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LVHN zoning overlay falls flat

The Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners met May 9 to discuss a zoning overlay request from Lehigh Valley Health Network, a project that failed to garner enough support to send it to the planning commission for review.

LVHN is looking for a health care overlay on property currently zoned residential. The property in question is located along MacArthur Road, across from the municipal complex.

The overlay would allow LVHN to move forward with its proposed development, which includes a hospital, a building of medical offices and a behavioral health hospital.

The proposed two-story hospital would have 24 beds and be able to take care of 80-85% of medical needs, while the medical offices would consolidate many practices in Whitehall Township. Finally, the four-floor behavioral health hospital would accommodate adolescents, adults and older adults.

“This [is not] a Cedar Crest in the making. This is designed to be a community hospital,” Ed Dougherty, chief business development officer at LVHN, said.

Dougherty explained the Lehigh Valley is experiencing significant population growth of 18- to 34-year-olds. In addition, the developers are taking into consideration the “gray population,” or the amount of older adults that would benefit from a closer hospital.

The goal of this development is to provide convenient care closer to home. It would also take pressure off Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg hospitals to provide more in-depth care.

Vice President of Business Development Daniel Quay went on to show areas of further development if the first three buildings are successful.

Many members of the public spoke on the overlay and proposed development.

Tim Gilbert, a resident at Fellowship Community, along with an employee, voiced support for a closer hospital.

Bob Mateff, chief executive officer of Cetronia Ambulance Corps, said the corps gets 7,000 calls in Whitehall each year. He thinks an LVHN-Whitehall branch would benefit patients and the corps since the patients would get the care they need faster, and the ambulance drivers would be able to assist more patients.

Following all the feedback, Phil Ginder, chairman of the legal and legislative committee, stated that, at the April meeting, the committee made a unanimous motion to deny sending the zoning overlay to the planning commission, after months of deliberation.

Commissioners President Joe Marx called for a motion to send it to the planning commission, but one was not made - and the project fell flat.

In other business, the board passed two motions authorizing the purchase of two Hurst HP extraction tools for the fire department and three 2023 Dodge vehicles for the police department.

Finally, the board discussed the decline of Scouts in the township, as well as the recreation department’s struggle to find lifeguards. Commissioner Randy Atiyeh suggested a community night in a popular location for networking and recruiting for those organizations and various others.

The board of commissioners will next meet 7 p.m. June 6 in the Coplay Whitehall Sewer Authority meeting room, 3213 MacArthur Road.