The Lehigh Dialogue Center’s plans for a faith-based community/cultural center -- which also includes a hotel and cemetery -- were shot down by the Lower Nazareth Board of Supervisors Wednesday night.
The problem is that a cemetary is not permitted in a light industrial zoning district. The center's project team had hoped supervisors would allow the cemetery as an accessory use.
The organization, a community group run by Muslims of Turkish heritage that hosts interfaith events and gatherings, had presented its ideas to the supervisors on March 14.
During that meeting, Martin Gilchrist of Urban Research & Development Corp., said the group had made an offer on a 10-acre tract, south of Hecktown Road, in hopes of finding a permanent home for its meetings and events. Currently, the group meets and holds events in rented spaces across the Lehigh Valley.
According to Eric Nagle, chairman of the supervisors, the light industrial zoning district isn't the right place for the Lehigh Dialogue Center's needs and wants.
“We’re not against cemeteries,” Nagle said. “It’s just not allowed in that zone.”
Kadir Vezirogln, president of the Lehigh Dialogue Center, said the organization liked the location at 3805 Hecktown Road because it is centrally located -- situated near Routes 33 and 22, and I-78. The center's membership equals about 500 families spread out over the Lehigh Valley, Monroe County, and in New Jersey, Vezirogln said.
“It was a nice size place where we can fit our uses,” he added.
The hotel, Vezirogln explained, was going to serve as a source of income to support the expenses of the cultural center.
Vezirogln said the cultural center would have a multi-use function. There would be classes for adults and children, both of a religious and non-religious nature, as well as a banquet hall for members and possibly a museum and art exhibit about the Turkish culture.
The land is a 10-acre site close to Route 33 surrounded mainly by car dealerships. According to a map, Dick Milham Ford-Toyota is across the street and Young Volkswagen is located behind the land, at the intersection of Hecktown Road and Commerce Park Drive.
Robert Kucsan, vice chairman of the supervisors, said, “I’d rather see a business there instead of a cemetery.”
“I also agree,” said Supervisor James Pennington.
Pennington added that he is concerned that allowing the use relaxes the zoning too much. Zoning districts are created for the purpose of designing the municipality’s development, he said.
“If we allow this, we’re opening the Pandora’s Box of allowing anything anywhere,” he said. “If you look at what is allowed you could put the cultural center in a couple other areas.”
The Lehigh Dialogue Center’s plan is complicated because it is a mix of commercial and non-commercial uses. Timm Tenges, the township's manager, said the plan could be permitted in agricultural, low-density residential or commercial/retail zoning districts.
Nagle told Vezirogln that worship areas are permitted in even more than those three zoning districts.
“It sounds like a place of worship,” Nagle said after hearing the description of the cultural center. “There are a lot of places that allow that.”
Tenges explained that of the nine zoning districts in the township, a place of worship is allowed in seven of them -- just not in light industrial or planned industrial commercial.
Vezirogln said that at this time, he’s not sure if Lehigh Dialogue Center will look into finding another site.