Upper Mount Bethel Manager Ed Nelson joins LVPC, will focus on `reality' about development, farming – 69News WFMZ-TV

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Updated: March 23, 2022 @ 3:26 pm
A rendering of the aerial view of the proposed River Pointe complex in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

WFMZ.com Reporter
A rendering of the aerial view of the proposed River Pointe complex in Upper Mount Bethel Township.
Upper Mount Bethel Township Manager Ed Nelson said he plans to lie low for a bit now that he has been appointed to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

“I’m the new kid on the block,” Nelson said Tuesday about his role on the LVPC.
Still, he has lots of experience in government, and with one of the biggest projects in Lehigh Valley history — River Pointe Logistics Park in Upper Mount Bethel — on the agenda for the indefinite future, it may be hard to keep a low profile for long. River Pointe, known as RPL, is an industrial plan on more than 700 acres led by Bethlehem-based developer Lou Pektor.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission reviews major developments in Lehigh and Northampton counties. It is mainly an advisory body, passing on recommendations to municipalities, which make the final decisions on land use based on their zoning ordinances. The LVPC has a professional staff and 37 appointed commissioners. Nelson was appointed last week by Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure with the approval of County Council.

Nelson is in favor of River Pointe because the land is zoned for industry and because much of UMBT’s 44 square miles pays reduced tax or no tax. Preserved farmland and open space owned by the county and federal government leaves a higher burden on about 6,500 residents. The township accounts for more than 10% of Northampton County’s 377 square miles, but only about 2% of the population.

There is a hard core of opposition to RPL that cites traffic, the environment and the development’s proximity to the Delaware Water Gap, but Nelson points to reality: “That was always industrial property. This is not an unusual thing.”

The township ordinance is clear: The RPL land is zoned for industry, and industrial uses already exist in the zone.

“There’s not really that much to debate,” he said. “There’s no better place for industrial property (in the township) to be than where it is.”
He said disagreements about use should be discussed by all parties, and that has happened in the township.

“The developer wants to make money and the township wants to preserve some kind of reasonable lifestyle,” he said. “See how you can make it work together. That’s what government is for.”

Objecting to a property owner’s proposed use for land that is allowed under the zoning ordinance is a waste of time, Nelson contends.

Nelson also said he would like to inject some reality into the regional discussion of farmland preservation. Just about all politicians and residents speak highly of saving farmland, but Nelson said the issue is not that simple.

People like to see farms and sometimes even live near them (except when manure is spread) but the problem is, not too many people want to work on them. Then when farmland is up for development, as the Miller Farm in Bethlehem Township is, people who live nearby object, even though their homes too are on what was once, in fact, farmland.

Preserving farms that people do not want to work on is not a winning proposal, he said. Even in rural northern Northampton County, farming is not prospering.

“If we had active prosperous working farms in Upper Mount Bethel Township, I would have a totally different point of view, but we don’t,” Nelson said. “The farm industry is pretty much at its lowest point ever. We don’t have that many farmers, maybe six working farmers in Upper Mount Bethel. They’re going to get older, they’re not going to want to farm.

“Are you preserving farmland, or the farmer?”

The farmland preservation movement has helped a few people, but it leaves behind land with limited future uses, Nelson said. Saving farms but not having new farmers to take them over creates an imbalance.

Nelson will get a chance to help guide regional planning starting Thursday, when he will be able to attend his first full Lehigh Valley Planning Commission meeting. That meeting will be virtual. Details of the agenda and how to attend are posted at the LVPC’s website.
WFMZ.com Reporter
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