Lehigh Valley board wants developer Lou Pektor to review River Pointe plans

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission on Thursday evening approved a strongly worded letter questioning plans by Bethlehem developer Lou Pektor to erect a dozen industrial-scale buildings on green space in Upper Mount Bethel Township. .

“The township clearly desires this development, as indicated by the property’s municipal zoning,” senior community planner Jillian Seitz read in the Valley Council’s 11-page letter to the Upper Mount Bethel Planning Commission. “However, a development of this magnitude and impact must be thoughtfully and deliberately planned.”

She noted that any final township approval for the project will affect not just the slate belt, but adjacent areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Pektor’s proposed River Pointe Commerce Park is expected to consist of 12 buildings totaling 5.8 million square feet on approximately 800 acres. Pektor acquired the property, beginning in the fall of 2019, for the project originally known as River Pointe Logistics, along River and Demi Roads, approximately 1 ½ miles from Interstate 80.

The project has been heralded by local officials as a possible savior in an area struggling to attract jobs and spur economic development.

But many residents of the 6,500-person township, Northampton County’s largest by land area, have opposed the scheme almost since it was first announced. They also said they would support new ventures, but on a smaller scale.

“I just wish [Pektor] would reduce this development,” said resident Fran Visicario.

The letter from the Planning Commission, an advisory group that issues recommendations to municipal planners, has no legal value. But it’s filled with suggestions for how Pektor should consider proceeding, including steps on sewage treatment, road improvements, emergency access and more.

Before the commissioners unanimously approved the comments, several members expressed concerns ranging from how to deal with sewage, increased traffic and whether Pektor’s proposal will actually be profitable. or result in increased property taxes.

“It’s important for the [township] elected officials, that the potential for this development to pay off now or in the future is questionable,” said commission vice-chairman Christopher Amato. “I fear this will become a burden on taxpayers.”

Through a spokesperson, Pektor, who attended the virtual meeting, declined to comment.

The land has been zoned industrial since the 1970s and is within a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Zone, which provides property owners with relief on property taxes associated with improvements or new construction. Taxes are phased in at 10% per year over a decade.

Martin Pinter, chairman of the Upper Mount Bethel Supervisor, said supervisors have chosen in the past not to change industrial zoning to open space. He said the project would bring well-paying jobs to township residents and others.

Township resident Judy Henckel was among others who thanked the Valley Planning Group for their letter.

“It gives us a way to say that we’re not just shooting each other,” Henckel said. “We have something to back us up.”

Pinter and others encouraged future dialogue between local and regional planners.

“I want to say that the board is seriously considering your comments,” he told the Valley Group. “We may disagree on some things, but we take them into consideration.”

The controversial development was also considered on Tuesday during planning for the commission’s monthly comprehensive planning meeting.

Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at asalamone@mcall.com.

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