Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Housenick Park - Gift and Liability

Exec John Stoffa speaks quietly and carries a big checkbook
Northampton County Executive John Stoffa made a surprise appearance before Bethlehem Township Commissioners during their March 4 meeting. Like an Ancient Greek appearing before the formidable walls of Troy, he came bearing gifts, too. His was a pledge to assist in helping develop Housenick Park. But unlike Ulysses, Stoffa played no tricks. "They're driving the bus," he said of the Commissioners after the meeting. "We're just going along for the ride."

That ride might come to nothing. But it could also lead to the creation of what Stoffa has called a  Central Park of the Lehigh Valley, a complete restoration of the Camel's Hump Farm once owned by Bethlehem's first Mayor, Archibald Johnston. The Township already owns the 55-acre passive recreation Housenick Park, which includes the three-story colonial style Johnston mansion. Right next to that, and along the Monocacy Creek, Northampton County owns the 36-acre Archibald Johnston Conservation Area. Nestled between these tracts is yet a third piece of land owned by the Central Moravian Church, located in a area zoned for conservation. This land, located off of Christian Springs Road, was all once owned by Johnston. It was donated by his granddaughter, Janet Housenick, to the Township, County and Moravians.

One fly in the ointment is that the Moravian tract is under agreement of sale to a local developer.

In 2011, Township Commissioners adopted a "master plan" for development of both the park and the mansion, paid for by a $2 million trust set up by Janet Housenick, before her death. Park improvements over the next ten years are estimated to cost $1.7 million. That leaves Commissioners with just $300,000 to restore the mansion to its former glory.

Michael Hudak listens to Karen Berry
Stoffa, Commissioners Tom Nolan and Mike Hudak, and Housenick trustees have already met to discuss the short-term and long-range financing of this project.

Northampton County might be able to help with the long-range financing, according to Stoffa. An ardent environmentalist, Stoffa spearheaded a successful open space referendum in 2002. When he ran for County Executive seven years ago, he promised a half mill tax increase. "They elected me, anyway," he jokes. That tax increase was for a pay-as-you-go open space program to preserve farms, environmentally sensitive land and parks.

That program has been wildly successful. Last year, Northampton County led the state in farmland preservation. What once was a list of forty farms may vanish to none by the end of this or next year. This means the County will be able to invest more money along threatened watersheds like the Monocacy Creek, which have become increasingly prone to flooding.

Stoffa made clear that it is Bethlehem Township's park, but would like to help if possible.

Commissioners appointed two members - Tom Nolan and President Paul Weiss - as ambassadors for talks with the County and the Housenick trustees, who are led by Bethlehem Attorney Jay Leeson. Trustees would like a timetable for improvements so they can properly manage their investment.

In addition to this appointment, Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution to seek between $300-400k from trustees for trail markings and other improvements inside the park. Dr Andrew Unger, a regular visitor, noted that he was actually hit by a branch that very day during a gust. "It's pretty dangerous down there after [Hurricane] Sandy," he remarked. Commissioner Michael Hudak, another frequent visitor, readily agreed.

In addition to seeking this money from the trust, matching funds will be sought from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. These improvements will take 18 months to complete, and won't be started until November.

Two weeks before, Commissioners expressed a desire to hear from Bethlehem Township residents concerning Housenick Park. Their wish was granted. Resident Barbara Garrison predicted that Housenick Park "will enhance the community." Former Commissioner Bill Berry advocated that the park has "great historical significance." His wife, Karen, called it a "gem." But she warned that it's a double-edged sword. "It's a gift and a liability." she said. "It's both things." They all urged Commissioners to use whatever resources are available to develop the park.

One unintended consequence of all the publicity concerning the Archibald Johnston mansion is that it has become the victim of vandalism. Commissioners have already planned preventive security measures, which include more frequent police visits.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

The county is broke. Is Stoffa giving away the crumbs. I pity the next executive. What a mess he will inherit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A half mill of tax is dedicated to open space every year. Are you telling me that Lamont McClure, who is running on his commitment to open space, is against this?

Anonymous said...

You can rerad Stoffa's mind by looking at that picture.

"Get off my lawn, you galldarn kids!"

Anonymous said...

see what can happen when doober dolan keeps her mouth shut

Anonymous said...

Yes lets now spend County tax dollars on that money pit and joke that no one other than a few do gooders want. I object! Where can I go to protest general county tax money going to feed egos?

Englebert Humperdink said...

Stoffa told me he loves when you take his photo.

Anonymous said...

you draw sick demented people Bernie

Anonymous said...

Maybe that's a reflection of who Bernie is?

Real Reverend Mario Machismo said...

Apparently JC and RMM don't approve of John Stoffa's vision, check out the latest turd served up on the Gracedale blog, it's a doozy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Yes lets now spend County tax dollars on that money pit and joke that no one other than a few do gooders want. I object! Where can I go to protest general county tax money going to feed egos?"

This is money that taxpayers themselves, in a 2002 referendum, said they wanted spent. The real "We, the People," not some Fake Rev. I know a little bit about that referendum bc I sued to stop that one, too, and fought against Stoffa.

Voters agreed with Stoffa, but instead of just borrowing millions of dollars in one fell swoop, Stoffa adopted a pay-as-you-go open space fund. This was bitterly opposed by Lamont McClure at the time. now, he is trying to pass himself off a an open space advocate.

Though Stoffa and i were on opposite sides of this fight, I agree with him about the importance of preserving open space. I just don't like preserving 20-acre farms for people like Mary Ann Schmoyer or some dentist or doctor. That's not farmland preservation. It's taking care of rich people. I also didn't like the idea of floating a megabond.

But neither did Stoffa, and we ended up ith the half mill tax hike instead of another bond.

The reason for Stoffa's interest in Bethlehem Tp is a very good one and has nothing to do with making the park pretty so that people can watch the birdies.

It has everything to do with the Monocacy Creek. That's one of the last remaining natural trout streams. That particular section is a recharge point, and is fed by over one hundred small springs. It needs to be protected against development.

Monocacy Creek has become increasingly prone to flooding, especially in Bethlehem. It ruined Musikfest two year ago. Much of this is the result of poor stream management and overdevelopment, i.e. poor regional planning.

What Stoffa proposes is good regional planning. It will protect Bethlehem from flooding, help the environment and at the same time, create a great little park for everyone. This is an excellent use of open space money, far better than buying some goofy swamp in Upper Mount Bethel.

Whether it happens is by no means a sure thing and will depend on, among other things, a little bit of luck. It will require officials to work together instead of against each other.

McClure's Minions, with absolutely no knowledge of this project and no regard for the positive aspect of open space, have spoken out against the will of the people, as expressed in the 2002 referendum. But one of their members, Mary Ann Schmoyer, will take the County's money to preserve her 20-acre farm.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:18, Whatever happens is going to require a little bit of luck,and it might not happen for some time. It is possible that the next Exec will have to make the call on this one. Mayor John Callahan has already sent a letter supporting this park, and I am sure he would jump at a chance to minimize flooding from the Monocacy. I believe Reibman would latch onto this idea as well. McClure lives in BT and at least claims he is an open space advocate. But his minions, led by a demagogue who calls Bill White a "terrorist columnist," have now directly associated McClure's name with opposition to Housenick Park. I wonder if they bothered checking with McClure before they did that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Good move by the county. I like open government and prefer all this continue in public hands.

Anonymous said...

Finally a full facial pic of Hudak I print out and wipe my ass with...

Bernie O'Hare said...

There's really nothing to be gained by this kind of senseless personal attack.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I agree with you. Good move by the county. I like open government and prefer all this continue in public hands."

It's going to require luck and people will have to work with each other instead of against each other.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"you draw sick demented people Bernie"

That's the price I pay for taking a stand on issues. The sick demented people is this instance is the Fake Rev., who has attacked this project and has implied that Lamont McClure is opposed.

Anonymous said...

did he stay awake during the meeting? he has a habit of falling asleep!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The above comment is an illustration of the sick and demented people. Most of them are the crew led by the Fake Rev. They are haters.

Bernie O'Hare said...

On his campaign webpage, Lamont McClure states he is running in part to preserve and protect Open Space and Environmentally Sensitive Land. But his supporters imply he is opposed to the county helping with Housenick Park, located along the environmentally sensitive native brook trout waters of the Monocacy Creek. I have emailed him to ask if he is opposed to a project that will minimize flooding in Bethlehem and protect our water.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I try to get on your side but you are so full of hate. It seems like you hate everyone who isn't stoffa or agrees with stoffa. Why is that dude? Take a chill pill man.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Let's see. Stoffa is personally attacked here. And anonymously. Hudak is personally attacked here. And anonymously. The Fake Rev posts a blog attacking Stoffa for suggesting that the County help get that third tract, which will minimize flooding in downtown Bethlehem and preserve a threatened watershed. The Fake Rev implies that McClure is opposed to this as well. The Fake Rev contends that this should go on the ballot, even though it already has and was overwhelmingly approved.

But a member of the Fake Rev's group, Mary Ann Schmoyer, is holding out her hand for county money to preserve her 20-acre farm.

It's true. I do hate hypocrisy. I do hate demagoguery by uninformed people with bogus credentials.

Anonymous said...

You hate an awful lot don't you?

c said...

I would be very surprised and disappointed if McClure opposed this project.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie, what about Ron Angle?

Isn't he holding out his hand too?

And you talk about hypocrisy! The biggest hypocrites are you Stoffa and angle!

Bernie O'Hare said...

No. None of his farmland has been preserved. Not a square inch. But I would support that bc I support open space.

You condemn a plan that just might limit the flooding from the Monocacy Creek during Musikfest, that just might help preserve a valuable watershed at its recharge point, that just might benefit thousands of school children to learn about our history and environment. Why? Because of your irrational hatred for John Stoffa.

At the same time, you hold out your hand for open space money to preserve 20 acres owned by one of your own members, Mary Ann Schmoyer. That is hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

I say we adopt the Stoffa Doctrine. We buy the park then let it riot for seven years and ask county council to buy us a new park. Now thta is a plan.

Anonymous said...

"rot" not "riot" or maybe both.

Anonymous said...

Not a penny of the trustees money should be spent unless it's used to leverage larger grant funding.

Anonymous said...

Why do you call people names?

Do you know how childish that is?

It seems like all you can do is cry like a baby!

Try and act like a man, I know that's hard for you but, try man.

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:49, i unserstand that is the plan.

Anonymous said...

The Saving Gracedale siteis not trashing this idea,they are asking some good questions and making valid points. Unlike the mindless Stoffa sheep, like O'Hare and county counci,l they are actually asking about cost, and the Stoffa track record.


All good questions, just not allowed on this hate blog.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The Fake Rev trashed the idea. He said this:

"Now he wants to put Central Park in the Lehigh valley...right, how much of our hard-earned money will he waste on such a project, and why would he want to do that in these hard economic times?"

and this:

"Right now what the Valley needs is more jobs, and less waste."

Now, like any demagogue, he's trying to cover his ass by saying he was just asking questions. Bullshit. He is driven by his hatred of Stoffa.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
I think you should check out the Master Plan. The truth is it's not much of a master plan. It's very limited,there's not much meat on the bones.
Thanks for covering this important issue.
JQC

Anonymous said...

Stoffa is a LIAR many times over. Proof: His claim that taxes would have to go up 18% unless he got to sell Gracedale. He is a totally devious and evil man who wants his own way

Anonymous said...

I agree with both Johns on this, lets stop this stupid board of supervisors and take the land from them and the 2 million in monies, and do what the owner wanted and turn this into a park for all to use.

Anonymous said...

Did i read it right that some feel its {the park} dangerous because someone got hit with a branch.OMG Whats wrong with people in this day and age. In a wooded park, my God im glad no one was stung by a bee or exposed themselves to lime disease.What a screwball world we live in.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a ray of hope.
And this in spite of fools like 8:36---- hoping to sabotage any collaboration by making inflammatory statements. Crawl back under your rock you jackass.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Hope.

Anonymous said...

Okay,the grand old house may be a liability. Get some major Instution like the Community Collage or St. Luke's to take it.
The park is no more a liability than anyone of dozens of Northampton or Lehigh County parks. Way less a liabilability than any ball field.
This liability talk is a giant boatload of bullshit.
This is one gift of incredible gereriosity. This can be the most wonderful park in the valley if they can save the Lizzy Prine piece from the developers. That kills the whole area. Let us pray the Central Moravian Church does the Christian thing for Good Sister Elizabeth, the park and the Monocacy Watershead.
What an irony if CMC contributed to the flooding of MusicFest and Historic Bethlehem just to max out on the almighty $$$$$$$$$$&$$$$$$$$$$$$!

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to take that house if they have to using their own money to fix it up?

Anonymous said...

Because some people appreciate exquisite older buildings not built with aluminum siding sheet rock and cheap shingles. Of course that does not include you 6:33. You are an artless jackass with the taste and culture of a slug.
Are you going to start with your dull witted catholic stuff now? Run off to the strip mall and get your cultural fix.

Anonymous said...

Im really shocked by Central Moravian Church. It's hard to believe that this is true.
Bernie, are you sure this is true.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have not seen the agreement, but have been told there is one by numerous reliable people who are in a position to know.

Anonymous said...

I can't understand why the Central Moravians would not want to protect their own people's park. Esp with the will the way it was written.

Anonymous said...

Ok so 8:32 is Karen Dolan. Just dosnt have the stones to admit it. Not shocked. Too bad you can't fire her from council for not showing up to work.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand all the fuss in turning a park around or protecting a park or farmland. Are people that far gone into a coma??
I want to live in a place where I can go and relax. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Watch my kids have fun at parks and watch animals and for them to see and learn how food grows. The LV needs to be proactive and develop and ride the good things it has, ie Iron Pigs and Phantoms.

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