Cumru residents push back against plans for 740,000-square-foot distribution center

·6 min read

Jun. 23—Some Cumru Township residents are pushing back against plans for a 739,000-square-foot warehouse on an undeveloped, 171-acre plot at the intersection of Freemansville Road and Route 10, which is Morgantown Road, between Morgantown and Valley Stream roads.

"I can't believe anyone would want to put a warehouse here," said resident and former Cumru planning commission member Richard Keffer, to applause from a crowd of about 80 residents.

The overwhelming majority of those who spoke at Tuesday's township commissioners meeting opposed the plans. Township officials responded by noting that it is still early in the approval process and the project is not a done deal.

Many in attendance were residents of the Flying Hills development adjacent to the proposed construction. Some said they lived on nearby Freemansville Road and the Heritage at Green Hills retirement community.

"The Flying Hills community is the largest community in the township ... I would question why you would approve this project in one of the most residentially concentrated areas in the township," resident Rick Wolf said.

The warehouse site is owned by Mail Shark, Mohnton, a direct mail marketing company that works with restaurants, auto shops, and other businesses.

Mail Shark bought the plot with plans to build a 650,000-square foot distribution facility at a cost of up to $55 million.

Those plans were cancelled after the COVID pandemic, said township solicitor Michael Setley.

The lot's original agreement of sale to Mail Shark was signed in April 2018, according to county records.

The current plan, proposed by NorthPoint LLC, Riverside, Mo., calls for building the $80 million NorthPoint-Morgantown Commerce Center, a larger storage and distribution facility.

Setley noted that Mail Shark has yet to close on the sale of the site to NorthPoint.

A tenant for the property hasn't been located yet, but the warehouse could be occupied by Chewy, an online pet supply seller, or big box retailers such as Lowe's and Kohls, according to Township Manager Jeanne Johnston.

NorthPoint told township officials in May that the proposed warehouse is expected to generate significantly less traffic than the cancelled Mail Shark facility, creating 1,034 new trips daily — including 163 truck trips — as opposed to 2,982 trips now.

NorthPoint's plans call for 160 truck docks as well as 183 trailer parking spaces and 1,183 employee parking spots.

The warehouse would be served by public water and sewer.

Township officials said Cumru is already working with Mail Shark to widen the intersection and add a traffic light at Morgantown and Freemansburg roads.

At the meeting Tuesday, Dr. Diane Bonaccorsi, owner of IMG Green Hills Family Medicine Associates near the proposed warehouse site, laid out a series of concerns with the project she said she gathered in emails from township residents.

Bonaccorsi said she first became aware of the project after construction to widen the intersection at Freemansville and Morgantown roads disrupted patients entering and exiting her practice.

She said residents questioned why the warehouse property was rezoned in 2018 to light industrial, and whether the change amounted to illegal spot zoning.

"Residents could not comprehend why our commissioners would approve this hilly, rocky, seemingly unbuildable piece of land to be made into industrial use right in their backyards," Bonaccorsi said.

Another major concern is the warehouse's possible effect on traffic along Morgantown Road.

She said the road near the warehouse contains little to no shoulder, meaning any cars that pull out from adjoining roads or stall due to inclement weather could be in danger of being hit by trucks unable to stop due to snow and ice.

"Will there be an area for a truck runaway going downhill?" Bonaccorsi asked. "We are very concerned that this project will increase risk and cause investable loss of life."

In addition to making traffic along Morgantown Road unbearable for residents — potentially causing them to leave Cumru to do their shopping — Bonaccorsi asked whether any increased traffic could block ambulance and emergency access or affect school bus pickup and dropoff times.

"Traffic jams would certainly not help their cause," Bonaccorsi said.

Another concern is that the warehouse's single entry and exit point — the intersection of Freemansville and Morgantown roads — would have to be shared with Freemansville Road residents.

She said residents wanted a new traffic study that considers the size of vehicles traveling the roads.

Residents were also worried that the warehouse could affect the value of their homes.

"There is no doubt that the property values of the homes close to this project will decrease drastically in value," Bonaccorsi said, contending that most of the people who live there are retired and consider their home to be their nest egg.

Other concerns involved the effect of the construction and warehouse on air, light, and sound pollution levels, and the project's potential disruption of protected species like bog turtles.

"Please listen to your residents' concerns ... give them a good explanation, other than tax revenue, for this massive warehouse to be in their backyards," Bonaccorsi said.

Multiple residents echoed her concerns.

Throughout the public comment session, township officials repeatedly emphasized that the project is still in early planning stages and must undergo a months-long review by the planning commission before even being considered for approval by commissioners, in addition to needing approvals from the state.

"I think there's an assumption that this is a done deal ... this may never even get approved," township solicitor Setley said.

Commissioners President Ruth O' Leary said the project's possible impact on traffic will be reviewed in depth by the planning commission, and township personnel will review the plans to ensure sufficient emergency access remains.

Officials said developers could be required to do an environmental impact study.

O'Leary noted that the decision to rezone the warehouse property is public record and accessible in the township's archive. She noted that the township is bound to follow the rules laid out by the state throughout the project's approval process.

"If we reject the plan without a valid reason, they (the developers) will take us to court and they will win," O'Leary said, "that's the truth of the situation, whether we like it or don't like it."

Commissioner Sam Kalbach noted that if NorthPoint isn't able to develop the site, the developers that come in its place could propose plans that may also cause concerns, like a new housing development.

In comments after the meeting, Johnston said NorthPoint might be able to start developing the site as soon as November, but completion isn't expected until at least 2024.