Northwestern Press

Saturday, December 14, 2019

County planners present Northern Lehigh comp plan at workshops in Heidelberg, Washington townships

Thursday, June 27, 2019 by Elsa Kerschner ekerschner@tnonline.com in Local News

Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, welcomed attendees to the Northern Lehigh comprehensive plan workshops June 12 in Heidelberg and June 13 in Washington.

She said the LVPC was there as consultants, not to tell them what to do.

The plan is for Weisenberg, Heidelberg, Lynn, Lowhill and Washington townships and Slatington Borough.

Superintendents of both Northern Lehigh and Northwestern Lehigh school districts attended the Washington Township session.

The state requires the plans to be updated every 10 years.

Bradley said they had practice at working together under the original plan but the object is to create a new intergovernmental plan.

The plan would be a guide that communicates through words, maps, charts, graphs, tables and graphic information.

Charlie Doyle and Craig Kackenmeister of the LVPC said they were there to listen, to learn what is most important.

The plan is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete. At the end, the plan would be a binding, living educational document.

Plan objectives include natural and scenic resources; historical, architectural and cultural resources; economic development, transportation, housing and community facilities and services.

There were few changes in the past 10 years to the original plan but it is expected there may be more in the next 10 years.

The workshops began with a PowerPoint presentation.

Information included: a downward trend in development and Washington Township is wealthier than the rest of Lehigh County.

Main transportation routes include Routes 873, 309, 143, 476, and in Washington, Church Road. Secondary and tertiary roads do not meet transportation needs.

The presentation included information that bridges are generally in good shape but questioned their status within the next 10 years? PennDOT has five projects in the works for transportation.

Those attending were divided into groups with interests presented to an LVPC leader.

Township representatives were told to consider their municipality’s greatest assets.

In Washington Township, that was the trail system which was part of open space planning. It is proud of its rail trails, the D&L Trail, the Appalachian, Lehigh Gap Nature Center trails and the general river access plus playgrounds and parks.

The trails are an avenue of marketing by attracting people to the area.

In Heidelberg Township, farmland and open space are important.

It was noted there are individuals and families who want to farm but they do not have the capital.

The suggestion was made that for something as labor-intensive as farming more than one family could be on a farm.

In the Lehigh Valley, a family may farm for 20 to 30 years but there still may be a time when the land will need to be sold.

There has been discussion of a swimming pool and accessory facilities in the Northwestern Lehigh area with jobs for both youngsters and adults.

Plans have to be made for the elderly who want to stay in the area after retirement, but those same people become more dependent on health services. An aging population has to be part of the plan was a Heidelberg consideration.

Since the Northern Lehigh townships are at the top of the watershed, sewage and water are considered important.

Representatives were generally pleased with the school districts but the subject of taxes was mentioned.

Some suggested more federal funding for schools.

The cost of the plan was questioned. Municipal representatives learned a $49,000 grant is available from the state.

Emergency services are mainly provided by volunteers in the municipalities but they are becoming harder to find.

Eighty percent of the northern area is still served by state police and switching to local police coverage is expensive.

The biggest challenge is how to find more volunteers.

Kackenmeister said it is obvious farms are most important in Heidelberg Township. Small businesses could be permitted on a farm.

High speed Internet competition is needed.

Local shopping is a problem. Main street plans are needed but only in the manner residents want them improved.

Heidelberg Township resident Teena Bailey said people want more in services than the taxes newcomers to the area will be paying.

Each group chose what it considered its five most important priorities. They were listed on a board and each attendee received three sticky hex coins to place alongside the ones they consider most important.

For Heidelberg, the three highest were open space/farmland, preservation of community integrity and heritage, and emergency services.

In Washington, it was balancing community character with growth as a generator of eventual changes, trails and natural resources with preservation of landscapes, and open space.

Residents may view the plans online at plannl.org.

Bradley said representatives from the LVPC will attend Slatington’s Gathering, Northwestern Lehigh’s Night in the Country and other area events.