Plans for the growth of two different churches were reviewed by the Lower Macungie Planning Commission Tuesday night.
Life Church Ministries got final approval to build a parking lot at 1609 Trexlertown Road -- just north of a former roller skating rink, which it is transforming into a church.
But Concordia Lutheran Church and School did not get preliminary or final approval to expand at 2623 Brookside Road, primarily because of an unresolved disagreement with the township over property rights.
Concordia is on eight acres on the east side of Brookside Road, just north of Sauerkraut Lane.
Concordia’s congregation plans to add 7,721 square feet of new office, education and meeting space to its existing building. When completed, that building will cover 11,000 square feet.
“We’re not increasing the size of our facility,” said Warren Riggins of Rigel Engineers & Consultants, Concordia’s project engineer.
“The use of our site is remaining exactly the same. We are looking for four classrooms that are better equipped to educate our kids. That is the purpose of this wing.”
Riggins said office space also is being expanded, because three people now share one small office and the church’s pastor has another small office. “They deserve better and that’s what we’re providing for them,” said Riggins.
He indicated the expansion also will give the church more space for restrooms, hallways and storage.
A modular building will be removed from the site and parking added where it now stands.
The outstanding issue is dedication of right-of-way along Brookside Road to the township.
The township requires that a 50-foot-wide strip of right-of-way, measured from the center of Brookside Road, be dedicated to Lower Macungie by the church.
The existing right-of-way dedicated to the township is only 40 feet wide along the front of the church property, according to a June 4 review letter by J. Bradley Youst, a township engineer for the Concordia project.
Youst added: “Additional right-of-way shall be required.”
“My understanding is the applicant does not wish to dedicate that to the township,” said Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie’s planning director.
Planning commission member Maury Robert asked why the church does not want to dedicate the right-of-way – “a 10-foot strip of land.”
“It’s a matter of private property rights,” said Riggins. “We feel the value of that land should be compensated for. The law provides us the right to ask for just compensation.”
Riggins explained the Brookside Road right-of-way was dedicated to the township when the church property first was subdivided, but now the township wants more land.
Atty. Peter Lehr, planning commission solicitor, said Riggins was raising “a taking argument” – that the township somehow is taking the right-of-way without just compensation.
He told Riggins: “If your purpose here is to make a taking argument, what would be helpful for us would be to see what legal precedent you have for making that argument, to determine whether it’s valid or not.”
Lehr said he’s not aware of a valid taking argument, but advised Riggins: “If you have case law you want us to consider, we’ll consider it.”
Riggins argued that the township’s subdivision and land development ordinance only allows Lower Macungie to ask for the land and the church is answering that request by saying: “No, we are not willing to dedicate the land.”
Riggins said the church also objects to the township’s request for stormwater easements on the property. He said Concordia would be giving up property rights “and we do not wish to give up rights.”
He said the stormwater system on the church property is designed so that all water coming off the roof will remain on the property until it infiltrates into the ground, rather than flowing onto adjoining properties. “Therefore, we believe that an easement across our property is not warranted.”
But Chad Peters, another township engineer, argued it’s a good idea to have an easement on a property so the municipality can inspect stormwater systems to be sure they are operating properly, especially if water from one property is flowing across a neighbor’s property.