Zone change needed for Lordstown power plant

LORDSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A Monday evening planning commission hearing on a petition for a zone change that would allow an $800 million natural gas power plant to be built in the village drew hundreds of people and had to be moved to a larger room to accommodate the crowd.

The petition was made by Sheldon Gantt, Inc. for a 57-acre parcel at 1107 Salt Springs Road, which is behind the Peterson Hardware store and is adjacent to business-zoned village property. The parcel is currently classified as a general business and residential area, and project developers are seeking to have it reclassified as industrial.

Developers said the facility would only occupy about 14 acres, or 25 percent, of the total site. Groundbreaking would not happen until December 2015 and the plant would be fully operational in December 2018.

The proposed rezoning did not sit well with Eugene Leamer, 777 Salt Springs Road, who was on the village planning and zoning commission 20 years ago and also served on council for eight years around the same time.

“i’m against the zone change. It’s not a matter of if I’m against the facility. I’m against the zone change. If there is no zone change, we won’t have to worry about if the plant will be built,” Leamer said. “There’s no other industrial zoning anywhere near that location, so it’s spot zoning.”

Leamer said he is pro-zoning and zoning is needed to protect property values.

“You just do not come in and spot zone a piece of property like that. I don’t care if it is surrounded by some commercial. There is still a lot of residential zoning around that property. I don’t think spot zoning has any business being in the village. It is not the way to zone property, especially with the amount of industrial zoning we already have in this community,” Leamer said.

However, company officials told the audience that other industrial sites in the village had been evaluated and none were suitable for the proposed power plant, which would convert clean natural gas into useable electricity.

Kenneth Purnell, 1903 Chester Ave. S.W., said he was one of the original council members when the village was founded. He said the public needs to keep an open mind when it comes to projects like the one being proposed.

“They’re looking for development in Lordstown and I have a friend who has seen this type of plant and he said there’s no detrimental parts to it, so I would like to find out more information. But I think it’s a good move,” Purnell said.

He said the proposed project would be beneficial to the village and the school district because of the estimated $3.2 million in annual payroll and initial $700 million to $800 million investment. It is estimated the project would create 550 union construction jobs over two or three years and 25 to 30 permanent jobs. In addition, the plant would purchase water and sewer service from the village.

“There are a lot of things to work out yet and I don’t think they should nip it in the bud until they know where they’re going with this project. It won’t be finished until 2018. Take it a step at a time and as long as we have a say in what we have to do, I don’t see any problems,” Purnell said.

The project would be 100 percent privately funded. A presentation on Monday outlined similar projects in Ohio, including a natural gas to electricity plant in Fremont that has been operational since January 2012. It was developed by Calpine Corp. and is now run by AMP Ohio.

A second project in Oregon, Ohio, also a natural gas to electricity plant developed by Oregon Clean Energy, has been in active development since spring of 2012, and construction is scheduled to start this summer. That plant should be operational by summer of 2017.

Developers said the proposed project is made possible by utility deregulation. They said changing federal environmental regulations have made it very costly for outdated coal-to-electricity plants to remain open. A slide listed seven coal plants in this region that are closed or planning to close, including one in Niles.

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