After street protests over ‘horrendous’ trucking warehouse plan, Newtown reserves movie theater for hearing

NEWTOWN — The Edmond Town Hall theater seats 500, and while planners don’t expect quite that many residents to turn out Thursday for a hearing about an 8-acre trucking warehouse proposal, leaders want to be prepared after a week of street protests. “This is the biggest thing to ever hit Newtown — it’s a massive, massive project,” said Donald Leonard, a volunteer organizer who helped collect 500 names on a petition and mobilized 200 people to turn out at a public hearing about the trucking warehouse in April. Leonard is also behind a string of protests this week on Main Street and at the site of the proposed warehouse.

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“To put this in the middle of a residential neighborhood ignores the fact that there are serious impacts to all the residents who live in the area,” Leonard said. “We are trying to fight back.

We don’t want this in our back yard.” Leonard is referring to plans by a Manhattan-based investor to build a 345,000-square-foot trucking warehouse on 105 acres at Interstate 84’s Exit 9 that would come with 75 truck docks, 50 trailer spaces and 360 parking spaces. The proposal by Wharton Industrial to build on the environmentally sensitive site received a permit in March from Newtown’s wetlands commission.

The final step in the approval process involves review by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which will continue its public hearing on the warehouse proposal in an unusual location — the Edmond Town Hall theater on Main Street. “It’s been in the papers a lot and the awareness is out there. It’s a big project,” said George Benson, Newtown’s planning director. “It’s something we expect people to come out for.

We didn’t expect quite this many.” A resident who lives on Woods Lane near the proposed warehouse said it was clear why many of his fellow Newtown residents are opposed to the plan. “This is a horrendous proposal,” Ken Breen said. “Wharton can’t tell us how many trucks there are going to be … and their traffic study was done during the pandemic.”

Wharton consultants meanwhile argue the warehouse proposal is “considerably less intense than virtually all other previous proposals on this site.”

A Wharton traffic consultant told a crowd of opponents at a mid-April public hearing that 59 vehicle trips would be added at the Hawleyville Road site during morning peak hours, and 66 new car and truck trips would be added to Hawleyville Road during evening peak hours. An independent consultant hired by Newtown to review Wharton’s traffic study is expected to give a report on Thursday. Wharton consultants added that the developer would install an 8-foot sound fence on 300 feet on the southern property border, and that “no negative acoustical impact is expected from this project.”

The grassroots group Leonard helped to form, Newtown Neighbors, disagrees. The group hired its own attorney and an engineering consultant to challenge Wharton’s plans. The group has organized rallies to get its message out to fellow residents, including a rally outside Edmond Town Hall on Saturday that drew 100 people.

“We would have the Planning and Zoning Commission deny the application based on traffic, the lack of emergency services, the noise, the light pollution and the environmental impact,” Leonard said. “We don’t want them to look for some way to downsize it — we just don’t want it, period.”

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