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LV planners preparing comments on local economic study

By Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 27 2014 08:47:00 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 28 2014 05:53:08 AM CST
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Lehigh Valley planners are pouring over details of a recent economic study commissioned for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., and preparing their comments.

Atlanta-based Garner Economics delivered the study to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. last week.

The study, called "A Blueprint for Success: An Economic Development Strategy for Sustainable Growth in the Lehigh Valley," was commissioned by the LVEDC as part of its $34 million Housing and Urban Development grant that is in its final year.

"I met with (LVEDC CEO) Don Cunningham this week. We have a chance to include some things, so we should review the study and get comments over to them by next week. They plan to start getting rolling with this by mid-March," said Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley. "One thing I'm not going to touch with a 10-foot pole is the 1 percent sales tax."

One of the cornerstones of the study is a suggested 1 percent sales tax across the Lehigh Valley.

"I've read it and reviewed it and reads more like a strategic plan for the LVEDC," Bradley said. "There's really interesting data in the report that we can support."

The study measured assets and needed improvements in the Lehigh Valley garnered through feedback from eight focus groups concerning perceptions and opinions about the local business climate.

An electronic survey of 82 more participants was also taken.

The Valley's strongest assets for business growth included proximity to metropolitan areas, quality-of-life issues, cost-of-living and access to schools, universities, transportation and developable land.

In other business, the planning commission voted against proposed zoning amendments in East Allen Township that would allow water and sewer utilities in the township's agricultural/rural residential zoning district.

The zoning amendment would allow a developer to build single-family duplex homes on 65 acres between Steuben Road and Jaindl Boulevard recommended for farmland preservation by the Northampton County Comprehensive Plan.

"This is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan," said David Berryman, the LVPC's chief community planner. "This (zoning plan) is a reaction to an urban developer who wants to develop the property. There's nothing stopping the water and sewer lines from going north once they are in there."

Berryman said the rezoning effort is the latest of a series of such proposals in the area since 2008.

Berryman said that if East Allen Township officials want to change the area from rural farming to residential, it should update its comprehensive plan instead of trying to zone for an individual developer.

Elsewhere, the commission voted to support adoption of adding "adaptive reuse" as a conditional use in all residential zoning districts in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County.

Adaptive reuse is defined as conversion of a principal building originally constructed and used for commercial, institutional or industrial uses which may or may not be considered blighted by Whitehall Township.

Some of the uses recommended for adaptive reuse in Whitehall Township include residential storage, banks, barber/beauty shops, day care centers and retail stores.