During their public workshop meeting on Thursday, April 24, the East Allen Township Board of Supervisors rejected the request to sell 25 acres of the former Weaversville State Farm Property to Valley Fruits & Veggies.
The request was made by Deb Colitas, owner of Valley Fruits & Veggies, during the board’s March 9 meeting. The township-owned land is adjacent to her farm. Purchasing it, she said at the time, would allow her to expand her business.
The township acquired this land in 2016 for a potential park expansion and maintenance facilities. While township solicitor Joseph Piperato said no legal restrictions prevent the township from leasing or selling the land to a third party, he cited several issues that could arise.
The first, he said, could be a lawsuit from residents. Because the property was not appraised, residents could argue that the sale was not in the “best interest of the community.” He also suggested putting the property out to bid “community-wide” would protect the township from claims of favoritism. Finally, he added that the township would still be liable for any accidents on the property, even if they lease it to a third party.
Following Piperato’s words of caution, the board unanimously voted to maintain ownership of the property and reject its sale.
“You never know what we can use [the land] for in the future,” said Supervisor Georgiann Hunsicker.
In other news, the board continued to explore ways the township could allocate the $520,938.66 given to them as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Previously, supervisors voiced support for offering the money as rebates to residents. However, after checking with statewide legal associations, Piperato said no other municipality has paid the funds directly to residents.
“The language [in the bill] is so general and ambiguous [it is] hard to find out if it is permitted,” he said.
Sending the money to residents also raises the question of eligibility, said township manager Brent Green. Questions he posed included: Would only residents who lived in the township during the pandemic receive the funding? Would only landowners? How would renters qualify? How would multiple individuals at the same address qualify?
He also worried that the township does not have the technical capabilities to mass remit 1,800 checks at once.
Green suggested other options, such as waiving park fees or reimbursing the township for costs spent on COVID-response materials.
Supervisor Mark Schwartz said he would like to see a portion of the money go toward the township’s ambulance corps, which leased a new emergency vehicle during the pandemic. They currently owe $41,000 on the lease.
Hunsicker still would like to see the money go back to the residents.
“They are the ones who suffered,” she said.
The township still has time to decide on the money’s allocation. Funds do not have to be closed out until 2025.
Finally, supervisors approved several grant applications that would bring improvements to Jacksonville Park.
The first grant is a $60,00 Northampton County Livable Landscape Grant. This money, if awarded, would go toward a comprehensive park plan, which has not been updated since 2015. The township also applied for a DCNR Planning Grant to help cover the costs of this plan. Green estimates the township would only have to pay $15,000 out-of-pocket for the $150,000 project.
The third grant supervisors applied for is a $200,000 DCNR Development Grant. This money would go toward relocating the parking lot and playground equipment at Jacksonville Park to enhance visitor safety. It would also help the township construct a new park pavilion.
Total costs for the project are estimated at $400,000. However, in addition to the DCNR Grant, the township plans to ask Northampton County for $100,000, bringing the total out-of-pocket cost for the township to $100,000.
Green was thanked by supervisors for his commitment to grant funding.
“[You go] above and beyond, and we really do appreciate that,” Hunsicker said.
The next Board of Supervisors meeting will be on April 13, at 7 p.m.