|Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners|
The Friends of Johnston has been establish to preserve, restore and repurpose Housenick Park, located off Christian Springs Road. It was donated to the Township under the Will of Janet Housenick in 2006, and consists of the mansion as well as a 55-acre tract of land, nestled along Monocacy Creek. Housenick also established a $2 million trust fund to assist with maintenance costs.
Ten Johnston Friends urged Commissioners to adopt a resolution supporting their mission at the park. Dr. Andrew Unger, respected pediatrician, argued for a restoration of the mansion. "They just don't make 'em like that anymore," he observed. His sentiments were echoed by Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan. "You can't pass up an opportunity like this," she urged. "Accept this gift. You will not regret it."
|Vicky Bastidas challenges Board to be visionaries|
But Commissioner Michael Hudak stated that Commissioners are already following a 2011 Housenick Park Plan that calls for $1.7 million in improvements to the park, with another $1 million for mansion restoration as a public use. The plan envisions 2.29 miles of walking trails, a pavilion, trail head and public restrooms. "Contrary to what we heard earlier, progress is being made there," he stated.
Nolan sharply disagreed. "You put a dagger in the heart of the mansion tonight," he charged. Right after the meeting, Nolan and Hudak engaged in a heated exchange.
|Exec. John Stoffa drops in on discussion|
But despite the angry words, President Paul Weiss believes things can be worked out. If the Friends are willing to interact with the Township's Parks and Recreation Board, he would support their efforts. He complained that the Board had been blindsided. "They never talked to the Board, they never talked to the manager or any of the staff," he observed. "Before it hit the press, they should have come to the Township and discussed their proposal with us. ... We all found out at the last minute."
Weiss also complimented the Friends. "I think they've got a great group of people there. But collectively, between them and the Township, it's going to be a question about how you dovetail that together."
The Township's Parks and Recreation Board has been charged with facilitating the Housenick Park Plan, but Nolan complained it is collecting dust. "If they [the Johnston Friends] think they can facilitate the restoration of the mansion faster, I'm all for it. I've got no problem with that."
Contacted after the meeting, Bastidas said her group is willing to work with the Township's Parks and Recreation Committee.