A potential decision by Lower Saucon Township Council to rezone approximately 275 acres of forested land and allow a controversial proposed expansion by Bethlehem Landfill to proceed could have legal consequences, Hellertown officials said Tuesday.
During a special meeting, Hellertown Borough Council voted unanimously to authorize legal action against the township if its council votes to approve the rezoning, which would reclassify the acreage near the Lehigh River from rural agricultural (RA) to light industrial (LI).
Borough council said the rezoning would violate a multi-municipal comprehensive plan the borough and the township share as well as violate conservation easements that are in place.
Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, spokesperson for the anti-expansion nonprofit group Citizens for Responsible Development and a Lower Saucon Township Council candidate, told council her group is also preparing to fight the potential rezoning in court.
In a civil lawsuit filed Monday in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, Lower Saucon residents Bruce and Ginger Petrie, Andrew and Tina Krasnansky, Bob and Elizabeth Blasko, and Bob and Cindy McKellin argue that the rezoning would violate Donated and Dedicated Property Act, a news release from Citizens for Responsible Development announced Tuesday.
“The majority of the forest was protected in 1994, when Lower Saucon Township placed the property in scenic and conservation easements that require the land remain undisturbed for the public trust,” the release said. “Lower Saucon and the Landfill are trying to buzzsaw these easements, violating the Donated and Dedicated Property Act.”
“The 275 acres are mostly preserved by conservation easement,” Opthof-Cordaro said at Tuesday’s special council meeting.
The Donated and Dedicated Property Act requires municipalities to act in a protective manner once properties are placed in the public trust, she told council.
“The township has the option to move forward on Aug. 30 or not. If they do in fact move forward on Aug. 30, they will be violating the Donated and Dedicated Property Act,” Opthof-Cordaro said.
“I am highly confident that our coalition will protect the forest for all our communities,” she added.
Lower Saucon Township Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6:30 p.m at the township building. The agenda for that meeting does not include a discussion about the possible rezoning and may be viewed here. The meeting can be watched live on YouTube via a link on the township website.
Township council’s second August meeting will be held Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 9 a.m. at Se-Wy-Co Fire Hall.
Hellertown borough and Lower Saucon Township have been at odds for a year-and-a-half, since the township decided not to adopt a new five-year agreement with the Hellertown Area Library.
The dispute that ensued led to an escalating feud between the two municipalities, where agreements to share resources like the Hellertown Pool and the Saucon Valley Compost Center have ended.