Officials OK North East Gateway preliminary plan
— Developers are one step closer to building a new cross-dock industrial warehouse at the former Nazarene Camp property after the town planning commission approved a preliminary site plan for the project Tuesday night.
Trammell Crow Company, the developer behind the Amazon distribution site at the Principio Business Park, is proposing to build a 716,490-square-foot industrial warehouse on the 60-acre property off of Route 272.
North East Town Administrator Melissa Cook-McKenzie told the Whig that the proposed warehouse would create jobs, bring in more tax revenue for the town, and improve the appearance of the former Christian camp as people head into downtown North East from Route 272.
“It’s not the most attractive parcel as you’re coming into town. So as far as aesthetics, it’ll improve aesthetics coming into town,” she said.
The planning commission unanimously approved the plans so long as three conditions are met: that a landscape architect verifies a decision to waive a tree survey is in compliance with the highway corridor district; the Maryland State Highway Administration approves the site plan after review; and the preliminary forest conservation plan is approved.
Trammell Crow will present a final site plan for the project at the planning commission’s March 5 meeting. If the plan gains the commission’s approval and development goes as planned, the developers are slated to break ground in April and complete the project by the end of the year, according to Trammell Crow Managing Director Jeff Holcomb.
For the better part of a century, the Philadelphia District Church of the Nazarene ran a Christian camp on the property. But after nearly 90 years, the church closed the camp’s gates in 2007.
North East Commons LLC bought the land from the church in 2008 with hopes of transforming the property into a 300,000-square-foot shopping center. But after the economic recession hit and retailers pulled out, those plans were put on hold.
Caves Valley Partners, which is a managing partner of North East Commons LLC, reignited plans for the property in 2016 with a proposal for a cross-dock warehouse. Trammell Crow came onto the scene in 2018 as the eventual developer of the North East Gateway project.
Bordered by the CSX Railroad and Route 272, and situated near U.S. Route 40 and an Interstate 95 interchange, the location would provide commercial truck traffic with easy access to whatever company ends up occupying the warehouse.
Speaking with town officials Tuesday was Amy DiPietro, a principal with Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., a design and engineering firm working with Trammell Crow.
DiPietro said the property will be split into four parcels: one main lot measuring about 50 acres that would hold the warehouse and all other unassigned areas of the site; two lots, together measuring approximately 4 acres, that Caves Valley Partners would retain for commercial use; and a fourth lot at a little over half an acre that would deeded to the town.
The warehouse would have 185-foot truck courts along the east and west sides of the property, as well as 234 trailer drops and 352 car parking spaces for employees.
Trammell Crow plans to terminate Nazarene Camp Road in a cul-de-sac and build a new road called Gateway Drive. The new road, which would provide access to residences west of the warehouse, would run along the western property line and come out at an intersection across from Rogers Road.
Under those plans, the State Highway Administration would need to approve the construction of a traffic signal at that proposed intersection.
Should the SHA approve that change, DiPietro estimated there would be eight months between the closure of Nazarene Camp Road and the opening of Gateway Drive. During that interim period, she said residents along Leslie Road would continue to be able to access their properties through a detour around the construction area.
The developers are also proposing planting trees and other plants along Gateway Drive to aid reforestation efforts, and to act as a sound and visual buffer between the warehouse and the surrounding residential area.
Some community members be A preliminary site plan for the proposed industrial warehouse on the former Nazarene Camp property shows the lot where the building would sit. Trammell Crow Company, the developers for the project, propose ending Nazarene Camp Road in a culde-sac and creating a new road called Gateway Drive to wrap around the western property line (bottom of the schematic) and let out across from Rogers Road (top right of the schematic).
expressed their concerns about the proposed warehouse’s potential effects on traffic in the area at the Tuesday meeting.
Pam Curry lives in Rising Sun, but she came to the meeting to represent her parents, Tom and Muriel Wetzel, who live on North East Road directly across from the campground. She told the commission that her parents are both over 80 years old and have difficulty safely turning onto Route 272.
“On a good day, it’s impossible to come out of their driveway. Absolutely impossible. Sometimes they’ll sit there for five or 10 minutes,” she said.
Curry, who works in an emergency room, said that when she visits her parents, she often hears crashes and has to rush to the road to assist any potential victims in the accidents.
“I’m just afraid someday, when I go up to help somebody, there’s going to be a dead body in a car. The road is that bad,” she said.
North East resident Stephen Stiles also lives across from Nazarene Camp Road. When he is trying to drive toward downtown North East and he isn’t able to turn left, Stiles said he turns right and makes a U-turn at the park and ride near the Holiday Inn
Express and Suites in order to get where he is going.“I am not here to fight this cross dock thing,” he said. “Do I wish it wasn’t going in there? Sure I do. But I am fighting for my ability to get in and out of my property.”
Curry’s sister, Sandi Sands, said she doesn’t think the road can accommodate large tractor-trailers turning on and off of Route 272, even with the proposed traffic signal across from Rogers Road.
“I just feel like these guys (Trammell Crow) might regret putting that dock in there, because if there’s as many accidents as there are on 272 and these trucks are going to be stuck getting up to I-95, it’s going to be terrible for even them to have a business there unless something is done to that road,” Sands said.
Mark Dobbins, chairman of the planning commission, said that while the proposed warehouse would see large tractor-trailers, overall it would bring in fewer vehicles than commercial developments that have been proposed for the site in the past.
“The vehicle types are different, but the numbers of vehicles are less with this type of facility than it would have been with the previously proposed retail site,” Dobbins said.
Planning commission member Michael Nair said that while a traffic light likely will not improve those residents’ ability to turn left onto southbound Route 272, it could act as a buffer to allow them to turn right more easily onto northbound Route 272.
Cook-McKenzie said she hears community members’ concerns and that she and her colleagues will do whatever they can to connect those individuals with the appropriate parties at SHA. But she said traffic along Route 272 is out of the town’s jurisdiction because the road is a state highway.
She added that the planned I-95 interchange at Belvidere Road will likely divert a lot of traffic currently coming from I-95 onto Route 272 past those residents’ homes, and shift that traffic to U.S. Route 40.
The Maryland Transportation Authority will be holding a public hearing on the proposed Belvidere interchange from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Perryville Community Fire Company, located at 920 Principio Furnace Road in Perryville. The meeting would be postponed to Jan. 24 in case Cecil County Public Schools are closed due to snow.
Curry also asked what will happen to the tabernacle that sits on the property.
In an interview with the Whig, Cook-McKenzie explained that when someone submits a permit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the corps then sends the permit to other agencies for comment.
Years ago, when Caves Valley Partners submitted their permit for the project, the Maryland Historic Trust commented that the tabernacle had historic features. In a memorandum of agreement, or MOA, with the historic trust, Caves Valley Partners agreed to move the tabernacle off site as part of the project, according to Cook-McKenzie.
However, Cook-McKenzie said that original MOA has since expired. Although the future of the tabernacle will be addressed in a new MOA, what that future will look like exactly is not finalized, she said.
Rising Sun resident Pam Curry, representing her parents who live on North East Road directly across from the campground, says the road is dangerous as it is and cannot handle increased traffic from the tractor-trailers that would be entering and exiting the proposed warehouse.