Local Battle for Open Space Preservation

The Lehigh Valley news circuit has been percolating for some time now regarding the recent Lower Macungie development decision. Patrick Lester of the Morning Call had an excellent write-up about the matter earlier this week.

Here’s a brief recap: David Jaindl, property owner, wants to develop homes and warehouses on a big chunk of his land (about 600 acres). He went to the Lower Mac Commissioners for permission; the Commissioners, hoping to make good on promises of open space preservation, denied his request. Jaindl then threatened to turn the land into a quarry, at which point the Commissioners decided to renegotiate and allow for the land to be developed, with a preservation of about a few hundred acres. Many in the township are outraged at this agreement, mainly because they claim that the Commissioners made the decision without public input.

Some in the township are now fighting back. According to Lester:

The Friends [for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township] group has dug in for what is expected to be a long and costly legal battle over zoning and land development ordinance changes that benefit Jaindl’s plans for about 500 acres in an area bounded by Smith Lane and Mertztown, Spring Creek and Ruth roads. The changes essentially allow heavy industrial, commercial and residential development that previously weren’t permitted.

Several of the group’s members have joined to sue the township in Lehigh County Court in an attempt to overturn the zoning changes and prevent what they describe as a dangerous precedent that could have statewide implications.

Open space is not the only aspect that is of concern (or, at least, open space for the sake of open space is not the only concern). Worries are high that a new development in this area will come with a slew of externalities, such as increased traffic and problems with stormwater management. If we look at a map of the area below, two things stand out: 1) the area proposed for development is very large (600 or so acres means nothing to some until you look at a visualization, and 2) this development is situated in a place that already experiences high traffic volumes and, additionally, developments like these have caused numerous quality of life problems in this part of the region. Here is the map:

Patrick Lester followed up on his coverage with an article published in the Morning Call yesterday. The article reports on a Tuesday meeting, at which Jaindl representatives addressed the worries of the residents:

Scott Pidcock, Jaindl’s engineer, said the company will exceed its obligations for controlling storm water on a proposed 14-lot subdivision plan and is well aware of the traffic concerns. The subdivision is part of Jaindl’s overall plan to add warehouses, businesses and homes on 600-plus acres. The township approved zoning and subdivision ordinance changes to accommodate Jaindl’s plan.

“The goal is that we have proper functioning roads,” Pidcock said. “We, as you, want the roads to work, otherwise the value of the property is diminished.”

The Lower Macungie Planning Commission did not take action this week and discussions are to continue into early next year.

My question: Where is the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission fit into all of this? I am sure that they provided their recommendation for this (they do so for all development decisions in the Lehigh Valley), but given that they are purely advisory (thanks to Pennsylvania’s MPC), their recommendations are just that: recommendations. Lower Mac can ultimately do what it wants to, even though their decision will impact more places than just Lower Mac.

What are your thoughts on this situation?

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on December 16, 2010, in Municipal Government, Public Infrastructure, Regions, State Policy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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