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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Green Pond Marsh Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine

Green Pond Marsh
They're back!

Now that the election's over, plans to develop Green Pond Marsh into an active senior community are back on the table. The Planning Commission was subjected to a good cop, bad cop routine at their January 25 meeting.  They've already granted waivers and deferrals once, and did so again.

This project is the brainchild of developer Traditions of America (TOA), which specializes in building 55+ neighborhoods. TOA was first started by J.B. Reilly, who is developing the lion's share of projects within Allentown's controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ).He still maintains a financial interest in the company. David Biddison, a partner and TOA's Director of Operations, made the presentation.

He was the good cop.

Originally proposed as a 256-home retirement community, the plan has been highly controversial because of its location at Green Pond Marsh. During numerous crowed meetings, many were concerned about the 180 different bird species that have been documented in wetlands so rare that the Audubon Society designated them an "Important Bird Area." Others worried about increased traffic on back country roads. Still others complained about storm waters, a major problem in Bethlehem Township and a sore spot with many residents.

Biddision originally insisted that only 27,000 sq ft directly across Farmersville Road from the pond has actually been delineated as a "wetland." But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and PA Department of Environmental Protection visited the site and determined the wetlands actually make up nearly five acres of a 68-acre parcel.

That was obviously a setback, and in the meantime, "Save Green Pond" signs began appearing all over the Township.This drew the ire of Planning Commissioner Les Walker, who called the signs "ridiculous." He called opponents NIMBYs (not in my back yard).

Les Walker would soon see many more "Save Green Pond" signs as Malissa Davis ran on that theme and was elected to the Township's Board of Commissioners, along with democrat Kin Jenkins. Republican Commissioner Tom Nolan had already declared himself against the development, calling it a "poor plan" at a "terrible location."

TOA went back to the drawing board and submitted what they are now calling a "revised" plan.

Good cop Biddison said he was "receptive to some of the concerns" and presented a plan that reduces the density of the development while increasing the amount of open space as well as buffering the wetlands area. The number of homes will decrease from 261 to 229, while the traffic from the development itself should be reduced from 541 to 481 trips per day. He has expanded the open space from 22 to 29 acres, and 18 of those acres will be true open space, independent of any storm water management. Buffering of at least 50' will surround the wetlands. The closest any home will be to the wetlands in 309.' This revised plan will also contain 4.5 acres less of impervious coverage, which tends to create storm waters.

Biddison also pointed out that the Township would benefit in the form of a $343,500 recreation fee, $250 thousand in annual property taxes and $500,000 in realty transfer taxes. The school district would also receive $1.9 million in taxes from a development with no children.

He wrapped things up by noting that, in addition to protecting the marsh, this plan would save the contiguous Green Pond Golf course.

Next it was the bad cop's turn.

That would be Graham Simmons an attorney at the Norris McLaughin law firm up to its eyeballs in the federal investigation into pay-to-play in Allentown. They represented Miked Fleck, J.B. Reilly, Scott Fainor and numerous regular Pawlowski contributors like Rob Bennett of Bennett Toyota. Fed Ed is rumored to vacation at the Florida Keys home of Norris McLaughlin partner Robert Somach. That firm just happen to be involved in numerous boards and authorities that dole out public money, in both Northampton and Lehigh County. Well, it's no surprise that this firm now represents John Daub, the President of Green Pond Country Club. It's even less of a surprise given that Simmon's father-in-law just happens to be Republican benefactor L. Anderson Daub. I suppose that makes John his uncle-in-law, so you could say he got the biz the old-fashioned way - by marrying well. Uncle John himself was unable to be present because, as Simmons explained, he winters in Arizona.

Simmons was there to engage in a little bit of legal extortion. All very legal, bit still a shakedown.

He noted that his client Daub is one of 24 stockholders, most of whom have no ties to Bethlehem Township or the Lehigh Valley. They want a return on their investment. Simmons explained they have two options. They can develop Green Pond Marsh and save the golf course. Or they can sell everything, including the golf course, for residential development that he claims is permitted by right. "The decision has already been made if TOA is unable to process its plans," he threatened.

Of course, the Green Pond Marsh Plan could be approved and nothing would stop Daub and his fellow stockholders from selling off the rest of the land anyway. Since 23 of 24 shareholders have no ties to the Lehigh Valley, what's stopping them?

Though the room was packed and included four of the Township's five Commissioners, there were few questions or observations.

Jack Glagola, perhaps the most formidable opponent of the Green Pond Marsh development, chose to listen, as did his wife.

Poet Matt Wolf, whose day job is information technician at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, condemned the revised plan, noting that a home less than a football field away from these migratory birds would scare them off. He also complained that the buffer is too small. "Whenever development comes in, nature loses," echoed Robert Adams.

But Mike Ryan, who lives near the site and calls himself "just a guy with a home right at the edge," complimented TOA's Biddison. He indicated that TOA reached out to him about plans as they've progressed. "This is a better option than a redefined golf course," he concluded.

Distinguished environmental Attorney Tom Elliott, who himself is Bethlehem Township's former Solicitor, represents the Save Green Pond coalition. Instead of raising environmental concerns, he is concerned that there are now two competing plans in play by TOA when zoning law only permits one at a time. He also indicated that the Township zoning ordinance requires direct access to the golf course, a point disputed by current Solicitor Wendy Nicolosi of the Broughal law firm..

His points were also disputed by Planning Commissioners. "I don't know anybody who would want to lug a bag of golf clubs from one of the houses," said John Daley, adding that access is by car. Les Walker wanted Elliott to identify the members of the coalition that he represents, but he politely refused.

Planning Chair Lee Snover abstained from voting on the waivers and deferrals because, as she has explained in the past, she is friendly with J.B. Reilly and her family has at times had a business relationship with him. She also pointed out that no plan will be approved until traffic, environmental and storm water studies are complete.


Jb said...

I'm not against building and developing, but what I'm against is when it destroys valuable habitat. There are plenty of other spaces of land much easier to develop. I've read people have offered to buy that land to preserve it. Why not sell it and develop land that's easier to build on? We don't have a housing shortage. But wetlands aren't as common as they were many years ago because people keep destroying them. We should do everything we can to protect our natural resources. We are all responsible to protect our planet. Balance is important.

Anonymous said...

This is a boring topic.

Anonymous said...

Do we really know these players have no financial benefits to gain?

Anonymous said...

This is a critically important topic.
Thank you Tom Elliot.
Thank you BOH.

Anonymous said...

Firzt of all the pic is one of the more beautiful sights that were once plentiful in the area¿!($ As for boring developmental projects perposed seem to not only suffer from this debatical and the local howsing glut via orange tags all over the valleys zit, cyst and the epicenter boil that needs to be cained to pop the core lose and stop the infection that has allready spread and fleed to the other two sites!($

The areial view yesterday was a site to see with the political pot o blue juice boiling over from the arena a looking as though the spinkter let lose¿!($ Now if any other developer or arena cartaker would have done what is being done officials would have allso tacked the snow removal on the bill¿!($

This is the collusionary dillusionary trixZ are circus sideshow brings to town¿!($ But when that whole is made up of many and still one put to print via LLC's, Incorparations and all those fictisious entities put to print than and only than can they be seperated¿!($ This circus has 1 800 phone numbers all over the world only too be ReRouted epicentral¿!($
No sigNUTure needed 10/4 out

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as" balance ". Nature had its day and that day is done. Who ever heard of it being 70 degrees on Christmas with a record snowfall in January?

Bethlehem township is just going with the flow or staying ahead of the runoff and this destruction of worn out habitat will help out the kids and that's what its all about.

I don't know about this good cop /bad cop scenario? The way I see it,we have choices and none of them include doing anything for the silly birds because they all will be living and loving down by the river near Mr Hudak's house.

Come to think of it ,couldn't that ridiculous river be dried out or forced underground ? Just think of the opportunities that would present to these enterprising developers.

Anonymous said...

" In the end ,it will be developed. Anybody who knows anything ,knows that ."-Michael Hudak

Anonymous said...

It is no wonder that Green Pond GC wants to sell out. This is a quote from a recent WSJ article "Last year the number of rounds played in the U.S. dropped to 463 million from 518 million in 2000. The number of golfers fell to 25.7 million in 2011 from 28.8 million in 2000. A net of more than 350 golf courses have been closed since 2005. In 2011, more than 150 courses closed, outpacing the 19 courses that debuted last year." What 23 year old can afford the equipment,fees and four hours of boredom just to lug his balls around. The owners of CPCC are the penultimate capitalist and they are caught up in a trend that has been a long time coming.
Now they send their lackey dog Little Lord Fontleroy S. Graham to scare us all into action!

Anonymous said...

So.... what happens when TOA gets their way because the planning board and the commissioners only see $$ signs and not the obligation of saving natural habitat. What happens when the golf course goes bankrupt AGAIN. Are we really supposed to believe that a few bucks from the sale of the green pond marsh acreage will save the golf course forever? The TOA development is tied to the "open space" of the golf course. Who gets stuck holding the bag on the defunct golf course? The TOA home owners group? The township? What happens then? I would like someone to tell us all.
What are the rules and regulations for the golf course to be sold once the development is done and the current stockholders sell? Golf Advisor reported on August 21, 2015 "The National Golf Foundation reported that 643 18-hole layouts closed from 2006-2013, the most recent numbers available. A number of them are probably gone for a reason. The recession helped cull the weak from the herd. Many struggling and now shuttered facilities weren't run well, weren't well maintained or weren't well designed." There are many more articles out there to support the MANY reasons for the decline in golf.
There are many questions to be answered here yet.

Anonymous said...

As an avid golfer I feel I can say this. The game of golf is in decline and is entering a period of consolidation in terms of number of courses. There are too many courses compared to the number of golfers for all of the courses to be able to survive. Younger people are not taking up the game in the same numbers as their parents, mainly due to lack of time and money. Once the baby boomers can't physically play anymore, the problem will increase even further. This is true both in the Lehigh Valley and elsewhere. Private and public courses too. There is even a struggling private club in the area that will probably go bust within the next 5 years if a land sale deal does not successfully go through, due to declining membership.

The land occupied by Green Pond golf course will eventually be redeveloped regardless of what happens to the marsh area. The land is in too good of a location.

Mr. Daub isn't a beneficial golf course owner like the guy who bought Locust Valley. The end game for Daub and the other investors is to sell the property for the highest value possible, and in Bethlehem Township that is realized as residential development, not as a continuing golf course operation. They are just land-banking it, they probably figured that continuing to run it as a golf course in the meantime would be more profitable than plowing it over for crops.

Anonymous said...

Hey 9:33 Forbes also notes that: "More golf courses closed than opened in the U.S. in 2013 for the eighth straight year, according to the National Golf Foundation.

A total of 14 18-hole courses opened last year, up from 13.5 in 2012, while 157.5 courses were closed during the year, three more than a year earlier, the Jupiter, Florida-based organization said in a statement on its website.
Less and less ball lugging going on.

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly from an earlier meeting, the golf course will be open space forever if the TOA plan is developed. That means it cannot be developed even if GPCC closes as a golf facility. If that were to occur, I don't think the TOA Homeowners Association would be responsible to maintain the property so it would grow wild and not be developed.

Anonymous said...

It would seem to me that Mr. Daub and his investors would make more money if they sold the entire tract of land including the golf course. They must be rooting for the TOA plan to fail.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Bernie. Unless I missed it, I didn't see what waivers they voted on and approved, and if the votes were unanimous or not...

Anonymous said...

We are so parochial in the Lehigh Valley. Get your head out of your ass and look around. Communities all over the country are turning ag lands into guess what, high end housing communities with a farm in the middle, staffed by a paid farm manager and farm workers. We could kill two birds with one stone( no pun) preserve farmland and still have a housing development, wow who would think of that, apparently that does not fit into a TOA proforma.

Lighthouse said...

This tract has had proposals for development since at least 1999, if not earlier. I've tried not to comment anymore re the Twp, however, the threat of "we can develop the whole thing" is a common tactic, and has been used for this site with earlier developments. However, a things should be noted.

In Jan 2004, "... questioned condition for approval #23 of Resolution R008-04 and would the golf course remain as open space forever. Solicitor Elliott asked if the applicant was willing to have the golf course remain open space in perpetuity? Attorney Broughal responded that, yes, that was the intent of the applicant and Solicitor Elliott stated he would prepare additional language regarding this issue for the resolution.... Attorney Broughal requested that the plans submitted and are before the Board of Commissioners this evening be made a part of the record for the public hearing... Solicitor Elliott read language to be added to condition for approval #23 of Resolution R008-04 regarding land covenants as follows: '...such covenants shall include one stating that the golf course portion of the development, which is to remain in the ownership of Green Pond Golf Course, Inc., shall be kept in perpetuity as a golf course open to the general public as per Zoning Ordinance Section 2311.B.2.j" (which I believe is now 275-211.B(2)(j))

In June 2011, with yet another attempt to develop, a lot of questions re traffic and stormwater were scrutinized. It was again "asked if the golf course would permanently stay as open space. Mr. Caraccioli responded that is the intent. Solicitor Broughal stated that if the developer is using the PRD Zoning, the ordinance says the golf course must remain as such in perpetuity.... if it is a non-PRD development, then you would look at the open space requirements and map out how much golf course would remain as open space." Now Commissioner Davis did speak re her concern for traffic, which has also always been an issue , along with stormwater.

If the Twp sticks to keeping the bar high re open space, stormwater, traffic, and wetlands, and doesn't easily give up what it can control with waivers and deferrals it can keep the bar high. Don't be easily intimidated by fears that there will be housing units covering the entire area.

Anonymous said...

My fear is that years down the road, when the golf industry is even worse, the course owner will try to make a deal with the township to have the ordinance revised or have whatever that is necessary done so that they may proceed with developing the course. Yeah, a long shot maybe, but I can see them at least trying for it.

I can see requiring it to be open space in perpetuity, but a golf course in perpetuity? How can you force someone to keep a business operating? That's like telling Wawa "we'll approve your new store, but you must agree to keep it open as gas station forever, even if all cars become electric and the station is losing money every minute it is open."

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Good article, Bernie. Unless I missed it, I didn't see what waivers they voted on and approved, and if the votes were unanimous or not..."

You did not see that bc I did not and have no intention of describing 6 waivers and deferrals, which is just wading into the weeds.

Bernie O'Hare said...

They related to curbing and matters of that sort, and were not waivers of earlier agreements to keep the golf course in perpetuity as a golf course, assuming that can ever be enforced.

Anonymous said...

10:18 I am so glad you brought up this point. Agriberbia or Agritopia or Agrihood is definitely a growing enterprise and a wonderful way to keep food local, preserve open space and continue to allow farmland to be valuable and contribute to the local society. A sustainable neighborhood. Wouldn't it be wonderful see an agrifarm development at Green Pond Country Club.
CBS Sunday Morning did a spot on Serenbe Farms in Georgia. There are about 200 such planned agricultural communities in development across the country. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/home-grown-moving-next-to-the-farm/

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If I recall correctly from an earlier meeting, the golf course will be open space forever if the TOA plan is developed. That means it cannot be developed even if GPCC closes as a golf facility. If that were to occur, I don't think the TOA Homeowners Association would be responsible to maintain the property so it would grow wild and not be developed."

Despite these solemn promises made over a decade ago, I believe they are totally unenforceable. If Green Pond were willing to record a new deed to itself and impose this restrictive covenant on the deed, it might be enforceable for some time.

Anonymous said...

Well two things are certain, demand for golf courses is declining and the number of aging affluent home buyers (whether local or from New Jersey) is going through the roof. I'm routing for the plan in the hopes that the Township gets a nice development, and the Township gets much needed open space once the golf course is no longer viable (maybe now?). The location is too good and the demand is too strong to expect the whole parcel to remain undeveloped.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to bet that all those shareholders have "ties" to the Lehigh Valley.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the TOA connection to JB Reily, Richard Somach and Little Lord Fontleroy S. Graham relation to the folks on the FBI subpoena list we have Marty Zawarski defeated Bethlehem Township Commissioner. A quick look at his contributors Ramzi Haddad, a developer with properties in Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone and the city's east side is listed as contributing to his campaign. What does a guy from Allentown have to do with anything in Bethlehem Township?
How deep does this all go, why does the head of the Bethlehem Township Planning Commission with stated ties to JB Reily continue to remain as head of the Planning Commission?

Bernie O'Hare said...

He is certainly the NIZ King, and I have opposed that from the onset. He has also been a regular Pawlowski contributor. But I have no evidence that he has done anything improper and suspect that there will be no such evidence.

Anonymous said...

Today's redd post is one for the books. They usually take a couple of readings to understand. Today, I'm on my third read and it's not getting better. Bernie, do you have any inkling who this sage is? He's the Mark Twain of indecipherable doggerel. I'm a big fan¿¡

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have met him. I am pretty sure he has no problem identifying himself, but I will leave it to him to out himself if he so desires. I have not mastered the art of upside down punctuation marks, or I'd interject them in here.

Anonymous said...

Why can't people just let a marsh be a marsh? This obsessive compulsion to develop every plop of open land is absurd. In the short term it will increase tax revenues, sure. But in the long term values of surrounding properties will go down because people like being near natural spaces. Not to mention the damage to our local ecology.