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Bethlehem planners approve 1.75 million-square-foot warehouse

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 10 2013 09:16:25 PM CST
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

With no fanfare and little discussion, plans for one of the largest warehouses in the Lehigh Valley received preliminary/final approval from the Bethlehem Planning Commission Thursday afternoon.

The 1.75-million-square-foot structure, which will be studded with tractor-trailer docking bays, is planned in Majestic Bethlehem Center, an “intermodal business park” off Route 412 in the southeastern corner of the city – not far from Interstate 78.

The new warehouse will cover 73 acres along the north side of privately-owned Commerce Center Boulevard, which intersects Route 412.

It will be built next to a recently opened 800,000-square-foot Crayola warehouse, the first developed lot in the Majestic business park.

The planning commission’s approval gives Majestic Realty Co., the developer, a green light to build the warehouse, which also could be used as an industrial facility.

But a spokesman for Majestic could not predict when construction will begin.

The warehouse won’t be built until a tenant is found, explained Eric Scheler, district manager of Commerce Construction Company, which will build it.

Scheler guessed it will be among the top five largest warehouses in the Lehigh Valley, but added he does not know if it will be the biggest because he has not researched that.

Thursday’s meeting was the first time the project came before the planning commission, explained city planning director Darlene Heller.

She indicated approval was simplified by the fact that the seven-lot Majestic Center subdivision, which covers nearly 442 acres of former Bethlehem Steel property, already had been approved by the planning commission.

“It’s the development we expected at that site,” she explained.

Heller was unaware of any other warehouses in the area that have 1.75-million square feet of floor space.

Majestic Realty officials in California did not respond to several calls seeking more information about the warehouse after the planning commission approved it.

No one from the public had any comments on the plan.

Plans for the building show it may employ 175 people. A road will surround the building and tractor trailers will utilize four-foot-high truck docks on its east and west sides. About 325 employee/public parking spaces will be in lots on the north and south ends of the building and 339 trailer spaces will be along the ring road, said Carly Patterson of Pennoni Associates Consulting Engineers, who represented the developer at the meeting.

Tracy Samuelson, the city’s assistant planning director, told planners the road ringing the warehouse will be a private street, as is Commerce Center Boulevard.

Four waivers for the project were requested and unanimously approved.

Samuelson said only a maximum of 90 percent impervious coverage is allowed on projects in the IN-O zoning district. She said the warehouse lot will have 92.38 percent impervious coverage and the road surrounding the building will have a 100 percent impervious surface.

But she indicated plenty of landscaping will be at the front of the building along Commerce Center Boulevard. When the entire business park property is considered, she added, 85 percent will have impervious surfaces, which is under the 90 percent maximum allowed.

Some significant open space is going to be preserved, Samuelson told planners.

The city’s zoning ordinance requires street trees at regular intervals along each side of both public and private roads.

But Samuelson requested two waivers for street trees because Majestic already made a $75,000 contribution to the city to purchase trees and vegetation in phase four of the South Bethlehem Greenway.

"They’ve already made a significant contribution to an off-site improvement,” she said. “Putting trees along the ring road in an area only viewed by employees that may come into this dead-end cul-de-sac is not as valuable to the public good.”

The fourth waiver involved a requirement that 10 percent of off-street parking and loading areas must have approved landscape plantings. Samuelson said the parking areas for cars at opposite ends of the building to do meet or exceed that 10 percent requirement.

As for the rest of the building, she said: “I don’t think there’s any real benefit to having a beautiful landscaped area adjacent to trucks.”

She also said about 15 percent of the entire business park will be landscaped or open space, exceeding that 10 percent requirement for specific lots.

Majestic has agreed to pay the city up to $50,000 for improvements at a sewage pump station along Applebutter Road, possibly including replacing three pumps, said Matt Dorner, the city’s chief engineer. That pumping station is being evaluated by the city and the developer. Heller said it is antiquated and operating at capacity.

Majestic also will pay a $93,700 recreation fee to the city, said Samuelson.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, a proposed zoning amendment that would protect historic structures not located in Bethlehem’s historic districts unanimously was approved by the planning commission.

The amendment, which will go to City Council for approval, proposes creating a list of “landmarks and historic resources.” If someone wants to demolish one of the structures, they would have go before Bethlehem’s historic commission and City Council, which would determine if it should be demolished.