Blogger's Note: In his eighth and final question to South Whitehall Comm'r candidates, Brad Osborne asks about overlay districts and compact growth. An overlay district is a special zone placed over an existing zoning district. It is often used to encourage a specific kind of development. Compact growth is a principle under which new development is directed at existing development to minimize the need for new infrastructure or increased services.
A Morning Call headline on August 20, 2017 reads “Flexible zoning in South Whitehall landed massive Kay Builders development.” This ushered in the controversial conversation of compact growth in the township. Many residents were caught by surprise. The developer credited South Whitehall’s forward-thinking and recently revamped zoning rules. South Whitehall planner Gregg Adams said, “I don’t think the township has ever seen anything like this on this scale.” But the enormous Ridge Farm development isn’t just big for South Whitehall. “It’s big for the entire region” observed Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley at the time. “That’s the type of scale of development you’d see in Las Vegas during the housing boom. It’s absolutely a big deal.”
Today’s Candidate Question: In 2014, the Board of Commissioners adopted the “Innovation Overlay District”, a zoning revision that is intended to promote areas deemed to have the potential for compact growth. Would you support the continuation of this zoning concept in the next Comprehensive Plan? Why or why not?
Christina “Tori” Morgan (R): No response.
Joe Setton (D): No response.
David Kennedy (R): A thorough review of the “Innovative Overlay District” as it affects SWT residents is important. I would not support the overlay district in its existing form. The next comprehensive plan must be forward thinking and consider at least 20 to 30 years into the future. I think we have learned a lesson with Ridge Farms and the impact that will have on our township residents. A development should not negatively impact the surrounding neighborhoods.
Monica Hodges (R): In 2014, the Board of Commissioners added Overlay Districts (TND’s) to the Zoning Map which included the Ridge Farm, Hills at Winchester (Regency), Spring View Apartments, and Park View Inn properties as an alternative to traditional zoning which would have been strictly residential. As a result, approximately 2000 dwellings are either being built or are being proposed in the most congested areas of the township. This zoning change allowed an unprecedented amount of dense development, as well as commercial development, to these properties.
In more remote areas of the township an overlay district could be greatly beneficial, but not in the most heavily congested areas of our township. We already have overlay districts in place, so there is no reason to add more in the next Comprehensive Plan, especially if they are placed in already congested areas. State law permits TNDs, but it does not require them. It would be better to change zoning to limit dense developments and maintain the beauty and character of our township.
Thomas J. Johns (D): I had the privilege of serving on the Board in 2014. Nevertheless, I could not support the continuation of this zoning concept in the next Comprehensive Plan. The Township has evolved since 2014, growth and development have been ongoing, some infrastructure improvements have been made. These factors must all be considered prior to my support.