Bethlehem Press

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Northampton County: Housenick Park will not have strip mall for a neighbor

Thursday, January 9, 2014 by CAROL SMITH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Forty-four acres surrounding Bethlehem Township's Housenick Memorial Park will be preserved for open space. At the Dec. 5 Northampton County Council meeting, a packed house was on hand to support two land-acquisition resolutions which will improve the storm water management system of the Monocacy Creek and extend the recreational and educational use of Housenick Park.

By council's unanimous approval, the Natural Lands Trust will acquire the two properties. Through the county's Open Space Initiative, 26 acres owned by Central Moravian Church will be purchased with $367,500 from a county grant and matched with the same amount from a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grant. The second property, 18 acres owned by the Leckonby Estate, will be purchased by a $290,000 county grant and a matching DCNR grant. The county's contribution for both properties totals $657,000.

A stumbling block to the Central Moravian Church property acquisition required council approval to change the county's Open Space guidelines for projects. Set at $300,000 as the county's purchase amount limit, council agreed to change the guidelines for project applications that exceed that amount to be reviewed by them on a case-by-case basis.

Donald Miles, who represents the Lehigh Valley Group of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, said the property acquisitions not only protect an environmentally sensitive area but also will help to prevent flooding from the Monocacy Creek in downtown Bethlehem.

Victoria Bastides, who spoke for the Friends of Johnston, said that the owners have been offered more than 10 times the acquisition price of these properties by developers interested in building a strip mall and 20 homes on the land.

Council's support was met by a roomful of smiles and applause from the Open Space advocates.

The preserved 44 acres open up 135 acres for recreational and educational projects for the Bethlehem Township community. Bethlehem Township owns Housenick Memorial Park, a 55-acre passive use park off Route 191. The park includes the colonial style mansion of Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first mayor. Janet Housenick, Johnston's granddaughter, left this land to the township.

As part of this bequest, Housenick also gave Northampton County the 36 acres adjacent to the park. Known as the Archibald Johnston Conservation Area, this environmentally sensitive land has the Monocacy Creek on the property. On the east side of the park at 3816 Christian Springs Road are the 26 acres left to Central Moravian Church, and on the south side of the park at 1311 Santee Mill Road are the 18 acres owned by the Leckonby Estate.

Council President John Cusick supported the use of the county's Open Space funds by saying, "We are preserving history as well as open space."