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Lehigh Valley Election News

Warehouses focus of fiery candidate forum for Lowhill supervisors race

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Olivia Marble
The candidates for the Lowhill Township Board of Supervisors at the candidate forum.

LOWHILL TWP., Pa. — A candidate forum for the upcoming Lowhill Township Board of Supervisors primary election focused on the topic that's been on many Lowhill residents' minds: warehouses.

The forum Wednesday was organized by resident group Northwestern Lehigh Residents for Smart Growth.

  • Candidates for the Lowhill Township Board of Supervisors attended a forum Wednesday to answer resident questions
  • Resident questions mainly focused on the three warehouse proposals that have been a topic of fierce debate in the township over the past year
  • All candidates said they opposed the warehouses, but questions arose surrounding the cost of the ongoing litigation with the developers and potential conflicts of interest

Residents' questions mainly focused on three warehouse proposals totaling more than 700,000 square feet that have been a topic of fierce debate in the township for the past year.

Members of Northwestern Lehigh Residents for Smart Growth and others argue the warehouses would increase traffic, damage the roads, pollute the environment and contribute to the decline of their rural way of life.

Late last year, Lowhill supervisors denied preliminary plans from two warehouse developers: CRG Services Management LLC’s plan at their Oct. 6 meeting and developer Core5 Industrial Partners at a special Nov. 28 meeting.

A third from developer Trammell Crow received preliminary approval last June.

But former township Zoning Officer Brian Carl said the warehouses met township zoning ordinances, and developments can be very difficult to stop if they do.

The township is in litigation with Core5 Industrial Partners and CRG Services Management over the plan denials.

230426 Lowhill forum crowd.jpg
Olivia Marble
Attendees of the forum for candidates for the Lowhill Board of Supervisors.

The candidates

Township Supervisor Curtis Dietrich is running to complete the rest of the term he was appointed to fill when former Supervisor Robb Werley resigned.

Dietrich is a Northwestern Lehigh High School graduate, and formerly was superintendent of North Penn School District in Lansdale, Montgomery County.

Dietrich is running with Planning Commission member Michael Divers, who is seeking the six-year term. Divers has been a Lowhill resident for 20 years and has been involved with the Fogelsville Fire Company since 1991.

Township roadmaster Joseph Kalusky is on the ballot for both empty seats. He said he would want to continue in that position if elected to the Board of Supervisors. He has been a township resident for 38 years.

All of the candidates are Republicans, so registered Democrats would have to write in candidates on their primary ballot.

Supervisors Chairman Richard Hughes is not running for re-election. He said he has been on the board for many years and is “worn out.” He said he also faces health issues.

Opinions on the warehouses

Resident Terry Lenhart asked the candidates how they felt about the warehouses and what they think they can do to prevent them.

Kalusky said he would not have granted public water to the plans and would have amended the township zoning ordinances to limit the size of warehouses permitted in the township.

Kalusky said in an interview that he is against the warehouses but is concerned about the impact of the litigation on the township.

Divers said he is “100 percent against the warehouses” because the township and the fire department are not set up to handle them.

“The good news is we do have insurance coverage that will help to cover those costs. But nonetheless, it's a very time consuming process. And very, very unfortunate."
Curtis Dietrich, Lowhill Township supervisor

Dietrich said he also is opposed to the warehouses because the township does not have the right infrastructure for them and they would cause air and water pollution. He said he thinks the approval process was not done correctly.

Dietrich also gave an update on the lawsuits, saying the developers have tried “novel approaches” to get the plans approved.

“The good news is we do have insurance coverage that will help to cover those costs," Dietrich said. "But nonetheless, it's a very time-consuming process. And very, very unfortunate.”

Dietrich also said Trammell Crow recently transferred ownership of the property it planned to develop to Core5 Industrial Partners.

Cost of litigation

Resident Vanessa Fenstermacher asked the candidates how they plan to balance the budget with the cost of the ongoing litigation.

Dietrich said the township has incurred about $23,000 in legal bills from the lawsuits so far, but may be reimbursed by insurance. He said the township has a $1.1 million fund balance that it can use for future legal costs.

Kalusky asked if the township should continue to appeal potential unfavorable decisions if they keep happening, which would continue to cost the township money in legal fees.

“I think the supervisors are intelligent enough to know where to cut it off,” Hughes said from the audience.

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Olivia Marble
Chairman of the Lowhill Board of Supervisors Richard Hughes speaks at the forum.

Fenstermacher also asked what the candidates thought about Lowhill’s chances of winning the lawsuit.

Divers said he thinks the township has a “pretty good chance” of winning because of recent favorable rulings in similar cases.

Dietrich said he is concerned the judges may focus on the smaller details rather than the essence of the entire case. But he said he was “encouraged” by a ruling in Maxatawny Township, Berks County.

Kalusky said he thinks the township has a 50/50 chance of winning.

Potential conflict of interest

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Olivia Marble
Member of Northwestern Lehigh Residents for Smart Growth Jack Iannantuono speaks at the candidate forum.

Resident Jack Iannantuono, who is a member of the resident group, asked Kalusky if he would be willing to resign his position as roadmaster if elected to the board.

Iannantuono cited mistrust from residents stemming from Supervisor George “Buddy” Wessner, Jr., who is the owner of one of the properties with a warehouse proposal.

Wessner abstained from votes related to his property, but some residents felt he should have abstained from all votes related to the warehouses.

Kalusky said he would want to become a “working supervisor,” keeping his position as roadmaster while serving on the board. He also questioned whether Divers should be on the board since he has a business in the township.

Dietrich said he did not think it would be a good idea for Kalusky to serve in both capacities because the supervisors vote on the benefits for township employees and equipment requests.

Kalusky said he did not think it would present a conflict of interest because the items he requested would be for the township, not for him.

“I think that if your booster club is the one promoting you, they usually are promoting something that they're interested in."
Rob Weinberg, Lowhill Township resident

Resident Rob Weinberg brought a copy of Kalusky’s ballot petition and asked why the first signature on it was from Wessner and his wife.

“I think that if your booster club is the one promoting you, they usually are promoting something that they're interested in,” Weinberg said.

Kalusky said Wessner has “nothing to gain” if he becomes supervisor because the warehouse plans already are in litigation.

“You can turn around and stop" the litigation, Hughes said from the audience.

“Look, Rick, I don’t want them here," Kalusky responded. "I don’t want to see them here.”

In a closing comment, Hughes encouraged attendees to vote for Dietrich and Divers. Resident Bill Pleban said all residents should get involved in the election, regardless of their positions.

"We got into this situation as a township because we weren't sufficiently involved and didn't sufficiently understand the mechanisms that certain people would use,” Pleban said.

“Now's the time to go out to network with your friends, your associates and fellow township residents and vote your conscience, vote your feeling on this.

"The worst thing you can do is stay home.”

The primary election is on May 16.