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UPS, residents both have their say during public hearing on zoning change for hub in Lower Swatara

Dan Miller, danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 10/16/17

Opponents appeared to out-number supporters - but not by much - during a public hearing held Oct. 16 regarding a zoning change sought by UPS to build a northeast distribution hub in Lower Swatara …

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UPS, residents both have their say during public hearing on zoning change for hub in Lower Swatara

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Opponents appeared to out-number supporters — but not by much — during a public hearing held Oct. 16 regarding a zoning change sought by UPS to build a northeast distribution hub in Lower Swatara Township.

Township commissioners could act on the UPS request as early as the board’s next meeting today, Oct. 18, board President Jon Wilt said during the hearing, which was held at the township fire company on Fulling Mill Road to accommodate a large crowd.

Nearly 60 people attended the hearing, which lasted about 95 minutes.

Roughly the first 50 minutes were devoted to UPS representatives making their presentation in support of the zoning change.

The next 45 minutes were taken up by public comment, with Wilt repeatedly asking anyone who wanted to speak to step forward, before he eventually gaveled the hearing to a close.

UPS wants to build a 935,000-square foot regional hub in a 192-acre tract now zoned for mineral recovery in the northeast corner of the township. About 600 trucks would use Pennsylvania 283, Pennsylvania 441 and other nearby roads to get in and out of the facility every day, UPS has said.

UPS has said it would invest $417 million in the facility, including $20 million for road improvements.

UPS representatives during the hearing did not say how many jobs the facility would bring. However, township planning commission member Dennis Fausey has estimated the number at at least 200.

The $20 million for road improvements would all be for roads “off-site” the facility, said Ovidio Irizarry Jr, project engineer staff manager for UPS’s East Region.

Road improvements are “a common interest” for the township and UPS, Irizarry said. 

“The last thing we want to do is have our drivers sitting in traffic,” he said.

UPS, if it gets the zoning change, will move forward with preparing a land development plan that is subject to approval by township commissioners. The company will also start working on a traffic impact study.

UPS said it hopes to start building the hub in fall 2018, weather permitting, or by spring 2019.

UPS representatives pointed out that both the township planning commission and Dauphin County planning commission have recommended approval of the proposed zoning text change.

The proposed change is “consistent” with an update to the township comprehensive plan that was completed in 2017, said Mark Stanley, an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick, who is representing UPS.

Letters of support for the UPS hub have come from Gov. Tom Wolf, state Sen. Mike Folmer, state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, Dauphin County commissioners, and Middletown Area School District, Stanley added.

Township resident Tina Rinehart offered enthusiastic support for the UPS proposal. The traffic improvements will benefit everyone, and the hub will bring new jobs that the township needs.

She dismissed concerns opponents have brought up regarding air pollution, saying that UPS is switching its fleet from diesel to natural gas.

“UPS is a great company. I love the growth that I’m seeing” in the township, Rinehart said.

Support also came from Linda Mehaffie, who as president of Middletown Area School Board said that the school district needs the added tax revenue that the UPS hub will bring.

“What else would you want in there” if UPS, a Fortune 500 company, is not allowed in, Mehaffie said. “Where do we want to get the revenue if you don’t have companies like UPS?”

But opponents said the township approving the zoning change clears the way not just for UPS, but opens the door for other companies that want to build large warehouses and distribution hubs in the area.

“You are opening up the corridor from Fiddler’s Elbow all the way up to 283, and everybody knows what that means,” said Lauren Clark of Longview Drive. “You’re going to turn this township into a trucking hub. The residents are screwed.”

Marjie Hartz and Andrea Spigelmeyer both said that allowing UPS to develop the tract will worsen stormwater runoff that is already causing flooding in the area.

Spigelmeyer added that the board approving the zoning change is already back-tracking on the comprehensive plan update just approved a few months ago.

“I didn’t know it was up to somebody else to determine what happens in Lower Swatara Township,” Spigelmeyer said.

Hartz was unimpressed with the letters of support from Wolf, Folmer, and other government officials outside the impacted area.

“We live here. They do not,” she said.

Susan Lawruk said she wasn’t sure yet if she is for or against the UPS hub. But she’d like to know some specifics on what the township will get in return — other than tax revenue — if commissioners approve the zoning change and, ultimately, the hub.

For example, what will UPS bring to Lower Swatara in the way of green space, hiking trails, biking trails and other quality of life enhancements.

“Are you going to be good neighbors?” Lawruk asked the UPS representatives.

Resident Dan Magaro urged commissioners take more time to make a decision, and delay acting beyond the Oct. 18 meeting. 

Commissioners should decide on the zoning change request “based on your own” in the township, as opposed to the “constant solicitation from businesses that have no concern for our quality of life.”

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