East Allen rejects zoning change for warehouse plan
At the end of its public hearing Oct. 18, in a decision that has been months in the making, East Allen Township Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal to change zoning on a slice of property in the southwest corner of the township. Residents of the township railed against the proposed change at every phase of the proposal and applauded the unanimous decision.
The Lehigh North- ampton Airport Authority board had purchased property for airport expansion and buffers to airport runways. The airport then found itself in financial straits. The solution to the airport’s financial crisis was to sell off property. The first step was to work with a developer with the financial resources to further commercial development. The airport selected Rockefeller Group based on its reputation and successful projects. The first project was a nearby million-square-foot warehouse for FedEx Ground operations. This plan called for more warehouses.
Last year, Rockefeller asked East Allen Township for a public hearing on a proposal for developing airport property along Weaversville Road behind the existing FedEx warehouse. The first step in the development was to get zoning changed from agricultural to light industrial. For East Allen residents, it was a signal to unite against the developers to preserve their quality of life in an ex-urban environment.
Rockefeller had a sound proposal. The best use of the land is a commercial project. Rockefeller had designed its approach to the East Allen property by directing traffic over improved roads built for heavy truck usage. The developers showed no truck traffic would touch East Allen’s roads. They proposed landscaped berms to hide the potential 40-foot-plus-high warehouse buildings. They offered contemporary designs for logistics centers. But, everything depended on changing the zoning designation.
During the hearings, testimony after testimony from residents revealed their displeasure with the idea of another warehouse development. The concern of every resident opposed to the project was the degrading of the quality of life — with more trucks on the road, noise and light pollution and higher traffic counts on limited roads. Residents confirmed the supervisors’ private thinking.
A few who supported the project attended the last session. The point made by proponents was that a community not growing is not able to support services needed by residents.
In the background of this issue lurked changes already proposed. Allen Township Board of Supervisors had approved more warehouses along Willowbrook Road, six more around Seemsville Road and four more around Savage Road. Resident animosity toward Allen Township’s decision reached a feverish pitch as East Allen Township realized placing industrial parks along Allen Township’s municipal boundary gave Allen Township the tax revenue and East Allen Township the truck traffic.
Hanover Township, Lehigh County, had a similar argument. Even without new development, residents report trucks on Bullshead Road and Colony Drive, both of which have truck restrictions.
East Allen Township residents are leery of traffic proposals made by a computer model that says traffic handling capacity is vastly improved with all the highway changes proposed. The Route 22 expansion can accommodate all traffic increases. Trucks will not be on highways during rush hour.
Another problem voiced by at least one resident and echoed by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Company is the potential shortage of warehouse workers.