The much-anticipated curative amendment hearing between Rock Lehigh Valley and East Allen Township officially began on January 27. The hearing’s first evening was held at the Allen Township Fire Company to smaller crowds than anticipated. Both parties gave their opening arguments and began witness testimony before postponing the hearing for another evening after Rock Lehigh Valley did not have the evidence needed to answer cross examination questions from the township.
Rock Lehigh Valley filed the curative amendment petition for a hearing in July 2019, several months after East Allen Township’s Board of Supervisors rejected their rezoning request. Rock Lehigh Valley had asked the township to rezone 155 acres west of Weaversville Road from agriculture to industrial so that two one-million-square-foot warehouses could be constructed.
Rock Lehigh Valley filed the petition after alleging that the township acted in “bad faith” and that their zoning ordinance does not allow for a modern logistic center, something they argue is different from a warehouse.
Rock Lehigh Valley is being represented by Chris McLean and Joseph Fitzpatrick from Fitpatrick, Lentz, and Bubba.
In his opening arguments, Fitzpatrick acknowledged that public opinion of the developers is not popular, but said that the developers remain committed to righting a wrong they see in the township’s ordinance.
Every municipality, he said, must present equal opportunities for land uses, especially in areas of growth. Warehousing, which is a by-right use in the township, implies distribution. A logistic center, he said, is different. Online orders, popular online subscription boxes, and prescription orders…anything coming from the online retail boom…is not coming from a rural, stand-alone warehouse. This, he argues, is what makes a logistic center a unique use that East Allen Township does not account for.
“This is not a seat-of-the-pants effort [or] shot in the dark,” he said.
Kimberly Freimuth, special counsel for the township, did not agree with Fitzpatrick’s definition.
“A logistic center is nothing more than a fancy name for a warehouse,” she argued.
She argued that there are plenty of uses for the parcel of land, despite Rock Lehigh Valley’s claims that its agricultural use makes it outdated and unusable.
“Their challenge has no merit,” she added.
Rock Lehigh Valley was the first to call a witness in Johanna Chervak, Director of Real Estate Development for the Rockefeller Group’s northeast district. She has been with the project since its conception in 2012.
She said that Rockefeller was drawn to the Lehigh Valley because it is a “leading market in the country for logistics.” Over one-third of the U.S. population and half of the Canadian population can be reached in a day’s drive. The area’s strong labor force and access to Routes 22, 78, 33, and 81 also made it an attractive area.
When asked about the benefits such a development would bring, Chervak testified that the new development would bring an additional $265,000 to the township, $1 million to the school district, and $450,000 to the county in real estate taxes.
Rock Lehigh Valley also has developments in neighboring Allen Township. Three warehouse lots on the west side of Willowbrook Road and the FedEx Distribution Center make up what will be known as the Rock Lehigh Valley Logistic Center. The East Allen Township property in question is adjacent to FedEx and will be accessed via Willowbrook Road and Radar Drive, a new, private road constructed by Rockefeller.
“We view this whole area as one contiguous use,” explained Chervak.
All together, these properties would account for well over 4.5 million square feet of development. The current Rock Lehigh Valley traffic study only accounts for 3.1 million square feet, something that Friemuth questioned Chervak about. Although Rock Lehigh Valley has made or is making road improvements to Willowbrook Road, Race Street, and Airport Road, these improvements do not account for the added traffic this new logistic center would bring. Chervak deferred a response to Rockefeller’s traffic engineer, who was not present.
Chervak testified that no truck traffic from this logistic center would enter East Allen Township. It would exit the property on Radar Drive, in Allen Township, and head south on Willowbrook Road. She promised no traffic would head north, and was met with jeers and laughter from residents in the audience at this remark.
Perhaps not reassuring for residents, when asked if pressure for this property will ever end, Chervak answered no. Due to its proximity to highways and the airport, any developer will have their eyes set on this property.
“There will be strong demand for this property moving forward,” she confirmed.
The hearing will continue on February 19 at 7 p.m. at the Allen Township Fire Company.