|Scott Burnett with American Coot|
(not to be confused with American Kook)
The house was packed with just as many people who came in late July. At least 100 people. Standing room only. Zawarski requested citizens to keep their comments under five minutes, which drew an objection from yours truly. The Sunshine Act does enable a Board to impose reasonable time limits on public comment, but they can't be invoked whimsically by the Chair. That requires a vote by a majority of the Commissioners. "I'll support it," stated Commissioner Michael Hudak, who has previously stated that "[o]pen debate is counterproductive."
Solicitor Jim Broughal pointed out that Zawarski had only requested people to limit their remarks, not commanded it. And in fairness, he did allow everyone to have their say. But they were still being forced to comment on a plan before it was presented. Amazingly, Zawarski later told citizens that he would accept no comments from the public after the sketch plan was introduced, even though the whole point of introducing a sketch plan is to get feedback from both Commissioners and the public.
One township resident, Santa Wright, expresses a similar criticism of Township transparency. She noted that agenda items are so cryptic it's impossible to be informed and speak to it. "I don't know how everybody is going to know what you're going to talk about if you don't tell us," she complained.
|Tom Nolan very pleased with American Eagle|
Public speakers included Steve Kunz, an ecologist and certified wetlands scientist retained by "Save Green Pond", a grassroots group opposed to the development organized by Jack Glagola. Kunz told Commissioners that the wetlands are well in excess of the 27,000 sq ft. shown in previous plans, and could be between five and seven acres. Glagola requested a meeting with Township staff to determine the extent of the wetlands, before formal plans are drawn.
Farmer Dennis Koehler, a dying breed in Bethlehem Township, told Commissioners that his family loses about 200 acres every year to development "on the most productive soils in Pennsylvania." He talked about increased traffic and said there are huge stormwater problems."I hope you consider what's downstream before you work on more upstream stuff," he implored them.
Bill Berry, a former Commissioner, reminded Commissioners that they have an obligation to listen to township residents, not just developers. he also directed them to a section of the zoning ordinance requiring that natural areas be respected.
|Ecologist Steve Kunz|
Green Pond Road resident Paul Jordan called the wetlands an "incredible sight. That's a spectacle over there. There's nothing like it on the East coast." Another nearby resident, Manuel, asked, "Why should we be destroying something that is breathtaking?" Elizabeth van Syckle had much the same question. "I just can't think of why you'd want to get rid of that," she observed. "What is going to be left in this area?"
By far, the largest number of speakers were for the birds.They'd be the first to admit it, too. The Lehigh Valley Audubon's Scott Burnett brought a stuffed American Coot to display, known to baseball players as a mudhen.
When he said American Coot, everyone started looking at me. They thought he said American Kook.
Michael Adams, another ardent environmentalist who grew up in Butztown, was furious at Hudak. Although I missed it, The Express Times claims he was reading a book while the public spoke. Something set him off.
"Mr. Hudak, I find your studied indifference contemptible, sir, and rude."
"That's your right," replied Hudak.
"I don't need you to affirm that right,"
Adams left shortly after he spoke, so I was unable to determine exactly what set him off.
Zawarski Expects More Meat From Public
After forcing the public to weigh in on a sketch plan before it was formally presented, Marty Zawarski incredibly admonished the crowd for not having more detailed objections to a plan they had yet to hear.
"Next time you come back, bring something with a little more meat to it," the ex-developer lectured as the audience groaned.
Then Zawarski inexplicably called a recess.
TOA's Revised Plan
TOA specializes in building "active senior" or 55 plus communities, and has developed two popular projects in Hanover Township alone. Units are selling despite a slow real estate market.
As he did in July, Biddison told Commissioners and the public that the active senior gated community will consist of 265 single family detached dwellings linked by a 2-mile walking path and include amenities like a clubhouse and pool.
The chief attraction, aside from the nearby Green Pond Country Club, is the Green Pond Marsh.
Biddison insisted that only 27,000 sq ft directly across Farmersville Road from the pond has actually been delineated as a "wetland". But after listening to planners and public concerns, TOA is increasing the proposed conservation area from 18 to 20.35 acres along the northern side of the development. In addition to the current wetlands, TOA is proposing an additional 153,000 sq ft of wetlands in three ponds to the east of the delineated wetlands. These will consisting of ponds of varying depths.This is over twice the 73,000 sq ft initially proposed. All told, approximately four acres will be set aside as a wetland. These ponds will not be lined, as I reported erroneously in July. There will also be a large infiltration basin, which will be lined, and will be planted with native grasses. Biddison is proposing a walking path around the conservation area, along with a place to park and raised viewing platforms.
All stormwaters generated at the site will stay there. In addition to the large infiltration basin in the 18-acre conservation area, there will be a pond at the southern end of the development.
The conservation area makes up nearly all of the portion of the Important Bird Area designated by Audubon at that tract.
TOA has also agreed to widen the main drags in its development from 24' to 28', but is reducing the size of driveways to give it more space for conservation. TOA also created several off-street parking sited for visitors.
|Heron on a roof|
Though the whole point of presenting a sketch plan is to get feedback from Commissioners and public, Pat Breslin said nothing.
Zawarski, who previously stated that birds have not always been in that area, was complimentary. He claimed that changes made by Biddison "shows good will on your part."
Hudak, after listening to 22 people say they opposed the project, noted there are 24,000 Township residents who did not come to the meeting, and illogically posited from that observation that they must therefore support the plan. "There is a great deal of support for something just like this senior community," he concluded.
He also denied that a 265-home development will scare these birds away, noting that blue herons land on his roof. "I'm not about to be so arrogant as to think they [the birds] need our help to survive."
Telling Biddison that "I think you have a major hurdle," Tom Nolan was skeptical. He said he is motivated by "what is good for the Township and the residents as opposed to what is good for the developer."
Phil Barnard echoed Nolan. "I don't really know if you felt their pain," he told Biddison, referring to resident concerns. "You have to really feel for the people."
TOA and Save Green Pond Sitdown?
Before the meeting, Save Green Pond's Jack Glogola and TOA's David Biddison exchanged some pleasantries. Glagola's expert has stated the wetlands extend from five to seven acres. Biddison has already proposed setting aside four acres of wetlands in a 20-acre conservation area. Glagola, who himself is a real estate expert, knows the land will be developed eventually by someone. There might be room for agreement between these two, instead of division.
Updated 9:25 am: In response to some comments expressing incredulity at a blue heron sitting on Comm'r Michael Hudak's roof, Marty Zawarski sent me the above pic of a blue heron sitting on the roof top of a neighbor's home. I told him it was a scout.getting ready to dive bomb himm=, and suggested he watch The Birds.