Tuesday, April 02, 2013

We're From The Private Sector and We're Here to Help

Johnston Friends Rusty Sillivan and Dana Grubb
Most people shudder when they hear, "We're from the government and we're here to help." But it was Bethlehem Township Commissioners who, at their April 1 meeting, listened as members of the private sector insisted they were there to help. That was the refrain sung by Dana Grubb and Rusty Sillivan, Directors of the recently formed "Friends of Johnston." Their group, which is in the process of forming a non-profit corporation, is interested in restoring the Archibald Johnston mansion at Housenick Park.

Archibald Johnston is Bethlehem's first Mayor and a former President of the Bethlehem Steel Company. In 1923, he built a three-story mansion on a ridge above Monocacy Creek. His grounds included manmade waterfalls, tennis courts and even the Santee Grist Mill. He called it “Camel’s Hump,” but it's now known as Housenick Park. Johnston's granddaughter, Janet Housenick, donated the mansion and 55 acres to the Township in her Will. She also bequeathed $2 million to maintain the property. Previously, she had donated 36 acres along the creek to Northampton County. Another contiguous tract, currently owned by Central Moravian Church, is reportedly under agreement of sale to a local developer. But the land is in a zoned conservation area.

After several years of intense discussion, Commissioners endorsed a detailed Master Plan for the park in 2011, laying out a course of restoration over a 10-year period. Since that time, the mansion has been weatherized, but Commissioners have been focused on the grounds.

Friends of Johnson, which is focused on restoring the mansion, were initially rebuffed by Commissioners in February. Commissioner Marty Zawarski felt that he was being "rushed", while colleague Mike Hudak worried that Commissioner would lose control over what is ultimately their responsibility.

But since that initial frosty reception, Commissioner President Paul Weiss met with Friends' Directors Dana Grubb and Rusty Sillivan. The Friends are now being treated like friends. Grubb, a freelancer with The Bethlehem Press and former Grants Administrator in Bethlehem, told Commissioners that "one of the strongest attractions a community has is its history," and described Housenick Park as a "little piece of heaven on earth."

"It's your property," Grubb assured Commissioners. "You've got to decide how we can help you. We think we can raise money."

Sillivan told Commissioners he'd like to "stabilize' the mansion, which has a leaking roof and waterlogged walls.

Commissioners and Friends agreed to meet informally at the grounds to see what could be done. Solicitor Leo DeVito advised this would be no Sunshine Act violation because members would just be gathering data, not taking any formal action.  

Barry Roth, who chairs the Recreation Board, complained that his body was "being left out of the loop again." But President Weiss assured him, "We're not trying to exclude anyone."

Although a master Plan was approved nearly two years ago, this project has a lot of cooks. In addition to the Commissioners, Recreation Board and Johnston Friends, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa was at the meeting, signalling the County's interest. Housenick Park advocate Victoria Bastidas, a recent appointee of the County's Open Space Advisory Board, also attended the meeting. Housenick Trustee Tim Brady was there as well. But they have yet to decide on what meal they'd like to prepare.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was His Emminence, Barron Von Barron, there, too?

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, the Baron was preparing his third endorsement for Lamont McClure.

Anonymous said...

The current so-called master plan is a weak document lacking in creativity and vision--- this park needs a plan developed by people with the expertise of the planners who developed Jacobsburg State Park.

I am glad you mentioned the importance of the land owned by Central Moravian Church. If this land is developed against the wishes of the will of their own member, it will seriously degrade the integrity of the entire area. That would be unconscionable. I must believe that Central Moravian Church will come around and see the selfish folly of this scam, stop, reconsider and do the Christian thing.I refuse to except that the Moravians are only developers in this for a quick buck.

It is very, very incouraging to see a new spirit of collaboration coming together around this future "Central Park of the Lehigh Valley". Central Moravian Church, hop on board, the whole Valley is watching.

Anonymous said...

Ok Dolan we got it, if you didn't think of it it's no good. Maybe you and your friends should spend more time worrying about your family instead of sticking your nose in where it's not wanted or NEEDED. Seems like the township people had a plan all along.

Uncle Remus said...

grub will "fight" for you

Anonymous said...

The township had a plan all along, it's just moving s-------l ---------------------o ---------------------w -----------------------------------------l------------------------------------------------------------y.
It didn't need any outsiders to tell them it was finally time to fix the leaking roof.They were gonna get around to it sooner or later.

Anonymous said...

Dana is a joke.

zoid said...

Mrs. Housenick and Mr. Brady apparently did not care about the building because according to Mr. Brady the roof has been leaking for years even as he lived there.

Anonymous said...

Slow and steady wins the race Mrs. Hare.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Who is Mrs. Hare? That is a name I have not heard in this debate.

Anonymous said...

Turtle and the Hare. Hare was all about go go go , fast fast fast. There is a lesson to learn in that story, Mrs Hare

Anonymous said...

Mrs Hare being 8:12 AM

Anonymous said...

After almost eight years the township is now prepared to have a volunteer roofer take a look at the roof.
This sounds right. Don't rush it.

Anonymous said...

I sat at that meeting and I didn't hear anything about a volunteer roofer ???? What meeting were you at ? I believe the one commissioner commented that the roof has been under some kind of maintenance program by a local professional roofing contractor for years.
Do you hear voices too ?

Anonymous said...

No need to rush into fixing a leaky roof.
Slow and steady as she goes.

Anonymous said...

Just demolish the place. There's no more money for stuff like this and the Obama kids want to go back to Aspen.

Anonymous said...

Why the rush?

Anonymous said...

Just demolish the place. Let's concentrate on Oboma's children.

Anonymous said...

The township commissioners (weiss,hudak,zawarski) could not care less about the state of the mansion's roof.
You don't have to be a roofer to know that if the doghouse in your backyard is leaking and you ignore it,you will have to build a new doghouse because Fido will get wet and his house will disintegrate.
What part of the planned neglect that these commissioners consistently demonstrate toward the Johnston dwelling surprises anyone?

Anonymous said...




Publicity Stunt!

Anonymous said...

Friends are being Fooled.