NASD signs off on Jaindl proposal
Trumping the Jaindl-Watson warehouse project by the Northampton Area School District Board of Education was not in the cards for an area citizens’ advocacy group.
School directors voted 7-2 to authorize school board President David Gogel to sign a “term sheet” between NASD and JW (Jaindl-Watson) Development Partners for “a transfer by easement and/or conveyance” of 13.09 acres of the district’s 92.32-acre Seemsville tract in East Allen Township.
After the March 12 meeting concluded in the Northampton Area High School cafeteria, Atty. C. Steven Miller, NASD school board solicitor, explained that the vote is akin to approving a “letter of intent,” indicating the school board is signing off on the process by which the project must be reviewed by various local and state government entities.
The Jaindl-Watson project would consist of six buildings of 2.4 million square feet for warehouse or manufacturing on 294 acres zoned industrial-commercial in Allen Township.
Jaindl-Watson seeks a right-of-way easement for the relocated Seemsville Road, which would curve to a new terminus and a new traffic light at Route 329. A water retention pond, which would not be maintained by NASD, would be built on a portion of the land roughly between the new road and where Seemsville Road is now located.
Among an estimated 30 members of Citizens for Accountability & Responsible Development (CARD) East Allen Township, at the school board meeting, five urged school directors to not approve the term sheet.
Miller said despite the school directors’ vote, approval or disapproval of the Jaindl-Watson project is ultimately not up to the school board.
“This is an ongoing process,” Miller said.
NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik agreed, saying, “All the authorities are going to have to get involved.”
Allen Township Board of Supervisors and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation must approve the development and roadway plans for the Jaindl-Watson project.
Miller said he would send a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Government Services (DGS) to determine if conveyance of a portion of the Seemsville tract is in accordance with a deed restriction. Miller said the letter would be sent to the DGS once relocation of Seemsville Road is specified in the developer’s plan.
“If the DGS says, ‘You can’t use the property,’ then you can’t use it,” Miller said.
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 deed restriction on the Seemsville tract states the land “shall be used for education and related purposes of the school district.” The restriction states 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.”
The term sheet states, “The land subject to the transfer will be used for public improvements that will provide a benefit to the school district when the school district develops its property for educational and related purposes.”
CARD sent a letter Feb. 12 to DGS citing the deed restriction.
The NASD Board of Education voted 8-1 at its Feb. 26 meeting to authorize a letter to DGS in response to the CARD letter.
Miller and NASD administration claim that improving the property is “totally consistent with the educational use” because the Seemsville tract may be needed for a new elementary school in five to 10 years.
“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.
Following the March 12 board meeting, Kovalchik said the Seemsville tract appraisal has not been completed. School directors voted 8-1 at the Feb. 26 board meeting to hire Blair E. Bates, Bethlehem-based real estate consultant, to appraise the Seemsville tract. Jaindl-Watson’s compensation to NASD has yet to be determined.
At the March 12 board meeting, voting to authorize Gogel to sign the term sheet were school Directors Dr. Michael Baird, John Becker, Roy Maranki, Robert Mentzell and Ross Makary, school board Vice President Chuck Frantz and board President Gogel.
Voting to oppose the authorization were school Directors James Chuss and Chuck Longacre.
Longacre, Baird and Becker questioned Jaindl-Watson representatives attending the school board meeting.
It was stated at previous school board meetings that 9.5 acres of the Seemsville tract would be needed to accommodate a relocated Seemsville Road and a stormwater detention pond. However, the March 12 term sheet agenda item stated that 13.09 acres would be required.
“It was done with no notification of the school district,” Longacre claimed of the additional acreage. “The entire process was very, very less than transparent.”
David Jaindl, president and owner of Jaindl Land Company, stepped up to the microphone at the March 12 meeting to dispute Longacre’s assertion.
The additional acreage, according to Jaindl, is needed because PennDOT required the proposed new Seemsville Road to be relocated 650 feet east of its present location.
“Nothing was slipped in,” Jaindl said. “We believe this is the best way to go.”
During the public comment portion of the school board meeting, approximately 30 minutes was spent concerning the term sheet agenda item.
Bob Bysher, of Allen Township, who described himself as a “CARD-carrying member,” alleged NASD refused a Jan. 10 right-to-know request for “all communications between the board and Jaindl.” He said CARD received a letter Feb. 20 from NASD denying the request.
After the board meeting, Miller responded to the allegation.
“The right-to-know law has several exceptions for multiple reasons that would not be public disclosures,” he said.