Lower Macungie commissioners moving toward selling house in Kratzer Farm open space area

Posted: 6:08 AM EDT Oct 04, 2013
Lower Macungie Twp. commissioners

Armed with an estimate that the place is worth $255,000, Lower Macungie supervisors are moving forward toward selling a house on the township’s Kratzer Farm open space recreation area -- despite an appeal from members of the township’s parks and recreation board.

A majority of the recreation board’s member are recommending Lower Macungie keep possession of the entire property.

They also recommend the township could demolish the house at some point in the future “should it become a drain on Lower Macungie resources.”

They said another option would be for commissioners to simply wait until some time in the future to sell the house.

The township commissioners must take their fiscal responsibilities seriously, states a letter from the recreation board, but “there are some situations where immediate finances can’t be the only consideration.” The letter says the commissioners are rapidly moving ahead to sell the house.

“This is not a last-minute thing and it’s not being rushed,” said Commissioner James Lancsek. “We decided to sell this last year.”

“We have an estimate here for a quarter-of-a-million dollar property,” said Commissioner Roger C. Reis. “If we keep this house and demolish it, not only would we lose any sale value, but it would cost us tens of thousands of dollars to demolish. I just don’t see that as a good suggestion.”

The letter was signed by recreation board members Dennis Timmer, Liza Gantert, Anthony Monaco, Marti Schwartz and Julie McDonnell, who read it to commissioners at their Thursday night meeting.

The house, they argued, is in a key position “on a piece of public park property. Selling a piece in the center of the parcel may greatly limit use and enjoyment.”

The house is on 1.1 acres of land off Willow Lane, near Little Lehigh Creek.

It is surrounded by about 85 acres of township-owned farm and woodland along Willow Lane between Sauerkraut Lane and Lower Macungie Road. A pond also is on the open space property.

The ranch-style house, at 1966 Willow Lane, is rented by the township. If sold, it will be surrounded by public property. Even the driveway leading to the house will remain owned by the township.

Lower Macungie intends to keep the old stone barn next to the house, which it uses for storage.

In its letter, the recreation board warned that in the future people visiting Kratzer Farm may have concerns about the homeowners’ level of upkeep and use of the property around the house. And owners of the house may go to the township with complaints about people using public property all around them.

Township manager Bruce Fosselman reported an appraisal done on the 1.1 acres including the house put its value at $255,000. That appraisal was done by Ernest Nemeth, a certified broker/appraiser in Bethlehem, at the request of commissioners.

“It’s actually more than I thought,” said Lancsek. “That’s a good number.”

“It’s only a good number if you get an offer,” said Atty. Richard Somach, the township’s solicitor.

“But you don’t get an offer unless you try,” responded Lancsek.

Before commissioners advertise to get bids to sell the house, the township’s engineer will do a formal subdivision plan of the 1.1 acres surrounding it. That plan will be reviewed by the township’s planning commission, which will make a recommendation to commissioners.

A motion authorizing the township engineer to do a formal preliminary/final subdivision plan was passed by a 3-1 vote. Only Commissioner Douglas Brown voted no. The fifth commissioner, Ryan Conrad, was absent.

Brown recommended waiting to move forward until the township gets a new comprehensive park and recreation plan being done by a consultant.

Township planning director Sara Pandl expects Lower Macungie will have a draft of that plan by the end of next week.

“Why can’t we wait?” asked Brown before the vote. “I’m not for moving forward. We appreciate all the input we’ve been getting.”

“We’ve had input,” countered Lancsek. “We decided to sell this last year already.”

Fosselman said Nemeth did a previous appraisal of the property, which showed it would have been worth $295,000 if the barn next to the house was included. But commissioners have decided not to sell the barn. That was a compromise, said Reis.

“We will own the driveway,” said Lancsek. “This future lot would get access rights.”
Commissioners said the future homeowner will have the benefit of the township plowing open that driveway in winter.

Reis said he doesn’t like to disagree with recommendations coming from volunteers who serve on the township’s committees, but he does not agree with the Kratzer Farm recommendation from the recreation board.

He said anyone buying that home next to park land will know what they are getting into, adding many people own homes next to parks.

Commissioners authorized Fosselman to get an appraisal for the property at their last meeting on Sept. 19.

“I don’t see any reason to waste any more time,” said Commissioner Ron Eichenberg at that meeting. “We’ve already wasted several months on this. I’d like to see this thing move off dead center.” He said the township has absolutely no use for the house and wants to get out of the landlord business.

During that meeting, commissioners rejected a suggestion mentioned by Pandl that the township might keep the house and convert it into a trail head facility for the open space property, with restrooms and pavilions. Panel said consultants developing the township recreation plan may recommend developing a trail head with facilities near the house.

Also during the meeting, commissioners gave unanimous preliminary approval to a land development plan that involves tearing down three structures on the northeast corner of Hamilton Boulevard and Krocks Court and consolidate three lots into one 2.43-acre property where two “very attractive” office and retail buildings will be constructed.

One of those buildings, at what is being called Shepherd’s Corner, will encompass 7,200-square feet and the other will have 9,262 square feet. Underground parking will be beneath the larger building, reported Pandl.

Shepherd Hills Shoe Repair shop now is on that corner. A building that held a former candle shop also is one of the three that will be razed, along with a chiropractor’s office.

Final approval won’t be considered until after the fate of the proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center is determined. That project, which has at least temporarily been shelved, would be built nearby at Krocks Road and Hamilton Boulevard.

The Shepherd’s Corner development would tie into a stormwater basin being planned for Hamilton Crossings on the north side of the Route 222 bypass.