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Captains of Industry vs. Mother Nature

Preserving Peace and Quiet
/ Source: The Standard-Speaker

Nearly 15 years ago, the suburban Philadelphia community of West Bristol was in the midst of undergoing some major changes, Raymond J. Trojan recalls.But when the colors of concrete and asphalt began engulfing a majority of the once green landscape, Trojan and his family decided it was time to pack up in search of the tranquil environment they had grown to love. "Everything was being built up," he said. "We built a home down there, but when the boys came along, the area was building up constantly. It was like the suburbs was becoming the city."

The Trojans' search ended a year later when they built a colonial-style home just outside of Sheppton, in East Union Township.

Today Trojan, his wife, and their two children are within a reasonable distance from a fire department, grocery store and hospital - which suits his family just fine.

They can travel down Route 924 to a near-by post office and collect their mail.

His back yard, which spans about two-acres, is bordered by a wooded area and is complemented by just about all of the amenities Mother Nature has to offer.

"I always liked this area," he said. "It has a country setting. The kids can grow up in a nice yard . they're kept off the corners of a town street."

But with the ever-growing Humboldt Industrial Park creeping closer to his home and a Wilkes-Barre firm requesting a zoning amendment to develop more than 37 acres of nearby land, Trojan and his family are starting to feel a bit cramped.

"It would've been different had we moved to an area zoned commercial or industrial," Trojan said. "But right from the start, we were conservation/residential. When you invest your whole life into something, your house is your biggest asset. But, it seems (developers) want to take it. And, as long as the big companies are making the money, you're stuck with whatever's left."

The Trojans live about 500 feet from Green Mountain Road, which bounds part of the 37.4-acres that Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services wishes to re-zone and use to possibly build a 600,000 square-foot warehouse.

Specifically, the firm is looking to purchase land from Butler Enterprises and seeks approval to re-zone the parcel from conservation/residential to industrial.

The proposal, which has spurred safety and property-related concerns from hundreds of township residents, is in the hands of the Schuylkill County Planning and Zoning Commission.

And, now, the only thing that Trojan and neighbors can do is wait.

The planning and zoning board is expected to review transcripts of testimony presented by residents and Mericle representatives during a mid-April public hearing.

From there, it will make a recommendation to the county commissioners - who are in the midst of a 90-day timeframe to render a decision on Mericle's request.

Trojan says his main concern is for the safety of children.

With tractor trailers and employees from the nearby industrial park constantly clotting the highway, residents opposing Mericle's request say the new warehouse and its ability to accommodate a 40-unit trucking bay will increase traffic on a highway heavily traveled by school buses.

Mericle officials did not elaborate on specific construction plans and did not say what type of firm would occupy the facility - if built.

Decreased property values and the notion that blasting could divert or even eliminate the community's well-water supply are other concerns shared by many township residents, he says.

Furthermore, Trojan says wildlife in the area seems to have disappeared. He's worried about the effects that additional land development would have on animals and the treeline throughout the community.

Even so, Trojan says, residents are not entirely against development.

Land in question would be suitable for a housing development - which he says is welcomed by many people.

"They have no specific plans," he said of the proposal. "It's like they're flying blind. They can't tell you - or won't tell you - who the tenants are. We understand it's not our property. We just would like to see them do something to benefit the community and not hurt people in a way like this."

A new community could help increase the township and county tax bases - a component that Trojan says is missing from the state's Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) program.

"I'd love to see other things than industrial in our back yard," he said. "Not KOZ (tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone) warehouses, where they're shooting for businesses to be here for 10 to 12 years and then they go."

A year ago, Trojan and hundreds of township residents formed Save Our Schuylkill Skyline - a non-profit group determined to fight CAN DO's proposal to develop roughly 130-acres of land for industrial use.

CAN DO officials withdrew the proposal during a public hearing, when Trojan says the community made it clear that the plan "upset people so much."

"They were the originals," Trojan said of the previous proposal. "There was a small park when we moved here. My wife had always asked me what happens if they come this way. I never thought I'd see this nonsense going on."

With developers like Mericle insisting that the land they intend to develop is adjacent to land they own, Trojan doesn't see the fight ending when the county's 90-day timeframe expires.

"I'm afraid it will continue to go that way," he said. "Now we're watching the (news) papers and attending the township meetings to be prepared for it."

As for the county's final decision, Trojan will keep waiting - and hoping - for a favorable ruling.

"I feel we have a really good group," he added. "With the help of the media we got our voices heard. I just have a good feeling about it."