|Green Pond Marsh|
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.