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Lehigh County News

Warehouse denial could mean legal trouble for Lowhill Township

Olivia Marble
Citizens watch as the Lowhill Township Board of Supervisors deliberate a preliminary plan for a new warehouse in the township.

LOWHILL TWP., Pa. — Lowhill Township may face a lawsuit after its supervisors this week denied preliminary approval for a proposed warehouse.

The vote Thursday came after Township Administrator Brian Carl and solicitor Keith Strohl resigned, leaving Lowhill with no legal representation.

About 100 residents showed up at the meeting. Many were part of the citizens group Northwestern Lehigh Residents for Smart Growth, which has worked for months to stop three proposed warehouses from being built in the township, which has a population of about 2,000.

  • Lowhill Township supervisors denied a preliminary plan for one of three proposed warehouses
  • Chairman Richard Hughes said he expects legal action from the developers, and he thinks the township can win a potential lawsuit
  • The township's zoning officer and solicitor both resigned before the meeting. They both previously said the proposal met zoning ordinances and had to be approved per state law

Supervisor Chairman Richard Hughes said he expects the developers who proposed the almost 300,000-square-foot warehouse will take legal action against the township because of the vote.
He said some have told him the township would lose a potential lawsuit, but others aren’t so sure.

“They just kept saying, ‘You can't win, you can't win, you can't win,’” Hughes said. “Well, I've gotten a lot of emails from, starting from an attorney, that we can win.

“We're forced to have places to put these types of buildings and it's not our — what we want, and it's not what the people want. And I was voted by the people. So, you know, I have to vote my conscience.”

Olivia Marble
The Lowhill Township Board of Supervisors at Thursday's meeting: (left to right) Robb Werley, Richard Hughes, chairman and George Wessner, Jr., vice chair.

Warehouses in the Valley

The Lehigh Valley has become a prime spot for warehouses because of its proximity to major cities, and access to interstate highways. That has led to an explosion of warehouse development in the region over the past decade.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s 2021 annual report found that over six years, 27 million square feet of new warehouse space was approved by local governments, and 16.5 million square feet more was in the process of being approved.

Local residents recently have fought against warehouses in other municipalities such as Upper Macungie Township and Palmer Township, citing concerns about truck traffic, air pollution and noise.

Residents of Lowhill had similar concerns about the proposed warehouse on Betz Court, which would be built speculatively without a specific tenant.

Jack Iannantuono, a member of the citizen’s group, said the warehouse also would be built at a place that does not have the infrastructure to handle it.

“It's a square peg in a round hole,” Iannantuono said. “You're putting warehouses three miles away from a major highway, up steep grades, and without the shoulders and infrastructure to handle the volume.”


But according to Carl and Strohl, the township can’t use those complaints as a basis for rejecting the preliminary plan.

“Whether you're building a house, a swimming pool, warehouse, skyscraper, whatever – if you meet all the ordinance requirements, you pretty much can do what you are proposing to do."
Brian Carl, zoning officer for Weisenberg Township

Carl and Strohl’s resignations came after a tense planning commission meeting last month, in which they expressed concern about what would happen if the township denied the preliminary plan for the warehouse, which would be built at 2951 Betz Court.

Strohl advised the planners to approve the developer’s request because the grounds on which the planners denied it were not legally advisable.

Carl told township officials the proposed warehouses meet the township’s zoning ordinances, so the township is legally required to approve it.

“Whether you're building a house, a swimming pool, warehouse, skyscraper, whatever – if you meet all the ordinance requirements, you pretty much can do what you are proposing to do,” Carl said in an interview. “I mean, that's the way things work in Pennsylvania.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Hughes said Strohl resigned because of a family matter, and Carl said he resigned because he was doing work for both Weisenberg Township and Lowhill, and the workload became too much.

But Iannantuono said he thought Carl’s read on the situation was unsubstantiated, and he questioned why Carl would resign if he correctly interpreted the zoning ordinances.

“If he was so certain that that was true, why resign?” Iannantuono said. “Defend what you did, or defend what you’re trying to do.”

Carl, who will continue to work as a zoning officer in Weisenberg, said in an interview Friday that he stands by his interpretations of the zoning ordinances. He said the residents had an opportunity to appeal that decision, but that timeframe has already passed.

Becky Bradley, executive director at Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, said Carl is “one of the most honest, professional and law-abiding township managers and zoning officials that I have ever worked with,” and that any zoning official would have come to the same conclusion he did.

“It is a very black-and-white issue with zoning,” Bradley said. “It wouldn't matter whether it was Brian Carl, or another person someplace else. Zoning decisions are not arbitrary or capricious. They are made under the terms of the municipal law in place at the time.”

Next steps

The township is putting together a new multi-municipal comprehensive plan. Once it is adopted, officials will revise the township’s zoning ordinances to meet that plan.

Bradley said the new plan contains recommendations to remove warehouse use in areas that don’t have the proper infrastructure to deal with them, which could prevent any similar controversies.

But for the proposed warehouses, the township has to follow the zoning ordinances in place when the application was submitted, Bradley said.

The proposed warehouse’s developer, CRG, denied the township a time extension to consider its preliminary plan. CRG officials did not respond to questions about what they will do next.

Hughes said he expects the township will hire a new lawyer in the coming weeks.