During their meeting on Wednesday, March 8, the East Allen Township Board of Supervisors voted to send the township’s solicitor and engineer to an upcoming zoning hearing board meeting to cross-examine the owners of a proposed office-warehouse development at Snowdrift and Airport roads.
This 2,500-square-foot development falls into the township’s office-commercial zoning district. It will feature an office building that serves as the ToyotaLift regional headquarters and a warehouse building that will store forklifts and parts. Forklift techs will visit the location regularly to purchase parts, rent forklifts, and repair their machinery. However, developers argue this property is not a “true” warehouse due to its small size and unique use.
It is this conflict over use that brings the developers to the zoning hearing board. Allowed uses on the property include professional office space, research/engineering/testing, telecommunications, receiving and service, training centers, and township emergency support.
Developers will argue at the March 21 hearing board meeting that their development falls into the zone’s use as storage, repair, receiving, and office space. The hearing board can reject this argument, accept this argument, or impose certain conditions.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing for the township,” said Supervisor Georgiann Hunsicker. “You don’t know how many trucks are going in and out of there.”
Township resident Larry Russ agreed.
“I don’t care how you cut it; it is a warehouse,” he said.
However, some supervisors and township experts believe that developers could convince the board that their property falls under the receiving and service use.
“I do not see what we could oppose it on,” said Supervisor Mark Schwartz.
Engineer James Milot compared the property to a repair shop. Like a repair shop, it will sell parts, store vehicles, and repair parts. It does not fall into any one particular use.
The maximum height for this building, Milot explained, is 35 feet. Standard warehouses have a minimum of 42 to 44 feet. In addition, the square footage will be 25,000 compared to 400,000, which is the standard warehouse size in the township.
The office will take up 20 to 25% of the property. One delivery truck will work out of this location.
“We don’t have the teeth to fight it,” said Schwartz.
“We don’t have anything to fight it,” continued Supervisor Roger Unangst.
Despite this, supervisors voted to send Milot and solicitor Joe Piperato to the March 21 hearing to cross-examine the developer and their witnesses.
In other news, several residents appeared before the board to voice concerns over two group homes in the 500 block of Shawnee Drive. This comes after a resident escaped from one of the facilities and tried to enter a neighboring property through a back door. State police were called, but no criminal charges were filed. Police recommended the neighbor install “no trespassing” signs so that there is a foundation to cite the individual if they do it again.
Other residents voiced concerns over parking violations and “peeping Tom” instances.
Piperato explained that group homes are protected under state and federal law and considered “single-family homes.” Specifically targeting group homes with citations could open the township up to claims of discrimination because individuals with disabilities are a protected class.
Instead, Piperato recommended that neighbors remain vigilant and call the township and police when and if residents violate traffic, nuisance, and trespassing laws.
“Make them abide by rules…rules everyone has to abide by,” he said. Special rules cannot be applied to a group home; however, owners may take action if citations become a nuisance.
“If you cite them five or six times, then it is a hassle because they are getting fined,” he added, saying this will control the issues.
Residents were also encouraged to keep reports of disturbances and call the company that owns the group homes when incidents arise.
“There’s quite a few of us [who have been] sitting up here for a long time,” said Unangst. “One of the worst parts is telling people we can’t do anything…[But] I heard every word you said.”