by Keri Lindenmuth
Cheers erupted in the Northampton Area High School Auditorium on Wednesday, October 17 as the East Allen Township Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 against the Rockefeller Group proposal to rezone a stretch of land on Weaversville Road. Had the land been rezoned from agricultural use to light industrial, as Rockefeller had hoped, it would make room for yet another warehouse in the area, right next to the future FedEx Ground hub.
The decisive vote came after months of discussion and three public hearings. Residents did all they could to voice their opinions during the hearings, from cross examining project manager Mark Heeb on threats to the area’s endangered bog turtle to filling their testimonies with personal stories and fears about the future of their families and the township.
“This is personal to a lot of us,” said Eric Miller, township resident.
Traffic was the main focus during the final hearing, as the Rockefeller Group called traffic engineer Brian Harmon to testify on their behalf. Harmon presented a 2013 traffic study that took FedEx’s historic data into concern. According to Harmon, the study shows that infrastructure is available to maintain a warehouse on Weaversville Road. Such a warehouse, he said, would even lead to much-needed road improvements at Willowbrook Road, Airport Road, Bullshead Road, and other area roadways.
However, residents were not happy with Harmon’s four-year-old study, especially the part of the study that did not identify any area roads as congested or unsafe, something a more recent 2016 traffic study reportedly contradicts.
“You are welcome to ride with me anytime. I have a very comfortable back seat,” township resident Boyd Moore said to representatives from the Rockefeller Group.
“Traffic conditions change over time,” said another township resident, Paula Mckee. “[The] traffic study that keeps coming up is obsolete at this point.”
Despite residents not agreeing with the results of the traffic study, representatives from the Rockefeller Group firmly believed the land on Weaversville Road was the only spot in the township prime for such a warehouse, or “modern, contemporary logistic center” as Heeb described.
“There is not another spot in the township…to do what we are proposing,” he said, as some residents in the audience shouted “Good!”
“If you want to stop time in its tracks…if not here, than where?” asked attorney for the Rockefeller Group, Joseph Fitzpatrick, in his closing arguments. ”We might be the suits you do no trust…but we are presenting an opportunity.”
Supervisors ultimately sided with residents and did not see how the rezoning would provide benefits or opportunities to the township. Every single supervisor voted “no.”
However, Supervisor Robert Mills left residents with this thought: “Convenience comes at a price,” he said.
The popularity of online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, he explained, helps drive warehouses. He asked that residents think carefully about this the next time they opt to buy something online instead of by visiting a local business.
For now, another warehouse in East Allen Township has been avoided, but there are still many more industrial complexes proposed throughout the Lehigh Valley, where many residents are discovering firsthand the price of convenience.