Morning Call Article July 19, 2017

Riley Yates

Riley YatesContact ReporterOf The Morning Call (My personal comments in “red”)

The developer’s proposal would bring a mammoth warehouse complex to the heart of Lower Nazareth Township. It has been fiercely fought — rejected by township supervisors who fear a glut of tractor-trailers on local roads, but resurrected by a Northampton County judge at appeal. (This is a common problem in The Lehigh Valley, Townships reject plans, developers sue and judges overturn the township decisions.  Local government should be allowed to govern, and not be judged, both good and bad decisions.)

Now, Lower Nazareth and developer Liberty Property Trust will take another stab at coming up with reworked plans that the township, the builder and residents can stomach.

On Tuesday, Judge Jennifer Sletvold was slated to take testimony to decide the root question in dispute: just how much traffic the 525,000 square feet of warehouses between Route 191 and Daniels Road would bring. (No where in this article does the developer state exactly the traffic, only that it will be less than 100 trucks, or 200 trips per day.  Based on ITE numbers, recently published as version 10, a warehouse this size will produce a minimum of 396 trucks, or 792 trips, per day.  What was this judge thinking?)

But instead, Sletvold urged the parties to settle, and they agreed to delay the hearing until autumn in order to sit down to try to make that happen.

Lower Nazareth solicitor Gary Asteak called the upcoming discussions a “last bid” for the developer “to come up with a project that is acceptable for what’s there — a project that is acceptable with our zoning.” (This is a well seasoned attorney whom I know personally.)

James Preston, Liberty Property Trust’s attorney, said the looming deadlines could put pressures on both sides to reach agreement.

Preston said he did not believe the effort would be a futile exercise, despite the history.

“I would hope that it is not,” Preston said.

In 2015, township supervisors unanimously rejected a conditional-use permit for the project, a relatively low regulatory hurdle, charging it would cause “significant traffic congestion” and harm public safety.

But last year, Sletvold overturned the township’s decision, after a hearing in which Liberty Property Trust argued that Lower Nazareth had overestimated — by a factor of two — the number of tractor-trailers that would be expected at the two warehouses.

Sletvold’s ruling prompted the township to appeal to Commonwealth Court. In December, that court vacated Sletvold’s decision, saying more testimony was needed on the traffic impacts. The court instructed Sletvold to hold a hearing in which she determined just how many tractor-trailers a day would be likely. (And so, where is the data? This is very important to us in Greenwich as the real issue for us is not the warehouse itself, but the increased traffic and public safety hazards the warehouse will bring to the township)

At issue is zoning that seeks to keep high-volume truck traffic off local roads and on major expressways. Under the rules, developments in Lower Nazareth that serve more than 100 tractor-trailers per day are required to be within 3,000 feet of an entrance to Routes 22 or 33.

Liberty Property Trust’s proposed 51-acre site isn’t within that distance. But the developer argues it doesn’t need to be, saying the project would fall under the 100-tractor-trailer threshold — a contention the township disputes.

When supervisors voted down the proposal in May 2015, they did so at a standing-room-only meeting in which nearly 200 residents turned out, some holding signs and wearing T-shirts opposing the plans. Opponents complained of traffic, the noise of incoming and outgoing tractor-trailers, and falling property values.

Under Tuesday’s agreement, the two sides will appear before Sletvold on Sept. 8 for a conference on the status of the case. If a resolution hasn’t been reached, a trial is slated for Oct. 10.