After six hearings spread over a year and a half, interrupted by a pandemic, the Rock Lehigh Valley and East Allen Township curative amendment hearing finally came to a close on Monday, June 28. The ruling now rests in the hands of the East Allen Township Board of Supervisors.
The first hearing was held back in January 2020 after Rock Lehigh Valley filed a petition against the township, alleging that the municipality acted in “bad faith” by rejecting their request to rezone 155 acres west of Weaversville Road from agricultural to industrial. Rock Lehigh Valley has argued since filing the petition in the summer of 2019 that East Allen Township’s zoning unfairly excludes modern logistics centers, which solicitors for Rock argue are different entities than warehouses.
Representing Rock Lehigh Valley, Joseph Fitzpatrick said in his closing statement that a modern logistics center and a traditional warehouse are two completely different entities in the supply chain, citing testimony given by Lehigh professor Dr. Zach Zachariah in early 2020.
He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the necessity for a local logistics center as more and more families rely on e-commerce.
With East Allen Township located only one day’s drive from one-third of the U.S. population and half of the Canadian population, Fitzpatrick argued that rezoning 155 undeveloped acres for logistics is a “real, distinct, and necessary use.”
Zoning, he said in closing, should be used for planning for the future. Not denying it.
However, this was an argument that many East Allen Township residents were not persuaded by.
“You can make up whatever name you want,” said Robert Byshler during public comment. “Is it a big building…Does it have a lot of trucks? Yes.”
“Different name, same game,” added Lou Corominas. The effects of a logistics center, including increased pollution and traffic, are no different than those caused by a warehouse, he continued.
“A horse, is a horse, is a horse,” Bob Lalo said simply to close his public comment.
The concept that a logistics center is different from a warehouse is something Kimberly Freimuth, special counsel for the township, vehemently denies.
“A logistic center is nothing more than a type of warehouse,” she said in her closing arguments.
She added that the township’s zoning ordinance provides “sufficient” land for warehouses in other parts of the township, even if those plots of land may not be large enough for a one-million-square-foot warehouse, something Rock Lehigh Valley has argued. She also took issue with Rock Lehigh Valley saying that there was not enough space for warehouses in the township. She reminded those present there are already six existing warehouses in the township, which Rock did not take into account while testifying.
“The applicant is creating growth [in Allen Township] and forcing it into a neighboring township,” she concluded.
Having heard hours of testimony from witnesses, counsel arguments, and public comment over 18 months, township solicitor Joseph Piperato recommended that both Fitzpatrick and Freimuth prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law. These packets will summarize the main arguments of the hearing in a more digestible format for supervisors. After a review, supervisors will make their decision.
While no voting date is scheduled as of now, a date will be announced on the township website: www.eatwp.org.