The Lehigh Township Planning Commission met Monday, May 8 with a lengthy meeting to discuss the construction of a Verizon Wireless communication facility and the building of a medical marijuana campus on Birch Drive.
The first order of business was Verizon’s special exception request to erect a 180-foot-tall wireless communication facility at 3861 Lehigh Dr. due to the height of the pole exceeding the township’s ordinance. The manacle will be set back 369 feet on the Villanova property along Indian Trail Road off of Route 248 and will help provide coverage to Verizon customers where there are coverage gaps in that area. Representative Kate Durso also acknowledged that Verizon would be willing to share the tower with other companies.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval for the variances conditioned upon the applicant providing a waiver from Villanova regarding the township not being liable for any damage incurred to the property as a result of the tower, and that the applicant indemnify the township for any costs incurred for equipment coming off the tower.
Next, the commission had a lengthy discussion regarding a special exception application for the construction of a medical marijuana campus on a vacant lot along Birch Drive by the LURRS partnership, which would include medical marijuana grower/processor facilities, a medical marijuana dispensary, and a separate drive-through and/or fast-food restaurant.
Applicant Mark Leuthe is president of Lehigh Engineering Associates, which sits across from the proposed lot that Leuthe and his partners currently own.
In regard to the drive-through fast-food restaurant, Leuthe stated that the lot will sit at the furthest point away from nearby residential zoning and that he is confident they can meet all of the criteria for development, although the concept is for a generic drive-through concept with no outlined tenant at this time.
Following, Leuthe stated that one of the permitted use special exceptions allowed by zoning in the district, which the Planning Commission also approved in 2017, is for medical marijuana facilities.
Leuthe expressed that he is confident he and his partners can meet all of the township’s requirements for their proposed 3,000 square-foot dispensary and sixteen 20,000 square-foot grow/processor warehouse facilities, with each being owned by a separate user who would potentially grow and ship their product statewide.
Chairman David Shulman noted that a dispensary cannot be on the same site as a growing facility per the township’s ordinance, and Leuthe maintained that they will not “technically” be on the same property because the lots will be subdivided.
Shulman also raised concerns regarding the noise of the generators that would be used for potential power outages for each building and the odor that would permeate the area due to the strong “skunky” odor that marijuana is associated with.
Leuthe assured that the noise from the generators would be under the maximum amount and that there will be precautionary measures taken to mitigate any cannabis odors because the township ordinance states that the facilities must be odorless.
Leuthe also divulged that the grower/processing facilities would accumulate the same amount of traffic as a single-family home, whereas the projected dispensary traffic would be 633 vehicles entering/exiting the facility per day and the fast-food restaurant would generate approximately 1,599 vehicles per day, with the facilities having room for additional parking if necessary.
During public comment, resident Glenn Pereira expressed that the general sentiment of the township’s residents is that the proposed medical marijuana campus is unwanted because it will have a detrimental impact on the area.
Many residents voiced concerns regarding the facilities’ hours of operation, resources the facilities will require such as water and electric, disposal of water and soil waste, security measures, odor, increased criminal activity, and the impact the campus would have on the welfare of residents.
One resident asked: “What’s going to prevent criminals from targeting the facility, which puts residents in jeopardy?”
Commissioner Cynthia Miller stated: “This will put a strain on our police department because there will be more DUIs.”
“Security, the welfare of children and residents, and that anyone can get a medical marijuana card are the biggest issues for me,” said commissioner Kristin Soldridge.
Chairman Shulman suggested the “application be rejected on the basis of the state statute for the dispensary and growing facility not being on the same site and the general welfare of the community not being protected by this property.”
Further, Shulman stated that if the zoning board were to grant a special exception, that they should consider odor issues, noise from generators, gates and security, the distance between the dispensary and growing facility, traffic and its effect upon Birch Drive, and adequate infrastructure for water, sewage and electricity.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in a motion to recommend the plan be rejected by the Zoning Hearing Board, with commissioner Bill Jones being the only dissenting vote.
The Zoning Hearing Board will meet on Thursday, August 10 at 6 p.m. at the Lehigh Township Volunteer Fire Co. located at 4188 Lehigh Dr. to make their determination with consideration to the Planning Commission’s recommendation where residents are encouraged to attend to provide testimony on the proposed medical marijuana campus.
The next Lehigh Township Planning Commission meeting will be held Monday, June 12 at 6 p.m.