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New religious camp at former Camp Jubilee site gets approval in Lower Macungie

Camp Jubilee Dormitory
Jay Bradley
Dormitory buildings at the former Camp Jubilee site, where the religious camp is proposed

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP. — A new religious summer camp being proposed to replace what used to be Camp Jubilee got approval from the township Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday.

Zoners gave the Camp Degel Hatorah organization of Lakewood, NJ, continuation of the existing use case of a summer camp on 11.3 acres at 1312 N. Brookside Road.

  • A new Jewish Orthodox summer camp by the organization Camp Degel Hatorah is set to take over the previous Camp Jubilee site at 1312 N Brookside Road in Lower Macungie Township
  • The township's Zoning Hearing Board granted the use of the 11.3 acre site as a continuation of prior use as a summer camp
  • Also at the meeting, Charles Ervin was appointed chairperson and Avery Smith as vice Chairperson to the Zoning Hearing Board as part of reorganization

The organization is proposing an Orthodox Jewish summer camp that would include six multi-use buildings and three residential buildings, two of which are large dormitory halls of 32 and 48 rooms, respectively.
That would expand the nonprofit organization's camp activities from an established site in Connecticut, Director Joseph Deutsch said. It would focus on religious studies along with sporting activities.

Deutsch said camp attendees would largely be 10-17 years old, anticipating most would come from the Jewish community in New Jersey, but that he also has "boys that fly in from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and beyond."

The camp primarily would center on two sessions during the summer — one four weeks long from June to July, and another three weeks long from July to August.

The property currently is planned to be mostly vacant during non-summer months outside of weekend religious retreats.

The organization estimated the site can support well over 100 campers at a given time, and that the previous tenants had more than 200 at a time.

Deutsch said the proposed use would be less intense than original use due to company offices not being present on the property.

"I've been looking everywhere, just because it's so hard to find the right type of property or usage for summer camp," Deutsch said. "In New Jersey, it's like an hour and 45 minutes away, and all the other places I've been have been about three or five hours away easy, if not more. So the location for us was very advantageous."

A listing for the property marked it for $2.850 million acknowledged the need for various levels of rehabilitation and renovation throughout the site.

Camp Jubilee Sign
Jay Bradley
The Camp Jubilee Sign in Lower Macungie Township at the proposed camp site

The zoning ordinance modification was required, as the property is in a suburban residential zoning district. The request sought "a continuation of the existing use to allow a place of worship, a religious summer camp, dormitories with educational programs and family retreats."

Deutsch said if all goes well, he hopes the camp may be able to get started by late July for the three-week session.

The site formerly was operated by the Northeast Hispanic Region Church of God, with whom the organization has entered into an agreement of sale.

According to residents nearby to the property at the meeting Tuesday, camp activities had declined prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, largely limited to weekend retreats and work by the organization.

During the meeting, Deutsch noted the property had been in use as a camp since the 1970s.

Amenities at the site, including the pool and sports equipment, showed noticeable signs of disuse.

Deutsch said a new fence is planned to go around the site, and the organization would work at the issues raised by residents, such as managing the trees, storm water flow and wildlife on the property.

"All these issues would be concerning for us as well," Deutsch said.

"This is an organization coming in," board solicitor Ronald Corkery said. "It can't be worse than what was there because he's trying to attract people from different communities."

Campers would not be allowed to have cars on the property and alcohol would be barred. There are no plans to put in any high-intensity lights, and no concerts or loud noises outside at late hours because of the indoor auditorium on the grounds.

The Zoning Hearing Board meeting also served as a reorganization meeting because of recent action by the township government to expand the body to five members.

Charles Ervin was appointed chairman and Avery Smith vice chairwoman.