April 14, 2017 12:50 PM, EDT

Residents of Pennsylvania Town Voice Objections to Warehouse

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg News

The conflicting interests of a warehouse developer and residents of a rural Berks County township in Pennsylvania surfaced April 12 at a special meeting in the Greenwich Township building.

James Vozar, owner of JVI of Wind Gap, proposes to construct a 505,000-square-foot warehouse along Route 737, north of the Krumsville exchange on Interstate 78.

A 40-dock structure with the capacity to be expanded to 109 docks, the warehouse would handle an estimated 320 trips (160 trucks in and out) in a 24-hour period, the developer said in plans submitted to the Pennylvania Department of Transportation.

Located about a half-mile off the recently reconfigured I-78 interchange, the site west of Route 737 and Long Lane Road appears ideal for a warehouse operation.

Residents of Greenwich Township don't see it that way.

Aghast at the potential impact of increased truck traffic, about 70 people pummeled the developer and PennDOT representatives with questions for 2 1/2 hours.

In frustrated tones, speaker after speaker expressed concerns about traffic congestion, school bus safety and backups on the I-78 access ramps that would be brought on by an influx of trucks.

Earl Osterstock characterized the warehouse developers as outsiders interested in making money at the expense of locals.

"We shouldn't have to sacrifice our community for the benefit of carpetbaggers," Osterstock said. "There must be some balance in making a decision on this."

Dennis Toomey, PennDOT District 5-0 engineer, said the agency is reviewing the developer's plan for a permit to access Route 737 and Long Lane Road. Without a PennDOT permit, he said, the project could not move forward.

John R. Wichner, who designed the plan for the developer, explained design changes based on feedback from PennDOT.

Long Lane Road would be reconfigured so that it meets Route 737 at a 90-degree angle. The roads now intersect at an angle, a situation PennDOT views as unsafe.

Route 737 would be widened to add a northbound turn-off lane into the warehouse complex and a southbound turn-off onto Long Lane Road. The roadwork would be paid for by the developer, said Wichner, an engineer with McMahon Transportation Engineers & Planners, an Allentown firm.

Supervisor Victor M. Berger, who chaired the meeting, said the township opposed the reconfiguration of Long Lane Road. He suggested the entrance to the warehouse site be moved to the south and Long Lane Road left untouched.

Coming off I-78, trucks would travel barely more than a city block before encountering a four-way stop at the intersection of Route 737 and Old Route 22 in Krumsville.

Residents contended that the trucks would back up onto the I-78 exit ramp, creating an unsafe situation. A woman whose home is off the intersection, said traffic backups prevent her from exiting her driveway at rush hour.

An initial traffic study indicated the volume at the intersection does not warrant the installation of a traffic light, Toomey said.

Residents of Kempton, which is about 10 miles north of the proposed warehouse, predicted that trucks would go north on Route 737 to access Route 143. The narrow, curvy roads with no shoulders could not handle heavy truck traffic, they argued.

Toomey stressed that the public has access to routes 737, 145 and Old Route 22. PennDOT could not reject the warehouse permit application because of increased traffic on public highways.

When Leroy Kershner noted the proposed site was a wetland with bog turtles, Vozar said he has certification from the Army Corps of Engineers that there are no endangered species on the tract.

Ultimately, should PennDOT approve an access permit, the fate of the proposed warehouse lies in the hands of the Greenwich Township supervisors.

Nancy Harrigle, who lives on Route 737, pleaded with officials to preserve the rural character of the area.

"Please take into consideration the quality of life which we cherish," she said.

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