Denver deals with a double dose of concerns:  Gas-filled tankers, zoning matters focus of council

By on January 7, 2015

Denver borough council rang out the old year by wrangling with two tough issues.

One matter centered on six railroad tanker cars filled with potentially explosive gases parked for an extended period on tracks within the borough. The second issue was the continuing controversy on the proposal to convert a vacant industrial building on North Third Street into residential units. Discussion of the two issues comprised most of the Dec. 29 meeting.

Borough Manager Mike Hession said the tanker cars are marked as non-odorized liquefied petroleum gas.

Some residents worry that gas might escape, and, if ignited by sparks, could cause serious damage within the borough.

Tanker rail cars marked "non-odorized liquefied petroleum gas" parked on tracks adjacent to Locust Street, and across the street from the Fairview Cemetery, have Denver council members concerned over  a possible "what if" situation should the gas would leak. In July 2013, the federal government issued a safety alert about the danger of these gases in rail cars.  A fatal 2010 incident in Norfolk, Mass., occurred as the result of a similar scenario.

Tanker rail cars marked “non-odorized liquefied petroleum gas” parked on tracks adjacent to Locust Street, and across the street from the Fairview Cemetery, have Denver council members concerned over a possible “what if” situation should the gas would leak. In July 2013, the federal government issued a safety alert about the danger of these gases in rail cars. A fatal 2010 incident in Norfolk, Mass., occurred as the result of a similar scenario.

“We can calculate what would happen…an explosion of 10 cars would pretty much level everything up to the school and out to the quarry,” said Fred Wagaman, Denver Planning Commission chair.

Andy Boyer, Denver emergency management coordinator, said he’d like to see an emergency plan for the loaded rail cars.

Since 2012 several inquiries have been made to railroad officials and others in state agencies. The consistent answer is that the rails are privately owned and the officials have no jurisdiction over private property.

Hession said he will coordinate a meeting of emergency responders and others interested in developing an emergency plan for the tanker cars.

A schedule regarding flow of railroad cars to be stored and then moved has never been received by the borough. The number of cars stored varies. In August 2014, 14 rail cars were stored on the same tracks.

Some members of the borough zoning hearing board, a co-developer for 109 N. Third St., and several interested residents were on hand to learn if council would appeal the zoning hearing board Nov. 26 decision to grant a variance within the industrial district for residential development.

Comments centered on concerns that small 750-square-foot apartments with parking on a lot across the street and no elevator in the building will not attract long-term tenants who will develop an interest and invest in the community.

Gary Read, a regular attendee and member of the zoning hearing board, noted that the building has stood vacant for several years. The property, when developed will be worth about $1.3 million and would be a healthy addition to the tax roll, he said.

Resident John Weaver suggested consideration of larger apartments that might be owned by residents, who would form a co-op.

“That’s the kind of out-of-box thinking that’s needed for developing a big project,” said Wagaman, although he is personally reluctant to grant a zoning variance that changes the industrial district.

At the Nov. 10 council meeting, when council recommended to the zoning hearing board that the change to residential not be granted, Wagaman cited research regarding the negative impact of too high a percentage of rental units in a small community.

Former Mayor Adam Webber also voiced concern that changing the variance could set legal precident if other vacant industrial property owners desired conversion to apartment buildings.

Council tabled making a decision on appealing the zoning decision. It will be on the Jan. 12 meeting agenda.

In other business:

*Police Chief George Beever reported that East Cocalico Police Department Facebook page is up and running.

*Denver Fire Chief Shannon Hilton reported 214 calls as of Dec. 29, including 26 working fires. An average of 11.3 men responded to each call for a total of 2,399 man hours. Average response time was 2.4 minutes.

*Councilman Jason South noted upon attending the planning commission meeting he learned the borough has nothing in place to insure the first floor of a property in the business district remains a business if the building is sold.

“We put that in our zoning ordinance in 2008,” Hession responded. “When the downtown business people met, most did not want to keep it in, so we took it out. We hope to encourage that, though.”

*Council asked the U.S. Post Office in Denver to provide a rationale for why officials are requesting a study for installation of a three-way stop sign at the intersection of Snyder and Monroe streets and Denver Road.

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