After years of heated debate, and even a lawsuit, David Jaindl's huge Spring Creek Properties subdivision unanimously was approved by Lower Macungie's commissioners Thursday night -- without even a whisper of opposition.
Warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing plants and offices can be built on most of the 16 lots in the 608-acre subdivision. Most of those lots are very large. The largest covers 77 acres.
Jaindl predicted some properties in the subdivision will be sold in less than a year.
His agreement with the township allows him to sell lots even before roads are built to access them. But no construction can begin until each development within the subdivision has all required township and state approvals.
It’s possible that the first construction in the subdivision could begin next year.
While warehouses seem to be the main objective, zoning also would permit a shopping center to be built on the large lots.
The subdivision property now is mostly farmland west of Route 100, between the borough of Alburtis and Merztown Road. Spring Creek Road runs through the center of Jaindl’s property.
Objections to the proposed subdivision included loss of open space and fear of increased traffic congestion.
The developer is setting aside nearly 62 acres of his land for a township park just north of Alburtis. Along the northern side of the subdivision, another 96 acres will remain an undeveloped greenway flanking Little Lehigh Creek. That land also will be given to the township.
Jaindl told commissioners the process to get township approval began four years ago this month. “I’m glad it worked out. I appreciate your efforts.”
Ron Eichenberg, president of the five commissioners, was not at the meeting but voted via telephone.
Commissioner James Lancsek, the former township zoning officer, called the subdivision one of the largest and most important projects he’s ever seen in his 25 years with the township.
Jaindl intends to extend Sauerkraut Lane west across the subdivision, from Route 100 to Spring Creek Road, with a gated railroad crossing at the Norfolk Southern tracks. West of Spring Creek Road, Sauerkraut Lane will become a private road that only services the industrial properties built along it. It will end in a cul-de-sac.
Jaindl indicated the first properties sold will be west of Spring Creek Road, where the private extension of Sauerkraut Lane will be built first. He will need permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to intersect Spring Creek Road because it is a state highway. He said initially stop signs will be at the intersection, but traffic lights might be added later.
THE COMMERCIAL SIDE
The subdivision includes four smaller commercial lots -- ranging from 3.8 to 16.4 acres -- along Spring Creek Road. Outside the meeting, Jaindl said he has no immediate plans to develop those lots, adding nothing may be done with them for several years.
Another commercially-zoned property within the subdivision contains a farmhouse, which Jaindl intends to keep as a rental property.
Eventually, Jaindl will return to the township for subdivision approval of 112 acres just north of Mertztown Road, for a residential development of up to 400 homes. Most would be single-family homes and half would be age-restricted.
Jaindl said it could take more than a decade for all the industrial, commercial and residential properties to be built on the land he currently owns in that part of the township.
Commissioners approved Spring Creek Properties just one week after the Lower Macungie Planning Commission recommended they reject the subdivision plan.
The planning commission made that recommendation because “too many details still were outstanding” and Jaindl would not grant the township another time extension, explained township engineer William Erdman.
“That was not an indication that they were opposed to it,” said Erdman. “They just didn’t feel it was ready for them to approve because of all the details.”
NO EXTENSION OFFERED
Because Jaindl -- who termed it “a friendly denial” by the planning commission -- would not grant an extension, township commissioners faced a deadline of making a decision to approve or reject the subdivision by Friday. If they had taken no action, said Erdman, the subdivision automatically would have been deemed approved.
Erdman recommended preliminary/final subdivision approval to the commissioners.
He said many of the details that concerned the planning commission have been addressed and resolved. He added both the chairman and vice chairman of the planning commission sent letters to township commissioners indicating they now are confident the plan is ready for approval, but there was no time for the planning commission to meet again.
Erdman added if the planning commission had tabled the subdivision rather than recommending denial last week, the plan could not have gone before the five commissioners for a vote Thursday night and time would have run out.
Erdman told commissioners the project was reduced in scale, not in terms of size or acreage –but by making more properties industrial rather than commercial. He said that reduced the projected amount of increased traffic by nearly 50 percent.
The township engineer indicated one major issue that took longer to resolve was that Jaindl wasn’t sure he needed the public section of Sauerkraut Lane between Spring Creek Road and Route 100, once he realized how much traffic would be reduced.
Erdman said Lower Macungie officials consider extending Sauerkraut from Route 100 to Spring Creek a major benefit to the township. The developer will be paying most of the cost to build that public section of the road. It will be built in segments and may not be completed until late 2021, said Erdman.
While Jaindl will be paying for almost all the road improvements, the township plans to spend $400,000 for roadwork at the point where existing Quarry Road will turn south from the new Sauerkraut Lane, just east of the railroad tracks. Half that money came from another developer, explained Erdman.
Township planning director Sara Pandl said Jaindl intends to convey a total of 75 acres to the township for park land near Alburtis – the 61.5 acres in the subdivision plus another 13.5 acres he owns within the borough of Alburtis.
Pandl told commissioners Jaindl also has agreed that another 162 acres outside the confines of the subdivision will be protected from development. She said 101 of those acres are in Lower Macungie and 61 acres are in neighboring Longswamp Township, Berks County.
The township has been reviewing plans for the Spring Creek subdivision since 2010. At one point, the developer threatened to turn the property into a quarry operation if the subdivision was not approved.
Commissioners approved an earlier version of the subdivision in May 2012, despite their meeting room being packed with a standing-room-only crowd of angry people opposing it.
That approval led to a lawsuit against the township. Six Lower Macungie residents threatened to appeal the township’s zoning change that led to approval of Jaindl’s subdivision all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Jaindl revised his plan to reduce the intensity of development in the subdivision and the amount of traffic it would generate. He also increased the amount of park land.
Earlier this year, a settlement was reached and the lawsuit was dropped, leading to Thursday night’s approval of Jaindl’s revised plan by township commissioners.