Two different development projects came very close to being rejected by the Lower Macungie Planning Commission Tuesday night.
Twice during the meeting, planning commission members were stopped while in the process of voting against a requested zoning change for a 142-home development, which is proposed on a hill above the intersection of Cedar Crest Boulevard and Lower Macungie Road in the township.
Planner George Doughty made the initial motion against a zoning change for the age-restricted development on what is called the Farr tract.
Several, if not all, of the seven planners voted for Doughty’s motion, but their solicitor interrupted the vote, saying they had not yet asked for public comment.
A few minutes later, planning commission chairman Irvin Keister tried again, saying: “We’re recommending that the land not be rezoned at this time. Traffic and open space are major considerations for that.”
But Keister was interrupted as he asked: “All in favor?”
Atty. Erich Schock, who represents the developers, told the planning commission he was hoping for more feedback on what he stressed is only a concept plan.
Developer Anthony Maras said they were not looking for a recommendation from the planning commission at the meeting, but only presenting the plan to engage in a dialogue about ways to improve it.
“This was our first crack at developing the plan,” said Maras, who is an area president with K. Hovnanian Homes.
Planning commission members agreed to table the matter rather than vote against the requested zoning change.
Earlier in the meeting, planners also were poised to vote against expansion plans for Concordia Lutheran Church at 2623 Brookside Road.
Warren Riggins, Concordia’s engineer, averted that vote by agreeing to give the planning commission more time to consider the plans.
But Riggins also implied a bias on the part of planners, saying: “You’re limiting how much we can build on that property to share our beliefs with other Christians.”
There had been little progress on the church’s plans since the commission’s last meeting in June, when the church’s engineer objected to giving the township right-of-way and an easement without compensation.
The planning commission makes recommendations to Lower Macungie commissioners, who make final decisions on developments.
Two of those five township commissioners, Ron Beitler and Brian Higgins, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Only one house now stands in the middle of the 54-acre Farr tract, which is on the northwest corner of the intersection Cedar Crest and Lower Macungie.
The number of proposed homes has dropped to 142, down from 153 when the concept plan was presented to township commissioners on June 19.
The project applicant was identified as Hallmark Homes by township planning director Sara Pandl, but K. Hovnanian Homes will build the houses.
The property currently is zoned suburban-residential, where 55-and-older “active adult” developments are not permitted.
The developers want it rezoned to semi-rural, which would allow the development.
They also want those single detached homes to be only 15 feet apart, rather than the required 20 feet.
Planners expressed concern about fire safety with homes that close together, with one suggesting the developer consider installing residential sprinkler systems.
But Thomas J. Smith of K. Hovnanian said homes are only 15 feet apart in its Four Seasons at Farmington development in the township.