In a surprise move, the Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners tabled their vote on the township's updated comprehensive plan after a group of residents objected to the residential zoning of an environmentally sensitive area of South Mountain.
The board had been expected to adopt the plan Thursday night, after the Planning Commission spent two years reviewing and updating the plan with the consulting firm Urban Research & Development and held two public hearings.
The residents, which included members of the township's Environmental Advisory Council, want the area off East Emmaus Avenue rezoned conservation residential, as it had been years ago, instead of the current R3, medium density residential zoning.
"It defies logic that we're not making it conservation residential. It's the headwaters of Trout Creek. all the tributaries are clean at the source," resident Jane Benning told the board.
Township Manager Randy Soriano bristled at the suggestion that the plan be revised. "We already went through this. It's late in the game."
"It's not too late," several members of the audience shouted.
The comprehensive plan establishes guidelines for the township's future, Soriano insisted the township's zoning ordinance, which is being updated, is more enforceable.
Soriano said if the zoning were changed, "the school district would show up."
"Good," said resident Jan Keim, who earlier made an impassioned plea to protect the South Mountain watershed.
Commissioner Joanne Ackerman wondered why the the zoning was kept at R3 "when no one should be building on it at all." The homes in the area are prone to flooding.
Township Engineer Dave Tettemer said builders can always find a way around certain regulations to develop land.
"This was obviously an oversight on everyone's part," said Commissioner Robert Martucci.
Keim said she was surprised to see the R3 Zoning on the final draft because she had been asked to attend township meetings about the ecology of the zone.
"I'm wondering if I wasted my time," she said.
The area off East Emmaus Avenue is steeply sloped and is part of the ecologically significant Highlands, with its unique flora and fauna. The land includes some housing and a large swath of undeveloped land owned by Salisbury Township School District. The school district has rejected the township's offers to buy the land. School board President Russell Giordano has said he wants to sell the land to developers because the district needs the money.
But over the two years, the most contentious sections had been the proposed healthcare overlay zone surrounding Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, not the school district's land. The board's move even came as a surprise to representatives from Lehigh Valley Hospital who were in the audience.