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A Millcreek Township farm that was being targeted for a large-scale warehouse project last year has been sold to a Lancaster County meat packing company for $5.15 million.
Read More: Cold Summit nixes Millcreek warehouse
While John F. Martin & Sons LLC has not filed land use or stormwater plans with the Lebanon County Planning Department, tentative development plans for the 140-acre Zimmerman farm are in the works. (The county planning department administers development plans on behalf of several local municipalities, including Millcreek Township.)
Numerous phone voicemails and email messages requesting interviews with Martin company officials – who are listed on the deed as JFM Holdings LCC, Stevens, Pa. – were not returned as of publication.
Julie Cheyney, director of the Lebanon County Planning Department, said conversations between county and company officials concerning potential uses of the property located at 120 N. Ash Road happened last summer.
“They already have a location in Womelsdorf that they are outgrowing, so this would give them some additional storage and some additional space to do processing,” said Cheyney, who added that no zoning hearings have been held nor any variances requested by Martin officials.
“They are not initially planning to do any retail (sales) there – although that was something that the township was interested in seeing happen, a small retail outlet there, but that’s not a part of their initial plan,” she added. “I believe they are looking to farm the rest of the land that wouldn’t be used for the facility.”
Jon Fitzkee, assistant director/senior transportation planner, provided project details since a transportation study has been filed by the company. He said transportation plans are typically submitted prior to land use and stormwater ones to determine what highway improvements may be necessary before commercial properties are built.
“What they have listed shows a proposed cold storage/distribution facility, one building, with a parking lot in front. They have a service center located to the northwest of the building, and it is about 176,172 square feet for the entire building,” said Fitzkee. “It also looks like they want to use the reconfigured access that’s east of the bridge.”
Martin’s planned use for the property appears to differ significantly from the proposal by Cold Summit Development, which had explored purchasing the land in 2022 to construct a massive cold storage warehouse onsite. Cold Summit’s exploration set off a wave of opposition with local residents and Womelsdorf Borough officials since that project would have increased traffic exponentially.
LebTown reported last year that a traffic impact study showed that Cold Summit’s project would increase activity on local roadways by approximately 1,400 vehicle trips daily. That led Womelsdorf Borough officials to raise major concerns about the viability of the plan given the difficulty trucks already have in navigating turns such as the one at Third and High streets, just up Route 419 from the proposed site. They said at the time that Cold Summit’s plan did not seem feasible.
Fitzkee said Martin’s plan requests access to the property via Route 419 and for a ”low volume driveway,” which is one of several designations set by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to determine traffic volume. While low volume is considered by PennDOT to be between 50 to 1,500 vehicles per day, Martin’s number is much smaller than Cold Summit’s proposal and PennDOT’s allowable figure.
“John Martin’s estimations are for 243 cars and 132 trucks, or 375 daily trips to their facility,” said Fitzkee. When asked if that plan might potentially change since the land use plan has not been filed, Fitzkee added, “I doubt that they would, at least from the PennDOT side of things, change the land-use plan drastically because it would impact it (the traffic plan) negatively.”
Fitzkee asked LebTown to inform readers that the upcoming resurfacing of Route 409 from Newmanstown and into a small portion of Berks County is unrelated to Martin’s purchase of the property. Slated to begin in the near term and completed by Nov. 2, the resurfacing project was actually approved in 2019.
Fitzkee said he does not know why the project has been delayed.
As far as Womelsdorf Borough is concerned, borough solicitor Andy George said he doesn’t believe municipal officials have received any notices from government entities about Martin’s purchase of the land, which closed on Aug. 23.
“Whether PennDOT gives communities the opportunity to comment is up to them, but as far as I know Womelsdorf Borough has not been asked to comment,” said George. “But those (estimated traffic) numbers, if they are accurate, are a lot less than what had been proposed with Cold Summit. Before the borough would have an official comment, our engineers would have to look at it, borough council would have to look at it, and you have residents who were outspoken last time who might want to have a say in any proposal.”
Although he doesn’t live in Womelsdorf, Mark Brophy, a Stonecroft Village 55+ Community resident, is one person who wants to have the opportunity to comment. The Zimmerman farm adjoins Stonecroft Village at the southwest corner boundary.
“It would be nice if they (Martin & Sons) want to continue good public relations to have a public meeting on their plan, tell us what it is and gather public input at that meeting,” said Brophy. “There’s a lot of questions the public wants to know – especially the residents of Stonecroft Village and Womelsdorf. People are always asking, ‘Have you heard anything? Have you heard anything?’”
Brophy said an old barn on the property has been razed and surveyors have been seen working there. Beyond those visual images, he wants to know more about the company’s current and future plans for the Zimmerman farm since commercialization will impact the environment, water use, and quality of life for community residents.
“It’s one thing to say what they want to do today, but what about 10 years from now. You have to have a vision and look down the road and not just live for today,” he added.
Whatever happens now or in the future, land use will be determined by Millcreek Township zoning ordinances, according to Cheyney.
Although Cold Summit had requested and received last April a zoning variance allowing them to exceed the established building height in zoning regulations, that variance expired when Cold Summit pulled out of the project.
“As long as they meet the requirements of the zoning district, the township can’t say no to them. If they didn’t meet the requirements, then you’d be looking at some kind of relief at the municipal level, but it’s my understanding that what Martin wants to do there is a permitted use within the zoning district,” said Cheyney.
Cheyney said Martin officials indicated during a meeting last year that they may not build immediately.
“I kind of got the sense that there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency on the part of Martin and that they maybe wanted to wait out some of the costs – until construction and other costs – settle out a little bit. They did not give us a specific time frame when they plan to submit their (land use and stormwater) plans,” noted Cheyney, who added the Zimmerman farm has been zoned industrial since the 1970s.
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