This letter was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
I read with interest the recent Lebanon Daily News story on the mixed reaction to the new 400,000+ square foot Walmart distribution center that is going to be built in North Lebanon Township.
I am a resident of North Lebanon Township (NLT) and the situation is more complex that portrayed in the article. Let me provide some context.
First, NLT is a small suburb between downtown Lebanon and the major northern arteries of 22, 78, and I-81. Second, Fredericksburg and the surrounding area has Bell and Evans and a number of existing large distribution centers which create a significant amount of traffic for workers heading to the area from Lebanon and surrounding suburbs. The reality is that Route 72, Seventh Avenue (343), and Eighth Avenue have become high volume arteries 24/7. Third, the roads between NLT and these major arteries were built as low volume farm roads. They are narrow two-lane roads and never intended for either the volume of traffic they now carry nor were they intended to carry the weight burden they are experiencing.
So, the first problem is that infrastructure does not currently exist to safely handle either the volume or mix of traffic that utilize these key connecting roads.
The second significant problem is that NLT itself is expanding at a rapid pace adding even more traffic on these roads. Eighth Avenue and Maple now have the Briar Lake subdivision with over 100 homes. Landmark is developing The Crossings at Sweetbriar with nearly 200 new homes and has been approved to build a 144-unit apartment complex near Eighth Avenue and Kimmerlings. Added to this is the Musser development of about 40 homes contiguous to Briar Lake. There is also the approved expansion of Godshall’s footprint along Maple Avenue across from Briar Lake and Musser’s. These approved expansions will continue to create significant stress on these small, designed farm roads that have numerous dangerous intersections.
The third significant problem in NLT is the history of the Board of Supervisors which indicates that they seem to either have no interest in zoning or do not understand how to establish proper zoning. Other than along 422 there seems to be little consideration concerning the problems with comingling residential and commercial/industrial enterprises. Anyone driving around the township will see industrial inventory sitting on lots contiguous to the rear of homes in subdivisions, across the street, or even interspersed among homes. These elected officials need to bring in zoning professionals and establish both residential and commercial/industrial zones to protect and ensure the enjoyment and success of both constituencies.
The fourth significant problem in NLT is that the roads are not adequately policed. The speed limit in most of the township is 35mph yet vehicles consistently are driving 45-70+mph through the area. These roads are not safe for these speeds and the volume of traffic. When violators are reported, even with license plate numbers, etc., the alerts are ignored. The constant refrain is that the judges throw all the cases out because speeds cannot be established with certainty. Complaints have been made about vehicles creating excessive noise only to be deflected by the police saying that the state noise ordinances have not been adopted in NLT! It’s interesting that the police departments for the City of Lebanon, South Lebanon Township, Cleona, Annville, Colebrook, and other surrounding communities do not seen to have the same mindset. Their officers are frequently seen monitoring traffic and issuing tickets for violations.
One of the fallouts for NLT not monitoring the roads is unacceptably high number of vehicle accidents. A couple of months ago there was an accident at Kimmerlings and Eighth Avenue, 1/10th of a mile from the police station, where one of the driver’s speed was in determined to be in excess of 70 miles an hour on a two-lane farm road with a 35mph limit. And one of the most dangerous accident-prone intersections in the area is Kimmerlings and Seventh Avenue which is less than a 1/10 of a mile from the police station. Drivers far exceeding the speed limit come flying down the hill or around the curve and cause accidents. And its only been a few weeks ago where someone was killed in an accident with a trailer truck on Route 72 not far from where the Walmart facility will be built. The harsh reality is that the NLT police are not directed to maintain road safety. This is not an opinion but a statement from a former high-ranking officer.
So yes, there are many disgruntled and frustrated homeowners in NLT over the addition of yet another source of significantly increased traffic over these inadequate roads and their supervision. The Board of Supervisors needs to get its act together and develop a zoning plan that is workable for all constituents. It needs to work with PennDot and establish and implement an infrastructure plan that will not only accommodate the current level and type of traffic but will also be sufficient to accommodate future growth. If PennDot refuses, then further development should cease until things change with the state. Lastly, NLT needs to fix its problems with its police force. It needs to make it a priority to make the roads safe for everyone living in and passing through the township.
As you can readily see, it is not a one-off issue about approving a Walmart distribution center. It is an issue of having a solid plan and managing the growth, expansion, and utilization of the township’s assets in a manner that is advantageous for all constituencies. As it is now, life in NLT gets worse with each expansion of residential and commercial enterprises in the township.
Russell Richmond is a resident of North Lebanon Township.