Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township
Ten reasons why the Jaindl Zoning Change should have been repealed and why I supported the litigation that eventually resulted in the reduction of portions of the project by half.
1. For 23 years Lower Macungie Township’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and zoning policy was to preserve the prime agricultural land in the western corner of the township,which has some of the highest quality farmland in the region. Numerous citizen surveys and the township’s official Vision Statement calls for the preservation of this farmland.
2. In 2010 the Board of Commissioners Ryan Conrad, Roger Reis, Doug Brown and Ron Eichenberg engaged in “confidential” discussions with landowner David Jaindl to change the zoning and develop 600 acres of prime farmland, which is the single largest tract of remaining open space in the township. According to a county court decision, the public was not properly informed on this pending unilateral decision by the BOC on what was best for the township.
3. With no meaningful effort to encourage public participation on what could be the single largest development in township history, the Board of Commissioners negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with Jaindl, under which they agreed to change the agricultural zoning to high-impact commercial, industrial and residential zoning, allowing the construction of warehouses, shopping centers, mini-markets, fast food joints and potentially up to 600, townhouses & apartments. (The residential areas are zoned URBAN). After which there was no meaningful opportunity presented to the public to weigh in on Quarry vs. Warehousing.
4. The Memorandum of Understanding also obligated the township over a 20-year period to cooperate with Jaindl in developing the land with special approvals, waivers and other favors which will cost township taxpayers millions of dollars. It also obligated the township to vigorously defend the MOU against lawsuits.
5. Friends LMT (A community smart growth advocacy group) believed the zoning deal smacked of favoritism and is bad land use planning and possibly was illegal “spot” or “contract” zoning under the provision of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and past court rulings.
6. The Board of Commissioners defended its actions by claiming they changed the zoning to prevent Jaindl from developing the land with a giant limestone quarry,asphalt plant and concrete plant, even though Jaindl never demonstrated that he could obtain the township approvals for the quarry operation or obtain the state mining permit to open a quarry of that size and scope so close to the high-quality Little Lehigh Creek.
7. The long-term negative impact of the Jaindl zoning change and 20-year development plan includes more traffic congestion throughout the township and vicinity, including more warehouse trucking that will damage roads and pollute the air, more bridge and road maintenance at taxpayer cost, the need for a new fire station and possibly a policeforce, more flooding and pollution of the Little Lehigh Creek, more classrooms for the children from the new homes, ugly sprawl of warehouses and commercial development and the permanent loss of a beautiful and productive agricultural landscape.
8. These new costs will require the imposition of a millage tax on all township property owners. Friends believes the main reason the Board of Commissioners changed the zoning and sacrificed the farmland was to create a lucrative commercial and industrial tax base to which it could then impose a new property tax. Township officials have said repeatedly that a benefit of the zoning change would be new tax revenue.
9. Friends appealed the illegal zoning change in county court and before the township Zoning Hearing Board, seeking to have the new zoning declared invalid,which would stop the pending development of the land. This group raised nearly 30,000 dollars to fund the appeal.
10. After an initial legal victory, the courts then ruled in Jaindl’s favor. Instead of forcing the issue to the states highest court “Friends”supported the appellants decision to negotiate a compromise. This compromise resulted in Plan B a significant reduction in housing units and strip mall commercial.
Brief History of the Rezoning of Jaindl’s 700 Acres of Exceptional Farmland
In April, 2009, the commissioners held a public hearing on their intention to approve the MOU, which obligated them to adopt the new zoning and land development ordinances that Zator had written. About twenty residents from the affected neighborhood voiced opposition to the MOU and the rezoning. But the five commissioners voted unanimously to sign the MOU, claiming it was necessary in order to save the township from a nasty quarry, because fighting the quarry would cost $1 million over five years with no assurance of victory. In June, as required by the MOU and the “Zator timetable”, the commissioners approved the new zoning and land development ordinances that Zator had written. In July, and in step with the still-secret timetable, Jaindl submitted subdivision plans to split the 700 acres into several smaller lots. Jaindl also submitted a traffic impact study which indicated that the land would be developed with warehouses, a shopping center, mini-market and at least 700 homes.
After the new zoning was approved, five property owners from the zoning district in August filed a legal appeal of the zoning change in Lehigh County Court and before the township Zoning Hearing Board. The two appeals claimed that the township did not follow the correct procedures to change the zoning and that the zoning change constituted illegal “contract zoning.” The appeal asked the court and zoning board to declare the zoning invalid. Jaindl and the township claimed the appeal was filed too late and asked the county court to “quash” the appeal for that reason. Jaindl and the township also argued that the appeal did not belong in county court. The county judge in February, 2011 ruled against Jaindl and the township on both issues.
After the appeal was filed, other township residents, including the appellants, formed an organization called Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie. The group obtained a copy of the secret Zator timetable from the township as part of a request for documents related to the zoning change. The group has several goals: 1) raise money to pay the legal costs of the two appeals, 2) oppose Jaindl’s subdivision plans now being reviewed by the township Planning Commission, 3) get maximum publicity for their cause, 4) replace the current commissioners with new commissioners who would reverse the zoning.
At any time during this whole process and before his development plans would be recorded, Jaindl has the right to activate his quarry plans. Friends believes that the township should have fought and could still fight the quarry proposal and could have forced Jaindl to substantially reduce the size and negative impact of the quarry and possibly even have killed the quarry plan, mainly because of its negative impact on the nearby, high quality, Little Lehigh Creek. Faced with a long battle over his quarry plans, Friends believes Jaindl would have been willing to compromise with the commissioners on a zoning change that would have been acceptable to all parties involved, including the residents.
While the zoning appeal goes through the court system, which could take several years, Jaindl’s subdivision plans cannot get final township approval. If the appeal is won, the zoning change would be declared invalid and the subdivision and development plans would be nullified. Jaindl could then either activate his quarry threat or negotiate a new zoning plan with the township in a public forum.
If our zoning appeal is lost, Jaindl will be able to develop his 700 acres in accord with the new zoning and land development ordinances that his lawyer created and the township approved.
Articles, Media and blog coverage:
May 4th 2012 – Subdivision Vote - MCALL The night over 120 township residents came to the BOC meeting urging the township to answer serious questions about the subdivision appeal
May 3rd 2012 - Lower Mac Commissioners Vote could Impact East Penn Emmaus Patch
Feb 2nd 2011 - Our first court victory MCALL
July 19th 2010 - First Glimpse at plan MCALL