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Preliminary plans for Williams farm show warehouse/light industrial, Lower Swatara officials say

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/5/19

Preliminary drawings show what look like warehouses in preliminary plans for the Williams farm on Fulling Mill Road, according to the Lower Swatara Township manager.

That would require a zoning …

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Preliminary plans for Williams farm show warehouse/light industrial, Lower Swatara officials say

This map shows the four tracts of the Williams property in Lower Swatara Township. Kunkel Elementary School is toward the bottom, between two smaller tracts. Fulling Mill Road is between Kunkel and the Williams farmhouse.
This map shows the four tracts of the Williams property in Lower Swatara Township. Kunkel Elementary School is toward the bottom, between two smaller tracts. Fulling Mill Road is between Kunkel and the Williams farmhouse.
Posted

Preliminary drawings show what look like warehouses for the Williams farm on Fulling Mill Road, according to the Lower Swatara Township manager.

That would require a zoning change, township Planning and Zoning Coordinator Ann Hursh said at the board of commissioners meeting April 2.

Several residents raised concerns about such a development at the meeting, regarding traffic increases, stormwater runoff and the loss of farmland.

Tom and Tiz Williams put their property on the market last year for $11.9 million, and much of the 239-acre land recently went under contract. The potential buyer is NorthPoint Development, based in Kansas City, Missouri.

“It looked like warehouse, light industrial,” township Manager Betsy McBride told the Press & Journal about the drawings.

She cautioned that the plans were preliminary, and said she was involved in only about a third of the meeting with NorthPoint. She said NorthPoint did not leave any paperwork or drawings with the township.

McBride, Hursh, Director of Codes and Planning Don Fure and Director of Public Works Lester Lanman met with NorthPoint representatives at the township offices last week.

The property under contract includes land on both sides of John C. Kunkel Elementary School and the 152-acre tract to the north of Fulling Mill and includes the Williams’ 1777 farmhouse.

The drawing showed two buildings on the tract to the north of Fulling Mill Road and one building on land to the south.

NorthPoint officials asked questions about the rezoning process, although Hursh said they didn’t provide plans or timeframes.

“They would have to get rezoning,” she said.

The township’s 2017 zoning map indicates that the three tracts the developer is interested in, which total about 200 acres, is zoned residential-agricultural.

The fourth tract, which is bordered by Oberlin Road to the north, is zoned residential-suburban. NorthPoint apparently does not plan to buy this part of the property.

Township code indicates that permitted uses in the residential-agricultural districts include single-family detached dwellings, churches, educational facilities, public recreation area, municipal buildings, nurseries and garden stores, dog kennels, animal hospitals and various agricultural uses.

According to its website NorthPoint, the company focuses on developing the industrial, senior housing and self-storage markets, and has developed and managed more than 61 million square feet of industrial properties.

It has multiple holdings in Pennsylvania. In 2017, for example, the company announced that chewy.com, an online company that sells products for dogs, cats and other animals, was to lease NorthPoint’s 800,000-square-foot distribution center in Hanover Township near Wilkes-Barre.

Four township residents voiced concerns about the potential development of the Williams farm during the meeting, including concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff.

“If you rezone the Williams farm, it’s gone forever,” neighbor Laurie Castagna said.

What the commissioners do during their term can affect residents forever, Castagna said. She said she wasn’t against the Williams selling their farm, but of the potential rezoning of their land.

She noted that NorthPoint’s core values, according to its website, are living generously (giving back to the community through charitable efforts), putting people first, taking ownership of every situation, maintaining financial discipline, and doing the right thing.

“Now we’ve all heard the expression that you can put lipstick on a pig, and it’s still a pig. You can paint a rosy picture of [NorthPoint] being a good neighbor, but it’s still going to be an industrial park,” Castagna said.

Commissioners thanked residents for attending the April 2 meeting. After residents spoke, Board President Jon Wilt told township staff to encourage NorthPoint to hold a public meeting “so that these people can voice their concerns.”

The potential development of the farm comes as the Middletown Area School District has discussed the future of its elementary schools including Kunkel, which was last renovated in 1996 and is in need of renovations and expansion.

“I don’t want them to close Kunkel just so they can rezone the land around [it],” resident Patty Ruiz Pronick said.

MASD Superintendent Lori Suski told the Press & Journal that when the district held a public forum last November, MASD said Kunkel renovations and additions might be affected by who bought the Williams farm, which is why it began investigating other options, such as a new elementary school on campus or adding onto Fink.

“I think it opens the door for many questions before the district can decide what to do,” Suski said. For example, where would warehouses be situated and what impact would additional vehicles have on Kunkel?

“Hopefully, in the next few months, the district will have a better sense of whether the land will be rezoned. That will probably be a major factor in our decision-making,” Suski said.

One resident said she worried about stormwater runoff. Lee Bloes, who lives on O’Hara Lane, voiced concerns about traffic, specifically on Nissley Drive, which borders the farm to the east, especially with plans for a 55-and-older community called The Pond at Fulling Mill to be built on the corner of Nissley Drive and Fulling Mill Road.

“There are a lot of people that are going to be affected by this,” Bloes said.