A landowner in Jessup Borough (Lackawanna County, PA, near Scranton) has filed a lawsuit against the Borough Council as a whole (and the individuals who serve on it), claiming they rezoned the landowner’s property, cutting them out of millions of dollars, as retribution because the landowner had the audacity to sell property to the Marcellus gas-fired Lackawanna Energy Center (LEC) power plant.
A group of antis seized political control in the Pennsylvania borough of Jessup in the November 2017 election, taking office in January 2018. Jessup is where Invenergy built the state’s largest natural gas-fired electric generating plant (see PA’s Largest NatGas-Fired Elec Plant Near Scranton Nears Startup). The agitators who opposed the LEC project got themselves elected and as soon as they were sworn in, they began to throw up roadblocks to completing the LEC project (see New Town Board Tries to Stop Nearly-Done Gas-Fired Plant in Jessup).
The elected antis ultimately couldn’t stop the plant. It officially began operation earlier this year (see PA’s Largest NatGas-Fired Electric Plant Officially Online). However, the antis still do anything and everything they can to hassle the project, and now (it seems) the company that sold them the land to build it.
Pompey Coal Company (located in Scranton) sold 65 acres of land to LEC to build the plant, which ticked off area antis who later got themselves elected. Pompey owns another 198 acres next door. They have plans (have spent money) to prepare that acreage to build two warehouses on the property. They were actively marketing other portions of the land for further development. And then, out of the blue, Jessup Borough rezoned the land so it can’t be used for that purpose.
Pompey is accusing council members of retribution against them, and has sued the Borough over the rezoning shenanigan. They’ve gotten a judge to issue an order to the antis to turn over a bunch of internal documents and emails, including emails from personal accounts. Let’s hope they don’t use Hillary’s IT company.
Less than a month after Jessup Borough Council voted to apply stricter zoning to about 400 acres of land, a property owner is taking legal action against the borough and every member of council.
Scranton-based Pompey Coal Co., which had 198 acres of land rezoned, claims Jessup and every member of council, both individually and in their official capacities, violated the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and retaliated against Pompey Coal “for a land development within the borough of Jessup,” according to the court papers filed April 24 by James Scanlon on behalf of Pompey. A land use appeal filed May 7 by attorneys William Jones and Fred Rinaldi also representing Pompey, claimed the borough’s public notices in The Times-Tribune violated the planning code.
On April 10 council voted 6-0 on a “downzoning” ordinance with the goal of keeping heavy industrial land uses, including warehousing and distribution, above the Casey Highway as a means of reducing tractor-trailer traffic in the town. The borough received more than 70 letters in favor of the rezoning, in addition to about a dozen residents speaking in support during a public hearing in March. Supporters hoped the rezoning would promote more residential and small business growth in Jessup by creating more commercial and residential zoning.
Jessup is in the midst of developing a new comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to reflect the borough’s future zoning and land uses. Council hired Bethlehem-based Urban Research and Development Corp. to help it develop the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.
Pompey had preliminary plans to construct two warehouses on its property, which runs east of Hill Street and north of the Casey Highway, and was actively marketing the land for future development, Scanlon said. His client was soliciting bids for the warehouses, and the financial losses “could be in the millions.”
Attorneys for Pompey claim the borough pursued the downzoning ordinance as part of pattern of retaliation going on for more than three years.
Pompey Coal Co. sold 65.35 acres of land to the Lackawanna Energy Center LLC for $3.814 million, according to a property transaction recorded April 19, 2016.
“It’s our belief that ever since the sale to the power plant, the borough has taken numerous retaliatory measures against Pompey Coal Company,” Scanlon said.
According to the April 24 motion Scanlon filed, communications through official and personal e-mail accounts of council members “substantiate the plaintiff’s claims” and “reveal the defendants’ efforts against the plaintiff” for developing land in the borough.
Pompey opted to name every member of council both in their official and individual capacities because they acted “in a nefarious manner beyond their official role,” Scanlon said.
Attempts to reach Jessup solicitor Christopher Szew-czyk were unsuccessful.
That motion is winding its way through the court system. On May 1, Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle ordered the borough to turn over:
- All documents that the borough received from Urban Research and Development Corp. from January 2018 to present that relate to Pompey Coal.
- The identification of council President Gerald Crinella’s personal email accounts and emails from his personal email account that include Pompey Coal, Urban Research & Development Corporation, and “Jessup zoning” from January 2018 to present.
- All documents held within the borough that relate to Pompey’s development of the Lackawanna Energy Center.
- The identification of the individual(s) who created the pro-downzoning flyers distributed throughout the borough.
- Deposition from Crinella for the purpose of discovering conversations with representatives from Urban Research regarding Pompey Coal Co.
After receiving the additional information, Scanlon said they will proceed to file a formal complaint against Jessup borough and members of council.
Rinaldi’s and Jones’ land-use appeal asks the court to strike the downzoning ordinance for violating the state Municipalities Planning Code.
Under the MPC, public notices for public hearings must be published in a newspaper once each week for two successive weeks, and “the second public notice shall not be less than seven days from the date of the hearing.”
Jessup ran public notices in The Times-Tribune for its March 25 downzoning public hearing on March 11 and March 18.
The appeal claims “seven days did not elapse as required.”
Like public hearings, public notices for a proposed ordinance must be published at least seven days before council votes, according to the MPC. Jessup advertised its downzoning ordinance on April 3 and voted April 10. Attorneys Jones and Rinaldi also challenged that “seven full days” did not elapse between that notice and meeting, according to the appeal.
Crinella said council should have expected legal action from Pompey, but “when you actually see it coming across, it’s always a reality slap.”
“Council tries to do something for the town for the sake of their safety and health and welfare of the residents, and it’s hard when you get hit with the opposition for that,” he said.*
*Scranton (PA) Times-Tribune (May 13, 2019) – Monday update: Pompey Coal Co. takes legal action against Jessup borough over zoning
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