PA Court Rules in Favor of Lower Mac, Jaindl

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reverses Lehigh County decision.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Friday reversed a decision Lehigh County Judge Michelle Varricchio made more than a year ago that invalidated the zoning ordinance that would allow David Jaindl to build a mix of warehouses, commercial buildings and hundreds of homes on 700 acres of prime Lower Macungie farmland.

In other words, the Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners appealed Varricchio's September 2011 decision and won, according to a story in The Morning Call.

The zoning ordinance stands as written.

Ron Eichenberg, president of the township commissioners, said the commissioners are pleased with the decision.

"Lower Macungie Township is pleased that the Commonwealth Court recognized that we acted appropriately and in compliance  with applicable law in providing notice to the public of the July 2010 amendments to the Zoning Ordinance. We understand and appreciate that certain residents of the township disagreed with these amendments.

"However, it is clear that all residents received the required notices and had an
opportunity to comment at public meetings prior to enactment of the amendments. ...

"With this ruling, it is our hope that we can move forward in a positive direction with respect to tha future of the township," Eichenberg said.

Others were clearly not happy.

"Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township is very disappointed in the commonwealth decision," said spokesman Ron Beitler.

"Funding for this lawsuit was an overwhelming community effort by nearly 1,000 residents who signed a petition. Neighboring communities spoke out against it and smart growth advocates have condemned this zoning change as the antithesis of smart growth.

"The details of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) were negotiated confidentially and once decided unilaterally by elected officials only a few weeks were available for the public to review what could be the single largest and most destructive land development decision in the history of the township. 

"The commonwealth decision is 22 pages and complex. The appellants will consider their options after the holidays," Beitler said.

The 700-acre parcel bounded Smith Lane and Mertztown, Spring Creek and Ruth roads in the southwest corner of the township is, some say, some of the best farmland not only in the state, but in the country.

Jaindl Land Co.'s plan to develop it with more than 700 units of high-density housing, warehouses and commercial establishments has been a hotly debated issue in the township since the change to the zoning ordinance was signed in July 2010.

Michael D Siegel December 15, 2012 at 03:56 AM
What we need our wards- that is the answer. Why wait- one signature will do on a petition submitted to the courts. The commissioners can do this more quickly if the petition is presented to them at a twsp meeting under the reapportion act of 1996. If the twsp commisioners refuse to act, the court can entertain the petition and tthe commissioners will lose control of how the twsp will be divided up to 15 wards of at least 350 people in each ward. WE MUST DO THIS NOW. Nine or eleven commissioners will serve our community with fairness and no self interest issues. Development can go on- but with smart growth planning. I am tired of strip shopping centers and running to Whitehall and Airport Rd. Give us a shopping area and restaurants that are appealing and are environmentally sensitive. The commissioners should make a contract with the citizens of this community as they did with Jaindl saying no further development approvals unless smart growth and buildings with a sense of local pride and characteristic are built- no more strip shopping centers with monochromatic facades period
JT December 15, 2012 at 04:35 AM
"Friends" says the public wasn't able to weigh in. The courts disagree and it's just not true. Keep spreading lies to advance your political causes. The courts event went so far to say that the "Friends" arguments LACK MERIT. In other words they basically filed a frivolous lawsuit. If I remember correctly that's exactly what the zoning board determined in the friends other case they brought and lost. Enough causing the township to waste more tax money on these bogus politically charged lawsuits. Time to move on.
Mark Spengler December 15, 2012 at 12:48 PM
the Superior Court recognized the root cause of this entire controversy when in its ruling it stated: "the memorandum of understanding between Jaindl and the Township was reached in non-public negotiations and bound the Township to enact amendments to the Zoning Ordinance in a matter of weeks. The memorandum of understanding was not the result of a court approved settlement of any threatened or actual litigation."
Robert Sentner December 15, 2012 at 01:28 PM
"fitz" you don't have a clue what your talking about.
Willet Thomas December 15, 2012 at 01:51 PM
It's time to close the book on this controversial issue. The court has spoken. Lets put it behind us & support the BOC. Don't keep beating a dead horse.
JT December 15, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Mark, you're wrong and are misleading and misinforming people. Not surprising cause that's apparently what the 'friends' do best. First, its the Commonwealth court, not the Superior court. Second, the part you're quoting is where the Judges are reciting the objectors claims. The judges found the objectors a accusation contract zoning LACKING MERIT.
Robert Sentner December 15, 2012 at 02:12 PM
"WT" you are right to a point, if this is what the courts have said and the attorneys feel that this is the end. I agree than the Jaindl / Quarry issue is dead and move on. But if the attorneys feel that there is another way, than the last thing that we should do is move on. And anyone who supports the present BOC and their irresponsible rezoning must not care about quality of life in our community.
Mark Spengler December 15, 2012 at 02:40 PM
JT you are correct about this being Commonwealth Court and thank you. The other part of what you said is nonsense. The fact that his was non-public negotions is important and indeed much of the root cause here. Also, you like to say this was all frivolous. That is an insult to jusge Varricchio and you should be ashamed of yourself for saying that. The decision was overturned. It was frivolous it would have never got this far. This entire thing should not have landed in court in the first place. Make an effort to actually engage the citizens in a zoning change of this size and all of this never happens. If you actually talk to a majority of the people who have followed this issue very few people are supportive of the way the MOU started. That includes those who support the MOU and or the present leadership in the Twsp. You may recall Bill Royer discussing the missed opportunities to invlolve the public as one example.
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM
http://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/ There is an issue locally with folks (esp seniors) falling prey to con artists via mail and phone schemes. I hope your smarter about that then you are about this.
JT December 15, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Mark let's keep it simple. You're wrong. What you call nonsense is what the judges call facts. The only ones insulting Varrichio are th commonwealth judges themselves. They put her in her place and were pretty blunt about it in the decision. What Varichio did was blatant judicial activism. She was put in her place for it. Ready to move on yet?
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Both Zoning Hearing Board officials (Chairman Royer and Higgins) released statements that while they were bound legally in their decision that they both believe the BOC handled this wrong they both made public statements to that effect. The fundamental question of Quarry vs. Warehouses/strip mall/HD housing should have been presented to the public. It wasn't. Sadly they can both probably expect to not be re-appointed when their terms are up since thats how this board operates "punishing" volunteers who who dare disagree with them public.
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Ball was always in the BOC's hands to stop/prevent the litigation. Prior to the July 2010 vote on the ordinance notice was given by appellants council to officials that this lawsuit was being considered. Warning was given. The appellants were simply asking for the BOC to slow the process down. To present ALL the options to the public. The whole time all they and the "friends" group wanted was public discourse. That choice was taken away from the residents when they negotiated the MOU in a series of confidential meetings. (This IS documented) And may I remind everyone the MOU went far beyond simple re-zoning. It changed definitions. It waived traffic impact fees. It outlined a timeline for adoption by Jaindl's representation. Ok fast forward to after the appellants won. Again, ball in BOC's court. Again another chance to stop the litigation. 1000 signatures on a petition. 125 residents at a meeting. Friends publicly stated we would stop fundraising efforts if BOC agreed to hold a series of town hall meetings outlining Quarry vs. Warehouses. ALL the options apples to apples. So the public could weight in. We were very clear, if the public weighed in and sentiment was warehouses.. Well then we would drop fundraising efforts. All we have EVER wanted was transparency in our gov't and the ability for residents to weigh in on the largest forced rezoning in township history. Period. There were many circuit breaker built in to stop the lawsuit. Each time the BOC dug in.
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Can't support a BOC that didnt think holding a series of town hall meetings outlining and presenting the options of quarry vs. warehousing to the public was a bad idea. Presenting these options to the public BEFORE confidentially negotiating a "memorandum of understanding" was all "friends" ever wanted. Fortunately we believe the actions were illegal which is why we supported the appellants. But before that, BEFORE the lawsuit even during the lawsuit we always made it clear. Stop the process and present the options. How can anyone argue against that? That they think the public was too stupid to understand quarry vs. warehouses? I have no idea. Impossible to speculate what their reasoning to skip public discourse and jump right into confidential negotiations were. Willet I read you comments on here often. I think your a respectful guy but I have to disagree with you that fundamental gov't transparancy is never a "dead horse". This is muni gov't. Not representative gov't. Not like electing officials to go to washington to make decisions for you. Local gov't when done right should be a different animal. It allows for DIRECT participation by residents. Here was an opportunity for an excercise is true democracy. Present the pro's and cons of 1. fight the quarry. 2. accept a quarry. 3. negotiate a zoning change that would lead to warehousing... and then initiate public discourse and finally public polling. How could they have gone wrong with that course of action?
Robert Sentner December 15, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Worst thing that ever happened to LMT was becoming a first class township. Has been all down hill from there. The fact that I am in a neighboring township and a Supervisor I am very aware of how things should go, ie< ( public meetings, transparency, ability to have rational discussions ) all of that did not happen to the degree that any sane person would expect. did they meet the definition under the MPC? the courts have ruled Yes, I think that it is exactly that an opinion I feel otherwise. Next election can't come soon enough.
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 04:46 PM
JT fundamental question. Would it have been better for the BOC to BEFORE engaging in negotiating the MOU... (which didnt simply just outline a zoning change but also changed definitions, waived impact fees. ect. ect.) to have polled the public via Town Hall meetings, via op-eds, via perhaps even a referendum via workshops in other words "above and beyond"... To present the options A, B, C ect. Pros and cons of all... Then to ask the question. Ok which do you prefer? I and others who prefer the likely small quarry were never given an opportunity to weigh in on this choice BEFORE the MOU was ever negotiated. Yes, residents were against a quarry. But would they continue to be once the alternative of warehousing was presented? I and others, many others cause I ask this question often would have preferred the quarry. So again JT. Would it have been better for the BOC to proceed in this fashion? I don't think I am, but maybe I would have been in the minority and folks would have indicated they prefer industrial warehouses/strip malls and more housing. I honest to god think most folks agree with me and prefer a quarry. Would the public have supported spending money on a legal battle to keep the land preserved Ag? To fight the size of a quarry? (As Lo Milford has successfully fought a developer) But regardless the question is.... presenting the options to the public. Would we be in this mess if this was done?
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Michael I tend to agree with you on the wards concept. It's something to consider. I think if the western portion of the township had direct representation by a commissioner looking out for their interests this whole debacle would have turned out much different. We are 30k and STILL GROWING. 24 square miles. We have the population of a city. Larger then Easton. To me, perhaps this concept is the next logical step after conversion to 1st class in continuing to improve our system of gov't here in the township. I hope this is a conversation we can have during the next election cycle. Lets talk about it. Lets see what the residents think about this.
Ron Beitler December 15, 2012 at 06:10 PM
According to the courts the responsibility is on the resident to see the notification (interpret the legalese) come to the muni building.. read the ordinance full of legalese and interpret. Thats the bare minimum legal requirement. What I've advocated for, always advocated and always will is for the responsibility of elected officials to go above and beyond. You can't expect a resident with no legal background to be able to read an ordinance proposal and interpret it's affect on a community. We have a professional planner who should have been directed by elected officials to present the REAL WORLD ramifications of this ordinance to the public in laymans terms in a WELL ADVERTISED formal public town hall. Again. Here are options A. B. C. here are pros and cons (in everyday speak) here's how it will change the area. Here are potential issues.
Robert Sentner December 15, 2012 at 06:42 PM
King Eichenberg, the rest of the BOC, Zator and Jaindl, controls Sarah P. (the professional planner) just like everything else in the township. They could care less what the residents actually want.
Michele K December 16, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Thank you. This was a decision about the law. Stating that the court should be influenced by a few residents' signing a petition shows a gross misunderstandings of fundamental legal principles.
Michele K December 16, 2012 at 02:22 AM
What Ron (and I assume "Friends," since they are one and the same these days) proposes regarding advertising is illegal. I hope people remember your demands and errors when you inevitably run for the Board, since right now you show you lack qualifications. I think we're all aware that's your plan with all your posts everywhere we turn on Patch..
Ron Beitler December 16, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Townhall meetings are illegal? LOL...
Ron Beitler December 16, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I guess considering running I can expect "proxies" for the commissioners questioning my qualifications/motives instead of talking issues. Fine, it's silliness you have to deal with running for office. For the record I've been involved with local gov't everywhere I've lived for 15 years. I wrote LTE's about LMT and attended meetings starting 12 years ago. Always been a active and engaged and encouraged others to do so. Some would argue commenting on every issue is bad 'campaigning'. That if I run I should leave my statements to vague soundbites like 'I support smart growth' or "I'm for lower taxes".. silly general statements that no one can really argue with. I won't do that. Won't play that game. Residents in LMT are smarter then that. Back to the issues.. I ask you this 'Michele'. Simple question. Understanding the specifics are different (procedurally.. curative amendment vs. a zoning change) but the philosophy in question being the same. Do you think the residents in Lower Milford (supported by local officials) are wrong challenging a developers quarry? (and winning so far) Yup they've spent public money. But so far they've prevented the quarry and the land in question will remain as it is. They didn't roll over. So again 'Michelle', simple question was that wrong?
Scott Bieber December 17, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Seems like Michele, JT and "Ftiz" (at least he isn't afraid to identify himself) prefer a "confidential" government leaving the public out to lunch on the single biggest land development decision ever made in the township. As we all know, a judicial decision is not always the right decision. We who believe in open government and public participation are very upset with the way the township commissioners handled this matter. Are we sore losers ? Definitely. This is not some game like baseball or soccer where it goes no furrher than the playing field. The commissioners's actions will have consequences for generations to come. And Friends is much larger than Ron Beitler. We have almost 500 likes on our facebook page. The township is afraid to run an opinion poll on its website because it knows the majority will oppose the jaindl rezoing. We understand that some people are not bothered by more warehouses, 700 more houses, and the continuing loss of beautiful open space and farmland. Some people mistakenly think this land development will fiscally benefit the township taxpayers. In the short run yes, in the long run, it will end up costing the taxpayers. Our main gripe is that the commissioners acted arrogantly and insulted the residents by excluding them from the zoning decision and how to respond to the quarry threat. And most of the people who live in that area and oppose this rezoning have lived there a long time or live in houses that have been there a long time.
Vic December 17, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Where is Pa. farmland going?Oh thats right Jandil got it handed to them.Where is all that great famland going to?Oh thats right Jandil is destroying it with buildings after Buildings.Soon that area we can Call New York City II and thats disgusting.Well The family members of Jandil started a turkey farm bussiness and now that they are gone and the younger has control so what do they care about what communities around them say about them.They had money handed to them and care about no one.Well maybe people that buy the products should stop and boycott Jandil.What should be mandatory is if the get zoning rights changed and approved no matter if its right or wrong lagal or illegal ways they should also have to pay for every changed and future costs for anything that needs to be changed or added such as trffic lights wiresroads drainage ways and also add on taxes that they will be responsible for for developing whatever they get in their heads and all them things I said that is every year and not be put on the others in that township to have to pay additional to what they pay now.Thats the problem they get to build whatever with approvel pay to get the land done and build whatever and all expenses that needs to be upgraded or added off site of the owned properties by the developers they just say well Taes need to go up to everyone to cover that and that is so unjustified.But the bouroughs and Township elected people say oh well.All I can say is it needs to stop now!
Michele K December 17, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Well, I can't answer the question, I have no idea what you're talking about with your ramblings. And no, I'm not a proxy and yes, Michele is my name. I don't currently support any one person over another for the Board, but you're rapidly changing that opinion (I should say, I am already convinced you are unfit). You and your allies attack and insult anyone who disagrees - real smart way to run a campaign. You're bitter over your loss. I get it. But you lost. Stop costing the township tens of thousands in attorney fees, if you really care about LMT!
Michael D Siegel December 18, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Michele K, I am not an ally of anyone group except the Little Lehigh Creek- which no one speaks for the creek - just a proponent of good governing and planning. Yes, I do have the planning and governing credentials and have had constructive conversations with the Jaindl family for over 20 years. What everyone needs to do is request a meeting with David in an open forum and discuss good planning techniques and not petty bickering. Here is a great opportunity for the Township to make this area shine with good smart growth planning techniques. Presenting Mr. Jaindl constructive ideas and options of what your friends and family would like to see in this area will go a long way to heal the wounds. For too many years the war has been feuding against Mr. Jaindl in this township and it is time to work with him rather than against him.
Ron Beitler December 18, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Ugh....It's not always an us vs. them thing. People are so tired of politics as usual. I disagree with policy. Sometimes I agree. I've written positive blogs about policy and ones questioning. They are all on my blog. Every opinion I've had last 2 years. I just want solutions. Either way it's about issues. There are hundreds of ppl on friends mailing list and FB page. They have a right to say what they want. Name one thing that I'VE said thats an insult. I've said I don't think commercial greenfield realtors are the best choice for a township with growth issues. Thats a blanket statement nothing personal. If you want to talk about issues and solutions lets do that.
Ron Beitler December 18, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Michael I think you would make a great arbitrator of that hypothetical discussion. An open forum with Mr. Jaindl would be a fantastic idea. I know for a fact 'Friends' would be open to that. It's the township that seems to prefer confidential negotiation.
Ron Beitler December 18, 2012 at 03:53 AM
@Michelle, one last attempt. I'll try to make it easier for you to understand the question with a visual. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=184488904932407&set=a.184488891599075.40601.171403946240903&type=3&theater Does this document outline: A. A public process outlining for the public a choice between a quarry, fighting a quarry or an alternative plan of industrial warehouses, strip malls and housing, then inviting the public to participate in a discussion about that choice? or B. Does this outline a pre-determined outcome negotiated confidentially where bare minimum public participation required by law is observed?
Ron Beitler December 18, 2012 at 03:56 AM
And... crickets.....


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