On September 25th, Sprawl-Busters reported that the tiny township of North Whitehall, Pennsylvania was up against a big problem: A Wal-Mart supercenter. North Whitehall already has 7 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles, including three supercenters, with a supercenter in Whitehall a mere 7 miles away. In its continuing drive to saturate the area, Wal-Mart has proposed a 176,846-s.f. superstore on 32.6 acres at Route 309 and Levans Road. In early October, the township supervisors, chaired by Ron Stahley, held an afternoon meeting for residents to express their concerns about the massive Wal-Mart project — which will be the largest retail building in the history of this community of just over 2,000 people. About 20 opponents of the project showed up to voice their concerns over the superstore, which is currently being reviewed by the township’s Planning Commission. At that first hearing, residents told the supervisors they wanted the meetings changed from the afternoon to the evening, so more residents could attend. ”This current 4 p.m. time is not acceptable since it does not allow the community that works to attend, which is not fair to townspeople that vote to have these supervisors represent them,” wrote Laura Warmkessel. ”We want to be involved and to do so you must provide reasonable times for everyone to attend.” Warmkessel has been organizing her neighbors to fight the Wal-Mart project. In a letter to the editor of the Morning Call newspaper, Warmkessel pointed out the the township’s website says the community is ”Primarily agricultural in nature… a desirable place to live and continues to do so by retaining its unique blend of residential and rural character.” She added, “This statement also describes the motivation for the creation of North Whitehall for Sustainable Development. This volunteer organization is dedicated to promoting responsible development that conserves natural resources and ecological balance, while providing for the needs of residents in and around North Whitehall. The organization is working to prevent the construction of a big box store adjacent to the Schnecksville Fire Company. Residents’ opposition to the project is based on traffic safety; air, water, noise and light pollution; and loss of open space. Community support is needed to pay for the resources to demonstrate our position and to help local authorities make responsible decisions for the benefit of North Whitehall.” The Supervisors recently granted the township’s Planning Commission an extension of time until the end of the year to review the development plans submitted by Wal-Mart. The Planning Commission began reviewing the plans in September. Several weeks ago Wal-Mart notified the Commission that it wanted its plans taken off the agenda, and held until November. No reason was cited for the delay. Once the Commission has finished its review, the project goes to the Township Supervisors for a final vote.
The group North Whitehall For Sustainable Development has hired a land use attorney, and is now raising funds to pursue its legal options if the supervisors approve the plan — or if they deny it and Wal-Mart appeals. The group has informed supervisors that they are concerned about the financial impact of the project on law enforcement, fire protection, traffic, water and sewer infrastructure, and the environment. The group is researching the zoning criteria and permitting that this project must obtain. Readers are urged to leave a phone message for the three supervisors, Ron Stahley, Chairman, Terry Stoudt, Vice Chairman, and Ron Heintzelman. Two of these people will decide the fate of the Wal-Mart application. Call 610-799-3411, and leave this message for the North Whitehall Supervisors: “Do the Supervisors realize that this project is three times the size of a football field? If Wal-Mart restricted this store to North Whitehall residents only, the business would shut down within three months. It’s a regional store — but you already have 7 Wal-Mart’s within 20 miles. Route 309 can’t handle the extra 14,000 or so new car trips that this project will generate. The superstore is the wrong size and the wrong place for Schnecksville, and is incompatible with the rural character of the township. I urge you to reject the plan as too large for the location.” To help out financially with this battle, go to the website: http://home.ptd.net/~nwsd/ or send a check to: North Whitehall for Sustainable Development, Box 117, Orefield, PA 18069.