Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Open Space Debate ongoing in Forks Township

The chief planner for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission supports a developer's claim that the township's zoning laws don't necessarily preserve farmland.

Olev Taremae of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission also agreed with the township's attorney that the township's laws for preserving farmland are more lenient than the planning commission would recommend.

Attorneys questioned Taremae for nearly two and a half hours in the fourth hearing of a zoning appeal filed by Bethlehem-based developer KMRD-LP, which owns 545 acres in the farmland protection district and proposes more than 3,000 homes on the land.

The developer's attorney John VanLuvanee called Taremae as a witness to speak to the role the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission plays in assisting municipalities in revising zoning laws.

KMRD-LP's appeal states the township's regulations in the farmland protection district are "arbitrary, unreasonable and unconstitutional."

The township's zoning allows 3-acre lots or clustered development on 1-acre lots as long as half the land remains open space.

Both the township and the Lehigh Valley planners prefer the cluster option.

The Lehigh Valley planners recommended the township drop the 3-acre lot option altogether when the planners reviewed the township's proposed new zoning laws.

"It doesn't preserve (farmland), period," Taremae said.

Township Attorney Steven Goudsouzian asked Taremae if all municipalities follow the recommendations of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Taremae said the commission's comments are advisory and every municipality does not follow the comments. The township's plans were generally consistent with the commission's, Taremae said.

He said the planning commission encourages the township to force cluster development and would even support 30-acre minimum lot sizes in the farmland preservation district.

Part of the developer's sketch plans show 731 mobile homes on swaths of land east of Richmond Road and north of Newlins Road East.

One of the goals of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's comprehensive plan is to provide adequate housing for all economic levels, Taremae said.

"Municipalities shouldn't limit houses in a way that will raise house prices," Taremae said. "Mobile home parks are a necessary housing type."

More on previous meetings here and here.

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