Lower Macungie commissioners gave their approval Thursday night to a plan for nearly 3 million square feet of warehouses, the first major development planned for Jaindl Land Co.-owned farmland that was the subject of controversial zoning changes in 2010.
Commissioners unanimously approved Liberty Property Trust's plans for three warehouses and one 10,000-square-foot office building on about 225 acres near Spring Creek, Mertztown and Quarry roads.
The development was inevitable after township commissioners in 2010 reached a land use deal with David Jaindl that the board at the time said was designed to prevent a quarry operation on the land.
"I wish to God there is some way we can overturn this, but there isn't," said Commissioner Ron Beitler, who was part of an organization that funded legal challenges of zoning changes the township made as part of an agreement with Jaindl. "We're locked into it."
The warehouse plan is just the first proposal for the property that was previously subdivided into 16 lots. The developer has not yet given an indication of who the tenants would be or when the project would be completed. Liberty won't be able to secure any building occupancy permits until it completes roadway improvements in the area.
Neighbors of the property and residents of nearby Macungie and Alburtis have voiced concerns about the truck traffic the warehouses will generate once they're up and running. Those concerns remained alive and well Thursday night.
"I just think the township will change forever and not in a good way," Rob Mihok said.
Jason Bartos, who lives in Alburtis, said he already deals with unwanted truck traffic at his home.
"I don't think Lower Macungie realizes the magnitude of the decisions it's making as far as destroying the quality of life in Alburtis," Bartos said. "Quality of life and safety are just going out the window."
Sara Pandl, the township's planning director, said Liberty addressed the buffering issues that were raised by residents who challenged the zoning changes that helped accommodate the industrial development. She said the plan calls for substantial berms and landscaping to "reduce the visual impact of these buildings."
She said the developer went "above and beyond" township requirements with "an extensive landscape plan."
"I really think the campus-like atmosphere they're trying to promote here is going to be accomplished," Pandl said.
David Horn of Coopersburg-based Architerra said the trees planted will be 8 to 12 feet in height and some will grow to 40 feet or higher.
Township engineer Bill Erdman said roadway improvements will be completed and inspected before a certificate of occupancy is issued.
Beitler voiced his concerns about the truck traffic generated, where those trucks will be heading and their impact on the township roads, as well as Macungie and Alburtis.
"Whatever we can do to encourage trucks to … head toward Fogelsville rather than Main Street, Macungie …" Beitler said.
Erdman said, "We're doing everything we can to strongly encourage them to go in the right direction."
Many details related to the development of the Jaindl land were dictated by a controversial land deal that Jaindl struck with township commissioners in 2010.
Under the agreement, Jaindl was permitted industrial, residential and commercial development on the farmland on which he previously proposed a quarry. In exchange for those land-use concessions, Jaindl agreed not to pursue his quarry project.
Liberty's plan accounts for roughly 225 acres of the land to be developed at the site known as Spring Creek Properties. The plan calls for three warehouses — one is 1.2 million square feet, another 1.1 million and a third 650,000 square feet. Each building may be occupied by more than one tenant. The plan also includes a 10,000-square-foot office building.
Jaindl's agreement with the township allows for up to about 4 million square feet of warehouses, 71,000 square feet of businesses and 400 homes.