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Love it or hate it, development remains brisk

COURTESY OF BERNARDON A rendering of Walnut Street Commons in downtown Allentown, an example of the many development projects filed in the first half of 2018 in Lehigh and Northampton counties. This $13 million residential project is under construction.

Lehigh Valley residents have a love-hate relationship with the idea of development.

Lehigh Valley residents have a love-hate relationship with the idea of


Many love all those breathless announcements of multimillion-dollar residential or industrial projects, while others hate what that sometimes means: more traffic, more trucks and just plain, well, more.

Development plans in the first six months of 2018 are sure to bring that kind of passion. From January to June, 195 plans were filed, keeping the region on its steady increase of new plans since the recession-induced bottom of 2012.

But if you look a little deeper, the most intriguing part may be where some of that development is being proposed. The usual suspects still lead the way with Allentown seeing 23 plans, followed by 15 in warehouse-heavy Lower Macungie Township and 13 in Bethlehem, according to the semi-annual subdivision report compiled by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

But that’s when the report veers into our more rural regions. Lehigh Township had 11 plans filed. That’s a surprising number for a largely rural municipality of fewer than 10,000 people.

Lehigh is a township with more than 8,600 acres of agricultural or undeveloped land covering 45 percent of the municipality.

And tied with Lehigh with 11 plans is Lower Nazareth, a municipality whose 6,000 residents can boast that more than 50 percent of the township remains undeveloped – for now. Both Lehigh and Lower Nazareth already have more plans filed in 2018 than were filed in all of 2017.

It continues a trend. In 2017, Upper Milford, Lowhill and Weisenberg – all rural townships – were near the top of the list for proposed plans.

That’s an indication that, as steady land development continues in our cities and boroughs and along major corridors such as Route 22, Route 33 and Interstate 78, there’s clearly an uptick in activity in many of our rural communities.



While developers and investors will like the idea of new development frontiers that can stoke the economy, the recent Valleywide survey by the LVPC suggests that many residents will have a different reaction.

In a survey taken by more than 1,100 people, 61 percent of people said what they liked most about the region was its parks, trails and recreational opportunities, and 59 percent answered natural and farm lands.

Those people may not like what else the six-month development report has to offer. It shows another potential spike coming in warehouse development.



After an unprecedented 8.7 million feet of warehouse plans filed in 2016, last year brought a breather in which plans for just 887,220 square feet of warehouse space were approved.

That respite appears to be over, as 2.3 million square feet of warehouse space has been approved in the first six months of 2018.

We’re aware of another more than 10 million square feet that have been proposed in the past 18 months, but haven’t yet made it through the approval process.

A closer look at a number that size – and what it could mean for the region – is for another day, but it’s clear why it’s important to track these statistics.



Overall, of the 195 plans filed Valleywide, 95 are in the preliminary stage, while 100 have been approved.

Of those approved, 40 were for industrial use, 25 were for housing and 35 were what’s referred to as nondevelopment, which generally means small changes such as parcel line adjustments.

All of this matters because what’s happening has major implications for all of us. Municipalities need it to determine where to plan for new development. It affects everything from their land use ordinances to their road network.

The LVPC uses it to determine where future infrastructure, bridge and road improvements are going to be needed.



Ultimately, all of it has an impact on how the region grows and develops.

And residents can use it to determine where they want to live and what’s happening in their community so they can voice their opinion on how their municipal leaders are managing their tax dollars.

If you would like to keep track of proposed development, you can find monthly subdivisions reports, including an interactive map at

If you wait to see the bulldozers rumbling, you’re probably too late. n


Becky Bradley is executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (, a federally funded Metropolitan Planning Organization that oversees the spending of highway, bridge and transit funding in the region and organizes the orderly growth, development and redevelopment of the Lehigh Valley. She can be reached at [email protected] or 610-264-4544.

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