Note: The following is a letter from state Rep. Robert Freeman (D-136) to the members of Lower Saucon Township Council, who will meet Wednesday to consider a rezoning amendment that could allow the Bethlehem Landfill to expand across 275 acres. Freeman represents part of the township in the state House of Representatives. To view the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Lower Saucon Town Hall, visit the township website. A message on the site says that “if necessary, Township Council will hold a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022 at the Se-Wy-Co Fire Station depending on weather and length of the Dec. 21, 2022 meeting, time TBD.”
Dear Members of Lower Saucon Township Council,
It is my understanding that Council is considering a change to the township’s zoning map that is the subject of a public hearing being held on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Should this change be adopted 275 acres adjacent to the Bethlehem Landfill would be rezoned from Rural Agricultural (RA) to Light Industrial (LI), allowing the landfill to expand. I write to express my concerns and opposition to this proposed rezoning. As the Pennsylvania State Representative for that portion of Lower Saucon I have been contacted by several constituents who either live in the affected area or are residents of other parts of Lower Saucon. They have expressed concerns over the proposed rezoning, concerns which I share.
To begin with, it is my understanding that the Bethlehem Landfill’s request to rezone the 275 acres came with proposed text amendments to the rezoning. As written, the text amendments remove township and zoning hearing oversight which are significant safeguards to ensure accountability. These proposed text amendments would also provide for a natural resource mitigation alternative that jeopardizes the continued presence of open space in the township of an environmentally sensitive nature. Additionally, the Bethlehem Landfill is requesting that the Township release the environmental conservation easements located on the property in question. Releasing the conservation easements completely undermines the original intent of those easements to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the township. These 275 acres serve as a buffer area around the landfill, and preserve the wonderful view afforded by the forested mountain area that overlooks the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor between the Borough of Freemansburg and the National Canal Museum in Easton. It should also be noted that the removal of forested areas is a detriment to ground water quality as forested areas act as natural recharge zones for groundwater.
Additionally, it is my understanding that the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) has expressed that these proposed text amendments do not align with the intent of Future LV, the regional plan that was developed to protect and promote the health, safety and welfare of the public. These proposed text amendments reduce established safeguards and review processes that ensure that all potential impacts on public health, safety and welfare are considered. It was further recommended by LVPC that reasonably stringent processes be retained to ensure that Township processes are coordinated with outside agencies as needed. The LVPC also advised against provisions that create opportunities for the development of natural lands and risk fragmentation of natural landscapes. LVPC recommends preserving greenways and prioritizes the retention of natural features near the Lehigh River, which is in keeping with the recently updated Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan that Lower Saucon is part of.
In regard to the Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan, the Township should be requesting input from contiguous neighboring communities before proceeding with any change that would contradict the plan. Additionally, the Township should be conducting and considering studies to determine the impact on the health, safety and welfare of the community prior to enacting zoning ordinances which deviate from the recommendations of the LVPC, the Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan, and the stated goals and historical objectives of Lower Saucon to preserve this land from development.
Finally, there is the issue of Applebutter Road, which serves as the main entrance to the landfill. That road was not built to withstand the heavy trucks that travel to the landfill. Reports of overweight trucks and accidents along the very sharp curves in the road are legitimate concerns. An expanded landfill will continue to draw more heavy truck traffic and continue the deterioration of the roadway over time. For all of these reasons and concerns I urge Council to oppose the proposed rezoning.
Robert L. Freeman
136th Legislative District
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