Allow me to start this post backwards. I am just a person, like those of you reading this blog. I am (in)famous in my own network but I am certainly not a public celebrity. Meeting with Senator Argall and State Representative Knowles on July 11, 2018, I learned they are both “real” people. The conversations were easy and fluid. Not once during the 75 minute long meeting did I feel like we were being talked down to, nor patronized, nor were our concerns brushed off. They both listened, they both asked very good questions and they both took the time to listen to the responses. A bonus to the meeting was that they joked with each other and joked with us like we were long time acquaintances.
Yes, the skill of being a good politician, I get it. However, I am still very happy about the meeting.
Oh, you want to know about the meeting. Sorry, let me get rolling on that.
We all received a phone call six weeks ago from Senator Argall to join in a phone conference call for the community. However, most of us work during the day so we didn’t know about this until we got home and heard the message on our answering machines. He did leave a phone number to call if we had comment or concerns. Several of us called that number and said, “Hey! We couldn’t join in the conversation but we really do want to talk to you about some community concerns, please let us have a meeting with you.”
Remarkably, Senator Argall agreed to a meeting. We met with him, State Representative Jerry Knowles and Senator Argall’s aide, Craig Lutz.
We had three concerns we wanted to address: Although the conversation went around and wove through the three concerns continuously, I will blog the three concerns here and summarize the responses so that it isn’t confusing.
CONCERN #1: The newly released Berks County Comprehensive Plan. This plan is about the “planned growth” within Berks County. Our BoS stated at a meeting in March 2018 that Berks County was targeting Greenwich and Parry Townships for warehouse expansion as we are along the I-78 corridor. Horribly, their growth plan is right on top two of the four Berks County designated historic districts within Greenwich Township. Yes, that is 50% of our township’s historic districts “planned to be destroyed” by growth.
I passed along the information regarding our historic districts complete with photos and documentation on the businesses and residents within those districts for their review. My comment was, “If growth means destroying our history to make new history, what is the point of having history.” They had no response.
To continue, for the entirety of Berks County, their planned growth encompasses residential areas. A full 37% of their targeted growth areas will put residents out of their homes. I asked Senator Argall and State Rep Knowles if they had the opportunity to read this Berks County Comprehensive Plan. They both replied they had not.
Well, I have! And I have notes, charts, photo overlays, and miscellaneous other information regarding this plan and I passed that information along to them for their review.
Much of the growth in Berks County is along the I-78 corridor. About 25% of their planned growth is along the most dangerous section of I-78 in the state. A section of highway that PennDOT has deemed unsafe and needing to be improved, hence the project that will be starting in 2019 to widen the highway. According to the PennDOT website, this project is to be completed by 2023.
Senator Argall said he would reach out and speak to Alan Piper, Transportation Planner III of the Berks County Planning Commission.
This conversation brought up …
CONCERN #2: There safe places for building warehouses and Krumsville is not one of those places.
I had precipitated our conversation with the statement we were not at this meeting to discuss the Crossroads X Warehouse Project. Our intent was to address community concerns.
With that said, we agreed that industrial zoning allows for warehousing in our township, if the warehouse developer can meet the “Special Exceptions” as listed in the State MPC Code for Municipalities. However, just because something is allowed to be done does not mean it should be done.
We discussed location and safety for everyone. The Krumsville Intersection is not able to handle that kind of traffic, nor is the structure of Rt 737 able to handle that kind of traffic and would quickly deteriorate under the stress of warehouse traffic. (State Representative Knowles asked for a definition of the traffic volumes. I directed him to the HighCube-Warehouse Oct 2016 Study ITE, particularly referencing warehousing. I did define that there is a newer version, v10, but it is not available to the public for download and we have bits and pieces of the new one from an engineering firm we are using to backup our data.)
Continuing along this line of conversation, we brought up the meeting with PennDOT last fall. I gave a brief summary of the 3.5 hr long meeting and clearly stated that although PennDOT officials at that meeting promised us a review within 30 days, we have not heard back from them at this time. I brought the meeting minutes with me and shared those with Senator Argall and State Rep Knowles. Along with that was the three letters I have sent to PennDOT asking for a followup conclusion to that meeting. Three letters to which PennDOT has not responded. Although I have shared these in another blog, let me lay them out here again, in case the reader wants to review that meeting.
We brought out the PennDOT manual for reviewing and approving an HOP (Highway Occupancy Permit) for the State of Pennsylvania and pointed out three sections in that manual in which the current Crossroads X Warehouse plans do not meet their requirements, unless PennDOT offers the developer a waiver, or exception. We expressed our concerns that if rules are able to be broken with a waiver, what is the point of the rules and WE DO NOT WANT WAIVERS OR EXCEPTIONS ALLOWED because those waivers create an unsafe situation for the local residents, travelers in our area and the warehouse traffic. We asked that PennDOT be held to a safer standard for issuing HOP’s (meaning they follow their own rules without waivers and exceptions) and we felt that until the I-78 widening project was complete in 2023, that all HOPs for that section of the I-78 corridor should be held in suspension so as not to add to the already unsafe traffic levels.
Believe it or not, Senator Argall had much to comment on this conversation about PennDOT. He was visibly upset that PennDOT had not responded to us after our meeting, especially as we had written three letters requesting an update. He also said that he was going to reach out to Leslie Richards and find out why this has not been addressed, and he mentioned again that he would reach out to Alan Piper Transportation Planner for Berks County.
State Rep Knowles also had comment. He stated that he had many constituents who would die to have a warehouse in their community. We stated that they were welcome to it because putting a warehouse in the location proposed was just plainly against any kind of common sense. We also stated that growth is inevitable, however there is a difference between smart growth and dumb growth. Smart growth allows a community to grow and prosper, dumb growth destroys the surrounding community and sets back prosperity. He did not have a response to our comment about growth.
Continuing on, I personally added the comments from Dennis Toomey from the April 12th PennDOT meeting in which he stated that should the warehouse traffic pose a dangerous threat to the intersection, then PennDOT would certainly take steps to make the intersection safe. (AFTER THE FACT!!!) Our only conclusion to making the intersection safe would be for PennDOT to use their authority to eminent domain the homes on the corners, destroy them in order to widen the intersection to provide a proper set back of stop lines and a red/yellow/green traffic light. My comment was, “And they will use my tax dollars to put me out of my home.” Neither Senator Argall nor State Rep Knowles had a comment to that statement.
To conclude this portion of the discussion, we provided website and YouTube information so they could view daily traffic, without I-78 detours and traffic during an I-78 detour, so they could come to their own conclusion about the safety of the intersection in which PennDOT states does not require upgrading to allow a warehouse HOP.
Lastly, the concern is the build up of traffic in Berks County. Not just along I-78, but also along Old Route 22, Route 222, Route 737, Route 143, Route 61, etc etc etc.
When the I-78 project is started, there will be a massive influx of traffic on the alternate routes as travelers attempt to avoid the construction slowdowns on the highway. This puts the residents along these routes in danger as well as preventing businesses along those routes to safely invite customers. We used Krumsville and Lenhartsville as examples of what happens during I-78 detours. The traffic backs up as much as two miles (yes, this is documented with photographic evidence) and residents/business customers cannot safely enter nor exit driveways along the detour route. In both intersections, firefighter volunteers are required to direct traffic, stopping traffic way back from the current stop lines to allow for the large tractor trailers to make turns without squishing cars, and the noise generated by the traffic is deafening to those living along the detour routes.
We all agreed that the detour route is necessary. However, we disagree on the safety issues presented during a detour. We spoke about what would happen in the event that fire personnel are not available to assist traffic through either intersection, which recently occurred when I-78 was having weekend and nightly road repairs. In the month of May, there were four fender benders (that we know about) in the Krumsville Intersection due to highway traffic offloading in an attempt to avoid the backup on the highway during these road repairs. Also in the month of May, I-78 had eleven (11) !!!! accidents which resulted in a detour through Lenhartsville or Krumsville. During those detours, local residents were subjected to the 40k daily traffic counts that are recorded for this section of I-78.
We had previously requested cameras in these intersections to assist with policing. Leslie Richards office had agreed that was a good idea, but once again we have not had a response from her offices in regards to our request. And that brought up the fact we have repeatedly reached out to Leslie Richards for a sit down meeting with us and have not been given that privilege. Most of our correspondence to her is largely ignored or we receive a “form letter response”. This from the woman who stated on public television that she was a person of the people and our concerns were her concerns.
CONCERN #3: Community wildlife and eco preservation vs. Berks County Growth and Warehousing. We had representation from Hawk Mountain at the meeting and he spoke at length about the impact a warehouse in Krumsville would have on the wildlife and ecology. He also spoke about the impact that warehouse would have on the local businesses that depend on the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Kittney Ridge Preserve. He painted a despairing portrait of what would happen to the local economy, what would happen to the local and regional ecology and what would happen to the local wildlife, particularly the raptors and their migratory routes (two routes which are directly across Krumsville).
I personally had never thought about the warehouse project in terms of loss of revenues and loss of life to our local ecological system. In fact, his speech regarding these matters left the room in a state of reflection. For a full minute we all sat there quietly digesting his numbers. I am hoping that his information had a real impact on our Senator and State Representative.
We also briefly touched on the reality of economic growth to the community if a warehouse is built. First, the warehouse would cause at least one, if not two of the local businesses to actually go OUT of business as the location of their entry/exit driveway would be directly affected by traffic backup when adding 1900 trips per day to Rt 737. Second, other businesses that may have wanted to take advantage of the commercial district in Krumsville will be turned-off by that same traffic and will not move into the area. This is a bleak picture as the tax dollars for our township generated by a warehouse would not cover the additional costs our township would have because of that same warehouse nor cover the loss of taxes for the businesses that will be forced out.
All in all, I felt like the meeting was very productive. I also felt that much of the information we brought to the table was already before Senator Argall and State Rep Knowles. What we did was provide them our local community concerns, additional documentation and offer some possible resolutions. As to the information that they did NOT have prior to the meeting, we asked for some action items.
- Cameras for policing installed in the Krumsville and Lenhartsville intersections.
- Conversation with PennDOT about suspending HOPs during the construction expansion of I-78
- Conversation with PennDOT about following their own manual in issuing an HOP for the warehouse in Krumsville and reviewing the location of the warehouse for safety to the residents.
- Review the Berks County Comprehensive plan which will destroy Berks County Historical districts and will put residents out of their homes.
- Review the location of the proposed Krumsville Warehouse for smart growth vs dumb growth and address the safety concerns we brought forward in the meeting.