Reading Eagle 12-03-2017

The 120-acre Philip Werley farm sits in a dell beneath Blue Mountain in Tilden Township, a picturesque reminder of the region’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.  Its long Dutch-roofed barn dominates the west side of Pine Road, opposite a quaint white farmhouse with Schuylkill Gap as the backdrop.

If the Tilden Township supervisors create the proposed Logistics Park Overlay District, the farm is likely to be replaced by a 1.2 million-square-foot, 55-foot-tall cube-shaped logistics center that would receive a tractor-trailer a minute at times en route to about 400 trucks a day during limited hours of operation. The project would cost $100 million.The Werley farm is at the center of a changing economic landscape in Berks County, where warehouses are sprouting in fields farmers planted with corn and dairy cows once grazed.Indeed, at almost every exit of Interstate 78 from Krumsville west to Frystown, a warehouse complex is either proposed, under construction or completed.

On Monday evening, the Greenwich Township supervisors will be faced with deciding the fate of the proposed Crossroads X warehouse, a 505,000-square-foot complex on Route 737 north of Krumsville.

And on Tuesday morning, ground will be broken for Hamburg Logistics Park, a 1.9 million-square-foot complex on the former Perry Golf Course in Perry Township.East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc., Berks’ largest employer, has expressed interest in building a 300,000-square-foot warehouse in Longswamp Township.

The growing trend toward online shopping, demonstrated by projected record sales of $6.5 billion on Cyber Monday, has placed Berks County on the cusp of an economic boom reminiscent of the post-World War II expansion.Pamela J. Shupp, president of the Greater Reading Economic Partnership, estimates that 7 million square feet of warehouse space will come online in Berks in the next two years, creating an estimated 3,000 jobs.”Berks County is located along the second hottest transportation corridor in the United States,” said Shupp. “We’re within overnight delivery to some 120 million consumers.”Mark C. Powell, developer of the proposed logistics center in Tilden Township, says high-tech warehouses will bring jobs that pay from $15 to $35 an hour.”Warehouses are the new retail centers,” says Powell, who owns Century Land Development Co., Sinking Spring. “Instead of shopping malls, you’re going to have logistics centers.”

Pitched battles

As Tilden Township Supervisor Gene Schappell put it, change does not come easy.In Tilden, Greenwich and Longswamp townships, residents concerned about noise, pollution and diminishing quality of life are waging war on warehouses.

Roadside signs insist “Krumsville warehouse not wanted” in Greenwich, where two vocal opponents of the warehouse ran unsuccessful write-in campaigns for supervisor.

About 190 people signed a petition urging Longswamp Township supervisors to deny a zoning variance that would allow East Penn Manufacturing to construct a warehouse on Old Topton Road near Brandywine Heights High School.And opponents of the Tilden logistics center are holding a town meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Hamburg’s Strand Theatre.Tilden’s supervisors recently circulated a flyer outlining potential benefits and concerns about creating a Logistics Park Overlay District.On the plus side, it would bring additional tax revenue and create 350 jobs without burdening the township with the expense of additional police and road maintenance. The warehouse would bring additional customers to local businesses and lure potential homebuyers and renters.The downside would be a high volume of truck traffic through the Tilden Ridge shopping center and possible issues involving lighting, noise and odors.

Property values could be affected, and the rural character of a farming area could be altered.The township has invited residents to respond in writing and express their concerns Friday at 9 a.m. during a workshop meeting at the township building.Residents Against Warehouse, or RAW, promptly issued a response to the township flyer.RAW insists the property value of homes along the roadway to the logistics center would decline, questions how much additional tax revenue the complex would generate and predicts troublesome traffic congestion.”The supervisors seem to think that this will prevent a less desirable use of the property,” the RAW flyer says. “What could be less desirable than a 1.2 million square foot warehouse?”It added: “One of the supervisors stated that we don’t want a pig farm in that area. Why not? This is rural country.”

Reading Eagle: Tim Leedy | Standing beside a pole damaged by a big rig, Dodie Sable protests a proposed warehouse near her home at the intersection of Route 737 and Old Route 22.

A family’s plight

At the foot of steps leading to her front yard, Dodie Sable can almost touch tractor-trailers at Route 737 and Old Route 22 in Greenwich.

With the prospect of an estimated 800 trucks a day passing within a few feet of her home, Sable could have to endure noise, fumes and dust should the township supervisors approve the Crossroads X warehouse.Already, dust from the reconfiguration of the Krumsville interchange on I-78, only about a football field away from her home, has made it impossible to sit outdoors.Sable, a vocal opponent of the warehouse, fears a rise in accidents at the already dangerous 737-22 intersection. Recently, a tractor-trailer splintered a utility pole while entering Route 737 from Rhoades Road, across from Sable’s house.Worst of all, Sable says, is what the warehouse would do to the value of the property she and her husband, Marc, have lived in for 18 years.Sable says her property, which she values at around $300,000, will be basically worthless due to the intense truck traffic a warehouse would generate.”I’ve consulted a real estate agent who told me I couldn’t give my property away with a warehouse up the street,” said Sable, 55, a pet groomer.In addition to her house, Sable says, there are eight other families on Route 737 that stand to have their properties devalued.In her campaign against Crossroads X, she has met with PennDOT, consulted lawyers and engineers and waged a write-in campaign for township supervisor.

At her dining room, with two cats on the table, Sable pleaded for common sense in deciding where to put warehouses.”Despite everything, I’m totally not against warehouses as long as they’re in the right place,” she said. “But this isn’t the right place.”

Reading Eagle: Ron Devlin | The Tilden Township farm of Philip Werley is the site of the proposed 1.2-million-square-foot Logistics Park warehouse along Pine Road beneath Blue Mountain.

Difficult decisions

As chairman of the Tilden Township supervisors, Schappell finds himself confronted with a decision that could affect the lifestyles of township residents: whether or not to clear the way for the proposed $100 million logistics park.

“In my eight years as a supervisor, this is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make,” said Schappell, 67, a retired Hamburg police chief. “I’ve actually lost sleep over it.”Schappell’s struggle is reflective of the dilemma faced by elected officials in the wake of growing warehouse projects in Berks County.Warehouses generate badly needed tax dollars and, unlike housing developments, do not threaten to raise school taxes or create the need for new schools. Yet they come at a cost, which includes disruption to a way of life rooted in generations of tradition.Still undecided, Schappell feels the weight of the pending decision on the proposed overlay district.He wonders if he should look to the future or protect the past. Whatever he decides, some will benefit and others suffer.”It keeps going through my mind,” Schappell confides. “Am I or am I not doing the right thing?”

Ron Devlin | Reporter/columnist
Ron Devlin covers Kutztown and Brandywine Heights School Districts for the Reading Eagle.
Phone: 610-371-5030