Plaintiffs held their first round of witness testimony before the Cumru Township Zoning Hearing Board during the second leg of a legal challenge against a zoning change that enabled building warehouses along Route 10.
Wednesday’s hearing featured new opposition to the rezoning, including a statement from Robeson Township officials and testimony from Mark Deimler, municipal engineer with Solanco Engineering, Lancaster County.
The board also heard from Flying Hills residents Glenn Emory and Rick Wolf, representatives of a group of nearby businesses, and residents opposing plans to build a warehouse on the 171 acres at Freemansville Road.
No decision on the challenge was made Wednesday, and the hearing is slated to continue over multiple sessions for months.
The citizens group — which includes Penske, and residents of Flying Hills and surrounding areas — filed a validity challenge in September against the 2018 decision to rezone the plot from rural conservation to industrial.
Several dozen group members attended the hearing in the Gov. Mifflin Intermediate School cafeteria.
The legal challenge claims rezoning the plot from rural conservation to general industrial — approved by township commissioners in April 2018 — amounted to illegal spot zoning, or singling out one lot for unique treatment to the benefit or detriment of property owners.
The challenge asserts the rezoning was in response to a request from the plot’s owner, Cumru-based marketing company Mail Shark, which had its own plans to build a warehouse there prior to the pandemic.
The current proposal to build a 739,000-square-foot warehouse on the site came from Northpoint LLC of Riverside, Mo., whose representatives cross-examined witnesses Wednesday.
Cumru commissioners said they will not approve or deny Northpoint’s plans until the challenge is resolved.
Wednesday’s testimony began with challenge applicants presenting a letter from the Robeson Township supervisors citing concerns that traffic problems and an already high volume of accidents along the Route 10 corridor would be worsened by added traffic from the proposed warehouse.
The letter says the area was evaluated by Dennis Cassel, Robeson Township police chief, who found that Robeson already suffers serious accidents along a strip of Route 10 from the Alleghenyville Road intersection to the Interstate 176 ramp.
Cassel also believes truck traffic from the warehouse could cause issues with traffic stacking and congestion along the I-176 exit ramp, according to the letter.
“This warehouse project will have significant and adverse effects on Robeson Township and will increase public hazards throughout both our townships,” the letter reads.
The letter to the Cumru zoning board, dated Feb. 22, was unanimously approved by the Robeson supervisors.
Northpoint previously said the warehouse is expected to produce 1,034 car trips daily, including 163 truck trips.
Emery said he witnessed a snow squall in late January along Route 10 that caused a traffic backup after several 18-wheelers became stuck in the ice.
“It was a very hazardous situation,” Emery said. “Vehicles were forced into the oncoming lane to pass those trucks.”
Keith Mooney, representing Northpoint, questioned if the icy conditions affected only trucks, or if the bulk of the vehicles stuck along the road were cars.
Representatives of Northpoint challenged Emery’s use of photo evidence to make the case because he didn’t take the pictures, and the zoning board agreed the photos were inadmissible.
Matthew Creme, representing challenge applicants, said he believed the photos were admissible under state law, and said he would make a legal case asking the board to reconsider allowing the photos.
Wolf reiterated concerns about truck traffic speeding down a steep segment of Route 10, presenting safety issues in cases where trucks may be required to stop suddenly.
He also said trucks already take shortcuts through Flying Hills and their sharp turns result in truck tires encroaching on his property — an issue he said could worsen if increased traffic at the I-176 ramp results in more trucks cutting through his development.
In addition, Wolf said he was worried the 16 to 18 bus daily school bus runs along Route 10 could face unsafe road conditions if traffic along the road intensifies, and that real estate prices in the area could drop if the warehouse is built.
Mooney questioned Wolf’s recollection of the number of trucks proposed by the warehouse plans, and asked whether Flying Hills properties sold since the rezoning was implemented have sold at a higher value than in previous years.
Land planning issues
Deimler, called to testify as an expert in land planning, brought up numerous issues with the rezoning.
He said the decision to rezone the area didn’t make sense from a land planning perspective, since it created an island of general industrial space not adjoining other industrial areas and relatively far from major highway access points.
“The non-technical term is spot zoning, you try to avoid that,” Deimler said.
He also said he agreed with the Berks County Planning Comission’s assessment that the rezoning is not consistent with county and regional comprehensive plans.
He said municipalities typically aim to comply with comprehensive plans because they are created using extensive amounts of background research, including surveys and demographic projections.
Deimler then reviewed a petition submitted to the township by owners to have the property rezoned.
The petition claimed the rezoning would not adversely alter the character of the area or affect public health and safety.
Deimler disagreed, claiming the rezoning allows high intensity uses near residential areas, instead of being situated near other industrial spaces to minimize negative impacts.
He also said industrial uses could affect the woodlands, floodplains and natural slopes that were initially intended to be preserved when the area was zoned for rural conservation.
“The rezoning does not appear to be consistent with proper land planning principles,” Deimler said.
Representatives of Northpoint said they would cross-examine Deimler at a future hearing.
The next hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 13 at 6 p.m. in the Gov. Mifflin Intermediate School cafeteria.
Source: Berkshire mont
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