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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 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, 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 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.

optimist September 16, 2011 at 05:24 PM
I do not agree that the present Jainld plan is a better alternative to the quarry. The quarry would be a long shot because of the proximity to the Little Lehigh and the amound of resistance that could be mustered. Even if it goes throuh, I still think that is better than more high density residential housing. Does our township need more warehouses and residential housing? How is the change in zoning not an example of contract zoning? Even if the township wins the appeal the judge may shut it down because it is basically text book cotract zoning. What a waste of time and money!Wish our leaders would simpy tell Jaindl to go ahead and try a quarry and then fight him. Tried to leave this message earlier and it did not show up.
Friends for Protection LMT September 16, 2011 at 06:59 PM
Wayne you are absolutely correct on all accounts! This IS the textbook definition of spot/contract zoning. And yes there is growing sentiment a quarry on the scale most likely possible is a much better alternative to a complete and total build out of this area. www.facebook.com/friendslmt
Howard R.Bachman,Jr. September 16, 2011 at 07:19 PM
We have too much building in this area and it has to stop before all of our homes are flooder out like other places are over build and the water has no place to go--farm land must be saved now !!!
Dave Greff September 16, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Just remember, vote them all out on the next election
Kevin Spear, PE October 12, 2011 at 12:45 PM
While I can appreciate everyone's view, can we set a few things in order. We have a master plan to guide the zoning/development of property. Too much building would be Manhattan, not Lower Macungie. Flooding happens because structures are built within a floodplain. Regulations exist to prohibit any proposed development from raising the floodplain elevations (both from a hydrologic view and from a stream/river modification view). Development happens because a land owner decides to build something, either by zoning rights or with variances granted by a zoning board. If you don't like what's happening, show up to the Zoning Board meeting, the Planning Board meeting and the Commissioner's meeting and express your concerns. Or, just buy the property, not purchase "easements" to protect it.

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