Newberry board chairman, residents at odds over warehouses
- The proposal is for two warehouses totaling more than 1.8 million square feet in Newberry Township.
- The board chairman is in favor of the plan because he wants to diversify the tax base.
- A resident petition cites environmental, traffic, noise and property-value concerns.
Newberry Township resident Chris Donley has lived on his third-generation-owned farmland his entire life, and he hoped to live there until he died.
But if a proposal to build two large warehouses on property that surrounds his home on three sides is approved, the 46-year-old said he will have to strongly consider moving.
Goodman Birtcher's proposal for the Goodman Logistics Center includes one 1.1 million-square-foot and another 732,000-square-foot building on 188.5 acres of land partially visible from Interstate 83, according to plans filed with the township.
Charles Courtney, an attorney representing the California-based developer, said the company is planning to start construction on the project — which is expected to cost more than $160 million — in early 2017, but it's too early to determine potential users.
The township's board of supervisors was scheduled to vote on the plan at its June 28 meeting, but they elected to postpone the vote after many residents attended to speak out against the construction.
Will Toothaker, the board's chairman, said the board is looking into holding its July 26 meeting at a larger venue to accommodate public interest. The board is not obligated to make a final vote until 90 days from the date the preliminary plan was approved by the planning commission, which was June 13.
Toothaker was the one member of the board who voted against tabling the vote, but he said he understood other board members weren't as involved in the process as he was and needed more time to review information.
Development: The board altered the property status, which is zoned mixed-use commercial, from "by-right" to "conditional-use" a couple of years ago in an effort to attract distribution-type development, and Toothaker said he was excited when he saw Goodman's proposal.
Toothaker sent an email containing numerous "pros" for the project, including recurring real estate tax revenue of approximately $98,000 for the township and $720,000 for West Shore School District and a one-time $150,000 contribution to the township's recreation fund.
"One thing I noticed when I first got involved (with the township) is most of our tax base is on the residents," he said. "So one of my goals was to attract more commercial users to the area to diversify our tax base."
Newberry Township resident Ron Combs, who helped gather residents to attend the last board meeting and started an online petition against the development, said Toothaker isn't taking into account what the residents want.
"This is a residential area," Combs said. "That's why everybody moves here."
Prior notice: Combs accused the board of trying to sneak the vote in without residents knowing, arguing that the adjoining property owners deserved to be notified.
"It's all smoke and mirrors," he said. "People won't show up (to board meetings) if they don't know what's going on."
Combs said he only found out about the proposal because a friend who lives near the site of the proposed warehouses told him he started noticing some workers surveying the land.
Donley said he would have had no idea about the proposal, but Combs told him to attend the June 28 board meeting.
"I went there under the impression the plan was in its very beginning stages and this was the time to voice your opinion," Donley said. "But then I get there, and everything is pretty much drawn to a 'T.'"
Toothaker said the board followed state guidelines regarding advertising the ongoing public meetings on Goodman's proposal.
State Department of Community and Economic Development spokeswoman Heidi Havens wrote in an email that "Municipal Planning Code does not require individual notification that particular applications will be considered at upcoming meetings."
Havens pointed to the state's Sunshine Act, which states that agencies must post notice at least three days before the first regularly scheduled meeting of the year in a newspaper of general circulation and at the location where the meeting will take place.
The notice must include date, time and location of the first and all subsequent meetings for the year. The act also suggests that it is good practice to include the purpose of the meetings.
Newberry Township regularly posts the agenda of future board meetings and minutes from past meetings on its website.
Both Combs and Donley acknowledged that the board seemed to have made up its mind and that preventing the warehouses' construction looks like a long shot.
Concerns: Toothaker acknowledged in an email that cons for the project include increased traffic and a negative visual impact.
Donley said he's most concerned about noise pollution.
"I live about 3 miles away from a FedEx warehouse, and I hear them all the time," he said. "They're going to be putting a parking lot and warehouse 25 feet off my property line. There's no way I'm not going to hear everything."
Donley said he plans to request that the township require Goodman to include a sound barrier near his property to reduce the noise.
Donley said he's concerned his spring-fed water well also will suffer from pollution as a result of the warehouses.
Combs, a truck driver, said he knows how these warehouses operate.
"All the garbage ends up in people's yards and in the trees," Combs said, pointing out that the land is currently full of wildlife. "There are a lot of environmental concerns."
If Donley does decide to move, he said he will have a difficult time selling the house because the township changed the zoning on a majority of his property from agricultural to commercial about four years ago.
The alteration, which Combs said he wasn't aware of when it happened, would have significantly raised his taxes if he wasn't locked into a specific tax rate through a government program.
Residential users won't be interested in his property because of that higher tax rate, and commercial users won't be interested because his property entrance is still zoned agricultural, he said.
"They've pretty much locked me down on this worthless property," Combs said.