A proposed "high-cube warehouse" would bring in traffic, but few new jobs, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission said Thursday.
The Rockefeller Group, which has developed warehouse space and the FedEx facility in Allen Township, plans to build a 453,600-square-foot, 50-foot-high warehouse on Willowbrook Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
The so-called high-cube warehouses are "homes for robots," LVPC Chairman Greg Zebrowski said.
"A wave of automation is here," he said.
Warehouses were promoted in the past as job creators, but the new facilities use more technology and fewer people, he said during the commission's meeting, which was held online.
LVPC staff member Charles Doyle said the warehouse "will have a marked impact on our infrastructure" and could lead to high costs for local municipalities that may have to upgrade roads and bridges.
"Whitehall is already struggling with truck congestion," Whitehall Township Mayor Michael Harakal said. He said drivers try to find the quickest route, and when big trucks try to negotiate intersections that are made for passenger vehicles, trucks get stuck and roads, traffic signals and telephone poles are damaged.
"I don't know how we influence this without any real power," Harakal said.
The commission does not have the authority to block plans.
LVPC Executive Director Becky Bradley said the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation controls much of nearby Race Street and will require a traffic study before construction.
"This development in and of itself isn't in the worst location," Bradley said.
The commission's staff reviews plans for major developments in Lehigh and Northampton counties and presents conclusions to its board at monthly meetings, but final decisions are up to the governments of each town.
The commissioners also took a dim view of the proposed Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Bethlehem Township. The 215,030-square-foot facility is proposed for 53 acres at 4100 Hecktown Road, adjacent to Brodhead Road. The school operates now in rented space in Hanover Township, Northampton County. The Bethlehem Area School District opposes the $80 million plan.
Zebrowski said the proposal is a "distasteful and unfortunate use" for farmland. Percy Dougherty said if this open space goes, other nearby land may fall like dominoes to development.
The LVPC staff review found that the plan is "generally inconsistent" with its regional plan and "continued agricultural use is strongly preferred" at the site. Building the school would cut down on the little farmland left in Bethlehem Township, chief community planner Samantha Smith said. The land is owned by the estate of Frederick Jaindl and is under an agreement of sale.
Malissa Davis, who represents Bethlehem Township on the commission, said the township's zoning code permits a school on the property.
That did not sway Zebrowski, who said, "We have dwindling amounts of open space."
"I don't think it's appropriate," Chris Amato said of the plan.
The commission made generally favorable comments on two Lafayette College projects: the Portlock Black Cultural Center and the McCartney Street Housing and Wellness Center. The LVPC staff review indicated that the facades of both buildings should reflect the architecture of College Hill.
The center will be named in honor of the late David Portlock, an African American who was associate dean at Lafayette and taught at Easton Area High School before that. He established the first Black Cultural Center at Lafayette. The 6,315-square-foot building will be at 41 McCartney St.
The McCartney Street center is a proposed 94,274-square-foot building that will occupy an entire block of College Hill.
A proposed expansion in Forks Township of Follett LLC, a maker of refrigeration and ice-making equipment, could use more truck parking and overnight facilities for drivers, the commission said.
The commission's next meeting will be held online at 7 p.m. on July 30. Information about participating in the meeting online will be at lvpc.org.