The Maxatawny Township Planning Commission set further conditions to an already contentious warehouse project that would increase truck traffic in the township.

At a grueling four-hour session that lasted until after midnight, commission members failed to vote on approval of a preliminary plan for the proposed Valley Logistics Park.

The move delays action on the project at least until the commission's next meeting May 20.

Duke Realty, an Indiana developer, wants to build two 1-million-square-foot warehouses on about 300 acres north of Route 222 near Long Lane and Hottenstein roads.

To do that, it needs the planning commission to approve a preliminary plan. Approval would clear the way for Duke to work toward final approval by the township supervisors.

Residents who don't want the project attempted to head it off at the planning commission, suggesting it would ultimately be approved by the supervisors. Some residents shouted at commission members and Duke executives during the meeting.

As the clock struck midnight, a frustrated Duke executive made a last-ditch effort at swaying the commission.

"We're trying very hard to be welcomed into this community," said Art Makris, Duke's regional vice president. "We want to be a good corporate citizen."

At the insistence of Kenneth A. Bleiler, planning commission chairman, Duke agreed to put sidewalks and curbing on a portion of Hottenstein Road and install a cul-de-sac for tractor-trailers to turn around.

"I think we've addressed all policy issues," said Greg Davis, Duke's lawyer. "We're asking that you recommend approval to the township supervisors."

His plea fell on deaf ears.

Solicitor Beth Kohl advised the commission it could approve the plan conditional on Duke submitting redesigns negotiated at the meeting. The commission insisted on seeing the redesigns in writing before acting. Duke agreed to submit them by May 1.

Duke acknowledged it is negotiating with two tenants for the warehouses, which it estimated would create about 1,500 full-time jobs.

Over 10 years, Duke estimated, the complex would generate taxes of $17.6 million for the Kutztown School District, $4.5 million for Berks County and $1.38 million for the township.

Citing national standards, Duke estimated peak-hour truck traffic at an average of 200 on one warehouse and 600 on the other.

A woman who contended increased truck traffic would necessitate the township creating a local police force gave an off-the-cuff estimate of the cost at $1.5 million a year. She asked Duke to pay the cost in perpetuity.

Duke didn't respond.

Commission member Robert Reynolds said a proposed roundabout at Route 222 and a redesigned Hottenstein Road would jeopardize the historic Hottenstein Mansion, in which he resides.

Vibrations from passing trucks entering a nearby warehouse, he feared, would compromise the mansion’s stonework over time.

Duke acknowledged it is in negotiations with the Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County, which owns the mansion, to provide landscaping, parking and access to the property. A reconfigured Route 222 would put the mansion, which is only yards off the highway, farther away from the road, Duke said.

Reynolds wants the roundabout moved farther west. A Duke traffic consultant said in final design it would probably be moved 12 feet to the southwest.

Residents raised concerns about the project's impact on groundwater levels, the region's Native American ancestry and traffic on local roads.

Duke said it will have to obtain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Protection and PennDOT on those issues.

Though Duke has no control over where trucks go when they leave the complex, Makris said Duke would work with warehouse tenants to ensure their drivers use Route 222 rather than local roads.

"The project is designed," he said, "for trucks to use Route 222."

The impact of the project on the historic Kemp Family Graveyard was not discussed at length. A hearing set for Thursday in Berks County Court was postponed for 30 days by mutual agreement of Duke and Kemp descendants.

Duke proposes to relocate the graveyard to another cemetery to make way for one of the warehouses. Descendants want the project to be designed around the graveyard.

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