Bethlehem Township Commissioners gave unofficial and non-binding consent to a developer hoping to use part of a pristine 30-acre parcel of land into a 312-unit apartment complex and a small strip mall earlier this week.
The land, currently owned by the Central Moravian Church, sits on the west side of Route 191 at Oakland Road, between the north-south arterial and Housenick Park.
The church plans to use 5 acres of the property to build a retreat and religious studies center, but wants to sell the remainder of the land for development to fund the center construction.
The church was willed the property by Elizabeth Johnston Prime, a daughter of Archibald Johnston, the first mayor of Bethlehem who owned this parcel and the neighboring one that is now Housenick Park where he kept a vacation home. Prime’s sister, Janet Johnston Housenick willed the parkland to the township.
Developer Michael Perrucci and his Woodmont Properties would build a 13-building apartment complex and a small strip mall with 20,000 square feet of retail space along Route 191.
The plan is 25 percent smaller than the 420-unit project Perrucci first floated past the commissioners in the fall to mixed reviews.
The land is currently zoned for rural residential use and as such this parcel of land would need to be rezoned. Perrucci sought some indication from commissioners that they would approve the rezoning.
Commissioners Chairman Paul Weiss said that rezoning would only come after the development plan goes through a full approval process, which is how the township has always approved nonconforming development in the past.
However, he and three of the other commissioners said they would have no objection to Perrucci continuing to pursue project development.
The lone dissenter was Commissioner Tom Nolan, who represents the section of the township where the development is proposed. He said constituents where he was just re-elected overwhelmingly told him they do not want to see this project built.
He predicted that an area that is already too dense with traffic would only get worse and that the flooding of the nearby Monocacy Creek would be exacerbated. Nolan said developing the land would be a “major mistake.”
The project still has in front of it many levels of approvals – including township planners, township zoners, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – before it can be built.