Trail 5

A deteriorating sign for the Publicker property is visible from Linfield Road.  

LIMERICK — Faced with the prospect of a developer who wants to put as many as 1,200 housing units on the 200-acre site along the Schuylkill River, township supervisors have restarted the Linfield Master Plan process.

In November, developer Tim Hendricks was last before the supervisors pitching a plan that would include not only houses but stores and offices on the site once occupied by the Publicker distillery.

The 200-acre site off Linfield Road has been abandoned since it closed in 1986, and was home to the 125-acre Linfield Industrial Park that served multiple purposes including the repackaging and distribution of antifreeze and ammonia-based cleaners. Kinsey Distillery used the facility as both a warehouse and whiskey distillery.

The Linfield Village Master Plan Study was put on hold in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But the importance of developing this site convinced the board of supervisors to re-start the meetings to ensure the best project and also to ensure that the people of Linfield have some input into both the project and the plan, according to Township Manager Dan Kerr.

At its most recent meeting Monday, the supervisors added three more Linfield residents to the study committee.

The first meeting of the committee overseeing the meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. and will be conducted online. It will be followed by a public meeting to review the project on March 3.

Meetings of the planning group are scheduled through September.

The Limerick Supervisors "would like to see redevelopment of the site, and they are willing to discuss development options," Kerr wrote in an email reply to MediaNews Group.

"It is recognized that the developer will be responsible for significant costs to purchase the land, demolish the existing buildings, and improve road infrastructure to handle added traffic, hence the need for density to gain a return on these costs," Kerr wrote.

In October, it was estimated it could take more than $10 million in infrastructure and traffic improvements needed to handle the 2,500 vehicles it would add to the area's traffic flow.

"There is a hesitancy on the number of residential units proposed that Mr. Hendricks is saying is needed to make the project economically viable," Kerr said.

The supervisors "also want to further understand the commercial portion of the project and if more non-residential uses are possible before a mostly residential concept moves forward," Kerr wrote.

"The riverfront is also a key component of the project and the board wants to further study want can be done in terms of parks, open space, trails, or other uses that would make it a very attractive and usable public space not just for those who would live there, but for the entire community," Kerr wrote.

A Linfield Village Master Plan has been discussed, it not written, since as far back as 2014.

In September of 2019, Limerick Supervisors reviewed concept plans for both the 17-acre Linfield Sports Park on Longview Road, which the township purchased in 2010, as well as a more recently purchased three-acre property on Main Street, recognizable from the historic toll house that sits there.

Located adjacent to the Schuylkill River and the Linfield Road bridge, concepts for that property on the north side of Main Street, and its connection to the sports park, Schuylkill River Trail and 16-acre Schuylkill River Park just upstream were also revealed and include playing fields, playgrounds and bocce courts.

Closer to the river, the historic toll house would remain at the property but could be expanded to make it more of a visitor center, as well as a possible raised boardwalk trail, pergola and kayak launch on the river, according to the concept plan.

Should the land between the toll house property and the Schuylkill River Park become available for purchase, a trail connection between the Schuylkill River Trailhead in Parkerford; the toll house, and the township's Schuylkill River Park could all be realized.

Those trail plans are part of the township's master tails plan, first outlined in 2013.

The Publicker site sits on the south side of Main Street and the supervisors have already begun to ask how it could be integrated into a riverside trail system.

The Schuylkill River Trail runs along the Chester County side of the river there and the section between Linfield and Pottstown was to be completed by next year.

The abandoned Publicker site is home to more than 17 buildings — ranging in size up to 500,000 square feet and many of which are now in the process of collapsing.

It has been a dangerous nuisance, attracting vandals and frequent visits by the fire company, Hendricks, said. The property's owner lives in Belgium, Hendricks told the board in October.

This is not the first time the site has been targeted for redevelopment over the last 20 years.

In 2001, a sketch plan presentation was made to Limerick's planning commission that highlighted dividing the large property into roughly 20 separate tracts and zoning variances were sought for the site, but the project never came to fruition.

In 2007, a $1 billion plant to convert municipal trash to ethanol plant was being explored and its chief booster, David Kane, was then the chairman of the board of supervisors.

However that deal fell apart and four years later, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison for tax evasion and mail fraud.

Also in 2007 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection imposed a $482,471.85 fine against the owners of the Publicker site, for the owners' failure to reimburse DEP for its response to a 2005 fire there and for being over a year late on issuing environmental reports.

Among the documented pollutants in the soil at Linfield's industrial park were: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, arsenic, cadmium, trichlorobenzene and cyanide. and the site is classified by the state as a Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act location.

However, Hendricks told the supervisors at the Oct. 6 meeting that the site has been cleaned up.

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