How did land next to the historic Prospect Hill Cemetery get rezoned, subdivided and sold to Inch & Co. to allow the company to potentially build a large warehouse or other industrial facility? It all started quietly in township meetings.
The new owner of Prospect Hill Cemetery, Matt Seyler, had a lot of questions when he learned that a warehouse could be built right next to the cemetery he’d recently purchased. Mostly, though, he wanted to know how this happened and why, he says, he was unaware of it at the time he bought the cemetery.
Seyler purchased the cemetery on Dec. 30, 2021 from former owner Jack Sommer. At the time, Seyler said, Sommer told him the cemetery had been subdivided into two parcels of land but that he was not aware of specific development plans for the 52-acre plot that Inch & Co. had purchased.
Seyler said he doesn’t believe he was fully apprised about potential development of the land. When Seyler purchased the cemetery from Jack Sommer, he also purchased the rights to the cemetery website and email accounts that went along with the business. Once he learned about the possibility of a warehouse being built next to the cemetery, he looked at the email account.
Seyler said old emails had been deleted, except for a sent folder. Seyler put together a timeline of events that led up to him buying the cemetery from Sommer, using the emails he said he discovered and documents he received from Manchester Township through a Right-to-Know request.
On May 11, 2021, Sommer petitioned the Manchester Township Board of Supervisors to rezone 48.8 acres of Prospect Hill land from residential low (or single-family housing) to residential high (apartment complexes, condos, townhomes), and 6.6 acres to commercial. According to meeting minutes for that date, all supervisors voted yes, including John Inch. The land had not been subdivided at this time.
Seyler said he discovered emails between Sommer and his son, Matt, that occurred on May 17, 2021. Seyler said these emails indicate that John Inch showed interest in the newly rezoned land at Prospect Hill. In the emails, Matt Sommer tells Jack Sommer that he will talk to “him” about his interest in the land but doesn’t name anyone.
Jack Sommer responds in email by saying “hopefully we can look to a positive vote from John Inch.”
On July 20, 2021, Jack Sommer received an email from Josh George, a former managing partner for Snyder, Secary and Associates, a land development company in York that is owned by Philadelphia-based engineering firm Pennoni. Snyder, Secary & Associates did a considerable amount of design work in the commercial and industrial sectors, including large-scale logistics and distribution centers.
They were sold at the end of 2021, and George is now a managing partner at Landworks Civil Design, LLC, based in Camp Hill.
In that email, which Seyler said he discovered, George tells Sommer the township called to inquire if he would be moving forward with rezoning that parcel of land. Sommer responds by telling George that he “met with Inch group and interest level would indicate we should keep zoning request on ‘hold’.”
In an interview with the York Daily Record, George said that property owners in Pennsylvania can pull petitions to rezone after the rezoning has been approved, if they change their minds. He also said that it’s not uncommon for property owners to work with attorneys or design engineers to present plans for rezoning.
Sept. 1, 2021, Jack Sommer and John Inch finalized an agreement of sale for the 52 acres of land. The sale price was $1.75 million, and the closing date was set for Dec. 15, 2021. Seyler said he recovered that agreement in the emails.
On Sept. 14, 2021, attorney Paul Minnich, with Barley Snyder, represented 700 North George St. Associates, Jack Sommer’s company, to petition that the 52 acres at Prospect Hill be rezoned to industrial. The previous rezoning petition was withdrawn, according to the meeting minutes. This request was approved to be forwarded to the zoning board. Inch abstained from the vote.
On Oct. 1, 2021, Dave Unger, a Manchester Township zoning officer, sent an email on behalf of the township planning commission to Shayne Smith of Met-Ed asking Smith if the utility company would be willing to rezone its parcel of land that adjoins the 52 acres at Prospect Hill.
In the email Seyler said he recovered, Unger says that rezoning this land to industrial from low density residential would bring that Met-Ed lot “into conformance” and “would also alleviate the potential for a ‘spot zoning’ argument with the current application.”
On Dec. 14, Smith emailed Tim James, the Manchester Township manager, and gave permission for the rezoning as long as Met-Ed did not have to submit a petition through the “normal processes” to have it done.
James told the York Daily Record that the township has the right to rezone land at any time, without permission, as long as it follows the proper channels to do so. Unger is no longer employed with the township, but James said he believes his emails to Smith were “due diligence” for consistency with planning and zoning.
James said the planning commission has not received any plans for a warehouse on that parcel of land.
Smith responded to emails from the York Daily Record by saying that all media requests are handled by another division within Met-Ed, and that he had forwarded the emails to that division. That division did not respond by the time of publication. On Nov. 23, 2021, Seyler said he discovered emails that show that the director of acquisitions for Inch & Co., Joe Eisenhauer, emailed Sommer a concept of a warehouse that Inch & Co. might build on that parcel of land. In the email, Eisenhauer gave Sommer permission to share the plans with “those involved with the cemetery acquisition,” but no one else.
Seyler asserts that Sommer never disclosed these plans to him.
In an interview with the Daily Record, Eisenhauer said Sommer requested a non-disclosure agreement from Inch & Co. for the sale of this land and any discussion surrounding it. Because of that NDA, Eisenhauer could not disclose some information about the transaction.
He did say, however, that Inch & Co. originally had interest in acquiring the entire property, including the cemetery, but decided that was not part of its business model. The company then transitioned from that idea to focusing on the unused land. Inch & Co. thought it would be a good industrial site particularly because of the Met-Ed land that adjoins it, which Eisenhauer called “overtly industrial.”
On Dec. 14, 2021, the township board of supervisors approved the rezoning request for the 52 acres of land at Prospect Hill, changing it to industrial. Meeting minutes show that Inch and Supervisor Beth Brennan abstained from the vote. Met-Ed’s parcel of land was rezoned at this meeting, as well, James said.
On Dec. 15, 2021, Inch & Co. bought the land from Sommer.
On Dec. 30, 2021, Seyler bought the cemetery.
Eisenhauer said that the land Inch & Co. purchased from Sommer has been the subject of several other meetings that were not included in Seyler’s timeline.
Eisenhauer said that in summer 2022, a meeting was held to reduce the amount of necessary parking at the site, and in November 2022, it had to be rezoned industrial again because of a mix-up with the parcel ID. That is when residents began talking about the rezoning, but Eisenhauer said no one showed up to the meetings before the beginning of this year.
Eisenhauer said all of the meetings were properly advertised and neighboring properties were notified of the rezoning meetings.
“Everything we have done is completely above board because that’s how we operate,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to play it by the book and not have to backtrack and fix things.”
Seyler said that the possible warehouse has had a “substantial” impact on the longevity of his business.
“People aren’t going to want to be buried here with a warehouse right next door. They won’t want to visit loved ones that are buried here,” he said. “It’s had a substantial impact on the cemetery as it is now, and has impacted the future of the cemetery. The future of my business.”
Seyler said the only way to stop this warehouse is to have the rezoning reversed back to residential. He did not say how that could be accomplished with Inch & Co. agreeing to the rezoning, though.
“We’re looking at our options, trying to determine what can be done,” he said. “But we are not budging. We are opposed to any warehouse being developed on this land, and we don’t think the rezoning should have ever been approved because it is clearly a case of spot rezoning.”
Seyler said residents opposed to the warehouse plan to meet at the next Manchester Township Board of Supervisors meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 13 at 3200 Farmtrail Road, York. There is nothing on the agenda about the warehouse, but Seyler said residents want answers from the board.
“There are a lot of questions still about how involved this board was and how much they knew about this warehouse,” Seyler said. “People want answers.”
Jack Sommer did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment for this story.