Lower Mac Commissioners Will Appeal Judge’s Ruling
Supporters of farmland preservation were disappointed with the board's decision.
The Lower Macungie Commissioners voted unanimously Sept. 15 to appeal the decision of Lehigh County Court Judge Michele A. Varricchio that invalidated zoning changes the board made to allow David Jaindl to develop more than 600 acres of prime township farmland.
Varricchio ruled Aug. 31 that the township did not provide proper notice to residents about the proposed changes before they were approved in July 2010. Even though the township made a “good faith effort,” to comply with the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code when the changes were advertised, the notices were misleading to residents, she said.
Residents and the Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township did not take well to the decision.
“We are disappointed in the decision to appeal Judge Varricchio’s decision. For the [Board] to completely ignore and discredit multiple citizen groups, past surveys of residents showing super majority support for land preservation and a community that is very attuned to issues of transparent government, is mind boggling. Moving forward we are confident Judge Varricchio’s decision will be upheld and see no value in the township further wasting taxpayer resources to defend it's confidential deal with a land developer," said Friends of Lower Mac member Ron Beitler after the vote.
During the course of the hours-long meeting, several residents sent letters to the commissioners asking them to not appeal the judge’s decision. Nearly 60 residents attended the meeting, and for two hours before the vote, they approached the board to make their sentiments known:
- Several pleaded with the commissioners to take more time to think about their decision and to not be too quick to appeal the judge’s decision.
- Donald Miles, attorney representing the residents, said he is confident Varricchio's decision will not be overturned. He said the judge’s decision was correct and the township should not appeal, saving the taxpayers court costs in what, he feels, would be a futile appeal.
- Anthony Rodale commented about growing up in Lower Macungie, and now seeing the fields slowly disappearing to become developments. “We need to study more and think of our future generations,” he said.
- Jaindl Attorney Joseph Zator said the township should appeal and to “let the Commonwealth Court decide.”
Though the tone of the meeting was serious during the residents' comments, the mood turned during Zator’s opportunity to speak, when the residents began laughing and making remarks.
Commissioner President Roger Reis put an immediate halt to the disrespectful behavior.
“Please refrain from laughing," Reis said, "It is not appropriate to mock and give snide remarks. He listened quietly while you spoke. Now it is his turn.”
Then David Jaindl stepped up to the podium to defend himself.
"In 1988, the farmland was zoned for agriculture, but was then changed and zoned for development," he said. The property was de-valued and he filed for quarry use.
“It was not a bluff—not a leverage point,” he continued, “Meetings were held in 2010 in accordance with the Sunshine Act to discuss the uses of the property.”
When the commissioners went into discussions, Reis told everyone in attendance that he wanted “no outburst after the vote is taken — no cheering or booing," but to show respect.
“I don’t like either project — the quarry or this current project, Commissioner Joseph Pugliese said, referring to the proposed plan to construct warehouses, homes, a shopping center, a restaurant, and a convenience store with a gas station.
Commissioners Douglas Brown and Ron Eichenberg both agreed the decision would be a difficult one that everyone should accept with respect. Both felt a need to support the zoning ordinance and that they did everything right.
“I stand by the decision to support the ordinance. We didn’t hide anything — public notice was given,” Commissioner Vice President Ryan Conrad said.
When Reis spoke of his decision, he appeared to lecture the audience.
“This is not going to stay farmland. It will either be developed or be a quarry. We can’t tell someone what they can and cannot do on their property, as long as they follow the ordinances. If it wouldn’t have been for the zoning change in 2009, we wouldn’t even be here.”
After nearly two hours of hearing public comments, commissioners voted unanimously to direct Solicitor Richard Somach to file an appeal and to re-advertise the ordinance.