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Residents appeal Maidencreek warehouse developer’s move to fast-track land use approval

Residents are appealing an attempt by developers to fast-track the approval of a land use application for plans to build a 930,000-square-foot warehouse at Route 222 and Schaeffer Road in Maidencreek Township.

Developer Maiden Creek Associates advertised a notice of deemed approval early in April, which claims that a conditional use application for the plans is deemed approved according to state law, due to the supervisors’ failure to comply with the rules for conditional-use hearings.

A township hearing on the application has been ongoing since late November.

Attorneys for the developers have repeatedly criticized township officials for allowing what they said was irrelevant and excessive cross-examination from about 20 residents opposing the plans who are parties to the proceedings.

Residents claim they have a right to ask detailed questions about a project they worry will significantly worsen traffic and road safety, and lower their quality of life.

The developers stepped up their criticism of the township’s handling of the hearing in February, filing a lawsuit against Maidencreek for allowing the hearing to proceed with questioning they contend is “inappropriate, irrelevant, beyond scope, or used to present the opposition party’s case.”

The notice of deemed approval is the developers’ latest attempt at remedying conduct they’ve claimed amounts to a violation of their right to due process.

Township solicitor Eric Frey noted at a meeting in April that the township believes the deemed approval is not warranted.

“There was nothing done improper by the township,” Frey said of Maidencreek’s handling of the hearings.

Frey noted at the meeting that the township is not legally allowed to start an appeal of the deemed approval, and that a member of the public would have to step forward and file a challenge.

A residents group opposing the warehouse said an appeal against the approval was filed April 28.

Township officials said they asked Berks County Court to discard the deemed approval.

Officials said a ruling by the court is pending.

Conditional use approval would not guarantee approval of the final plans, which still need to be reviewed by the township, as well as county and state agencies.

Hearing continues

The conditional-use hearing continued April 26 with developers calling two expert witnesses to give testimony.

The first was Fred Ebert of Ebert Engineering Inc. in Montgomery County, who testified about the proposed warehouse’s plans for a fire suppression system.

Supervisor Heidi Fiedler objected to Ebert as an expert in fire suppression, claiming his resume lacked expertise relevant to the design of fire suppression systems.

Ebert said his report covered the ability of the system to provide necessary water storage, pressure and flow to a sprinkler system, and that the sprinklers themselves are designed by manufacturers, not civil engineers.

The supervisors voted 2-1 in favor of accepting Ebert as an expert witness, with Fiedler voting no.

Ebert said the design of the fast response fire suppression system exceeds the requirements laid out by the National Fire Protection Association.

“The code requires a minimum of 60 minutes of fire protection,” Ebert said. “We’ve doubled that. We’re providing 120 minutes.”

He said the system includes an independent storage tank that can be refilled by the public water system, which would extend that time.

“This is a very robust system that does not rely on a single source of water,” Ebert said.

Fiedler questioned whether the Maidencreek water system would be able to supply enough water in the event of a sustained fire.

“You as a township adopted a code and established a minimum guideline (for water capacity),” Ebert said. “I have doubled that capacity. If there’s a greater concern, the onus is on the township to change the code.”

Several residents also asked questions about the qualities and capabilities of the fire system.

Next to testify was Mike Baltrusaitis, an expert in environmental, public health and occupational safety compliance with Pennoni, a Scranton-based engineering firm.

Baltrusaitis said he reviewed the warehouse project’s impact on environmental performance standards laid out in the township’s zoning rules, including standards on vibration levels, air quality impact, electromagnetic interference, storage of hazardous materials, glare, heat and waste generation.

He said he found no compliance issues with the project, and that it adhered to required standards.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Willow Creek Elementary School auditorium.

Source: Berkshire mont

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