NASD OKs easement agreement with developer
A potential roadblock has been cleared for the relocation of Seemsville Road and other improvements in East Allen Township, an important aspect of the Northampton Business Center Land Development Plan, also known as the Jaindl-Watson Development, or JW Development.
The Northampton Area School District Board of Education, with two school directors dissenting, approved an agreement between the school district and JW Development that gives the approximately 288-acre warehouse project an easement on approximately 13.6 acres of the 92.32-acre Seemsville tract for a relocated Seemsville Road, stormwater improvements, extension of water and sewer lines and other improvements.
The NASD school board voted 7-2 at the Dec. 3 meeting to approve, as recommended by the administration, to “authorize the school board president to sign the development agreement between Northampton Area School District and JW Development Partners, a general partnership, and further approve and authorize the district administration to carry out all terms and conditions of the development agreement, including but not limited to, all actions required for township approvals, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation approvals and other governmental approvals and all action required to assure that the deed restriction for the school district property is not violated.”
Voting to authorize board President David Gogel to sign the agreement were school directors Dr. Michael Baird, John Becker, Roy Maranki, Robert Mentzell, Ross Makary, school board Vice President Chuck Frantz and Gogel. Voting to oppose the authorization were school directors James Chuss and Chuck Longacre.
JW Development is proposing six buildings totaling 2.4 million square feet in warehouse and/or manufacturing space on 288 acres zoned industrial-commercial in Allen Township.
The development agreement would provide a right-of-way easement on a 13.6-acre portion of the Seemsville tract, which is in East Allen Township, to allow JW Development to relocate Seemsville Road to the east, install a traffic light at a new Seemsville Road/Route 329 intersection, construct a stormwater retention pond and extend water and sewer lines.
The new Seemsville Road would curve to a terminus and traffic light at Route 329. The stormwater retention pond, which would not be maintained by NASD, would be built on land between the new road and where Seemsville Road is now located.
“We’re looking at about a $4.5 million investment in improvements to the school district property,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik said after the Dec. 3 meeting.
Kovalchik said that’s money the district will not have to spend should the Seemsville tract become the site for a district facility.
The Seemsville tract may be needed for a new elementary school, administration building or other educational building in five to 10 years, according to Kovalchik. The school district would probably need to make many of the improvements JW Development is proposing.
In voting against authorization for the agreement between NASD and JW Development, Longacre said, “I believe the entire project is not in the best interest of our students and the district. And I don’t think the agreement is in the best interest of our students and the district.”
“I will also be voting ‘no.’ I’m still not convinced we’ve followed all avenues,” Chuss said before the vote.
Longacre did not approve of the wording in the agreement.
“It doesn’t define the amount we’re receiving for the easement. It doesn’t indemnify the district for any damages,” he said.
Longacre also cited concerns he has about increased traffic. The JW warehouses are projected to generate 1,600 one-way tractor-trailer trips on roads in the vicinity in addition to the vehicles driven by an estimated 600 employees. If a school is built at the Seemsville site, school buses would have to cope with the estimated traffic, Longacre said.
“It provides for JW Development to contribute certain public improvements to the school district property that would benefit the school district,” C. Steven Miller, NASD school board solicitor, said regarding the agreement.
The Dec. 3 vote to approve the agreement was a capstone to a March 12 decision when directors voted 7-2 to authorize Gogel to sign a term sheet between NASD and JW Development for “a transfer by easement and/or conveyance” of the approximate 13.6 acres of the Seemsville tract. Chuss and Longacre also voted against authorizing the term sheet.
The term sheet stated, “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.”
The JW Development warehouses are projected to generate $2 million in property tax revenue for NASD, according to a consultant’s report presented at the Feb. 12 school board meeting.
The consultant estimated JW Development improvements to the Seemsville parcel would total $3.5 million that NASD would not have to spend.
The JW Development project would generate 609 jobs, 576 of which would be full time, the consultant said. Construction of the project could begin six to eight months after approval by Allen Township planners and supervisors.
PPL high-voltage electricity transmission lines traverse the portion of the Seemsville tract where the retention pond would be built, rendering that area unsuitable for development. District officials have indicated that a portion of the Seemsville tract believed to be of the site of a 5,000-year-old Native American camp would not be disturbed.
NASD purchased the Seemsville tract at Route 329 and Seemsville Road for $227,500 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1995 as a site for a school. A deed restriction on the Seemsville tract, dated June 17, 1995, states that the land “shall be used for education and related purposes of the school district.” NASD sought clarification from the commonwealth concerning the JW Development easement.
The easement and right of way “does not violate the educational use condition,” opined Shawn D. Smith, deputy chief counsel at the Governor’s Office of the General Counsel, in a letter dated July 24 and received July 31 by NASD.
The ruling backed the opinion of Miller, whose position was, and is, that “improving the proponents is totally consistent with the educational use.”