ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Lynn Township's plans to rezone a strip of properties along Route 309 across from Northwestern Lehigh High School were opposed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Thursday night.
LVPC unanimously authorized its staff to send a letter to the rural northwestern Lehigh County township, urging Lynn's supervisors to not adopt the proposed zoning change.
The issue involves five properties located between Route 309 and Weiss Road at the eastern edge of the township, near the boundary with Heidelberg Township.
The Olde Homestead Golf Club is south of the properties and the high school is north of them.
The township wants the properties rezoned commercial.
LVPC wants them to remain under agricultural preservation zoning, because rezoning would allow urban development.
"This proposal does not meet the criteria for expansion of urban development," LVPC chief planner David Berryman told the planning commission board.
The township's proposed change to a general commercial/general industrial zone would allow intensive commercial uses, such as retail stores, offices, manufacturing, warehousing and mini-malls, according to Berryman.
The letter LVPC is sending to the township states the zoning change "would provide the opportunity for strip commercial development," which can generate large volumes of traffic.
"In our township, almost everything along Route 309 is already zoned commercial," said Lynn Township supervisor Steve Feinour, who was contacted by phone after the LVPC meeting.
"That piece actually got missed. So we just corrected that. We like to encourage commercial use along 309."
Feinour is vice chairman of the three supervisors and a business owner along Route 309. He owns Feinour's Automotive outside the village of New Tripoli.
Responding to the LVPC recommendation that Lynn Township not adopt the proposed zoning change, Feinour commented: "We're heavily into the sovereignty of our own township."
He said the three supervisors will discuss the LVPC's letter at their next meeting, but noted the two-county planning agency's recommendation does not prevent them from moving forward with the zoning change.
He added that proposed change already was approved by the township's planning commission.
Homes are on at least three of the five properties, according to LVPC, but residential uses are not permitted in a general commercial/industrial zone.
Berryman said one property includes a large garage, but he guessed it might have been built by a homeowner.
Feinour said several of the five properties either are being used for commercial purposes or were used for them in the past.
"Maybe the guys from the planning commission should get in their cars and drive up and take a look themselves," suggested the supervisor.
Feinour said he spearheaded the zoning change because he doesn't like to see people have to pay for zoning variances "to put up a business in an area where I think businesses belong."
He said every time someone wanted to put a business on one of those properties, "they'd have to get a variance, which means we took them for several hundred bucks.
"The township charges you $750 right off the bat just to convene the zoning hearing board if you want to do commercial."
Such zoning variances are not needed in parts of the township that are zoned commercial.
"We thought it would serve the community better if that were zoned commercial and not zoned agricultural," said Feinour.
He estimated those five properties may total about 10 acres, adding that's not enough for a developer to buy them all and build a mini-mall.
But he said smaller "mom & pop businesses" could be established in those properties between Weiss Road and Route 309.
Feinour said one of the five properties is a warehouse and another has an apartment building
He said one formerly was a beauty salon, on housed a water company and brackets used to ship equipment were manufactured in another.
"Every time somebody wanted to put a commercial enterprise on those properties, our zoning hearing board granted them a variance," said the supervisor.
LVPC policy states that new urban development should be next to existing urban development; not in areas designated for farmland preservation, as that area of Lynn now is.
"There is no agriculture there," argued the supervisor.
Berryman of LVPC said if the zoning change is approved by the township, it will create a "bubble" of land zoned for commercial and industrial uses that is surrounded by land under agricultural preservation zoning – including land containing the nearby high school and golf course.
LVPC maintains the properties do not abut any other area of the township that is zoned general commercial/general industrial.
LVPC also maintains adjacent land in Heidelberg Township is zoned agricultural preservation and states the county comprehensive plan recommends land uses should be compatible at boundaries with adjoining municipals.
As Feinour noted, a veterinarian and an auto supply store are nearby along Weiss Road in Heidelberg Township. He said a dentist's office also is nearby.
Feinour said Lynn Township residents living in the area were notified of the proposed zoning change and none objected.
The largest of the five properties is owned by Kermit DeLong, a former township supervisor. "He never brought this up while he was supervisor," said Feinour.
He added when the zoning change was proposed, DeLong was the one with the most concerns, specifically about how the change would impact property taxes.
Allentown, PA 18102