LOWER MILFORD TWP., Pa. -

After 10 years of debate and litigation, plans for a quarry in Lower Milford Township, Lehigh County, got unanimous preliminary approval from the township’s planning commission Monday night.

The commission’s vote is a major step forward for the stone quarry’s developers, Geryville Materials, Inc.

Less than three years ago, the same planning commission unanimously rejected the same preliminary land development plan for the quarry, which will be on a 268-acre site near the southern tip of Lehigh County.

It’s not that the planners changed their minds and now like the plan.

They were under two court orders to approve Geryville’s preliminary plan.

But the courts also are allowing the planning commission to attach 25 conditions to that approval, conditions it had developed a few years ago.

If Geryville eventually wins final approval, its quarry will produce crushed stone used for highway construction. The actual quarry would cover about 85 of the 628 acres the company owns in Lower Milford, according to court documents.

Geryville has been trying to get township approval for the quarry since 2004.

While no quarry opponents spoke out Monday night, signs urging “Crush the Quarry” have dotted the landscape in southern Lehigh County for years.

Atty. Stephen Harris, who represents Geryville, said the quarry’s developers now have one year to return to the planning commission to request final plan approval.

He declined to predict exactly how long it will take to file for final approval, “but I assure you it will be done within that period of time.”

That doesn’t mean the township has to give the plan final approval within one year, noted planning commission chair Lois Gadek after the meeting. She is skeptical that it will be a quick process.

Unlike preliminary approval, final planning commission approval also will require the approval of the township’s three supervisors, said Gadek.

One of those supervisors, Donna Wright, serves on the planning commission, but has recused herself from its deliberations on the quarry plan.

The township’s zoning hearing board also must take action to approve a special exception for the quarry operation, which is planned on the north side of West Mill Hill Road near Kings Highway, south of the village of Hosensack.

Township manager Ellen Koplin, who serves on the planning commission, said the zoning board was waiting until the planning commission acted on the court-ordered preliminary approval.

Atty. David Backenstoe, who serves as the planning commission’s solicitor for the Geryville case, explained it has “been directed by both the Commonwealth Court and the state trial court to approve the preliminary land development plan submitted by Geryville subject to the 25 conditions, which you set forth in your decision of Oct. 14, 2011.”

Gadek explained those 25 conditions had been developed in case the planning commission decided to give the plan preliminary approval in 2011.

Koplin said parts of the 628-acre-site are forested and other parts have been farmed for centuries. She added the site contains at least five “very historic” homes.

Koplin maintained water use by the quarry operators ultimately will result in “dewatering” of wetlands and streams in that part of Lower Milford.

Timeline

In 2009, Geryville submitted a land development plan for the quarry operation, explained Backenstoe.

He said after about two years and 20 meetings, the planning commission denied that plan on Oct. 14, 2011. The twenty-five conditions were attached to that decision.

Geryville appealed the planning commission’s rejection to Lehigh County court. But the planning commission’s decision was upheld by county Judge William Ford.

Geryville then appealed to the state’s Commonwealth Court, which reversed the planning commission’s decision on July 30, 2013.