LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - Lower Macungie Township has gained 171 acres of land that will be preserved as recreational and open space.
The acreage officially was obtained Thursday from Jaindl Land Company, as part of the township's approval of Jaindl's massive Spring Creek subdivision.
"The good news is that immediately, with the subdivision, 171 acres came to township ownership today," explained Sara Pandl, the township's director of planning and community development.
Nearly 100 acres of the land is along Little Lehigh Creek and will remain an open space greenway.
The other 72 acres eventually will become a township park near the future intersection of Sauerkraut Lane and Spring Creek Road, just north of Alburtis. Sauerkraut Lane will be extended west from Route 100 to Spring Creek Road as part of the Jaindl subdivision.
Someday that park will have athletic fields and other public amenities, said Pandl. "We are looking forward to planning the details of the township park and making it a place where residents and their families will have recreational opportunities."
The new park will be just south of two existing western township parks: Creamery and Quarry.
Pandl said part of that park land will be the potential future site of a fire station "and related public safety facilities" to serve the western part of the township.
Before Thursday, she said, the township owned about 1,000 acres of open space and park land.
On Thursday night, township engineer William Erdman reported to Lower Macungie commissioners that Jaindl's Spring Creek subdivision plan was recorded earlier this week.
After years of heated debate, and even a lawsuit, David Jaindl's subdivision unanimously was approved by Lower Macungie's commissioners on Oct. 17.
The subdivision property now is mostly farmland west of Route 100, between the borough of Alburtis and Mertztown Road.
Spring Creek Road runs through the center of Jaindl's property.
Warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing plants and offices can be built on most of the 16 lots in the 608-acre subdivision. Most of those lots are very large, up to 77 acres. Zoning also would permit a shopping center to be built on the large lots.
At Thursday's township meeting, Pandl told commissioners that restrictions aimed at open space preservation have been placed on another 32 acres of land still owned by Jaindl near Little Lehigh Creek. "Those covenants restrict both the development and the use of that area," said Pandl.
She also indicated that, as part of the agreement that settled a lawsuit brought against the township, an additional 125 acres of Jaindl land outside the subdivision boundaries will be protected as a greenway preservation area in the future.
Pandl said the preservation was the result of the cooperation of many people "and reflects the commitment of the township to limiting development and preserving open space where appropriate."
The ugly giant
Also during the meeting, commissioners voted 3-1 to join five other municipalities in applying for a $25,000 state grant so the Southwestern Lehigh County Comprehensive Plan can be updated.
The municipalities -- Lower Macungie, Upper and Lower Milford townships and the boroughs of Emmaus, Macungie and Alburtis --- will come up with another $25,000 to match the state grant.
"We still haven't negotiated who pays what," said Pandl. "If we're successful in getting the grant, we would decide what is an equitable split of the $25,000 match."
The joint comprehensive plan, which expires at the end of next year, allows the municipalities to work together to coordinate zoning and land use planning. It also saves them the cost of coming up with their own individual comprehensive plans, which are required. Such guides address everything from traffic to open space preservation.
Pandl said the joint plan must be reviewed and updated every 10 years.
She said the application to update the grant will be made by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, adding that commission also will be doing the work to update the comprehensive plan.
She said the six municipalities are displaying "a real willingness to work together, which there wasn't when we first started talking to each other. We've made some significant progress and I think the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission will provide some good leadership in coordinating that effort."
Commissioner Ron Eichenberg said he has attended past meetings on the comprehensive plan and he was not "enamored with the cooperation of our fellow municipalities. They've kind of looked at us as the ugly giant. I've not been very happy with that. Are we going to be saddled with doing things that are not in our best interest?"
"Those early meetings were very contentious," agreed Pandl. "But in the last three to five months, the meetings have gotten more productive and the dialogue is a lot more cooperative."
Pandl suggested Lower Macungie reserve the right to withdraw from any agreement "should the township's interests no longer be served. "
She said supporting applying for the grant does not obligate the township to participate in updating the plan. "If you have reservations in the future, we can withdraw and go our own way."
She noted the township has received a supportive letter from Upper Milford and added the three boroughs are willing to work with Lower Macungie.
Commissioner Jim Lancsek voted no, but did not explain why.
Emmaus Borough Council unanimously approved that borough participating in the same grant application on Monday night.
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