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Opinion: Too little too late on warehouses?

What do FedEx, Amazon, Walmart and PepsiCo have in common? They all have major distribution centers in the Lehigh Valley and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The proliferation of these monster warehouses has been a boon and a bane to their host municipalities, and some of them are beginning to fight back, saying “enough.”

Most recent among these were Moore and Lower Nazareth townships in Northampton County and Pocono Township in Monroe County.

The Moore Township Zoning Hearing Board denied developer Water’s Edge of Wind Gap’s plans to build two warehouses on Southmoore Golf Club on Route 512.

Lower Nazareth is revising its zoning map to contain warehouses in more appropriate areas of the township.

In Pocono Township, where Interstate 80 and Route 611 crisscross the area, the township commissioners voted for new zoning ordinances which will limit big distribution centers to areas of a new enterprise park.

People are calling it warehouse fatigue, because it feels as if the entire area is being inundated by these monster projects.

My 40-mile drive from my home in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, to the Stroudsburg area to see family takes me along Route 329 through parts of Whitehall, Allen, East Allen and Hanover townships and the borough of Northampton, then onto Route 512 through the borough of Bath and East Allen, Moore, Bushkill and Plainfield townships. The number of sprawling warehouses which have been built in this region in the last decade is mind-boggling and breathtaking.

What once had been rolling farmland has been replaced by these sterile buildings that serve as holding areas for products as diverse as the number of acres they now consume.

The argument that these warehouses bring jobs and prosperity to the areas they now inhabit is certainly open to argument. Manufacturing jobs in the Lehigh Valley pay, on average, about $75,000 a year, compared with about $45,000 a year working in a warehouse, according to the most recent survey.

The “Help Wanted” sign seems to be permanent at these warehouse locations. After all, not everyone can handle the physicality of warehouse work. Companies, such as Amazon, push their workers to meet quotas and tight deadlines, so the pressure is always on.

When the warehouse boom started, there was much passivity on the part of some officials and residents in these host communities, but no more. Residents are up in arms about how much land these warehouse companies have taken over.

The sad part is that, despite the opposition, lax zoning laws have tied officials’ hands and have allowed these projects to be built, but now municipalities are revising these laws to restrict them to certain parts of the municipalities that are geared to handle them, but is it too little too late?

Since 2018, Amazon, FedEx and Whole Foods have moved into the area. After the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and supercharged e-commerce, two dozen new warehouses occupying more than 10 million square feet have opened just in the Lehigh Valley, and more are on the drawing board.

Local developers, such as David Jaindl of turkey farm fame, said a desire by customers for immediate fulfillment of their purchases has fueled this construction boom. Jaindl has been one of the key developers. Just recently, his plan for development in Lower Nazareth Township, one of the municipalities fighting back, just made it under the wire before a possible zoning change.

Many rural townships have zoning ordinances that were written at a time when even visionaries could not foresee million-square-foot warehouses dotting the countryside where family farms once were mainstays.

More warehouses mean more trucks - big trucks - that now clog rural roads which were not built to accommodate such beasts.

Many municipal officials and planners privately admit that they were caught off-guard by how quickly the warehouse phenomenon rocked the area and how big it would become. By the time the realization had sunk in, the horse had already left the barn.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.