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FedEx angers Allen Township residents

By Jamie Stover, Reporter, JStover@wfmz.com
Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 20 2014 09:03:55 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 21 2014 09:32:08 AM CST

People in Northampton County are sounding off about plans for a big package distribution warehouse.

ALLEN TWP., Pa. -

People in Northampton County are sounding off about plans for a big package distribution warehouse.

Infuriated Allen Township residents, who are unhappy with a proposed FedEx packaging and distribution hub, made impassioned pleas to the township's planning commission Monday night to stop the project dead in its tracks.

FedEx is currently in talks with Allen Township and Northampton County officials to potentially build a massive packaging and distribution center featuring between one million and two million square-feet of warehouse space on 253 acres of land currently owned by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority.

The airport authority is selling the land for $9.6 million to help pay down its massive debt.

That fact wasn't lost on Allen Township residents, who blasted the planning board and the project developers in attendance at the meeting, which took place at the Allen Township firehouse to accommodate a standing-room crowd of more than 100 people.

John Mattaboni, of 15 Country Rd., urged both the planners and the township's board of supervisors to "save our township."

"This is an issue about fairness and justice," Mattaboni said. "We should not be punished for the sins of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority. The airport seeks to dump its problems on the residents of our beautiful community. We don't want the traffic, noise and pollution. We don't want to be the next truck stop, like they have on Route 100 in Trexlertown or Fogelsville."

Resident Robert Napa, of Bullshead Road, called on township supervisors not to go after big business in the township. "The supervisors must look after our best interests at heart," Napa said. "The airport is on the hook for big money. You must not give (the developers) these variances. You have that power. You must take whatever steps are necessary to save our way of life."

The majority of residents who spoke in front of planners echoed those comments, along with concerns about increased traffic, noise nuisances, the safety of local children and other quality of life issues.

The land in question is in the vicinity of Wayne Grube Park, Catasauqua High School, the Lehigh Valley Airport's control tower and a retirement community on W. Bullshead Road.

The Rockefeller Group of New York seeks a subdivision of four lots on 280 acres, two of which will be utilized for the FedEx hub.

FedEx presented a preliminary land development plan to planners Monday night. It was the first time the board made public comments on the plans, which were announced in late December.

The first phase of the build-out, according to Mark Heeb, senior project manager of BL Companies of Camp Hill, is an 818,000 square foot distribution center along Willowbrook Road. Two more warehouses could follow.

Traffic studies performed by the Pidcock Company of Allentown state that more than 5,000 trips per day, including 1,800 tractor trailers and 600 box trucks, will traverse through Allen Township on a daily basis.

Planning commission vice-chairman Eugene Clater told developers he'd like to see an updated traffic study and asked why there wasn't a mass transit plan in place for workers.

The FedEx hub could create as many as 800 local jobs and generate a healthy tax base for Allen Township. More than $25 million in privately funded road improvements are planned for Willowbrook Road, Race Street and Airport Road as part of the project.

"The tax base would grow. I can't tell you how it would be spent. I'm not on the Board of Supervisors," planning commission Chairman William Holmes told a member of the public who said she's now considering selling her home. "I can't tell who is for it and who is against it. I'm not telling you it will be approved or won't be approved. There are a lot of restraints on the planning board. If (all conditions) are met, it might be approved."

Catcalls about the FedEx hub being a "done deal" were addressed by Solicitor B. Lincoln Treadwell.

"The property in question is zoned industrial," Treadwell said. "The property has the right to be used by the owner in that manner. It's been zoned industrial for a fairly long period of time. The township always thought the property would be developed. Developers have the rights to file the application. This is the first step in that process."

"There are more wins than losses with this," Holmes said. "The township and school district will see a lot more tax money and other municipalities will gain."

Developers requests for project variances must be approved by planners who then must make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for its final approval.

That process may take several months.

Planners will meet again to publicly discuss these issues on Mon., Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.