Developer David Jaindl went public Thursday night with details of his new proposal to scale back on the intensity of development in his 700-acre subdivision project in Lower Macungie Township -- if some residents drop their appeal of that project to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Jaindl and Atty. Joseph Zator, his lawyer, spoke at the start of the township commissioners meeting.
In May, township commissioners approved Jaindl Land Company’s Spring Creek Properties subdivision No. 1, which surrounds Spring Creek Road just north of Alburtis. A group of residents challenged that approval in court. Their appeal is headed to the Supreme Court.
Jaindl referred to his new proposal as an alternative plan or simply Plan B.
He said it is not the best plan for a businessman -- “if I took this property and sold it to a New Jersey developer, I guarantee Plan B would never exist”-- but it is a much better plan for the community than the plan already approved by township commissioners.
Jaindl maintained the new plan “minimizes” commercial and residential development in his subdivision.
For example, he said it includes a substantial reduction in commercial development: just over 71,000 square feet, compared to 443,000 square feet in the approved plan.
And he said more than 900 housing units could go in the northern section of the subdivision, but he is proposing no more than 400: about half for single family homes and the other half for an age-restricted, 55-and-older community.
He said his alternative plan will generate less truck traffic than the plan already approved.
He also plans to reduce traffic by taking a 37-acre commercially zoned property in the subdivision and have it rezoned for industrial use –“preferably a non-warehouse use.”
“We are very community sensitive,” said Jaindl. “We went over and above because we thought it was the right thing to do for this community.”
Ryan Conrad, vice president of the five commissioners, questioned Jaindl about whether it’s true he will move forward with the new subdivision plan only if appellants drop their appeal to the Supreme Court. Without waiting for an answer, Conrad “insisted” Jaindl should pursue the new plan “regardless of the outcome of the appeal” because it is a better plan.
“I would second that,” said Ron Eichenberg, president of the commissioners.
“I can’t move this plan forward if there is continued legal strife going on,” responded Jaindl.
He told commissioners if those challenging the subdivision drop their litigation, the approved plan will “go into the garbage” and be replaced by his new proposal. “And that would be our preference,” he added.
He believes he can proceed now with development of aspects of the subdivision that are common to both the approved plan and his proposed alternative plan, such as roadway improvements.
Jaindl said it’s going to take some time before the Supreme Court even agrees to hear a appeal, much less rule on it. He said that court takes only five percent of cases submitted to it. Zator predicted the Supreme Court is not going to reverse the Commonwealth Court’s decision, which supported the township.
Zator criticized a legal petition filed by Atty. Donald Miles, who represents project opponents. He said Miles “described Commonwealth Court as displaying ‘condescension and lack of respect for public participation in land use decisions.’ And he characterized Commonwealth Court as being arrogant. Such total disrespect for judges is appalling. In 27 years of practicing law, I’ve never seen anyone write about judges, particularly a group of appellate court judges, with such disdain.”
But Jaindl’s lawyer said the battle that has been going on for three years over the 700-acre project is not just a legal battle.
It’s gotten ugly, said Zator, and it’s become personal. “Accusations in the media (and) social media have been incessant. No one has the right to irresponsibly defame anybody.”
Zator told commissioners the situation reached an all-time low when an armed constable had to be at a zoning hearing on the project “due to a blog threat against Mr. Jaindl.”
The lawyer said Jaindl has not gone on the offensive, “either legally, in the media or in social media. He’s been a gentleman. He’s respected the legal process, win or lose. And he’s respected the right of people to speak their minds.”
Zator said only a small group of people in the community have exhibited disrespect. He said anyone who fails to act with decency “ought to be ignored.”
“Absent a plan that shows this being farmland, no one is going to be incredibly happy with what’s before us, including myself,” Conrad told Jaindl. “However, this definitely is a step in the right direction.”
“Plan B is far superior,” said Commissioner James Lancsek.
The homes are planned in the northern part of the subdivision, north of Mertztown Road near the boundary with Upper Macungie Township. Large parcels for future warehouse, light manufacturing or commercial office development cover most of the rest of the subdivision.
Under the new plan, a mile-long extension of Sauerkraut Lane that runs west of Spring Creek Road to serve those large properties will be privately owned and maintained rather than becoming a public road, said Jaindl.
He said an open space area that would have been at the end of Sauerkraut Lane will be relocated to east of Spring Creek Road, south of the township’s Quarry Park. The new area will cover 70 acres, about 7.5 acres larger than its previous spot, and will be closer to residents, including those living in Alburtis.
Jaindl said the new proposal includes 10-to-14-foot high berms along Spring Creek Road and open space buffers surrounding Little Lehigh Creek, which flows through the northern end of the property along Mertztown Road. N
Norfolk Southern railroad tracks at the south end of the property will also be buffered with plantings. Jaindl is encouraging Norfolk Southern to run rail sidings into his industrial/warehouse properties. “That will minimize truck traffic,” he said. “Forty to 55-percent of truck traffic will be absorbed through rail.” He said potential buyers will pay less if they buy a property that includes rail.
If Jaindl’s new subdivision plan replaces the approved plan, it will have to go through the entire township approval process, including rezoning, said Lower Macungie officials after the meeting. But they said approval would be simplified by the fact that many aspects of the new proposal are identical to the plan already approved.
“There still is ample opportunity for public input in this process to influence the outcome,” said Conrad.
He added: “I would hope the appellants would consider withdrawing the appeal and working with us together to move a better plan forward.”
Jaindl did not take questions from the public at the meeting, but immediately after his presentation, he and Zator moved into an adjoining room to answer residents’ questions.