Feb. 12--The owners of Willow Brook Farms say they have a tentative deal to remove a deed restriction that will enable FedEx Ground to forge ahead with its $335 million distribution plant on land now owned by Lehigh Valley International Airport.
Christopher Lloyd, the lead trustee for the Fuller Family Trust that operates the horse farm, said Friday that the trust reached a tentative deal to allow roadwork for the FedEx project to run across the eastern portion of Willow Brook Farms in Allen Township.
In exchange, the trust will remove the deed restriction that would have prevented the FedEx plant from being built there.
"We have a tentative agreement to settle this matter," Lloyd said. "The deed restriction is not an issue anymore. Whatever FedEx decides is now entirely up to them."
That decision remains in question now that FedEx began shopping a project -- and with it more than 2,500 jobs -- to Bethlehem.
Lehigh Valley International Airport executive director Charles Everett said the Bethlehem option was merely a backup plan, in case the deed restriction was not settled.
"I don't consider the deed restriction issue over until a deal is signed, but I know there's a tentative deal and I'm confident it will be finalized," Everett said. "As I see it, Bethlehem was just a contingency. We expect this project to be full steam ahead, once the deed agreement is signed."
Everett confirmed that the deal with the Fuller Trust does include a cash payment, but he would not discuss how much.
The announcement comes a day after the Bethlehem Planning Commission approved plans for a 981,000-square-foot facility at the Majestic Center, a park of large-scale warehousing in some of the more remote parts of the former Bethlehem Steel plant.
Bethlehem, planners touted the benefits of FedEx moving to the Majestic location, including its proximity to Interstate 78 and nearby e-commerce facilities including a Walmart fulfillment center. Alluding to the delays over the airport-owned property, Majestic officials told city planners the proposal was an attempt to keep the project in the Lehigh Valley.
FedEx representatives did not attend the Bethlehem meeting.
Ed Konjoyan, senior vice president at Majestic Realty, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.
The legal tussle in Allen Township began in the 1990s when part of the land was sold for a golf community. Attached to the sale was a covenant to the deed that restricted development from industrial or commercial use. It was done to protect the farm, according to the Fuller Family Trust.
That deed restriction remains, preventing the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority from closing its deal to sell the land to a developer, Rockefeller Group, for the FedEx project.
Authority attorneys have argued that the deed restriction should have been voided when the court deemed that the authority effectively condemned the land in 1996. But Fuller Family Trust officials had said they intended to enforce the deed restriction until they knew their land is safe.
FedEx has invested millions of dollars and nearly three years of planning into locating what would be one of the nation's largest package-sorting facilities, in Allen Township. And the authority had viewed the $9.9 million deal to sell its land for the FedEx building as a way to get to millions of dollars of capital projects that had been delayed for five years.
The authority on Jan. 26 gave the Rockefeller Group a 90-day extension to begin building the massive plant along Willowbrook Road. Everett has said FedEx Ground is planning to break ground this spring and be open in 2018.
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