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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is an Eco Disaster Coming to Green Pond?

Charlie Trapani caught this Great Blue Heron
looking for lunch at the marsh on Saturday 
Anyone who drives along back country roads knows that some are prone to wash outs. That's certainly true of Green Pond Road, which floods every time it rains. From time to time, angry residents storm Bethlehem Township meetings, demanding that something be done. The wet conditions make accidents frequent, too. But this marshy area is on Tradition of America's drawing board. Planners will consider a 256-home gated community for active seniors tonight.

Traditions of America is one of several successful development companies started by J.B. Reilly and Timothy McCarthy. It 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.

Traditions is now focused on Bethlehem Township, even though construction has begun on an 837-unit mini-city that is strangely called Madison Farms.

But if John Glagola has his way, Traditions' plans will be downscaled. Glagola can tell you all about the floods and accidents along Green Pond Road. He lives there. One side of his home faces Green Pond. Another faces a wetland. At least once a month, someone slams into the guard rail along the windy road. Once someone drove her SUV right into Green Pond.

Glagola is more than a next door neighbor. A Harvard grad, he's also an architect and planner with a prestigious real estate investment firm based in Manhattan. In his opinion, the plans submitted by Traditions will only exacerbate very real traffic and flooding concerns. But his chief concern are his neighbors. They're squawking, too. They're birds. 

History of Green Pond, An Important Bird Area

Always good to look one's best. After lunch, Charlie Trapani
caught this juvenile preening. 
He's by no means alone. A collective of bird watchers and environmentalists calling themselves "Save Green Pond" has mobilized to protect these marshlands from the developer's bulldozer. "There is virtually no place of its kind in the Lehigh Valley," proclaims the website. Over 160 different bird species have been documented at this environmentally sensitive area, including eight kinds of birds that are classified as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

Northampton County recently had to halt bridge repairs in Plainfield Township after learning the area might be a bog turtle habitat. This area actually is a habitat for rare birds like the Osprey and Great Egret.

The Green Pond marsh has existed a long time, long before the arrival of European settlers from England and Germany. Sitting at his kitchen table, Glagola pulled out an old plat from Lettie Asbury, daughter of William Penn. It shows her 1735 conveyances to William Allen. The pond, which was much larger then, is clearly delineated. "This is not something we just dreamed up yesterday," noted Glagola, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between birds and wetlands.

Victoria Bastidas, an environmentalist who is the spearhead of a movement to preserve Camel's Hump Farm in Bethlehem, agrees. "We are only a mile away as the crow flies and we have wetlands and a stream, but there is something about that site that attracts far more types of birds," she observes.

On any day of the week, a short trip to the marsh reveals an abundance of aviary delights that go unnoticed by many. Great blue herons are there all the time, along with sandpipers and the glossy ibis. In winter, snow geese descend and use it as one of their landing stops. It is one of the largest staging areas of lesser black-backed gulls in North America, with counts of 200 plus birds.

The Audobon Society has recently designated the Green Pond Marsh as an "important bird area", one of just 10,000 such sites world wide. The area is considered "vital to birds and other biodiversity."

PennDOT's Fix

In an attempt to curb the frequent washouts along Green Pond and Farmersville Road, PennDOT in 2011 decided to raise the road levels on Farmersville Road. This slows the flow of water from Green Pond into the marsh, but has also resulted in much more water along the road. Thus, in addition to depriving wildlife of water, driving conditions are now even worse than they wore before. The solution, according to Glagola and the Save Green Pond site, is an underground drainage pipe from the pond to the marsh.

PennDOT has dried up some of the wetland
Development Pressure

Green Pond Country Club, the owner of the 68-acre site in question, has met with the Wildlands Conservancy, but has resisted efforts to conserve this wetland. Traditions of America is the third developer to submit plans for this property. Toll Brothers and J.P. Petrucci have walked away from designs that would have resulted in more homes than those proposed by Traditions. They were defeated by traffic and stormwater mitigation concerns.

Glagola recognizes that, though the area is a low-lying basin, it will eventually be developed. He believes it's a $60 million project. "But let's be serious and recognize there are other issues here than human greed," he states, predicting that Traditions engineers will deny there are wetlands next to Green Pond. He calls the current plans an "eco disaster."

The birds will continue squawking, but won't be at tonight's planning meeting. Bird watchers and environmentalists plan to do the squawking for them. 


Anonymous said...

For more about Green Pond Marsh go to
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Developers have been trying to put homes in on that site since the late 1990's. They have all failed. BO is right, traffic and stormwater and the marsh have just made the project not worth it. Surely JB will figure this out on his own shortly. People forget that the bulk of water will end up in the Nancy Run (flooding out people downstream all in Hudak's ward)and the Blue's main dining room. Once the impact of that is realized and what is needed to keep it from happening again the project will fizzle. Throw in the wetlands and bird issue the final dagger is put into the project. The burial of the project then comes with the millions of dollars of traffic work that will be needed. Not enough homes can be built for the developer to reap a profit. Now what JB will do is say that the over 55 generates little traffic and he won't need to fix up the roads. Just look at old articles in the newspapers about this job and you will see. I am sure the new people running the Township will she through this proposal and do the right thing and hold JB's feet to the fire and make sure that all requirements are met. Hoping the Mr. Glagola stays dialed in on this and the Township uses him as a valuable resource for evaluating this latest scheme.

zoid said...

Get the facts straight, this parcel is on the other side of the ridge from the golf course and NOT in the Nancy Run watershed. In fact it is in the Bushkill Creek watershed(imagine that)that was disrupted when they built 22 and 33. If the parcel is zoned to be developed as such it is going to happen, property owners have that right. Traffic is a big concern and perhaps the deal breaker. As for Green Pond, it is time someone goes after Moravian Academy, it is owned by them some of their property drains to the pond and they do nothing about it. They should have taken the money that built their palace of sport over there and fixed a public safety issue and Farmersville is a Penn DOT road. Everything keeps dumping on the township and that is not always the root or problem. Cool level minded heads need to prevail here. If only the Toll Brothers development from years ago would have gotten done, we would not even be here.

Anonymous said...

That area across from Green Pond has not always been a wetland area and only since the 80's has water ponded, why is that?

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:57, The person stated that development has been tried since the '80s, not that the ponding has only occurred since the '80s.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually for development but this project seems actually harmful. You want to preserve "open space", this is the place to do it. And we need more neighbors like Moravian Academy and don't need to be punishing them.

Anonymous said...

I understand that, my question is: why was water not pending there before the 80's? It's not like the pond itself where the water is coming from underground.

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:46, Water has been ponding there since at least 1735, and it used to be much larger. The problem may have been exacerbated by development pressure.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Zoid, I checked the maps and this area is in BOTH the Bushkill Creek and Nancy Run watersheds. As for the Moravians, they have a great deal of open space and I would not classify them as the bad guys here. Their property drains into the pond bc it has ALWAYS drained into the pond. I do agree that the Toll Brothers drainage pipe down Farmersville Road was a possible fix, but an expensive one.

Anonymous said...

Thank heavens for residents that organize for community action. Just because there is open land does not mean that it needs to be developed. Open space is a good thing, particularly when it supports the eco system and wildlife. Wetlands are regulated by the EPA. Perhaps everyone should start looking at the regulations. If they do not exist at the local level then Federal regs prevail.
Bethlehem Township has many flooding issues. Do we really want to create additional ones by poor planning and increased housing density?
Planning Commission, do your due deligence and do the right thing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:35, The problem here is that these wetlands have never been classified as such. That has to happen for regulations to kick in. Both the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers make that determination. What prompts that is something i don't know, but I do know property owners have the right to challenge a wetlands designation.

Teresa D. Bragg, VMD said...

I think you hit the nail on the head there... the "Green Pond Annex" as my family calls the marsh is not officially declared a wetland and enjoys no such privileges against development, etc. It's nice that the Audubon Society declared it an Important Bird Area and the Wildlands conservancy was interested in buying the land, but legally both of these motions are useless. In order for anything to happen to permanently preserve the marsh, the area must be declared a wetland by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404. Green Pond itself has been declared a wetland, "Green Pond Annex" is not. A map of the area showing this can be seen at the US Fish And Wildlife Service Wetlands Inventory web site. Hopefully some efforts will be concentrated there after the municipal meeting tonight, because although Toll Brothers, etc. gave up and maybe Traditions can be forced to do the same... the marsh will still be up for development grabs unless it is OFFICIALLY declared a wetland.

Anonymous said...

Fuck it then, put up 1,000 homes!

It will enable the township to NOT raise taxes...

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dr. Bragg, I agree that this is the best way to stop development in that area. I happen to know that a consulting engineer has concluded this is a wetland, but that means nothing unless the Feds say it is a wetland. But how do they get involved?

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:23, building 1000 residences there will actually cause taxes to increase. Especially school taxes. You will be flooding BASD with more than storm water, there will be 3000 additional students per year. Taxes will have to go up . There will also be an increased demand on township services. Unless you are being sarcastic, that's a bad idea.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

It is too bad that the owners of the golf course have repeatedly felt the need to convert this tract for additional profits... but the "bottom line" (pun intended) is they own it, and zoning allows for some sort of development. If memory serves, they basically said "we can do away with the golf course and develop by right, but ..." and then negotiated in writing to maintain a large part as open space. Still the case??

Regardless, the same old issues of traffic and stormwater are what always doom any plans. To address those issues is expensive, which is why they try to put so many units in to cover those costs ... which then becomes a circular problem of development/problem/solution pushes for more development etc... At least with a 55 and older, no kids are being added to the schools.

I am curious, though, if deep pockets would ever think of coming to help fight this development. Did not Abe Atiyeh own property within proximity of this? (Someone claimed a commissioner's "residence", but I don't know if that is true?). In October 2012 it was noted in the Express when he filed legal challenges to development (Madison Farms, Wm Penn Commons): "Developer Abraham Atiyeh says he's trying to stop two major developments in Bethlehem Township because he doesn't want any more traffic in his hometown... 'I live here and I'm trying to preserve the quality of life in this township,' Atiyeh said. 'Someone has to stop the township from doing this.'" He might have a lot of support here. Better yet, if he outright bought it himself and kept it a golf course: "Atiyeh Golf Course at Green Pond." This way our quality of life is maintained, his name becomes a positive part of the community, and we can stop having to deal with this every few years.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ovem, After reading your comment, I called Abe. He told me he supports active senior development bc it is not a burden on schools and does not result in a lot of traffic. But he said he still has concerns about traffic, stormwater and the environment. He thinks this is doable, and coud be a situation in which the community and the environment benefit. But there are the three big IFs: traffic, stormwater and environment.

Anonymous said...

Bernie- look at the past for your answers. The Traditions development out in Lower Macungie were a disaster. Several homes had their foundations dug out and replaced with good soil because the developer allowed these homes to be on poor soils. The foundations were cracking and shifting. Cost $200,000 +

The development is right next to the Little Lehigh- flooding? Finally, the Twsp had put in a traffic signal because these developments still generate traffic - a misconception. The amount of relatives that visit these 55+ older communities far exceeds the avg residential home.

The traffic generation manual is wrong and this needs to be brought to the attention of the developers. Finally Many of these communities in NJ are now converting to single residential homes because of the economy. Beware Mike Siegel

Ron Beitler said...

Agree w/ 2:17 I have always questioned the traffic assumptions (that they are less impactful) regarding over 55's.

I think in general that the benefits of "vasectomy zoning" are very much inflated.

And yes, over 55 trends are rapidly changing. The next generation of retirees are trending towards traditional neighbors with multi-generational offerings.

I really fear we're already over saturated with over 55's in Lower Macungie. There is pressure for even more.

Anonymous said...

For all of you commenting your concerns, please show up tonight at the Bethlehem Township Municipal Building at 7pm on William Penn Highway. Sure would be nice to fill the room with concerned citizens who want to shape policy for a change. The more people who show up to play a role in the process the better outcome for all citizens.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have to admit, I have never heard anything negative about active senior housing until now. I am surprised to learn there is a glut of them in Jersey, while here in PA. TOA cannot sell them fast enough. Are the demographics in these two states that different? It may be that these are not the panacea promised. What guarantee is there than an active senior community will remain that way., and what proof is there that the traffic impact is minimal? I'm certainly willing to listen.

I was unaware that TOA was associated with any of the 4 active senior communities in Lower Mac. I don't see it listed on the TOA site. But maybe that's because all the units are sold.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, if you dig a little deeper into the workings of housing locally the shit will float on top¿ This is a act together as one almost like licker lisensing in escrow¿

patent pending

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the same JB Reilly that is developing the NIZ in Allentown? Now he is out in the burbs saying how his development will have no impact just like his city development is having no impact? This whole scheme is sketchy at best. Let the Township, PennDOT, DCNR, UACOE and EPA processes take their course and we will see what happens.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Reilly is a TOA founder, but is no longer actively involved. He may have some equity in it, but I don't know.

If he does, he's a phony who pretends he's the savior of the inner cities while decimating what remains of our wildlife. Would have been a great buffalo hunter.

Anonymous said...

Moravian should deal with the drainage and flooding. The area looks like a swamp to me. You were there today Bernie. That's right, Ogers live in swamps.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Maybe Heritage intends to to put all the building on stilts,as any building in this area would naturally get water in the basement on a regular bases. I love the building developers. At Dr. Laubach's old farm ,off of Church Road , Developer puts up houses with crazy angles on roof lines that will present problems later for the owner and No lighting arresters are present and pressed flak board construction all at a premium price!What a deal?Void spaces are abundant,and a fire risk. I could live in the wasted space comfortably and warm ,but the buyer pays for space and is taxed on it and they can't even use it.

Anonymous said...

Can this be acquired by Northampton County ? FOR open space ?

Peter J.Cochran said...

Why spend the money?To avoid developers opportunity?ANSWER -NO---The marketplace should run its course. NCCC maybe ,because they could expand to some other use like an Engineering School and make it work with the natural habitat and water problems as a leader in other fields and benefit Northampton County as they are a leader in dental care schooling now in this country ,they could put a 1st class engineering School in the swamp.WE would all win.

Peter J.Cochran said...

What I mean is ,if the tax payers pay for open space -have the money go toward Nccc to develop a school that fits in with problems associated with swamp land. Architects learn HOW TO make living space congruent to the natural surroundings so an NCCC school of Architecture and Engineering foe the price we pay for open space no one who pays taxes uses. Debate me,or think about this issue. We could buy great Professors just like Harvard.Run the schools ,make profit ,tax free like any other college ,study birds and other spinoffs. Put a percentage back into the COUNTY FUNDS to off set tax payers.

Anonymous said...

Mr Glagola is a nut case and a liar. He dosen't care about birds,storm water or traffic! I have personally heard him say over the last three attempts to develope this, "I do not want a housing development across the street from me !"
Thats right, its all about him and houses across the street.
Got to give him and his wife credit though, they got all the mindless lemmings to follow them.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Glagola is not an elected official. He is a citizen exercising his First Amendment rights. If you want to trash him, sign your name. These petty and parochial attacks are coming from someone who was also present during three attempts to develop this area. You diminish yourself and the Board of Commissioners with this kind of remark. Please identify yourself if you want to make this kind of statement or I will have to delete you.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:06
It has to be said --- you are an asshole.

Anonymous said...

so...11:06 thinks that the noted and learned professionals that come out last night to defend the "saving of green pond" marsh are mindless lemmings? If you know so much about the situation, perhaps you are a commissioner who is trying to save your own ass for voting in 2005 to approve such an abomination of housing development on such a pristine track of land. Perhaps you also did not hear the residents voice their many concerns of what will happen if development of any kind moves forward? Understand that there was a "record turnout" which should tell anyone that the residents of Bethlehem township are sick and tired of development and want to stop at all costs.

Anonymous said...