Residents mobilize against industrial development near historic cemetery

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Nearby residents are rallying against what they fear will become a new warehouse next to the historic Prospect Hill Cemetery in Manchester Township.

Signs have popped up around the neighborhood encouraging the public to "stop the warehouse." However, the precise details of what's planned for the grassy field along Pennsylvania Avenue remain murky.

The 52-acre parcel, owned by Penn Avenue Partners LLC, was rezoned for industrial use in December 2021. Last year, the township's zoning board voted to approve reduced buffer and parking requirements associated with the parcel, according to Township Manager Timothy James.

"To date, no plans have been submitted to the township for Planning Commission review/recommendation and Board of Supervisors’ consideration," James said.

Matthew Gallagher constructed a sign that reads "Stop the Warehouse Next to Prospect Hill Cemetery" and snapped a photo for his Facebook group. Photo Credit: Matthew Gallagher

Despite minimal activity at the plot, this hasn't stopped residents like Lettice Brown from being proactive and keeping the community in the know. Brown, who created the private Facebook group "Residents against Warehouse on PA Avenue," first became worried of potential development when posts on the real estate website LoopNet appeared to promote the space as a proposed warehouse.

Specifically, LoopNet advertised the Pennsylvania Avenue space as a 422,000-square-foot, one-story structure.

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For Brown, who lives in York City, the grassy lot is the largest green space nearby for the folks who live along Pennsylvania Avenue.

"You're going to have big trucks rumbling down the street. You're going to have the idling of those diesel trucks 24/7," Brown said, voicing her concerns of potential development. "(Resident's) property values are going to go down, as well as the noise, the air pollution, light pollution and the stormwater runoff pollution."

LoopNet — an online marketplace for commercial property — advertised the Pennsylvania Avenue space as a 422,000 square foot, one-story structure.

Prospect Hill Cemetery itself changed hands in December 2021, when it was purchased by Matthew Seyler from Jack Sommer.

Prior to his departure, in November 2021, Sommer sold roughly 50 acres of land attached to the cemetery to Inch & Co. Construction. In a phone call with The York Dispatch, Sommer confirmed this, adding that he was not privy to plans by Inch after the sale.

"It was always excess," Sommer said of the parcel he sold. "[I] simply sold excess property."

According to publicly available data on York County's website, 700 North George Street Associates finalized the sale of 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. on Jan. 6, 2022, to Penn Avenue Partners LLC.

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Penn Avenue Partners LLC and Inch and Co. share the same mailing address, 2950 Lewisberry Road, according to public records available online.

In a written statement issued Wednesday, Inch and Co. spokesperson Cambria Bailey said the developers have not finalized plans for the property, noting that there are no plans to disturb the cemetery.

LoopNet — an online marketplace for commercial property — advertised the Pennsylvania Avenue space as a 422,000 square foot, one-story structure.

Around the time of the sale, the Pennsylvania Avenue property was also rezoned. Inch and Co. President John Inch Jr., who sits on the Manchester Township Board of Supervisors, abstained from voting, as did Beth Brennan, according to meeting minutes from December 2021.

Seyler, the new owner of Prospect Hill Cemetery, is doing everything in his power to halt potential construction on the site.

"Prospect Hill is a historic landmark in York," Seyler said. "It's just such a private and tranquil place. It goes against everything that a cemetery is."

Last week, Seyler provided blueprints to The York Dispatch of the Prospect Hill zoning map. This map, emailed to Seyler by Manchester Township's Zoning Office, details a proposed building of 473,760 square feet.

The Court of Valor & Safekeepers Shrine Ceremony at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Manchester Township, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

In December, Brown was joined by other concerned residents to confront the Manchester Township Board of Supervisors.

At the time, supervisors relayed to Brown the same information James communicated to The York Dispatch: no formal plans have been submitted.

Warehouse development in York County has been a divisive issue for years.

In 2021, North York opposed warehouse plans at the site of the former Central York High School athletic field.

MORE:York County planning officials oppose North York warehouse project

MORE:Location key as York County's warehouse industry expands

Expanding warehouses along the Interstate 83 are on the rise as the demand for free and fast shipping from e-commerce giants like Amazon continues to dominate the retail industry. Dozens of new fulfillment centers have opened along Interstate 83 in York County to take advantage of its central location on key East Coast transport corridors.

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There are unintended consequences to such warehouses, however, as they consume a large amount of real estate, pose a "significant" burden on the infrastructure needs of local municipalities and put a physical strain on transportation, said Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, in 2020.

"Pressure is being put on companies to deliver, hence more of these centers located in proximity to major populations," Schreiber said. "Central Pennsylvania has become identified as one of those key markets."