Opportunities for Engagement
The decision to grant a land use permit can have a huge impact on a community, so several types of permits require that the public has the opportunity to formally present their concerns to the deciding body as a part of the review process. This is similar to the way that introducing or amending zoning rules also requires opportunity for public involvement before they can be implemented.
Public participation by the community can make a huge impact on whether or not a permit is granted, and can greatly influence how a Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) renders a decision. Public participation through the ZHB’s process becomes public record, and part of that particular case’s official record. If a ZHB’s decision is to be appealed, it can only be appealed based on facts listed on the official record.
So for example, if a community opposes the construction of an unconventional gas well in an area zoned for residences and schools, but no one comes to the public hearing on the application and no one gives comment or "testimony," it is much harder for the decision makers to truly understand the desires of the public and weigh them accordingly in their decision.
Conversely, if the decision makers vote to allow the well pad and you wish to appeal that decision, it is also much harder to successfully argue that the decision makers were irrational in their choice to grant the permit. This is because they were simply basing their decision on the evidence presented.
All public comments are welcome, but some can be more effective than others. This is particularly true if you can familiarize yourself with the zoning process and the contents of the application at hand. This way you can present a thorough case to your zoning hearing board as to why granting or denying an application would be a violation of the ordinance. You may be surprised how often a Zoning Hearing Board incorporates input from individuals or community groups into their final decisions. See also Clean Air Council's Public Participation Guide for information on participating in local government meetings.
Participating early on can sometimes be vital to being able to participate at later stages. In some instances, if you do not protest during a preliminary or tentative approval stage, you lose your ability to participate in a final approval stage.
In order to be able to participate, you must first know when your right to participate kicks in. In order to do this you should familiarize yourself with the PA MPC and your own zoning rules and identify all of instances when the public should receive notice or are entitled to participate in application review. Again, computer searches can be very helpful in this regard.
Continue here to find charts that explain more about the types of land use permits that are sought by the fracking industry in order to develop infrastructure such as gas drilling well pads, compressor stations, and pipelines in areas that are not zoned for that type of activity.
Continue here to find out where to look if the industry has already applied for any land use permit applications in your community.