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Cornwall Borough Council unanimously agreed to adopt Ordinance #1-2023, a slightly modified version of a zoning text amendment put forward by Byler Holdings, at its reorganization meeting Tuesday, Jan. 2, following a public hearing.

The amendment removes manufacturing as a permitted use in the Limited Industrial (LI) District and adds it as a permitted use in the General Industrial (GI) District.

“The primary gist of the proposed zoning ordinance text amendment is to allow manufacturing land use in the General Industrial Zoning District by taking it from the Limited Industrial Zoning District and moving it to the General Industrial Zoning District,” explained Mike Swank of Byler Holdings during the public hearing.

Mike Swank addresses the council during the public hearing.

Newly sworn-in councilman Tony Fitzgibbons made a motion to adopt the ordinance, with a change to section 6.

Tony Fitzgibbons explains his change to the ordinance.

The drafted ordinance required at least 400 feet of buffer between manufacturing developments and Route 422 and at least 200 feet of buffer between developments and other roadways, namely Boyd Street.

Fitzgibbons proposed adopting the ordinance but changing the language such that the first use requires a minimum buffer of 200 feet along Boyd Street, but subsequent uses would need to average a buffer of 400 feet.

As a result, if the first use on a parent tract had a buffer of 200 feet, the second use may need a buffer of 600 feet depending on the size of the plot.

This amendment was fast-tracked as local submarine part manufacturer PRL Industries, which Byler Holdings plans to lease part of its GI tract to, is on a tight timeline and hopes to have the plant built by the first quarter of 2025.

“We’ve been a partner in the community since the early 1960s, and in the manufacturing business, that’s a long tenure,” said PRL director of sales and marketing Tim Lewis. “We’re excited to have this opportunity to expand our business inside Cornwall Borough and keep that lineage that we have here.”

PRL director of sales and marketing Tim Lewis stands next to other PRL employees and representatives.

Fitzgibbons said that as the council and planning and zoning commission (P&Z) have not had time to fully consider what else could be in store for the land as a result of this ordinance, this change to the proposal could curb unwanted development after PRL while the borough works with Byler Holdings on additional zoning changes.

“Commencing with the second use, they would have to add 400 feet, which means in the short run, for all intents and purposes, that there’s very little building area left,” said Fitzgibbons. “It would give PRL what they want, and it would give the borough protection, as it was my understanding that we would immediately work on revising the ordinance further.”

Mayor Mark Thomas asked if this change would create too many hurdles for PRL’s additional development, and Fitzgibbons said the change is as easy for council to roll back as it was to institute. He said it could be a temporary measure while further zoning changes are ironed out.

Fitzgibbons voiced concern that further manufacturing development — though PRL plans to be low-traffic — could exacerbate traffic concerns both in Miners Village and Iron Valley Drive. He said he hopes P&Z can consider this in more depth as they continue working on amendments.

Solicitor Josele Cleary specified that she had corresponded with Fitzgibbons prior to his swearing in, and recommended language for the change he wanted to the amendment. She said she felt no violations of the Sunshine Act had occurred.

She also said that, because the change to the amendment was relatively minor, she did not feel it required re-advertisement or a second hearing.

The revised amendment was passed unanimously, with the understanding that Thomas would have the final say to approve or veto it.

Public Hearing

Prior to the amendment’s passage, members of the public had an opportunity to comment on the amendment.

The hearing took place before Fitzgibbons suggested a modification to the ordinance, so no public comment was made on this change.

One common thread among several opposed to the proposed zoning amendment was opposition to what it could bring in the future, rather than to PRL’s use.

“No issue with PRL, I think it could be a really good thing, my concern is that this is a Trojan horse that has the potential to quickly turn everything into manufacturing in the GI with limited protections for the residents,” said resident Julie Bowman. “I really think that the goal needs to be to find a way to offer some protection to the people of Cornwall.”

Resident Julie Bowman voices her concerns.

Jo Raussi of Toytown voiced concerns that PRL may expand in the future, taking up more land than now anticipated for manufacturing.

Jo Raussi addresses PRL Industries before being told by solicitor Cleary that the public hearing could not be used for question and answers.

Jeremy Zimmerman of Cornwall United 4 Responsible Development expressed distaste both with the hasty nature of the amendment and its advertising.

Jeremy Zimmerman addresses the council.

“The advertising for this meeting was atrocious, as far as how it was presented out there,” said Zimmerman, going on to detail that he was not able to view the text amendment until the day of the hearing due to low staffing at the courthouse for the holidays. “I was very disappointed, and I feel that a lot of people in this borough don’t know about what’s going on right now because of that lack of communication.”

Community opposition to the ordinance was not, however, universal.

“Mr. Byler bought this property to develop; he has a barren wasteland he wants to develop and make something out of and there’s so much resistance,” said resident Jeff Bamberger. “I think it’d be a good thing for Cornwall to go ahead with this project and let him develop more of his area.”

Jeff Bambgerger speaks at Tuesday’s hearing.

Ordinance #1-2023

The passed ordinance has not yet been posted to the township’s website. However, the advertised version of the ordinance is as follows.

Section 1 adds a definition of “parent tract,” including that it is contiguous land “held in single and separate ownership” such as the Byler property.

Section 2 removes manufacturing as a permitted use in the Limited Industrial (LI) district.

Section 3 modifies the GI purpose, including that “these areas are located adjoining major roads so as to permit adequate access to the sites while avoiding the use of the Borough’s residential streets by trucks and heavy vehicles used to operate the processing and manufacturing facilities permitted herein.”

Section 4 amends GI permitted uses to include “manufacturing, processing, and accessory storage for manufacturing and processing uses,” “retail businesses directly in connection with permitted uses, not to exceed 30 percent of the gross leasable area of the building in which it is located,” and “office uses when directly in connection with permitted uses.”

Section 5 modifies the GI performance standards to include that all conditional and permitted uses can be established “unless and until certification is provided to the Borough Council or the Zoning Officer, as applicable, that satisfactorily demonstrates compliance with the performance standards of this section.”

Section 6 modifies GI performance standards to require a buffer area of at least 100 feet for industrial uses next to residential districts, and at least 200 feet next to a major road other than U.S. Route 322 (this would be changed in the final version of the ordinance, as detailed above).

Section 7 modifies GI performance standards to limit any parent tract to 175 average daily trips for all vehicles, or five average daily trips for trucks larger than box trucks.

In case you missed it… Background on this story

In July 2022, Byler Holdings requested a zoning text amendment from the borough that would allow them to construct an 800,000-square-foot warehouse in their GI tract.

The alternative, they said, was for them to use their LI tract to construct warehouses with a combined square footage of around 700,000.

Read More: Cornwall Borough Council hears concept plans from Byler Holdings, one including a nearly 800,000-square-foot warehouse [2022]

This plan drew significant concern from many Cornwall residents, with themes of opposition to warehousing on the site largely due to the traffic and noise generated by warehouses.

A community group Citizens United 4 Responsible Development, headed by Zimmerman, soon emerged in opposition to warehousing on the site.

Council formed an ad hoc committee made up of members of the community, council, and P&Z to work with Byler Holdings on developing conditions for zoning changes (similar as was done for H&K, the previous owner of the property) or otherwise working with the developer to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Read More: Cornwall Borough Council forms ad hoc committee to work with Byler Holdings

Ad hoc discussions did not go far, as they did not have a clear direction and Byler had not submitted plans for the property. Meetings were paused until further directives were given.

Byler Holdings sent the borough a letter withdrawing its request for a text amendment due to community outcry, Swank said.

The developer reversed this request later, as they found that members of the community appeared equally opposed to the plan for smaller warehouses in the LI tract.

In September of 2023, Byler Holdings came before council to ask if council was willing to consider the text amendment submitted the year before. In an informal rollcall, the majority of council members indicated willingness to consider it.

Read More: Cornwall Borough Council to consider Byler text amendment

Council and Byler Holdings agreed to resume meetings of the ad hoc committee to work out conditions.

However, Byler Holdings later requested that council hold off on scheduling ad hoc committee meetings while an internal decision was made.

At around the same time, Citizens United came forward with a zoning text amendment of their own which would remove “public warehousing” as an LI permitted use and add it as a general commercial permitted conditional use.

Read More: Cornwall Borough Council refers citizen’s text amendment to ad hoc committee

This amendment was referred to the ad hoc committee, and has since been referred to P&Z for evaluation and recommendations.

In November, Swank returned before council to submit a new zoning amendment; one that would morph into the ordinance adopted Tuesday.

Read More: Cornwall to consider Byler zoning amendment, expects January decision

The proposed amendment would allow manufacturing uses in Cornwall GI zones, with Byler’s property containing the only GI plot in the borough.

Swank expressed at that time that if this amendment was passed, Byler Holdings would retract its previous zoning amendment request.

However, council had to move quickly, as Byler hoped to rent to Cornwall-based submarine part-manufacturer PRL Industries, who was on a tight timeline.

PRL Industries plans to enter a 20-year minimum lease for around 10 acres of the 104-acre tract, which Swank previously said also has around 60 undevelopable acres. Traffic would mostly be limited to one flatbed truck entering and exiting a few times a day, PRL director of sales and marketing Tim Lewis said.

As the U.S. is in the process of greatly expanding its submarine production, PRL is under a tight timeline as one of the top parts producers in the country to up its production.

Council agreed to expedite the process, sending the amendment to P&Z and Lebanon County Planning with the goal to hold a hearing and choose to adopt or not adopt the amendment in January 2024.

P&Z discussed details of the amendment and made some changes before referring it back to council.

Read More: Planning commission advances zoning change fast-tracked for PRL Industries

Byler Holdings has also submitted a plan for residential development in Residential Low Density and Conservation Recreation that has yet to be reviewed by the planning commission. The plan includes 131 single-family detached homes, constructed over three phases.

Council unanimously agreed to schedule a public hearing for the amendment at its reorganization meeting Jan. 2, where it would then be adopted with changes.

Read More: Cornwall Borough Council schedules public hearing for Byler amendment

As this amendment was expedited, further amendments for the tract will be taken under consideration by P&Z and/or council as the year progresses.

Cornwall Borough Council meets the second Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. These meetings are open to the public and do not require prior registration.

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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