A Lehigh Valley Planning Commission committee condemned a plan Tuesday to put two warehouses on the land at Dutch Springs aqua park.
"This proposal is a disaster for the quality of life in the Lehigh Valley," LVPC Chairman Greg Zebrowski said, listing traffic, diesel fumes, extra costs for work on roads and a bridge and a general degradation of the immediate area. The 4733 Hanoverville Road site covers land in Lower Nazareth and Bethlehem townships.
Members of the Comprehensive Planning Committee also conceded that the project is allowed. The land is privately owned and zoned for warehouses. The LVPC's staff reviews projects and makes recommendations, while the appointed commissioners approve or disapprove staff comments, not the projects. Municipalities make final land-use decisions.
The lake will be fenced off.
The industrial use "generally exhibits consistency" with the commission's regional plan for the Lehigh Valley because it is in a development area.
Senior Community Planner Jill Seitz said the two warehouses, each just under 300,000 square feet, will generate 1,037 vehicle trips per day total, and 357 of those will be by tractor-trailers.
Commissioner Stephen Melnick pointed out that a nearby bridge on Hanoverville Road has a 10-ton limit that will not accommodate even an empty tractor-trailer, let alone a full one.
"Truck drivers won't follow signs" and may use the bridge, he said.
"We have a responsibility to maintain the quality of life of our citizens," Zebrowski said. "This project shouldn't even be moving forward without reconciling the bridge issue." He said the developer, Trammell Crow Co. of Dallas, should pay.
"We don't have the power to recommend it not be done at all," the chairman said. "The Lehigh Valley has enough warehousing, we don't need any more, especially on an asset like the Dutch Springs property."
The current plan includes no parking for tractor-trailers beyond loading areas.
"Hanoverville Road is going to become a large linear parking lot," Melnick said.
"The taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag for a private development," Zebrowski said, noting the wear on roads.
LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley pointed out that warehouses are permitted "by-right" in the industrial zone and the commission has to abide by the law. Lower Nazareth and Bethlehem townships are in the same spot.
"They have no legal recourse to deny it," she said.
News of the proposed development surprised fans of the aqua park and the scuba-diving community locally and in other states. Dutch Springs is one of the top scuba venues on the East Coast.
Zebrowski said Lehigh Valley municipalities have to act before huge developments are proposed.
"It's up to these communities to take their responsibilities seriously," he said. "On this project they could be more vigilant."
Commissioner John McGorry said the LVPC needs to reach township officials because "they're the ones who have to stop this," referring to warehouse proliferation.
The potential "Hail Mary" play to save Dutch Springs, founded by Stuart Schooley and Jane Wells Schooley, would be a big pot of public money to buy the property. Nobody knew where that would come from. Schooley and Wells Schooley paid $97,662 for the property in 1980, according to Northampton County property records.
The committee ultimately approved the staff comments, after asking that they be "sharpened" to ask more of the developer. The full commission will review the comments again Thursday.
The committee also approved staff comments on two warehouses proposed for Route 512 in Plainfield Township and Wind Gap Borough. Deficiencies in the plan for the 786,000-square-foot and 308,000-square-foot warehouses, just south of Blue Mountain, were noted.
"Many roadways in the vicinity are not built to withstand the heavy vehicular traffic the development will generate," according to the staff review.
Traffic was also noted: "While the project site is appropriately located for traffic traveling northbound on Route 33, vehicles traveling south – or traveling from south to north towards the site – will most likely travel through Wind Gap Borough via South Broadway (Route 512)."
The commission also recommended sufficient tractor-trailer parking and amenities for drivers, to keep them from parking along roads and in residential areas.
A change.org petition trying to stop the project is approaching 6,000 signatures.
"We don't need any more warehouses, but the county - in regards to the Dutch Springs - has very little influence over what's going to happen there," said Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure.
He says the county is looking into turning the property into a park.
"We are definitely looking into considering taking the quarry into our parks system, but we also have to balance that with the tremendous liability that could come with it," McClure said.
"I know people get concerned when it comes to cost - including the counties - but we have to think about preserving assets in the community. It's worthwhile to explore," Zebrowski said.
The full commission will meet virtually at 7 p.m. Thursday. A link to the meeting will be at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's website.