Northampton Press

Sunday, September 15, 2019

E. Allen gets briefing on joint comprehensive plan

Wednesday, July 24, 2019 by Paul Cmil Special to The Press in Local News

At its workshop meeting July 10, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission sought support for a new regional plan dubbed River Central Comprehensive (RCC) Plan. When initially introduced, Supervisor Mark Schwartz expressed his doubts about the concept — hence, the briefing.

The RCC was initially conceived during an informal session between Chris Garges, Hanover Township (Lehigh County) manager, and Peter Paone, North Catasauqua Borough Council president. Both municipalities needed to update their decades-old comprehensive plans and neither wanted to spend the $40,000 estimated cost. They wanted to pursue an approved cooperation agreement called a regional plan.

Although more small communities are working with regional planning, the concept is relatively new. Schwartz initially opposed the measure because East Allen did not have good results with the first regional plan it joined, the Nazareth Area Council of Governments. In addition, the township had just submitted the last payment on its latest comprehensive plan.

The introduction to the discussion was how RCC would be different than NAZCOG.

“I think we are better able to understand how to make these things work,” said Becky Bradley, LVPC executive director.

While regional planning has its detractors, Garges and Paone have been sending out invitations to get on board. Price of admission is estimated at $20,000.

Why is regional planning becoming a key element in the first place?

According to Bradley, with support from Brent Green, East Allen Township’s manager, the base document governing municipal planning is the Municipal Planning Code. The state requires all municipalities to allocate space for every type of zoning use.

Under the RCC concept, each municipality does not need to have space for every conceivable land use. The other upside is that the municipalities can plan for interconnecting walking/biking trails that allow for better recreational uses.

There are disadvantages, as NAZCOG demonstrated. Politics can get in the way. LVPC believes it can control the political problems.

If the working groups can forge a regional comprehensive plan, zoning ordinances at every municipality would need to be revamped to fall within the structure. There would be no need to have a provision for dense, high-rise senior apartments in East Allen Township; the condition is met in Catasauqua. North Catasauqua would not need to have a provision for agricultural set-asides. Hanover’s Primo Warehouse can serve as a base for combined food processing warehouse/trucking facility.

However, as East Allen Township Solicitor Joseph Piperato explained, regional planning does not cure all problems.

“There are still problems,” he said. “The Rockefeller curative amendment the township is facing would not go away, but developers are wary of regional planning modules like this. It gives them less flexibility.”

Solicitor Jackson Eaton, of Hanover Township, has a draft agreement that Hanover, Catasauqua, North Catasauqua and East Allen promised to review. Other municipalities have been contacted.

LVPC is pushing the concept ever bigger, but there is local consideration that a large regional plan minimizes the contribution of each municipality and the municipalities might lose planning abilities.