July 04--Like generals on high ground, Allen Township officials can see the force of development headed their way and they want to be battle ready.
Only a few years ago, the Great Recession ground to a halt plans for residential communities and commercial ventures. But as the economy rights itself, that's changing fast.
Proposals for warehouses, a shopping plaza, an industrial park as well as four residential developments are now in the works.
Township officials find themselves thinking ahead, devising ways to prevent the change from turning the rural township of less than 5,000 people into an unrecognizable version of itself. From 2000 to 2010, Allen Township ranked as the second fastest growing municipality in Northampton and Lehigh counties, according to census data.
"We have to make sure we do things that are smart, recognizing that it's not going to stay they way it is forever," township Planning Commission Chairman Eugene Clater said.
For a few years after economy took a plunge in 2008, the Planning Commission met only a few times a year, Clater said.
Now, they're weighing whether to double their meeting times in order to ensure they have enough time to consider much-needed zoning adjustments on top of the deluge of applicants.
Much of the farmland that takes up the northern half of the township, north of Route 329, is locked in as open space, but municipal and county parks south of Route 329 could be at risk of being overwhelmed by development and traffic.
The township doesn't intend to be ambushed, according to township Manager Ilene Eckhart.
A newly-formed committee will make sure the township adheres to a comprehensive master open space and recreation plan.
Eckhart said the township is preparing to hire a consultant to draft that plan thanks to a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant awarded in the fall. The 13-person committee will likely begin meeting by the end of the summer, said Eckhart.
Among the focal parts of the plan will be to find ways to encourage more and safer pedestrian opportunities in the township and close existing pedestrian gaps between parks throughout the township.
These efforts dovetail with PennDOT plans to widen Route 329 and arrangements Clater said the township is making with developers to pitch in for other road infrastructure improvements around the township.
The park system, fostered by the township over the last several decades, includes the heavily-used ball fields at Howertown Park, the popular bike trails that wind through the township and the massive county-owned Wayne Grube Memorial Park.
Clater said the Willowbrook Golf Course, athletic fields from the Catasauqua High School and a dog park planned for the park that hosts the Northampton and Bath Railroad Bike Path along Savage Road are also considered part of this recreational system.
"We have consciously built that whole area to be recreational area for the whole township," Clater said. "Right now we have to look at every tool at our disposable ... to keep truck traffic to an absolute a minimum in that corridor."
The open space that attracted officials to utilize the area for recreation is now becoming home to warehouses and distribution facilities, such as the FedEx Ground mega hub, slated to go in just south of the Wayne Grube Memorial Park on Willowbrook Road.
Clater said the township was able to get guarantees from FedEx that trucks won't head north on Willowbrook Road. A 10-ton limit on a bridge over the Catasauqua Creek added an additional measure of security to that promise.
But Clater knows that when the road and bridge are redone years from now, that could change.
Already, developer Century Land Development has floated plans for an industrial park, featuring a warehouse that could be roughly a million square feet in size. If approved, the project would go in north of the park system along Route 329 and Howertown Road on property currently owned by the Horwith family.
It's not yet clear what kind of traffic could be expected from that proposed project, but there's no doubt it will put a further squeeze on the park system, Clater noted.
All of this adds a sense of urgency to the township's need to be proactive, according to the planning commission chairman. And he's not alone.
"We don't want to destroy everything we worked so hard to create," said Supervisor Dale Hassler.
Hassler, a lifelong Allen resident and former fire chief, said he counts preserving these areas among his priorities as a supervisor.
Alfred Pierce, who sits on the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, wonders if the township might do well to commission a new comprehensive plan in light of all the incoming proposals.
"There's a push and pull to growth," Pierce said. "It's better to get a big picture analysis. We should step back and take the broad view and try to decide which direction is the best one to go in."
Supervisor Larry Oberly said the truck traffic concern has been a worry from the moment such projects were first proposed.
Expansion is inevitable and Oberly said it's naive for the township to believe it can be stopped. But it can, he hopes, be done with the right vision in mind.
"You can't restrict everything anywhere," said Oberly. "You're always trying to walk a fine line between what you'd like to see and what you need to see."
IN THE WORKS
Among the projects approved or proposed in Allen Township are the following:
FEDEX GROUND DISTRIBUTION CENTER
--What: 1.2 million square-foot facility that will bring 14,000 more vehicle trips through the township each day, including 1,800 tractor-trailers.
--Developer: Rockefeller Group
--Location: Willowbrook Road and West Bullshead Road
--Status: Groundbreaking planned for this summer
SHOPS AT WILLOW RIDGE
--What: Commercial shopping plaza
--Developer: David Jaindl
--Location: Savage and Willowbrook roads
--Status: Partial approval
CENTURY LAND DEVELOPMENT INDUSTRIAL PARK
--What: 157-acre site that would include three warehouses, one of which would be roughly 1 million square feet in size.
--Developer: Century Land Development
--Location: Route 329, west of Howertown Road
--Status: Plans submitted
QUARRY HILL ESTATES
--What: Residential community
--Developer: Lehigh Valley Builders and Developers Inc
--Location: Greystone Circle
--Status: Approved and in development
HIGH MEADOW ESTATES
--What: Residential single family homes with passive recreation opportunities
--Developer: Omega Homes
--Location: Cherryville Road to Kriedersville Road
NORTH HILLS ESTATE
--What: Residential development
--Developer: Louis Tepes Jr.
--Location: Eisenhower Drive
--Status: Approved and in development
ROCKFELLER GROUP WAREHOUSE
--What: Possible warehouse on 57 acres of land owned by Lehigh Valley International Airport
--Developer: Rockefeller Group
--Location: Willowbrook Road, across from proposed FedEx facility
--Status: Township notified of developer's interest
--What: Mixed use residential and destination venue around the existing Willowbrook Golf Course. Roughly 270 of the tract's 325 acres fall within Allen Township.
--Owner: Fuller family
--Location: West Bullshead and Willowbrook roads
--Status: Concept plan presented at township meeting
(c)2015 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Visit The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) at www.mcall.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News