Northampton County's Open Space program is designed for farmland preservation, environmentally sensitive land and municipal parks. Like kissing babies, it's politically popular. In many instances, it is also the right thing to do. But there have been questionable decisions like the preservation of cliff lands and swamps that could never be developed in the Slater Belt as well as last year's bail out of a failed golf course developer in Lower Saucon Township.
This is the start of a series of articles about abuses in what really has become an industry.
Williams Township has a Land Preservation Board that consists of members who have pretty much decided to preserve their own properties..Arlene Koch, Jeff McGuire, Doug Seipt, Linda Heindel and Alan Kirby have all been members. All have had property preserved. I'm sure that each abstained from voting on his or her project, but it's really a game of musical chairs. One hand is very clearly washing the other.
Let me explain. Whether it's farmland or environmentally sensitive land, the owner invariably carves out a parcel or two for himself. It might be his home, or it could be land he intends to develop down the road. The state requires the appraiser to "take into account any increase in the value of the subdivided acreage because of the placement of the easement on the remaining farmland." In the case of the Glovas mansion, for example, the appraiser was required to go back to the mansion and surrounding land that Glovas has carved out of the proposed conservation easement and determine how much that parcel would increase in value as a result of the easement preserving the land around him. This is something the appraiser failed to do, most likely because it would decrease the value of the appraisal. In fact, I've never seen it done.
Some interesting points from the Glovas appraisal:
* It's in Flood Zone X. This is a minimal at-risk area, but is pretty strange for a project presented to NorCo Council as "steep slopes." .
* Zoning is Low Density Residential, which requires a 2-acre minimum for building lots on his 68 acres.
* The potential for development is nonexistent. This is because most of the property is considered too full of granite and gneiss boulders. If you go down just 60 inches, you hit a lithic bedrock. Anyone who wanted to develpop here would need lots of dynamite.
Despite these problems, Foglia tells me the Glovas application is actually one of the better ones.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you how residents in this county continue to subsidize these wealthy landowners through a tax millage freeze that Foglia and Ballek both think is illegal. County officials disagree.