BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. - Nearly 150 concerned residents packed to standing-room-only capacity at Monday evening's Bethlehem Township Planning Commission meeting to oppose the building of 265 homes at Green Pond Country Club in northeast Bethlehem.
Even lining the walls of the township's spacious municipal building's meeting hall leaving barely any further standing room, resident after resident voiced their objections for over two hours to the proposed construction of an age 55+ active adult community by senior housing specialists Traditions of America.
Traditions of America previously built two similar senior housing developments in Hanover Township and currently has a third under construction in Upper Saucon.
The residents' multiple objections to the housing plan include the disruption of an irreplaceable bird feeding sanctuary at Green Pond's nearby wetlands in addition to increased traffic, storm water overflow, resident parking, and a general overdevelopment of Bethlehem Township leading to a reduced quality of life for residents.
Representing Traditions of America partner David Biddison offered the planners a five-point presentation and preliminary sketch site plan which included a clubhouse, in-ground swimming pool, and two miles of walking trails in addition to addressing wildlife preservation, permitted zoning, storm water flow, traffic, parking, and sidewalk issues.
"Our plan is one of desirability instead of density," stated Biddison, who continued, "It's not about driving as many homes as possible."
He noted township zoning allows for 314 homes to be built on the site as opposed to Traditions' Green Pond plan that provides for 265 attached and semi-detached single family residences.
The planners' voiced their concerns about traffic and parking and said the proposal needs a thorough and complete traffic study.
Biddison's plan also calls for the full protection of the current 27,000 square-foot wetlands already in place at the bird habitat located where Green Pond and Farmersville Roads meet in addition to proposing another 73,000 square-foot conservation area.
Further included will be a large wet basin providing 175,000 square-feet of storm water management and a 250,000 square-foot infiltration basin with native grasses to preserve the birds, he said.
Following an outburst from one unidentified resident over Traditions' wildlife conservation plan alleging the company was "completely distorting this", Bissidon remarked "We're trying to do the right thing here---create and preserve".
Traditions previously met with three local bird and wildlife experts including the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society who opposes disrupting the bird habitat because any development would severely impact the migrating birds who very much use and depend on the area wetlands as a feeding site and stopover point.
Bird specialist Peter Saenger, co-author of the book "Birds of the Lehigh Valley and Vicinity", claims you can[t recreate wetlands through manmade efforts. He explained when Green Pond overflows it seeds its surrounding banks with insects and nutrients the birds particularly depend upon.
Fellow Audubon Society member and local wildlife expert Rick Wiltraut of Saylorsburg said he's been studying birds for the past 45 years. According to Saenger, Wiltraut's research and expertise contributed significantly to his book.
Wiltraut said the marsh at Green Pond is an important designated land area where birds feed not only on plants that are unique to wetlands, but also on insects found on the pond's muddy banks.
Saenger said the pond is so very unique because it draws various species of migrating sandpipers coming from as far south as Argentina. He added Green Pond has an international designation from the US branch of Bird Life International and is overseen by the National Audubon Society for Pennsylvania. "It is not just some flooded field, " he remarked.
Farmersville Road resident and architect Jack Glagola cried out, " This is an eco-disaster waiting to happen." He said the wetlands area is much larger the 27,000 square-foot area the developer noted in his presentation and plans to have an engineer he's hired prove it.
The plan will be presented next to the township board of commissioners for their review and input at an undetermined future meeting.
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