David Jaindl is a step closer to developing 600-plus acres of farmland in Lower Macungie after the township’s Zoning Hearing Board decided in his favor Tuesday night.
Still standing in his path is a ruling by Lehigh County Judge Michele A. Varricchio that the revisions to the township zoning ordinance to allow for the development were invalid because residents weren’t given adequate notice about them. Jaindl, owner of Jaindl Land Co., and the township are appealing.
The township commissioners made changes to the zoning ordinance to enable Jaindl to build nearly 700 homes, 4 million square feet of warehouses, a 400,000-square-foot shopping center, a convenience store with 16 gas pumps and a restaurant on what is now largely farmland along Spring Creek, Mertztown and Ruth roads and Smith Lane.
Commissioners viewed the plans as a preferable alternative to the development of a quarry Jaindl had proposed. Some residents, including a group called the Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie, protested the ordinance changes, calling it "spot zoning" and claimed the commissioners violated planning procedures.
On Tuesday, William Royer, chairman of the two-man zoning hearing board, and second member, Brian Higgins, said if township commissioners had offered residents more opportunities early in the process to discuss Jaindl's plans and alternatives, they might have avoided the legal battle. Royer said the zoning hearing board has made up for that in hearings that began last spring with “open mikes and inviting people to have an opinion.’’
“There are citizens of this township who are very disturbed on how this change to our zoning [has] happened," Higgins said.
But Royer concluded: “After hearing testimony and evidence, I have not found any violation of mandatory planning requirements. Therefore I would propose the zoning hearing board dismiss the case.’’
Higgins seconded him.
“The board made the right decision,” Jaindl's attorney Joseph A. Zator II said afterwards. “They considered all the evidence. They considered everything that was presented and decided as they should based on the law.”
Robert Rust III, a lawyer representing the residents who oppose the project, said, “The greatest thing that came out of this was the public’s involvement [in the zoning hearing board process.]"
“I’m very happy with the openness to the public and the dialogue that went on. It speaks well for the future," Rust said. "We’ve walked through the entire process and the decision made up to now. There are lessons to be learned, let's take them and use them.”
Moments before the zoning hearing board decision, Jaindl had no problem taking a seat in the back of township's Meeting Room, where he was surrounded by about 30 members of the Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie. The group had earlier predicted on its Facebook page that the zoning hearing board would rule for Jaindl and the township.