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Hempfield rejects rezoning request near Waltz Mill

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 3:08 a.m.

Hempfield supervisors have rejected a request to rezone a parcel of land near the Westinghouse plant at Waltz Mill that would allow heavy industrial use.

The decision pleased several families who live near the plant and fear the proposed change from light industrial would allow some form of large manufacturing facility to disrupt their rural lifestyle.

The township's planning commission had recommended approval but met with opposition Monday from residents and the supervisors.

"I have reservations," said Supervisor Bob Davidson, who voted against the change along with Tom Logan and John Silvis.

Supervisor Doug Weimer voted for it. John Bossi did not attend the meeting.

Solicitor Les Mlakar said the light industrial classification allows the operation of retail and sexually oriented businesses. Heavy industrial permits heavy manufacturing, fabricating and warehouse operations.

The nearly 40-acre site is owned by the Moween Trust. The property is bordered by Waltz Mill, Fox School Road and Interstate 70.

Architect Barry Morris, who represents the trust, told supervisors he could not say if the trust has any plans for the property. He said the zoning change would make the land more marketable.

Residents were skeptical of Morris' explanation and questioned the secrecy surrounding the request. At an October planning commission meeting, officials were told there was a "potential sales agreement," according to minutes of the session.

"We heard there is a buyer," said Doug Walt, who lives on Fox School Road. "I enjoy the country setting. I enjoy where I'm at."

Mlakar said Moween cannot appeal the decision unless the trust makes another request and specifies what the site will be used for. Residents are worried that if a heavy industry locates on the site, there would be an increase in air, water and noise pollution.

Stacey Barnhart, who also lives on Fox School Road, wants to build a house, but not if her family will be subjected to noise and smoke.

"I have grown up here and have lived here my entire life," she said. "We're not up for another industry being thrown up here."

Westinghouse operates its Waltz Mill plant, an 850-acre site, near Madison. There is an ethanol-producing plant operated by Coskata Inc. of Illinois in partnership with Westinghouse Plasma Gasification.

The company converts wood, crops, and agricultural and construction waste into ethanol that can be used in cars and other vehicles. The facility began operations in October.

Coskata spokesman Matthew Hargarten said the company has no plans to acquire the property.

"I don't even know it's been discussed," he said.

Phillip and Michele Fox own 32 acres next to the Westinghouse Waltz Mill site. They said the narrow roads can't support trucks that may be needed if any additional large industry locates there.

"I have a lot of problems with what's going on here, major problems," said Phillip Fox.

Barnhart said the ethanol plant uses extremely bright lighting 24 hours a day, which disrupts the scenic landscape. She hopes the decision by supervisors will end the zoning issue.

"We can see the plant from our front door," she said. "We literally are neighbors. I'm hoping this (rejection) ends it."

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