Tensions mount in spat over possible warehouse near Prospect Hill Cemetery

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

Tensions continue to rise between community protesters and the developers of a possible warehouse near Prospect Hill Cemetery, even though no measurable progress has been made on the project.

On a recent weekend, a group of nearby residents gathered at the property to chant and hold up signs opposing the project. Jeff Inch, the CEO of Inch & Co., arrived with his wife to speak with the group.

Tempers reportedly flared over signs the protesters had staked into the ground, and the police were called, but — aside from another volley of impassioned social media posts — nothing came of the confrontation.

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"These were our older residents, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs," said Lettice Brown, one of the key protest organizers, who'd been away from the scene during its most heated moments.

Inch disagreed with the protesters' version of events: “It’s the opposite of what they say.”

The Inch Brothers, Jeff (left) and John (right).

The real estate developer showed The York Dispatch a few 1-minute video clips reportedly taken by his wife during the encounter. In one of them, Inch is shown carrying several protest signs away from the property and toward a paved section of driveway nearby. Inch declined to provide copies of the videos, but he showed them to two Dispatch reporters at his office. None of Inch's videos showed either side yelling or making threats.

Brown said the protesters were mostly in their 60s, 70s and 80s. It didn't occur to them to record video of the incident, she said. The protesters, however, did report that Inch threatened to call the police on them.

Inch confirmed he called the police but said that by the time he left the scene, officers still hadn't arrived. The York Dispatch could not find any police reports or dispatch calls related to the March 26 incident, nor any subsequent investigations that could result in citations.

The lack of police response to Inch's call may be a result of the cemetery's location bordering three municipalities: Manchester Township, North York Borough and York City.

West Manchester Township and York City police said the property in question fell just outside the departments' respective jurisdictions. Northern York County Regional Police, the other nearby law enforcement agency, told The York Dispatch it had no record of a call matching that description.

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Brown said protesters set up a table with snacks, drinks and T-shirts for a protest earlier in the day, but they were located off Pennsylvania Avenue on cemetery property. She didn't understand why Inch bothered to confront them at all.

Lettice Brown is the founder of the Facebook page Residents Against the Warehouse on PA Avenue and has organized two protests.

Inch said he was driving by the protesters — with his wife and children in the car — at the time. With his wife recording video, he said, he asked the protesters to back away to the cemetery property.

When the protesters didn't move, the developer said, he called police.

After several minutes, the protesters relocated and, according to Inch, he picked up signs that they left on the ground.

Inch told The York Dispatch he feels frustrated because he's tried to extend an olive branch to the protesters several times, offering to meet them and talk over their concerns. He also said he's offered to plant trees and install walking trails in another section of the property that can't be developed because of the overhead power lines.

Pat Kelly of Park Village was at the Thursday March 2 protest against the Pennsylvania Avenue warehouse. Her father is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, where he bought a plot in 1938, alongside other family members.

Details on the actual warehouse remain scarce because Inch has neither finalized the plans nor submitted them to Manchester Township. Nonetheless, a real estate advertisement on the website LoopNet that included a mock-up of a potential warehouse — which Inch said isn't necessarily representative of the final project — mobilized protests against the development.

Many protesters who have relatives buried at Prospect Hill are concerned with how close the warehouse could be built to the cemetery property line.

And the protesters themselves have drawn scrutiny.

Signs at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to Prospect Hill Cemetery illustrate what the area next door could look like if the warehouse is built.

Matt Seyler, the cemetery's current owner, said he has received calls from township officials regarding signs along Pennsylvania Avenue. One official told Seyler he'd need to apply for special permits for the large signs on cemetery property protesting the warehouse.

Seyler submitted the application, but on April 6 he received a follow-up call from the township informing him that the signs could stay and he didn't need the permit after all.

Township Manager Tim James said the codes notice was rescinded after the township spoke to its solicitor.

Meanwhile, Seyler said he got another call from the township on April 3 about a complaint reportedly lodged by Inch & Co. asking for the removal of the cemetery's sign — reportedly on Inch & Co. property — that advertised a mausoleum.

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The sign is a banner on a wooden frame that has sat along the Met-Ed utility easement for at least a decade, according to Seyler. Occasionally the cemetery changes out the banners.

"Very petty behavior," Seyler said.

As of Tuesday, the status of the signage complaint was unclear.

When asked about the sign, Inch said he had no problem with it.

"We never asked for that to be removed," he said. "In fact, [Seyler] can put it up today if he wanted to. No issue with that whatsoever."

The misunderstanding, Inch said, emerged because an Inch & Co. employee asked the township if the signs bordering the cemetery property had the correct permitting.

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

Inch said the company is still working on its plans for the site. The tentative plan would be to create a separate entrance for the new development with a buffer zone of landscaping to separate whatever goes on the land from the cemetery.

"We have some speculative plans, but we don't have anything concrete yet," he said. "We've turned nothing into the township yet. We have no township meetings, there is no township meeting scheduled for this warehouse whatsoever."

He noted that the mock-up image of a warehouse on the property, advertised on an online marketplace for commercial properties, was neither produced by nor requested by Inch & Co. It was created independently without their knowledge, he said.

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Inch added that he has considered selling the property altogether.

"We have a couple of people who are interested in buying it," he said. "I think the best thing for the community would be to get behind us and have us continue down this road because we're going to protect the cemetery."

The developer said he has several family members buried at the cemetery.

"It's not like I don't have any skin in the game there," he said. "[We] can coexist; we want to do it in the right way."

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.