Bethlehem Township--Commission approves ‘tentative’ plan
Controversial plans for a retirement community adjacent to environmentally sensitive wetlands, in the middle of an Audubon-designated “Important Bird Area,” have come closer to reality. Bethlehem Township’s Planning Commission decided Nov. 29 to recommend approval of a tentative plan. The meeting was far less crowded than the packed houses at some earlier presentations of the plan.
Recommending approval were Kenn R. Edinger, Mark Grandinetti, Harry Powell, Leslie Walker and James Daley. “It’s time to move this down the road,” said Edinger. Don Wright was the sole vote against. Lee Snover abstained, but chaired the meeting.
In response to concerns raised at previous meetings, developer Traditions of America (TOA) has reduced the density of the development. The number of homes has decreased from the original 261 to 229. In addition, TOA increased the amount of open space from 22 to 29 acres, with 18 of those acres as true open space, independent of any storm water management. Buffering of at least 50 feet will surround the wetlands. The closest any home will be to the wetlands is 309 feet.
Attorney Gregg Adelman, who represents TOA, explained that all storm water will be managed on site or at the adjacent golf course. There will be no discharge onto other properties. Their studies indicate there will be no sinkholes, and ponds will have liners to prevent mishaps.
“We’ve demonstrated the feasibility we need for recommendation of a tentative plan,” he said.
Solicitor Wendy Nicolosi explained that approval of a tentative plan for a planned residential development like Green Pond Marsh is less stringent than what is required for a preliminary plan, although there are pages of requirements that must be approved by the commissioners. No building permits may be issued, nor can development proceed without final plan approval.
He told Les Walker that the homeowners’ association will be required to hire a third-party expert to manage the wetlands. Prominent Easton attorney Tom Elliott, a resident and former township solicitor, scoffed that environmentally sensitive wetlands will be the last thing on the minds of homeowners concerned about snowplowing and streets.
Adelman assured Don Wright that if the development is approved, deed restrictions will be imposed on the adjacent golf course, preventing its use as anything but a golf course or open space. Under the township’s zoning ordinance, the entire golf course can be developed with residential lots. Green Pond Country Club has already threatened to develop the entire golf course unless this plan moves forward.
Part of the tentative plan calls for scrapping 150 square feet of the wetlands to widen Farmersville Road and then adding to the wetlands elsewhere.
“How do you replicate a wetland that has been there 200-300 years?” asked a dubious Kathy Glagola. “You think you’re just going to dredge and make it the same?”
“I’m going to follow the DEP regulations,” answered Adelman.
Commissioners will now have to review the tentative plan. Two of them, Tom Nolan and Malissa Davis, had a head start. They were at the Planning Commission meeting.