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The Morning Call Archives

Copyright © 2009 The Morning Call

ID: 4401393
Publication Date: July 5, 2009
Day: Sunday
Page: A1
Edition: FIRST
Section: News
Type: Local
Dateline:
Column:
Length: long

Byline: By Christopher Baxter OF THE MORNING CALL

Headline: Along Route 33, a fertile future grows from Chrin's farmland
**Proposed $25 million interchange would open 800 acres to
development and forever change nearby communities.

Songbirds chirped from the bushes on Main Street in Palmer Township on


a recent day as a steady bass of mid-morning traffic rumbled from nearby
Route 33. Development has yet to reach the hundreds of acres of
cornfields here, but it's coming, from the south, spreading its roots across
the map.

The Charles Chrin Cos. planted the seed between 2001 and 2003,
Northampton County records show, when President Charles Chrin penned
agreements to buy more than 800 acres of farmland, mostly along Route
33 in Palmer, for $18.1 million. Now Chrin proposes doubling down on
his investment, offering to build a $25 million interchange between
Routes 248 and 191.

If accepted, the rare, private offer guarantees the continued northern


advance of commercial and industrial growth in the county, said Stephen
Thode, director of the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies
at Lehigh University. That evolution also would bring considerable if not
unwanted changes for residents and the fading rural character of their
communities.

"An interchange would, in essence, redefine the commercial district of the


Lehigh Valley," Thode said. "It wasn't too long ago that you got north of
Route 22 and things got rural very quickly. But the Route 248 interchange
is now extremely busy. Unless Route 22 is upgraded, Route 33 has the
chance of turning the Valley from east-west to north-south."

Critics of Chrin's proposal fear that new orientation will further inundate
their narrow back roads and main streets, already traversed daily by truck
traffic heading north or south to the existing Route 33 ramps. But
proponents argue the new interchange will alleviate that congestion, bring
new jobs and, for Palmer and Tatamy, bolster the tax base.

It also has the potential to yield big money for Chrin, Thode said, because
developers will pay a premium to build on land with direct access to the
highway.

"The capital investment in the interchange may pay for itself many times
over," he said.

On the corner of Broad and Walnut streets in Nazareth, Matthew Moore


lives with the thunder of trucks as they make their daily trips to and from
the nearby quarries. The haulers use narrow Walnut Street for access to
Route 191 and the Route 33 interchanges in Stockertown and Lower
Nazareth Township.

But when they make the sharp right turn onto Walnut, their wheels often
jump the curb and crush the sidewalk outside Moore's brick row home.

"I used to have grass along the side of my house, but I got tired of mowing
it and almost being hit by trucks," said Moore, pointing to where he
replaced his lawn with white stones. "My foundation is even crumbling.
You can see the bricks falling apart."

Suburban sprawl permeated the county north of Route 22 and throughout


much of the Valley without any regional road plan, turning neighborhood
routes like Walnut Street into industrial thoroughfares.

Limited access to Route 33 confined most major commercial and


industrial development, like the 1.8-million-square-foot ProLogis Park 33
warehouse complex in Lower Nazareth, to land surrounding the existing
interchanges. It also insulated communities a few miles away from the
highway, such as Forks Township, making their smaller industrial parks
less desirable.

"New ramps will definitely open up our parks in terms of access," said
Forks Supervisor Chairman C. David Howell. "It will have a positive
impact on us with very few drawbacks. But it will be at the expense of our
neighbors to the west such as Tatamy."

As traffic flows now, Stockertown bears the majority of trucks heading


north from the Forks parks, clogging roads as far south as Tatamy on most
afternoons. Lower Nazareth and Route 248 accommodate big-wheelers
headed south, though a bypass built as part of the ProLogis park allows
many, including those from Palmer's industrial park, to avoid the
community roads.

A new interchange on Main Street in Palmer would further alleviate


pressure on the back routes, said Palmer Supervisor Chairman David
Colver. Officials in Stockertown agree. But residents and leaders of other
surrounding communities were far more skeptical of the new traffic routes
at a public hearing last month detailing the interchange proposal.

"We do agree it's a good project. Good for Palmer," said Supervisor
Willard Mohn of Upper Nazareth Township. "But there sure will be a
tremendous negative impact on our community. Tatamy Road from
Nazareth and Tatamy is going to be super-intensified in terms of traffic,
and we're not getting anything out of it. It's going to cost us more money
whether it's fire, police or emergency. It's going to cost us."

Mohn is right that Palmer stands to gain the most from Chrin's proposal.
Colver has made securing an interchange a personal goal as he seeks his
third term as supervisor this year. He believes new ramps will usher the
kind of development the township needs to balance the past decade's crush
of residential growth that now demands costly public services and burdens
the budget.

"The north end of the township is what's going to make or break the entire
township in 20, 30, 40 years down the road," said Colver, a lifelong
Palmer resident and firm supporter of Chrin's plans. "If an interchange
goes in, and if the land is developed responsibly, it could be a great thing
for the township and for all the communities."

By responsible growth, Colver means no ProLogis-like warehouses that


cover entire fields and employ only a handful of people. He said he
expects Chrin to attract far higher-quality tenants, with entertainment and
retail lining the streets in front of more industrial uses to the rear. Such a
future could bring a slew of new jobs, a prospect that has garnered support
for the interchange from the Nazareth Area Council of Governments and
the Two Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We have total control over what's going on up there," Colver said.
"Because it's zoned rural agricultural, any uses will require a zoning
change."

The Charles Chrin Cos. in 2002 unveiled plans for the Chrin Commerce
Centre, slated for some of the tracts surrounding the proposed
interchange. The three-phase project east of Route 33 includes lots for
industrial and office space in Palmer and Tatamy and a downtown village
center on Tatamy's west side on Eighth Street. Development would later
extend west of Route 33 into the Chrin-owned corn fields.

Tatamy and Palmer officials have approved only the first phase of Chrin's
center, a 77-acre business park with industrial and office space. The
American arm of German carmaker Porsche, which built a 130,000-
square-foot regional office and parts distribution center there, is the only
tenant in the park to date.

Chrin spokesman Stephan Rosenfeld declined to comment on whether the


economy has slowed interest in the park. He said in an e-mail statement
that Porsche represented the kind of "gold-standard companies" desired
for the center, rather than "so-called big-box stores, residences, or super-
sized distribution centers."

As far as concerns expressed by residents, Rosenfeld said the company


welcomed input from surrounding communities. Chrin and Palmer will
hold a second public meeting Sept. 17 to present the first round of traffic
studies. Such a meeting is not required by law because the project would
be privately funded, Colver said.

More traffic will flow from the interchange, which economically would be
a good thing for the region, said Lehigh's Thode. All one has to do is look
at the development that sprouted near other interchanges along Route 33 -
- such as at William Penn Highway and Freemansburg Avenue -- to see
how ramps increase the value of nearby property, Thode said.

"It just makes so much sense, in terms of population growth and


demographics," Thode said. "For decades, Northampton County was
underserved in terms of retail and other kinds of infrastructure, and the
opening of Route 33 between Interstate 78 and Route 22 has changed that
equation significantly. Land is changing faster along Route 33 than
anywhere else in the Valley."

That trend will only continue when Chrin seeks to develop the rest of its
roughly 800 acres surrounding the proposed interchange, erasing more
farmland and habitat for already disappearing birds that nest in open
areas, said Nels Johnson, director of conservation programs for the Nature
Conservancy of Pennsylvania.
The interchange itself would have little impact on the environment, said
Greg Elko of Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, the firm
hired to plan the ramps for Chrin. Langan will complete a more thorough
environmental assessment in the coming year, Elko said.

No studies or statistics will convince Bob and Hazel DeReamus that an


interchange is a good idea. After 45 years living in Tatamy, the couple
remembers the days when the biggest nuisances in their community were
the smell of pigs and manure on a windy day. But with progress has come
the trucks banging down Main Street outside their yellow ranch home and
the smell of diesel fumes hanging in the humid summer air.

"It's terrible," Hazel DeReamus said. "Just terrible."

The DeReamuses fear the noise and congestion will get worse with an
interchange, which will make their road a prime pathway for drivers. The
two have battled the spread of development in the past, DeReamus said,
and they will do it again; if not for the birds calling in the afternoon or the
young corn swaying in the breeze, then for the little peace and quiet that
remains in their small community.

christopher.baxter@mcall.com

610-778-2283

INTERCHANGE TIMELINE

BY END OF 2009

The Charles Chrin Cos. and Langan Engineering & Environmental


Services analyze the interchange's effect on the surrounding

communities and submit their findings to the state Department of


Transportation for approval.

2010

With the go-ahead from PennDOT, Langan completes more detailed


traffic and environmental studies, considering the effects of potential
growth during the next 20 years on land

surrounding the interchange.

Pending those results, construction begins by December.


BY END OF 2011

Final completion of the interchange, including four traffic lights at the end
of each ramp on Main Street.

Source: Langan Engineering & Environmental Services

TRAFFIC TRACKER

Average daily car and truck volumes on Route 33 reflect the recent
development between Routes 22 and 248. Those flows probably will
increase should the Charles Chrin Cos. construct a new, $25 million
interchange where Main Street crosses Route 33 in Palmer Township,
opening the door to more than 800 acres of development.

ROUTE 33

From Route 22 to Hecktown Road

North: 28,175 cars, 3,103 trucks (11%)

South: 30,954 cars, 2,930 trucks (9.5%)

From Hecktown Road to Route 248

North: 30,207 cars, 3,927 trucks (13%)

South: 30,707 cars, 3,992 trucks (13%)

From Route 248 to proposed interchange and further north

North: 16,194 cars, 2,455 trucks (15%)

South: 15,831 cars, 2,553 trucks (16%)

Main Street in Palmer Township

From Tatamy Borough to Nazareth Borough

Both directions: 6,132 cars, 552 trucks (9%)

Source: PennDOT Internet Traffic Monitoring System