commission still unanimously voted to recommend that the Board of Commissioners vote yes on the application.
Since the decision, the application was being processed and a public hearing on the rezoning proposal was set for September 12, 2017. However, the Allegheny County Planning Division was understandably perturbed by the application, and on August 2nd, responded to Invenergy’s proposal with a four page comment letter, delineating several concerns and many of the proposal’s deficiencies. Some of the issues they raised echoed those that community members had been saying since the beginning, such as potential impacts on the environment, disturbance of recreation areas like the Great Allegheny Passage, and the strong likelihood that the proposal constituted spot zoning.
Then on Monday, August 21st, the Elizabeth Township Board of Commissioners responded to the County’s comments by making their decision to stop the rezoning process for the Allegheny Energy Center.
It remains to be seen what next steps Invenergy will take. The company may incorporate the County’s comments and resubmit the proposal for development of the Casturo Property. If Invenergy does adopt some or all of the suggestions it would likely alter the proposal enough to necessitate an entirely new application process. Invenergy may also pursue in earnest their legal appeal of the Zoning Hearing Board’s denial of their original application for a special use variance for the location in Buena Vista.
We are planning and preparing for the various possibilities and will be ready to support the community no matter what Invenergy decides. MWA is committed to the community’s right not to suffer from such an incompatible use as having a gas-fired power plant in a residentially-zoned district. For any community members interested in learning more about Monday’s decision and potential next steps, a community meeting will be held at 7pm on Thursday, August 31st at the Blythedale Fire Hall in Elizabeth Township.