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Damascus zoning amendment unveiled

March 15, 2011

The draft of the amended zoning ordinance on gas drilling in Damascus Township was released last week. A public hearing will be held on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the township office at 60 Conklin Hill Road.

The draft adds definitions, amends the schedule of regulations for the rural residential and industrial districts and adds a section on oil and gas wells and pads.

As to definitions, it clarifies the terms “oil and gas pads” and “oil and gas wells.” It defines further what is included in the term “mineral extraction.”

The most significant development is that it declares oil and gas wells and pads as a conditional use in the rural residential district, the industrial district and the Neighborhood Development Area.

“The ordinance can require the planning commission to visit each site if it so wishes but it is not required,” said Ed Lagarenne, township zoning officer. “They may want to look around to see if there may be a reason to adjust the setbacks.”

Lagarenne said if adopted, the ordinance would bring the township into compliance with the River Management Plan (RMP). “The RMP requires that an application like this should be for a conditional use,” he said. “Almost all of our river district is in the river corridor which comprises land within 1,500 feet of the River Road.”

The RMP is a guide for the growth and use of the river corridor and its resources in order to protect its outstanding character. It provides a vision for the future of the river and context for future growth and emphasizes local control.
There can be no drilling in the river district, Lagarenne said.

“The [PA Municipal Planning] code allows zoning ordinances to regulate mineral extraction, but only to the extent that such uses are not regulated by the state,” the draft states.
The amendment directs that a list of information requirements be provided to the township “for each well pad location upon application for conditional use approval.”

It establishes the standard of 100 feet setbacks from property lines and roads, as well as minimal setbacks of 100 feet from the River District boundary and the Neighborhood Development District boundary.

The ordinance allows for input from the township board: “If the Board of Supervisors determines that the standards in this ordinance are not adequate to protect the public health, safety and welfare, the Board of Supervisors shall attach such other conditions deemed necessary provided the conditions do not include requirements which are preempted by state stature.”