Developers for proposed warehouse in Cumru address resident concerns

2022-07-31 10:15:22 By : Ms. Linda Qin

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The developers behind plans for a 739,000-square-foot warehouse on a 171-acre plot at Freemansville Road and Route 10 held an open house recently at Berks Nature to answer questions about the controversial project.

The informal meeting a few miles north of the proposed site was the second open house held by developer NorthPoint LLC, Riverside, Mo., which in early June submitted plans to Cumru Township for the $80 million NorthPoint-Morgantown Commerce Center, a storage and distribution facility.

The plans have generated heavy opposition from residents of surrounding communities like Flying Hills, which is next to the proposed warehouse.

The open house was ahead of a township planning commission meeting Monday at 6 p.m. set for Gov. Mifflin Intermediate School to accommodate the crowd that is expected.

Some among the dozens of residents attending Tuesday’s open house carried signs spelling out “no warehouse” in bold red. Among other concerns, residents fear the potential truck traffic on the two-lane Route 10, which is Morgantown Road.

Despite the opposition on display, the atmosphere was largely cordial, as residents spoke with company representatives scattered around Berks Nature’s Rookery conference room.

Poster boards displayed at the meeting showed examples of how the warehouse’s interior and exterior might appear.

The posters noted the facility is expected to create 300 jobs, 197 jobs during construction and generate $237,000 in tax revenue for Cumru once its 10-year LERTA tax abatement expires.

Brian Stahl, vice president of development at Northpoint, said the company was anticipating resident concerns, and that objections from neighboring landowners aren’t unique to the Cumru plans.

“We have a corporate policy that we want to be good neighbors,” Stahl said. “We’re not a developer that builds properties for as cheaply as they can and sells for as much as they can.”

He said the open house was a voluntary attempt by Northpoint to gather feedback and take residents’ issues into account.

A few residents who spoke with Stahl and plan engineers brought up issues raised at previous township meetings, including the significant effect a warehouse may have on sound and light pollution levels.

Stahl said he’d spoken to several Flying Hills residents whose properties border the warehouse plot and received similar feedback about sound impact concerns.

He said Northpoint has yet to develop an exact solution, but the company is exploring a combination of berms, or artificial ledges, and landscaping to blunt the impact of sound and light from the warehouse.

“We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to what you hear and what you see,” Stahl said to residents.

Residents also questioned Stahl about the risks posed by increasing the number of tractor-trailers making difficult maneuvers on Route 10, with residents claiming trucks already traversing the road often barely miss cars when turning at Route 10 and Freemansville Road.

“We’ve expanded the area (of the road) that we’re taking a look at. It’s outside the scope of what PennDOT requires,” Stahl said.

He said many concerns residents have are Northpoint’s concerns as well.

“We’re a neighbor and we care,” Stahl said. “And, if you don’t believe that, our (warehouse) tenants do care about those things. Traffic on the road, trucks on the curb busting things — tenants don’t like that.”

Northpoint has yet to locate a tenant for its proposed facility, but the warehouse could be occupied by Chewy, an online pet supply seller, or big box retailers such as Lowe’s and Kohls.

As to why Northpoint chose the plot at Morgantown and Freemansville roads for its warehouse, Stahl said the company was approached by the property’s current owner — Mail Shark, a direct mail marketing firm based in the township — with a request to buy the site.

Mail Shark bought the plot in 2018 with plans to build a 650,000-square-foot distribution facility at a cost of up to $55 million.

Those plans were canceled in the COVID pandemic.

“It was a site that was already zoned industrial before we even knew it existed,” Stahl said. “It had the size that was attractive, the location was attractive, good labor pool, but really it was the current owner approached us.”

He said Northpoint is looking to expand throughout Pennsylvania and is exploring multiple sites in the state for new warehouses.

“It wasn’t like we picked this site and there was another site we abandoned,” he said. “We really look at each opportunity on its own to see if it works.”

Many warehouses of the magnitude of the Northpoint proposal are in business parks along four-lane roads, such as Route 61, Interstate 78 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is about 8 miles south of the location under consideration.

The sale of the site to Northpoint has yet to be finalized, township officials noted at a previous meeting.

Northpoint’s warehouse is expected to generate significantly less traffic than the canceled Mail Shark facility, creating 1,034 new trips daily — including 163 truck trips — as opposed to 2,982 new trips from the Mail Shark plans.

John Wichner, an engineer with McMahon Associates Inc., offered further details on plans in the works to modify the Route 10 and Freemansville intersection.

He said McMahon was hired by Mail Shark and is working with the township to widen the intersection, adding new turning lanes and a light.

Wichner attempted to address resident concerns over potential safety issues because trucks would be in the process of going up or down a steep hill on Route 10 to access the warehouse.

He said solutions might involve asking PennDOT for permission to add caution signs to the road.

Wichner said roadway engineers will be making a formal presentation to address traffic and safety issues on Monday.

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