Salisbury Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Pamela Varkony, who owns a seasonal cottage in Waldheim Park, objects to the township rezoning of Waldheim Park at the Oct. 9 Salisbury Township Planning Commission meeting. PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Pamela Varkony, who owns a seasonal cottage in Waldheim Park, objects to the township rezoning of Waldheim Park at the Oct. 9 Salisbury Township Planning Commission meeting.

SALISBURY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS Waldheim residents object to rezoning

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Local News

Some residents of Waldheim Park are reacting negatively to Salisbury Township's rezoning of the privately-owned religious community.

The rezoning is contained in the township Comprehensive Plan update, approved unanimously 5-0 by the township Board of Commissioners Sept. 27, as recommended by the township Planning Commission.

Waldheim Park has been rezoned from R-4 to R-5.

The R-5 designation allows manufactured homes.

Township officials, as well as the consultant for the comprehensive plan, attempted to reassure Waldheim residents at the Oct. 9 planners' meeting the rezoning would not necessarily affect Waldheim.

Residents of Waldheim, located on 50 acres at the intersection of Emmaus Avenue and South Hall Street, south of the Valley Farm Market shopping center at the base of the northern slope of South Mountain, own the mostly summertime cottages but not the land.

The land is owned by the Evangelical Congregational Waldheim Park Association.

Only nine of the 80-some cottage owners are year-round Waldheim residents.

Waldheim ("home in the woods") is a camp meeting park open May 1 through Oct. 31. The park, founded in 1904, includes 84 cottages occupied or available for rent or purchase, a swimming pool, baseball field, pavilion with a kitchen, and tabernacle, which features concerts, including an annual Allentown Band concert.

"As a private property owner, you [the Waldheim Association] can do what you want. The township is not forcing you to change anything," Charlie Schmehl, vice president, Urban Research and Development Corp., township comprehensive plan consultant, said to the five Waldheim residents at the planners' meeting.

"The township has to find a place that is physically-suitable to manufactured homes," Schmehl said.

"If you have a deed restriction that you can't have a mobile home park, that then is your right," Schmehl said.

Township planners emphasized should Waldheim ever be sold by the association, new owners would have the option of locating manufactured homes on the land.

Pamela Varkony, who owns a seasonal cottage in Waldheim, said the rezoning could have legal implications for Waldheim should a developer try to purchase the park land.

"It [the rezoning] gives them [legal] standing to come and sue the association to place manufactured homes there," Varkony said.

"It [Waldheim Park] is a very unique, special place," Varkony continued. "It is a religious retreat, dating back to the turn of the century."

Atty. John W. Ashley, township and planners' solicitor, pointed out "a single family dwelling could be a manufactured home."

Varkony wondered about the implications of the zoning with respect to Pennsylvania's requirement a municipality must earmark an area or areas for manufactured homes, as well as for all types of housing.

"If we're supposedly safe, aren't you technically deceiving the state?" Varkony asked.

"We have to make an allowance someplace in the township [for manufactured homes]. It doesn't mean it [manufactured housing] has to go in there [Waldheim]," Ashley said.

"If you're telling the state that manufactured homes are allowed and that we don't have to place them there, it doesn't jell. You're deceiving someone," Varkony said.

"We're not deceiving anyone," Ashley responded.

"Someone who would become the owner of the property [Waldheim] could do so [place manufactured homes there]," Stephen J. McKitish, Jr., planners' vice chairman said.

"We live there because of the peace and tranquility and to practice our faith. We consider this [the rezoning] a threat to that," Varkony said.

"We don't see it as that," McKitish said. "We're mandated by the state to provide that opportunity [a place for manufactured homes]. The current [Waldheim] homeowners association precludes it."

Varkony, a five-year veteran of the Allentown Planning Commission and a two-year member of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, said, "It's very worrisome to us. Our preference would be if you do not place us in that position [of rezoning Waldheim]."

"My concern is that by changing the zoning, it makes the property [Waldheim] more attractive to developers," Jennifer Riedy, a Lower Macungie Township resident said, who, with her husband, has a Waldheim cottage.

"I want Waldheim to stay the same," Riedy said.

"I think the state might tell you at some point to put in public water and sewer," Planner Richard Schreiter told the residents.

Waldheim properties use well water and have septic tank service.

"The DEP [Department of Environment Protection] could order the township to address a failing septic system problem," Schreiter said.

"Then we would deal with the association, not the individual property owner," Planner Glenn Miller said.

"You might want to look at what you can do to avoid problems," Schmehl recommended to the residents.

"If a developer would get a hold of the [Waldheim] land, they probably would build an apartment complex," Schmehl concluded at the end of the 20-minute discussion with the Waldheim residents.