By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FAIRFIELD - A city Planning Commission member has abruptly quit, as City Council appears close to overturning the commission's recent approval of a controversial sludge pit behind upscale homes.
In a sharply worded letter to council, veteran Commissioner John Pennell says the past few months (when the sludge pit debate has been before the commission) have shown him the board "has outlived its usefulness." He accuses council of not wanting the commission to think on its own or provide input that differs from council's.
"To use the Planning Commission as a sacrificial lamb so that council will look good to the members of the community is unforgivable," Mr. Pennell wrote. "Council has opposed the Cincinnati Water Works plan from the beginning but did not have the gumption to take on it. This is a sad statement on politics."
Mr. Pennell did not return a call for comment Wednesday. His resignation also includes his post on the city Community Reinvestment Housing Council, according to the letter.
In the most controversial issue to hit Fairfield in years, Greater Cincinnati Water Works wants to build the sludge pit on its water plant site along River Road. But the construction permit is not likely to be approved when council votes on the measure Oct. 28.
On Sept. 25, the Planning Commission approved the sludge pit - with 16 conditions. The issue was referred to the commission early this summer instead of immediately going for council vote, city officials say, so all sides of the heated issue could be studied and heard.
But an overwhelming residential outcry against the landfill for lime residue has now even caused a member of the Planning Commission who also is a council member to reverse his line of thinking. Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel voted for the pit Sept. 25, but he said this week he will vote against it.
If the sludge pit is permitted, residents have vowed they will launch a referendum to overturn council's decision.
"I am not going to go against the will of the people," Mr. Holtegel said, adding that he would not rebut anything in Mr. Pennell's letter. "There may be some truth to what he says."
Mr. Pennell, City Council members said, was one of the most prepared commissioners, one who thoroughly investigated cases and went above and beyond his duties.
"I am very disappointed he resigned, and it's going to be a great loss," Mr. Holtegel said.
Councilman Ron D'Epifanio, who also served on the commission for a time with Mr. Pennell, agreed.
"I think he just got frustrated, but we as elected officials cannot do everything the commission desires us to do," Mr. D'Epifanio said. "We have to vote the will of the people."
Mr. Pennell was appointed to the commission eight years ago; his term would have expired in 2005.Advertisements for the commission opening began Wednesday. The application deadline is Oct. 30.
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