Citizens group challenges land use
The solicitor for Northampton Area School District Board of Education has been authorized to respond to a letter by an East Allen Township citizens group that challenges the use of a portion of the district’s Seemsville tract to facilitate a proposed commercial development.
Citizens for Accountability & Responsible Development (CARD) in East Allen Township posted a copy of a letter on social media that was sent to the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) and numerous local, state and federal officials concerning a proposal for a right of way and easement on about nine acres of district land. The area is known as the Seemsville tract and is for a detention pond and relocation of Seemsville Road to make way for the Northampton business center land development plan, also known as the Jaindl-Watson development.
The NASD Board of Education voted 8-1 at its Feb. 26 meeting to authorize board President David Gogel to sign and send a letter to DGS and other recipients in response to CARD’s letter.
In a related but separate vote Feb. 26, the school board voted 8-1 to authorize Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik to hire Blair E. Bates, a Bethlehem-based real estate consultant, to appraise the Seemsville tract in East Allen Township.
NASD purchased the 92.32-acre tract at Route 329 and Seemsville Road for $227,500 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1995 as a site for a school.
The Jaindl-Watson development proposes six buildings totaling 2.4 million square feet in warehouse and/or manufacturing space on 294 acres zoned industrial/commercial in Allen Township, west of the Seemsville tract and Seemsville Road.
In a presentation at the Feb. 12 school board meeting, representatives of Jaindl-Watson proposed to relocate Seemsville Road to the east, install a traffic light at a new Seemsville Road/Route 329 intersection and construct a stormwater retention pond. The developers would utilize 9.5 acres of the district’s Seemsville tract, compensating NASD for a right of way for the road relocation and an easement for the pond.
The right of way would relocate Seemsville Road, which would curve to a new terminus and a new traffic light at Route 329. The stormwater retention pond, which would not be maintained by NASD, would be built on the land roughly between the new road and where Seemsville Road is now located.
CARD’s Feb. 12 letter to DGS cites a deed restriction on the Seemsville tract that the land “shall be used for education and related purposes of the school district.” The restriction states that if the property is “used for any purpose other than those aforementioned, the title to the land herein conveyed shall immediately revert to and revest to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
During and after the Feb. 12 school board meeting, NASD Solicitor Atty. C. Steven Miller said of the district property’s deed covenant, “Improving the proponents is totally consistent with the educational use.”
Prior to the CARD letter, NASD already planned to get an opinion from DGS to make sure the use is consistent, according to Miller.
The Seemsville tract may be needed for a new elementary school in five to 10 years, according to Kovalchik.
“The school district is going to have to do the same type of improving roads, install a retention pond and install traffic lights,” Miller said at the Feb. 12 board meeting.
CARD sent its letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of General Services Curt Topper and Pennsylvania Atty. General Josh Shapiro, with copies sent to Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell C. Redding, Sen. Robert Casey, Sen. Pat Toomey, state Sen. Lisa Boscola, state Sen. Mario Scavello, state Rep. Zachary Mako, state Rep. Marcia M. Hahn and East Allen Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger Unangst.
The letter was signed by Lori Fox, CARD chairwoman, and Louis Corominas, CARD vice chairman.
At the Feb. 26 meeting, Corominas asked Kovalchik for a copy of the letter from the school board to DGS. Kovalchik said Miller is preparing the letter, and a copy would be sent to CARD.
CARD posted a copy of its letter Feb. 13 on its website, eastallencard.com, and its Facebook page.
CARD did not send a copy of the letter to NASD school directors or administration officials.
The Jaindl-Watson project could generate $2 million in increased property tax revenue for NASD, according to a consultant at the Feb. 12 school board meeting.
Jaindl-Watson project improvements to the district land would add another $3.5 million NASD would not have to spend, according to a consultant at the Feb. 12 meeting.
The consultant estimated the Jaindl-Watson project would generate 609 jobs, of which 576 would be full time.
Construction of the project could begin six to eight months after approval by Allen Township’s planners and board of supervisors.
PPL high-voltage electricity transmission lines traverse the portion of the district land where the retention pond would be built, rendering that area unsuitable for development.
The 9.5 acres of district land Jaindl-Watson would utilize includes 3.25 acres for a right of way for the relocated Seemsville Road and 6.25 acres for an easement for the stormwater retention pond.
District officials indicate a portion of the Seemsville tract, believed to be of the site of a Native American 5,000-year-old camp, would not be disturbed.