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Panel approves beer distributor plans; planning commission, residents worried about traffic

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/1/19

The Lower Swatara Planning Commission unanimously recommended plans for a 284,260-square-foot Wilsbach Distributors warehouse on the corner of Oberlin Road and Longview Drive.

The plan will go to …

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Panel approves beer distributor plans; planning commission, residents worried about traffic

Posted

The Lower Swatara Planning Commission unanimously recommended plans for a 284,260-square-foot Wilsbach Distributors warehouse on the corner of Oberlin Road and Longview Drive.

The plan will go to the township’s Board of Commissioners next. It’s not on their agenda for the May 1 meeting but might be discussed May 15.

With the speed limit on Oberlin Road going from 35 to 50 mph driving into Swatara Township, commission members and one resident expressed concerns about traffic safety at the April 25 meeting where the plan was approved.

“It’s dangerous now. Everyone that lives in this township knows what a racetrack 441 is there,” said resident Jim Rodgers, who lives on Highland Street next to the proposed warehouse. Oberlin Road is also state Route 441.

Several commission members echoed Rodgers’ sentiment.

“Let’s be real. That’s one of the worst places in the township. It is absolutely horrible. Coming up the hill toward Longview Drive and making a right for a car requires you to slow down to like 10 mph or you’re going to do some damage to your vehicle,” commission member Eric Breon said, adding that the sight lines are poor.

Wilsbach Distributors has a distribution center in Susquehanna Township. The company supplies beer to bars, grocery stores and restaurants.

Wilsbach is proposing to build and move operations into a 284,260-square-foot warehouse with a 15,050-square-foot, two-story office with 150 parking spaces. Currently, Wilsbach has 110 employees, including 88 full-time staff.

Wilsbach Distributors’ attorney David Getz estimated that construction would start in 2020, but they still need to get approvals from other agencies before they can move dirt.

The main access to the warehouse would be off Oberlin Road to the west of Longview Drive, but there would be an emergency entrance off Longview.

The land that Wilsbach wants to develop is two tracts. The company is proposing to combine the tracts and subdivide off about 6 acres across the street.

Oberlin Road is two lanes in front of the proposed distribution facility.

According to project engineer Judd Dayton, Wilsbach is proposing to widen Oberlin along the entrance to install turn lanes into the facility, and the left turn lane would mostly be used by cars.

Getz said Wilsbach sends out about 30 delivery trucks every morning between 5 and 7 a.m. Ten to 20 trucks come into the facility throughout the day. Trucks would turn left out of the warehouse toward Swatara Township.

Wilsbach is proposing to taper Oberlin past their entrance toward Longview Drive back into the existing width. Wilsbach requested a waiver to not widen Oberlin outside of the entrance. The board denied the waiver, expressing a desire to extend the right-hand turn lane to Longview Drive.

Getz said they placed the entrance in the “best spot” they could on Oberlin Road. The entrance would be in the 35 mph zone.

Commission member Kimber Latsha said drivers still go 50 mph after the speed limit goes down from 50 to 35 mph. He’s seen near-accidents there when drivers suddenly turn on their turn signal to turn.

Making the road wider doesn’t make it safer, and extending the turn lane to Longview Drive may encourage the vehicles in the non-turn lane to drive, Getz said.

Wilsbach’s plans also still have to go before the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for a highway occupancy permit, and the board said they will be overruled if PennDOT doesn’t allow the turn lane to be extended.

The planning commission recommended a waiver, which would not require the company to widen Longview Drive and Highland Street, and deferred curbing and sidewalks.

Stormwater concerns

Concerns and questions also were raised regarding emergency access to the south part of the facility, buffers over a utility easement on Longview Drive and the three proposed infiltration basins to absorb stormwater runoff after construction.

The planning commission members asked if a fence could be placed around the basin near the Little Hollywood Park.

However, Rodgers, Wilsbach’s future neighbor, was concerned about the basin, which he said is above  his property. He asked the township to monitor construction of the basin.

“If this is not constructed properly and not overseen during that construction phase, then we’re talking about potential loss of life, not just property. We could be sleeping through a thunderstorm and have a hundred-foot rise-up to where this pond is coming in our direction,” he said.

The stipulations for approving the plan included adding a fence around the infiltration basin and buffer in an area on Longview Drive that wasn’t included in the plan because of a utility easement.