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LV Planning Commission raises issues with River Pointe industrial park plans

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Becky Bradley
Jay Bradley
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley speaks earlier this year at a Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce event. Bradley and members of the planning commission raised issues Tuesday with a proposed 800-acre, 5.87 million-square-foot industrial development in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

  • A committee of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission approved a letter raising issues with a planned 800-acre, 5.87 million-square-foot industrial development
  • Planners wrote in the letter that the proposal does not align with broader regional land development goals and plans
  • The full planning commission will vote on whether to adopt the letter as LVPC's recommendation at a meeting Thursday

HANOVER TWP., Pa. — The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission raised concerns Tuesday about the mammoth River Pointe Logistics industrial park planned for Upper Mount Bethel Township.

The commission’s comprehensive planning committee advanced a letter stating that the project “fails to align with the policies” outlined in Future LV, the body’s comprehensive plan for land development in the Lehigh Valley.

“In my six years on this board, I have never seen a sentence that says on page 17, ‘The project fails to align with the policies of Future LV.’ I have never seen that. That’s significant,” said Planning Commission Vice Chairman Chris Amato, who represents Northampton County. “And our pushback is important. Because if we don't push back, nothing good is going to come of this, ever.”

Developer Lou Pektor’s proposed project includes 5.87 million square feet of industrial buildings on roughly 800 acres. Current plans call for most of the complex to house a mix of manufacturing, services and warehousing; a quarter of the site is slated for high-cube fulfillment center warehousing.

Once the site is fully built out and occupied, planners estimate it will generate more than 19,000 car trips and 3,700 truck trips on a typical weekday.

Planners and committee members raised concerns that roads around the site, which the letter says were “not built to withstand high traffic volumes or heavy industrial vehicles,” cannot accommodate the expected additional traffic.

According to LVPC planners, additional traffic and wear to roads and bridges resulting from River Pointe could increase expenses for the township and other local governments, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

“The potential for this development to pay for itself now or into the future is questionable,” the letter reads.

LVPC member Ed Nelson, formerly the Upper Mount Bethel Township manager, said most of the issues the commission and its planners identified have been resolved, pointing to previous negotiations over a neighborhood improvement district on the site funded by developers.

“The tax issue, the emergency services issue, [have] been identified and negotiated and resolved so the impact to the taxes is not laid specifically upon the individual taxpayers in the municipality,” he said, and developers agreed to pay for “almost 100% of the burden” for any additional spending on emergency services the facility may necessitate.

“Every project that we've had is a push forward from what we had previously. We would still be riding stagecoaches and horses if we didn't do things differently over the years.”

"We as the metropolitan planning organization through the Lehigh Valley Transportation study are concerned about all of the region's roads.”
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley

That information was “never shared” with the commission, LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley said. “While [Upper Mount Bethel officials] may be concerned about township roads, we as the metropolitan planning organization through the Lehigh Valley Transportation study are concerned about all of the region's roads.

“Those roads will be significantly impacted as part of any of these development proposals. And so that needs to be accounted for that responsibility will fall on to the taxpayers... Those are outside of any municipal contribution. Those have not been accounted for as part of this development.”

The commission called particular attention to a bridge carrying Norfolk Southern rail lines over Delaware Avenue in the township. Because the bridge offers two inches of clearance over the typical maximum height for a commercial vehicle and is not wide enough for two to pass through at the same time, planners worry it is at high risk of being struck.

Modifying the bridge means navigating a complex tangle of jurisdictions with control over different parts of rail and transportation infrastructure.

Township supervisors voted earlier this month to merge two buildings on the site totaling more than 1.5 million square feet into a single building amounting to the same square footage — a change not reflected in plans reviewed by LVPC on Tuesday.

The full planning commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to adopt the agency’s proposed letter laying out their concerns with the project.