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Neighbors Cry Foul Over Proposed Basketball Court in Hellertown

Citing fiscal, neighborhood, environmental and other concerns, a group of Hellertown residents told Borough Council Monday they don’t want a new basketball court to be built near their homes.

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Hellertown Basketball Court

Above, a handmade sign affixed to a utility pole where a basketball court is proposed in Hellertown advocates for “trashing” the plans to build it. The court would be located along Depot Street near the Hellertown Pool, the back of which is visible above, at right. Neighbors who oppose the proposal took advantage of a day when the pool was crowded and hung handmade signs decrying it along and near the tree line that would be affected.

Citing fiscal, neighborhood, environmental and other concerns, a group of Hellertown residents told Borough Council Monday they don’t want a new basketball court to be built near their homes.

The neighbors came before council to criticize a proposal to construct the court on municipal property along Depot Street, between New York Avenue and Durham Street.

Grant funding for the court has already been secured from the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and Northampton County, borough engineer Bryan Smith of Barry Isett & Associates told council.

The proposal is to build the court on an area of grass that is bordered by Depot Street, Milford Alley, the Hellertown Pool and Borough Authority Park. The alley runs around and behind four single-family homes on the east side of New York Avenue; homes whose owners told council they only received letters about the plans late last week.

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In addition to its proximity to their homes, several of the proposal’s critics said they oppose it because mature trees would likely be cut down to make room for the basketball court.

Smith said approximately four trees that would be taken down are “in poor condition.” However, he said more trees than currently exist would be planted in their place, including six evergreen trees that would partly screen the view of the court from the alley and the homes on New York Avenue.

Smith said there are no plans for lighting to be installed at the court and that it’s believed it would mostly be used by community members, who will primarily walk to it, although six parking spaces would be built adjacent to it.

Nonetheless, a basketball court located where a grass-covered field currently exists represents “a big change for the residents who are there now,” councilwoman Liz Thompson acknowledged.

Responding to a concern raised about the potential for individuals to loiter and potentially engage in criminal activities in the area, borough manager Cathy Hartranft said there are no plans for site-specific security cameras at the basketball court, but there are cameras nearby at the pool and in Dimmick Park. If desired, cameras could certainly be added in the future, she said.

Others asked why the borough wants to build a new basketball court instead of restoring others that exist in town. The only other full-size court currently in use is located in Water Street Park.

Smith said it was felt that a former basketball court along Tobias Drive in Dimmick Park isn’t suitable for rehab, because it is now being used for parking that is needed in the area.

Another basketball court located at Gregory Park on Third Avenue is not a regulation-size court, and the park’s small size means that options for turning it into a full-size court are limited.

Yet another concern that was raised centered on the history of flooding in the area of where the court is proposed, however Smith said the court would not be located in a flood plain.

Both borough officials and residents discussed the severe damage caused by a flash flood in Borough Authority Park in 2004, when the remnants of Hurricane Ivan swept through the area.

Thompson said she had “some serious concerns” about the amount of impervious surface that would be added in the area with the construction of the court. Smith responded to her by explaining that an infiltration bed would be installed to capture additional stormwater generated by an increase in the amount of impervious surface.

Despite the answers from officials, the residents who spoke at the meeting appeared unswayed from their belief that the court would be a bad fit for their neighborhood.

“We don’t want that basketball court there,” said resident Glenn Trapp, who was critical of the fact that he and other neighbors never received letters notifying them about the proposal.

Rieger said council only notified the four immediate neighbors on New York Avenue as “a courtesy,” and that by doing so the borough actually went “above and beyond” the legal requirements for notifying neighboring property owners.

“The whole neighborhood should have been notified,” Trapp said.

Responding to another concern raised by Trapp about why money allocated for the court can’t instead be used to lower property taxes in the borough, Rieger and Smith explained that the funding is in the form of grants which must be used for parks and recreation improvements.

Although the basketball court would be open from dawn til dusk, like all other borough parks, another resident said she is concerned about teens who may be “up to no good” hanging out at it.

“Do we really need this many basketball courts?” asked resident Angela Drake, who said she has used the area where the court would be built to cross-country ski and sees others using it for other recreational pursuits, including flag football games. She added that the construction of the court would contribute to an urbanization trend in the borough–something she opposes–and asked that officials consider putting a community rose garden there instead.

Drake also brought up rehabilitating the basketball court at Gregory Park, which is in a somewhat dilapidated state. Rieger said that after years of applying for grants, recently the borough finally obtained funding to renovate the park, but that it will take several years for the project to come to fruition.

The basketball court on Depot Street–if built–would be only the second full-size basketball court in the borough, Smith said.

Another resident, Jennifer Tabor, said her homeschooled children use the natural area right outside their home as a classroom and asked why a full environmental impact study was not conducted as part of the engineering reviews. Smith said a state-required impact study was conducted and there were “no hits on that” that would have necessitated conducting the full study.

“We are angry,” Tabor told council, of her family and her neighbors’ views toward the proposal.

She estimated that only 18 percent of the borough’s population would potentially use the court, per an algorithm she calculated using demographic data from the U.S. Census. Out of that percentage she said perhaps only 5 percent would likely use it, which out of a borough population of roughly 6,000 translates to approximately 81 people.

Tabor said that in addition to the low number of users, it bothers her that most of those people would likely be young men who “already have privilege in our society.”

The proposal “is very discordant with our community,” which is primarily made up of young families and elderly people, Tabor told council.

Smith said the court has been discussed by council for three years, and Rieger said the court has long been part of a borough master plan that has been publicly discussed. He cited the loss of newspaper and other media coverage in recent years as a reason why information from government meetings may not be reaching the citizens who need it in a timely manner.

Tabor said she and her neighbors were upset by the fact that they only received letters about the court proposal potentially going out to bid on Friday, when some people were away on vacation.

If they had had more time before the meeting, she said they likely would have solicited the assistance of an attorney.

Thompson said she was frustrated and concerned that correspondence about the plans did not go out to neighbors earlier, as was requested by council, and wanted the matter to be investigated.

“It just seems like the narrative is ‘Let’s put in a basketball court,'” said Tabor, who asked why the borough can’t build a tennis court instead, which she said is something she doesn’t associate with the potential for crime and something her family would use.

“Tennis court did not come up as a desired need when the borough did its master plan,” explained Smith.

In addition to being requested by some residents, Smith said another basketball court would not be excessive according to the master recreation plan, which includes data that identifies the borough as being deficient of basketball court space. The new court would also be handicapped accessible, he said, which will open up recreational opportunities for underserved individuals.

After more than an hour of public comment, when council discussed the feedback it had received, council members discussed several options. Those options included tabling the proposal; deciding to return the grant money and not move forward with the plan; and continuing to move forward by voting to put the proposal out to bid.

Thompson–who noted that she was not a member of council when the decision to build the basketball court was made–made a motion in favor of the second option, citing the concerns raised by the residents and her concerns about stormwater.

“Sometimes what looks good on paper is not what’s good for (the community),” she said.

“Whenever you return grant money to an agency they look upon that extremely negatively,” cautioned Smith, who said the borough could risk being blacklisted from future funding for a long time if it decided to return the money. “I would strongly recommend not just canceling the project,” he told Thompson and the rest of council.

“If we go down the road, of giving this money back, we probably will not see another grant award for another five to 10 years,” agreed Rieger.

“I’m torn,” Thompson said.

Smith then mentioned that the borough and Barry Isett & Associates will be conducting a Saucon Greenway recreation study, which could be an opportunity to measure community views about recreation in general and the area in which the basketball court is proposed in particular. That information could be useful in trying to reimagine the project in a way that could possibly allow the borough to keep the grant funding. He added that they will have a booth at Hellertown’s annual Community Day in Dimmick Park Aug. 19 to share information about the study/talk to residents.

Rieger then suggested making a motion to table the vote on the basketball court, use the next several months to gather input from the community and then hold a public workshop meeting on the fourth Monday in September to discuss the results of the surveying. If that timeline is followed, there would not be any action taken on the proposal until October at the earliest, he said.

Upon Rieger making that motion, it was passed unanimously.

The next Hellertown Borough Council meeting will be held on Monday, July 3 at 7 p.m. in-person in the meeting room at Hellertown Borough Hall and online via Zoom and the borough’s Facebook page, where recordings of past meetings can also be watched. Draft meeting agendas are published in advance on the borough’s website, where residents can also subscribe to receive notifications about borough news and events.

A detail from a construction document shows how the basketball court would be oriented within the park. Depot Street is to the left of the court in the above rendering. (Credit: Borough of Hellertown)

A color version of the proposed basketball court rendering was displayed during Monday night’s borough council meeting. The plan includes six parking spaces located next to the court, including two handicapped spaces. (Credit: Borough of Hellertown)

The area where the basketball court would be built is an undeveloped field located next to the Hellertown Pool.

A sign made by an opponent of the Hellertown basketball court proposal was staked at the corner of Milford Alley and Depot Street Monday, where it attracted the attention of pedestrians and passing motorists.

Basketball Court

Several residents of the 800 block of New York Avenue criticized the proposed basketball court at Monday’s council meeting.



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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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