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A national developer of cold storage facilities has a plan to build a massive warehouse on a 140-acre site in Millcreek Township, but faces opposition from nearby residents over the traffic implications.
Millcreek Township records show that Cold Summit Development first approached the municipality back in November 2020 regarding its plan for the parcels constituting the Zimmerman farm, located just north of the intersection of the Norfolk Southern line and Route 419.
Millcreek supervisors have not approved, or disapproved, anything regarding the plan yet, and it’s not clear in any event what actions they could take to oppose it without risking litigation. In an interview with LebTown, Millcreek chairman Dan Hogeland said there really wasn’t anything that the board could do. The land has been zoned industrial since the 70’s.
“As long as they’re within their legal rights and we stand in their way, we’re going to eat the trouble,” said Hogeland.
According to meeting minutes, Cold Summit representatives told supervisors in 2020 that their plan entailed two cold storage facilities utilizing the railroad, one on a 26-acre parcel and another on a 48-acre parcel. One of the buildings would require a zoning variance due to a portion of the building having a height of 150 feet for an “automation/robotic system,” Cold Summit representatives told supervisors at the time.
A variance was approved by the Millcreek Township Zoning Hearing Board on February, 23, 2021. The petition says that the cold storage facility will include a “high cube warehouse” to store food with racking and storage systems that will be 150 feet in height.
“As to the construction vis a vis the topography of the tract, the placement of the structure establishes that the visibility to the neighbors and the public will be at a minimum,” reads the decision.
“The Board accepts the reasoning and rationale of the construction of the high cube portion of the project to exceed the height requirements and finds that a literal enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance will result in an unnecessary hardship to the Petitioner.”
Cold Summit declined comment for this article, with Mike Smith, executive vice president for construction, saying that the project is in a “confidential phase, so we won’t be sharing any information at this time.”
“It’s confidential for us in the township for sure,” said Hogeland, “because they have not been in contact with us at all (since the earlier meetings), as far as the supervisors go.”
Although Cold Summit representatives told Millcreek supervisors in 2020 that the company had already met with the Lebanon County Planning Department, no land development plan has been submitted to the county for the site.
County land records show that no parcels have changed hands yet, either.
A purchase agreement could allow for contingencies, such as successfully securing applicable development plan approvals, needing to occur prior to the agreement becoming binding.
“When the county makes their decision (on the land development plan), we sign off that we saw it,” said Hogeland, noting that there isn’t an additional consultation or consent process with the municipality built into the approval process after a plan has been submitted to the county.
“Don’t get the idea we’re thrilled about it, because we’re not,” said Hogeland.
Currently, Cold Summit is in the process of obtaining a Highway Occupancy Permit (HOP) for PennDOT-managed Route 419. At present, the company has a traffic study under review, a pre-requisite for the HOP.
“Regarding Cold Summit Development, the traffic impact study has not been approved and it was sent back to the developers for additional information,” said PennDOT Engineering District 8 press officer Dave Thompson.
Potential traffic impact lays at the heart of nearby residents’ concerns for the project. The parcels are located at the eastern edge of Lebanon County, within sight of Berks County’s Womelsdorf Borough and Marion Township.
A review of the Cold Summit traffic impact study (PDF), conducted by engineers at Traffic Planning and Design (TPD) hired jointly by Womelsdorf Borough and Marion Township, determined that the proposed development would be expected to increase traffic on the municipalities’ roadways by 896 new car trips and 490 new truck trips each day, for a total of 1,386 additional vehicle trips on Route 419 daily.
The TPD review of the traffic impact study also contests Cold Summit claims that trucks are able to traverse intersections within Womelsdorf Borough “with no issues.”
LebTown was not able to obtain the original traffic impact study and was requested by PennDOT to file a Right-to-Know request with the agency for further information. Further information will be published if the RTK request is granted.
With Millcreek Township not having its own zoning enforcement arm, and Route 419 being under state oversight, Womelsdorf Borough officials have responded to resident concern by providing contact information for a writing campaign to relevant elected officials, including Governor Tom Wolf, state Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-5), and state Senator David Argall (R-29), as well as the Lebanon County and Berks County commissioners.
“We were looking at other things that could be done,” said Womelsdorf Borough president Bruce Edwards of the writing campaign. “We said, write to anybody you could.”
“Residents requested that we put together a list of people they can reach out to and express their concern to,” said Womelsdorf Borough manager Nicholas Imbesi. Imbesi said that the writing campaign page is a resource to help residents to express their concerns.
Edwards said that trucks coming through the borough already have trouble navigating certain turns, such as the one at Third and High streets where trucks regularly need to enter the opposing lane of traffic and still end up going on the sidewalk.
“It is what it is,” he said, “but we don’t want to triple the amount of truck traffic coming on that road.”
Edwards noted that there are two school crossings along Route 419, too. Edwards noted that even though both crossings have adult crossing guards, the amount of traffic could result in an increase of a dozen or more trucks passing by in the hours students are going to and from school.
“I just don’t see where it’s feasible,” said Edwards.
Edwards said that the biggest thing right now is whether PennDOT allows the project. With Berks County not having any say in the zoning or planning decisions by Lebanon County, Edwards is hoping that PennDOT does not approve the HOP, which would in all likelihood derail the plan completely. Edwards said that in his opinion, the whole proposal is not feasible for both quality of life and safety issues.
“It’s just going to create – this is what we believe – huge traffic jams.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of a variance for the height of this building. LebTown sincerely regrets the error.
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