Three huge warehouses and an office building unanimously were approved by Lower Macungie Township commissioners Thursday night.
They are the first construction projects planned in David Jaindl’s controversial Spring Creek Properties subdivision, which encompasses more than 600 acres in the western part of the township.
Bethlehem-based Liberty Property Trust, which will erect and own the four neighboring buildings, anticipates construction will begin this year and that they will be leased by next year, according to Bill Bumber, that company’s vice president of development.
“We’re currently seeking tenants,” said Bumber.
The four properties together will be known as Liberty at Spring Creek. They will occupy more than 230 acres in the Jaindl subdivision.
A couple of township residents, as well as one from nearby Alburtis, voiced concerns about the warehouses before the vote.
Township resident Robert Mihok told commissioners other residents have no idea how the warehouses will forever diminish the quality of life in Lower Macungie.
“These warehouses belong in an industrial park off the interstate,” said Mihok.
Township officials explained steps being taken by the developers to improve traffic – particularly the inevitable increase in tractor trailer-traffic --- as well as to reduce stormwater run-off and even make the massive buildings less conspicuous to the public.
When the 608-acre Spring Creek subdivision was approved by commissioners last October, Jaindl predicted some of the properties in it would be sold in less than a year.
His 16-lot subdivision property now is mostly farmland west of Route 100, between Alburtis and Merztown Road. Spring Creek Road runs through the center of his land.
The first four adjoining lots to be developed are west of Spring Creek Road and south of Mertztown Road and Little Lehigh Creek.
One warehouse covering 1.2 million square feet will be built on a 77-acre lot, said Sara Pandl, the township’s planning director.
She said another warehouse covering 1.1 million square feet will be built on 70-acre lot.
Between those two, a 650,000-square-foot warehouse will be built on another 77-acre lot.
That trio will dwarf the 10,000-square-foot office building, which will be constructed on eight acres closer to Spring Creek Road.
A new private road called Congdon Hill Drive will be built to link all four buildings to Spring Creek Road. Congdon Hill Drive will end at the westernmost warehouse.
Impact on roads
Mihok asked township officials how many more trucks township residents can expect to see after the three warehouses are built.
Township engineer William Erdman said that’s a difficult question to answer. He said the number of trucks will be influenced by the types of tenants that occupy the warehouses, as well as how quickly they are built and occupied.
Erdman added: “It will predominately be tractor trailers; there’s no question about that.”
The engineer said one condition of approval is the planned buildings can’t be occupied --or have any impact on traffic -- until all necessary traffic improvements are “constructed, completed, inspected and operational” to support the project.
He said those improvements will be along Spring Creek Road from the intersection with Congdon Hill Drive “up to and including” the intersection with Route 100.
He added the intersection of Spring Creek and Mertztown roads also will be improved.
Erdman said Jaindl is paying for those road improvements as part of the approval of his subdivision plan.
As part of that plan, Jaindl will extend Sauerkraut west, from where it now ends at Route 100, so it intersects Spring Creek Road on the east where Congdon Hill Drive intersects Spring Creek on the west.
The Liberty Property Trust developers anticipate half the traffic leaving their properties will turn north onto Spring Creek Road to reach Route 100 and half will go east on Sauerkraut Lane to reach Route 100.
Commissioner Ron Beitler suggested the developers encourage truck drivers to head north to reach Route 100, rather than continuing east on the new section of Sauerkraut Lane, which would bring tractor trailers closer to residential areas of Lower Macungie and closer to the borough of Macungie.
Erdman said road signs should direct most traffic north. Pandl said the developers already told the township planning commission they will take steps to have their tenants educate truck drivers to go north on Spring Creek Road.
The township engineer said there is a 4,000-vehicle cap on the total amount of traffic that can be generated during one afternoon peak hour when the entire Jaindl subdivision is built out.
“We can’t just monitor this,” said Beitler. “We have to really get creative and think outside the box on how we deal with this.” He said he knows of no other communities that are building warehouses so far from interstate highways.
Beitler had hoped tractor trailers leaving the warehouse could be prohibited from turning right onto Spring Creek Road and heading south toward Alburtis, but added he consistently has been told “nothing can be done.”
Erdman and Commissioners James Lancsek noted Spring Creek Road and Route 100 are state roads and trucks are permitted on state roads.
“I don’t think Lower Macungie Township realizes the magnitude of the decisions you are making as far as destroying the quality of life in the borough of Alburtis,” said Alburtis resident Jason Bartos. “Quality of life and safety are going totally out the window.”
Bartos said he moved to the borough in southern Lehigh County 10 years ago “because I wanted to live in a small town.” But, as a result of warehouses already built in neighboring Lower Macungie, he said he can’t sleep at night because tractor trailers constantly are rumbling by his house or “idling in front of my house because they’re lost.”
Bartos suggested the township can address such problems by erecting signs stating: “No trucks beyond this point except for local deliveries.”
Erdman said people have been concerned about increased traffic and stormwater drainage “from the very beginning, going all the way back to when the subdivision was first discussed.”
He said the Liberty at Spring Creek engineers have responded to concerns about increased stormwater draining into the Little Lehigh by having stormwater run-off infiltrated into the ground on the four properties—including with spray irrigation systems.
“They have reduced discharge from the property as much as possible to reduce any impacts downstream,” said Erdman. He acknowledged there will be some run-off into the stream in winter, when ground is frozen.
Four stormwater retention ponds with permanent pools are planned on the Liberty properties.
Keeping a low profile
After years of debate, and even a lawsuit, David Jaindl's subdivision unanimously was approved by Lower Macungie's commissioners on Oct. 17, 2013.
It includes 171 acres of land that were turned over to the township to be preserved as recreational and open space.
More than half of that preserved open space is along Little Lehigh Creek, including a buffer between the Little Lehigh and the three planned warehouses.
Pandl said the developers have agreed to create a one-mile section of walking trail through that open space for the township, with public access at the end of Smith Lane off Mertztown Road.
She indicated that section of trail eventually will be the western end of a 10-mile-long township trail system along the stream.
Earthen berms, topped with staggered rows of spruce and pine trees that will be up to 12 feet tall when planted, will be created around the warehouses to reduce their visual impact from Mertztown or Spring Creek roads.
David Horn, the project’s landscape architect, said white pines that will be planted grow a foot a year and can reach heights of 40 feet.
Horn told township commissioners said the shortest distance between Mertztown Road and the proposed warehouses is 900 feet.