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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Green Pond - The People Speak

David Brooman, a Norristown-based attorney, is an independent hearing officer unanimously appointed by Bethlehem Township's Board of Commissioners to take testimony and render a decision on a tentative plan submitted by developer Traditions of America (TOA) for an active senior community at Green Pond Country Club. What makes this development controversial is its location adjacent to environmentally sensitive wetlands, smack dab in the middle of an Audubon-designated "Important Bird Area," called Green Pond Marsh. Bethlehem Township's Planning Commission decided in late November to recommend approval, but Broomal must make an independent decision. He has conducted several hearings with technical testimony offered by Traditions of America and "Save Green Pond." But his April 11,2017 hearing was different. It was an opportunity for the people to speak, and they did. He heard from 29 of the 80 people who packed into the municipal building on an unusually warm April night.

Of the 29 people who spoke, 13 were opposed to the development.The remainder were either supportive or neutral.

Supporting Arguments

Joe Douress
- Green Pond Country Club provides a venue for numerous local charities. Joseph Douress told Brooman that he started the Heroes tournament there in 1992, in honor of his 12-year old daughter. She unfortunately succumbed to leukemia. Through that tournament, he has raised $200,000 for children with cancer. The funds he raises enables them to spend a week-long camp in the Poconos. Douress's sentiments were echoed by Bill Sugra, whose son was killed at the World Trade Center on 9-11. He hosts a tournament there that has raised $600,000 for 70 nonprofits in the Lehigh Valley. So does Bill Hankee, whose daughter Krysta died at age 22 after collapsing at a gym. He conducts an annual golf tournament in her honor at Green Pond, and has raised $100,000 to purchase gas cards for medical travel and educational grants aimed at our youth.

Dean Young
- Green Pond Country Club is a place where inner-city children can learn about golf and enjoy the countryside. "Our kids are getting an opportunity that they otherwise simply couldn't afford," said Dean Young, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club in Easton. He stated that golfers often donate shoes and clothing for kids on the course, and said they are sometimes lucky to see a red fox. He said the golf course provides a "human connection." Joseph Masulli said that Grren Pond golf pro John Kulhamer is "unbelievable with the children."

- Green Pond Country Club hosts high school and college golf. "It would be a shame to let this course go," said Stephen Malitzki, a former Township employee and head golf coach at Northampton Community College. He said that many local high schools and colleges use the course.

- The migratory birds will find another place. This argument was made by Tom Lusto, a golfer who used to teach biology at Moravian Academy. "I am certain that, over time, the biology will work itself out," he said. Tom Stitt, a local attorney and golfer, also made that argument, noting there are far more snow geese by his Lower Nazareth office than will be found at Green Pond Marsh. But this was disputed by the Audubon's Barbara Malt, who told Broomal that the shore birds who frequent the wetlands need that environment.

Sen. Lisa Boscola
- TOA will generate a lot of revenue for the Township. Joseph Masulli, who moved to Bethlehem Township to escape higher taxes in New Jersey, noted the tax revenue to the township alone will be $2 million. (TOA Principal David Biddison at previous meetings said that the Township would benefit in the form of a $343,500 recreation fee, $250,000 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.) "Dpn'y throw out the good for the perfect," said Anthony Liberatori.

- An active senior community is needed. Don Appleton would like to move into TOA at Green Pond, saying that the developer has a reputation for "high quality homes." State Senator Lisa Boscola called the project a "no brainer," but said she could "promise" the residents that the wetlands will be protected and enhanced. "I want to be part of the solution," she said.

Opposing Arguments

Kathy Glagola
- Green Pond Marsh is irreplaceable. That word was repeated by nearly every person who spoke against the development. Paul Jordan, who lives across the street at what he calls "ground zero," said the mere sight of the marsh is "spectacular," and noted a bald eagle was just spotted there the previous weekend. "There is nowhere else that these birds can go," said the Audubon's Barbara Malt, who said the nearest resource is at least 25 miles away. Ann Fessler, who teaches 5th grade at Moravian Academy, called it ia "pristine sanctuary" that she would instantly choose over a golf course or wedding venue. "Once it's compromised, it can never be remediated," said Michael Adams, who grew up in the Township. It is not just a local resource. It is a regional resource." Irene Torres, a local artist said, "My heart lives in Green Pond." Kathy Glagola noted that only two percent of Pennsylvania consists of wetlands.

Karen Berry
- There are native American artifacts at Green Pond Marsh. Karen Berry noted that Green Pond Marsh is the site of hundreds of Lenni Lenape artifacts, including a semi-lunar knife used by native women to clean fish. She noted that Barry Kresge, a member of the Society for Pennsylvania Archeology, has had the area listed as a Pennsylvania Historical Site with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. She acknowledged that development can still occur there.

- Greed is the motivating factor. John Gallagher, a retired architect, stated that "Ultimately, it's all about the money." He noted that 229 homes are being sold at an average price of $459,000, making it a $105 million project. he said the cureent design only considers the need of one stakeholder, the owner.

Victoria Bastidas
- The Marsh could be preserved. "You don't have to develop the Township this way," said Vicki Bastidas, who said she is the Vice Chair of NorCo's open space committee. She said the land could be preserved as open space.

After everyone had spoken, Broomal said he would keep the record open while the hearing noted are being transcribed.He expects briefs from TOA and Save Green Pond by the end of June,and will issue his decision about two months later. Both sides agreed to give him an extension of he thinks he needs it. So a decision on this senior community will wait until Summer's end.

At least three Commissioners were present for the final hearing, along with Manager Melissa Shafer and Planning Director Nathan Jones.


Anonymous said...

The developer is entitled to an approval so long as the laws are followed. Did any of the objectors cite requirements of law not being met and the associated code and section? If the Board of Commissioners were hearing this, passion and emotion just might work. If an out of area hearing officer (lawyer) is charged with making the decision then it will be all about the Township law and whether the developer can satisfy the outside agencies and their laws.

Ron Beitler said...

The argument that over 55's are a desired type of development moving forward is dated thinking. The concern is that we've reached "peak senior" in the valley. It's a demographics exercise. Supply and demand. After boomers peak we will have a plateau. Since the market is still red hot today, developers continue to make the pitch for these projects only concerning themselves with the first sale. Then they move their bulldozers to the next green pasture. Many communities (and the LVPC) are concerned about the 2nd sale and beyond.

The question is after the plateau what happens to an age restricted communities? Do they enter a boom bust cycle? In Lower Mac with our half dozen or so very large senior communities we've now stopped incentivizing them and believe the old sales pitch is flawed. I believe Bernie covered some of LVPC's concerns in past posts.

We're also concerned with changing trends. The next generation of retirees are less inclined to want to live in "senior silos". The trend is returning to multigenerational traditional neighborhoods. Boomers are attracted to living in silos. Beyond that... interests tails off.

Long term viability needs to be looked at. The key question being If/when HOA's falter and cannot maintain private road systems then would a court order a township to take them? Also if age restrictions can't be maintained then we get more students in the district anyway. When we reach that point all the normal logic about residential development applies. That is beyond one time cash infusions residential never pays for itself. Communities shouldn't be distracted by the one time payments.

This all has moved beyond hypothetical for us. In Lower Mac we've had one of our over 55's with a struggling HOA approach us to take over the road network. And another historically and traditionally senior development (but not restricted) begin to turn over. Meaning it once was almost entirely seniors now it's many starter families buying. So each year the bus stop grows. I don't have the data but I'd be willing to bet it's one of the fastest growing (student wise) neighborhood in the district.

Unknown said...

What he said should be considered

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The developer is entitled to an approval so long as the laws are followed. Did any of the objectors cite requirements of law not being met and the associated code and section?"

Gallagher made such arguments. Obviously, the attorneys on both sides previously made such arguments. I wanted to report on what the people say. But you are right. The hearing officer is bound by the law.

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem Twp.'s management of drainage and storm water is an example of worst practices engineering.
To let these incompetents have at this irreplaceable natural resource is courting catastrophe.

Anonymous said...

Bald Eagles can be found in Nazareth Borough and throughout the surrounding townships. More raptors can be seen in the townships than at Hawk Mountain. Apparently, they do have other places to go.

Anonymous said...

The big problem with many of the 55+ communities in Norco is the cost. They apparently cater to an influx of retired NY and northern NJ clients with big dollars. The cost of these homes is high and the HOA fees are high. They ensure that only the good seniors get to live there and the riff-raff is kept out.

Actually the lack of affordable senior friendly housing is and will be a problem for some years to come. I would agree that high end 55+ communities are not something that should be subsidized.

Lawrence J Briody said...

While I understand the glaring need to take care of our senior citizens by providing affordable housing ,the average cost of dwellings in this proposed development is over 400,000.00 dollars.The project, in and of itself, doesn't effect me as I couldn't care less how people want to spend their money.What bothers me is that very few people really care about the multitude of birds and other wildlife that have been traveling to Green Pond for a lot longer than anybody has been playing golf next store.
The conniving developers have shifted the focus of why the rare Green Pond ecosystem is expendable from the older folks needing a place to enjoy their golden years to the great loss to the golfing community of all the good times, charitable golf outings,education and human development that happens at the one of a kind irreplaceable Green Pond Country Club.The beleaguered owners need the money from the sale of the pond acerage to stay afloat in these troubled economic times and the loyal ,long time members would have to play and hold events at another of the myriad golf courses that are located within a short driving ditance from their homes if the gpcc owners had to sell their course to a developer.
That is all hogwash,The developers are shameless opportunists that care nothing about anything else than the almighty dollar.
I say sell the golf course because the couple of resident foxes will move their dens and will be okay.The golfers will go and play at another golf course and still have their memories. The old folks will still buy the houses that will be built so that they can find some place to spend their retirement years.
The only real losers in this heartless catastrophe are the birds because they won't find a similar or suitable habitat within 25 miles if they find it at all. All the people who enjoyed watching these wonderful birds for decade upon decade will just have to get over their sorrow at the loss of this unique irreplaceable refuge .It is a truly sad and dirty business and hopefully the residents of Bethlehem township will remember the irresponsible and ignorant officials who allowed and encouraged this unmitigated greed.

Anonymous said...

Raptors and migratory water foul are two distinct catagories.
Given your level of ignorance perhaps you should shut up unitll you have at least an elementary level of understanding.

Anonymous said...

To Hell with the birds and priceless habitat,
it's all about Tradition.
The Tradition of maximizing you profit no matter what you destroy in the process.

Anonymous said...

Traditions has all the approvals required. The sh_t will hit the fan of denied.

Anonymous said...

If it was that simple it would be a done deal, dopy.

Don Wright said...

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend much of the expert witnesses testimony at the various hearings but I am sure each side had there story down pat about developing / not developing and destroying / not destroying the marsh area. I did hear these arguments during Planning Commission and Commissioner meetings over the past several years.

I still don’t understand the reasoning why the following cannot occur:
1. The Township gives credit to TOA for the marsh area for their open space requirement
2. TOA donates the marsh and an appropriate buffer area to a bird conservancy (prior to development) to manage. That takes the HOA out of the picture for the sanctuary
3. Then the golf course remains open and it becomes open space if it ever closes as a golf course. That means no future development.

It seems to me that everyone wins if that occurs. The Township gets tax revenue. The Public gets the sanctuary. TOA gets their development. I have suggested that the three parties arrange such an agreement but I guess the challenge is too great.

Unless something like this is structured, the decision rests with the Attorney presiding at the hearing. That leaves two eventual options. One, he sides with TOA and only time will tell what happens to the birds and the sanctuary. Personally, I would not want to see the future HOA be responsible for the sanctuary. Two, he sides with Save Green Pond. Then the entire tract(s) including the golf course gets sold and closes and the entire tract is developed.

Maybe the Attorney will ask TOA to reduce the number of units again and increase the buffer zone from the marsh area. I also think that Save Green Pond will need to bend a little also unless they just don’t want homes in the neighborhood along Green Pond Road. Something is going to get developed eventually. There is a solution where evryone can win.

Anonymous said...

Raptors and migratory water foul are two distinct catagories.
Given your level of ignorance perhaps you should shut up unitll you have at least an elementary level of understanding."

Why so nasty? Perhaps you should relax and improve your reading comprehension. A speaker mentioned Bald Eagles. The comment was specific to raptors. It's no wonder people don't like you. You're just mean and unreasonable.

Anonymous said...

We live in the United States of America and are governed by our great Constitution! The OWNER of the land is entitled to do what he or she wants provided they meet the requirements of the LAW, presuming said law is in fact "constitutional". What laws are being broken by this proposal? If no laws are being broken, the owner is entitled to build despite what the non owners are saying in their emotional pleas. Do these people in Bethlehem Township not understand what just happened in the last Presidential election?

Anonymous said...

Dean Young looking for free golf & Lisa Boscola looking for free drinks!

JoAnnKennedy said...

Senior Housing starting at $459,000 Wow them some real rich seniors

Anonymous said...

Save the wetlands and the aqufiers that are put in place by GOD, there has been enough posioning of drinking waters inland allready by fictisiously faked entities that have catchline hooks like TOA. Water the most important element on earth being posioned and forever desrtoyed for a development or supposid progression.
The next new generation of development will be destroying the air that is still left to breath that is currently causeing REspitory illnesses allready to innercity dwellers children.