Will new Brooman sweep clean?
Controversial plans for a senior retirement community at Green Pond will be decided by an independent hearing officer from outside the Lehigh Valley. Attorney David Brooman, from Norristown, was the unanimous choice of Bethlehem Township’s board of commissioners at its March 6 meeting. He has three decades of experience in municipal law, land use planning and environmental law.
Retirement community developer Traditions of America (TOA) is seeking tentative plan approval for a 229-home development in an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area at Green Pond. Attorneys Charles and Thomas Elliott, representing an environmental group known as “Save Green Pond,” filed a motion seeking Pat Breslin’s ouster as one of the deciders on the basis of statements he has made calling the project a “done deal.”
Solicitor Jim Broughal, concerned that similar claims of bias could be made against other commissioners, proposed a solution that would make bias a non-issue by removing them all from a role in deciding this matter, in favor of an independent hearing officer. The downside is that the people’s elected representatives would have no say.
Broughal had originally suggested Josele Cleary, a Lancaster attorney whose practice areas include municipal law and land use. But Traditions of America, which must agree to be bound by her decision, was opposed to her.
The Save Green Pond Elliots were strongly opposed to Brooman, but only TOA has the right to object to the hearing officer. They also objected to allowing Breslin to vote on the motion appointing Brooman. They argued it is inappropriate for a “person with a conflict to appoint someone else to make the decision.”
Commissioners were asked to table the appointment, but Broughal warned that the clock is ticking. They have only 60 days in which to grant or deny tentative plan approval or it will be deemed approved, he advised. He said attempting to negotiate to find someone else would put the hearing officer who is ultimately selected under incredible pressure.
Charles Elliot warned commissioners that he had negative personal experience with Brooman, who represents landfills, incinerator developers and waste management facilities. He said he found no instance in which Brooman ever represented a municipality. Elliot said that on two occasions, Brooman confronted him over adverse decisions concerning an incinerator and a composting facility.
“There must be 100 attorneys in eastern Pennsylvania that do zoning and land use planning,” said Elliot. He said any decision made by Brooman would be suspect. He also claimed Broughal is “way too invested in this choice.”
“I did my research,” responded Broughal. He said Brooman has experience in all areas of the law at issue, would be unbiased and is available. He also objected to that attack on Brooman’s demeanor. “He’s not here tonight to defend that,” he said. He acknowledged that Brooman’s interactions with the Elliots have sometimes been unpleasant, but Brooman has also sparred with TOA lawyers. “It seems to be that this is a pretty good compromise because [Brooman] didn’t seem to get along with anyone,” said Broughal.
Though TOA’s David Biddison was present, he offered no comment or rebuttal to the Elliots. There was no need. Even TOA opponents like Tom Nolan said, “I have always listened to the solicitor.” Malissa Davis said she at first thought that commissioners should decide this matter, but on further reflection, she thought an independent hearing officer would be the best way to protect the township.
Two days later, on March 8, commissioners voted to continue the TOA decision until March 15, when Brooman will take over. Tom Elliott attempted to interpose a formal objection, but Broughal refused to receive it or let Elliott speak.
When the hearing resumes March 15, Brooman will preside.