SALISBURY TOWNSHIP ZONING HEARING BOARD
After approximately two hours of testimony and questions and answers, the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board adjourned to continue to hear the appeal of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, Inc., to construct a building at its Mountain House Day Camp on South Mountain.
The hearing was adjourned by Zoning Hearing Board Chairman, Atty. Kent Herman, who said it will resume 7 p.m. Feb. 18 in the cafeteria of the Salisbury Middle School, 3301 Devonshire Road.
The Feb. 4 zoning meeting included two other appeals (articles about those appeals are to be in the Feb. 19 Salisbury Press), one of which drew an estimated two dozen objectors.
The first two appeals took place from about 7 p.m. until approximately 8:45 p.m., when the portion of the hearing about the Girl Scouts appeal began and adjourned at approximately 10:35 p.m.
An estimated 125 residents attended the zoning hearing in the middle school cafeteria, where it was moved because of concerns about seating and parking accommodations at the municipal building, 2900 S. Pike Ave., where the zoning board usually meets. Residents nearly filled the municipal meeting room when the Girl Scouts project was first aired publicly at the Dec. 10, 2019, Salisbury Township Planning Commission meeting.
At the Feb. 4 hearing, Atty. Stephanie A. Koenig, Associate, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba law firm, Allentown, questioned Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, Inc. CEO Kim E. Fraites-Dow.
Atty. Mark Scoblionko, of Scoblionko, Scoblionko, Muir & Melman, representing Jane and Michael Benning, objectors to the project who live in the vicinity, also asked questions.
Koenig also asked questions of Jill Hewes, partner, MKSD, architect for the proposed building.
Those in the audience of approximately 100 who stayed after the first two appeals also asked questions. All parties at the hearing were sworn in under oath.
The zoning hearing notice states the Girl Scouts are appealing “for a special exception to construct a 3,600-square-foot building, being an expansion of a special exception use, and a favorable interpretation to permit an existing cabin to remain as a nonconforming structure. In the alternative, applicant requests a variance for the structure to remain within the required side yard setback (6 feet required, 2 feet exist).” The property, 2638 W. Rock Road, is in the Conservation-Residential Zoning District.
According to the testimony at the hearing, the Girl Scouts have been using the 15.37-acre site as a private recreation area since 1952, although the cabin has been there since 1943. The site is along West Rock Road, west of the Summit Lawn exit of Interstate 78.
“We are hoping to modernize to preserve our site that the Girl Scouts have been using for 80 years,” testified Fraites-Dow, who has been CEO for 3 1/2 years and has worked for the Girl Scouts for nine years.
The Girl Scouts have owned the parcel since 1942. A second parcel was added to the site in 1973.
“2020 is an important year. It marks the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote,” Fraites-Dow noted concerning the timing of the Girl Scouts’ expansion.
A letter sent to neighbors of the Mountain House camp stated the Girl Scouts is “the country’s preeminent leadership development organization for girls and young women.
“For example, 73 percent of female senators and 53 percent of female entrepreneurs were Girl Scouts,” stated the letter.
“The Girl Adventure Place at Camp Mountain House will enable the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to continue to attract girls to this important environmental experience to train responsible citizens and future leaders for generations to come,” the letter stated.
Fraites-Dow said the camp has existing tent platforms, pavilion, lodge, cabin, garage, kiln, fire pit, other buildings and a gravel road.
None of the buildings are weatherized. There are no restrooms.
Overnight campers can number 16, day camp 30-40 and summer camp, 40-45 Girl Scouts.
One of the buildings includes a trading post, where Girl Scouts’ authorized items are sold to campers.
The proposed building includes two program rooms for Scouts and two rooms for staff, a storage room and a shower on the first floor and planning rooms and the trading post, which will be moved to the second floor.
Four to six employees and up to 11 employees, not all of whom are full-time employees, would work in the new building 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Employees would be relocated from the Girl Scouts’ 2633 Moravian Ave., Allentown, building, former offices of the Great Valley Girl Scout Council, Inc., which merged with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, which has headquarters at Shelly Ridge Service Center, 330 Manor Road, Miquon (Lafayette Hill), on the border of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
The approximate 8,000- square-foot Moravian Avenue building, off Lehigh in the vicinity of the Lehigh Street interchange of Interstate 78, is listed for sale.
“This new building would meet many of our needs,” Fraites-Dow testified.
“The new building is already in a developed area of the property. The heavily-forested area will be untouched,” Fraites-Dow said. “We’re teaching girls how to be good stewards of the environment.”
Koenig asked what would happen if the zoning appeal is not granted. “We would have to market the property,” Fraites-Dow said.
Later during the hearing, Fraites-Dow emphasized, “We don’t want to sell our beautiful 15-acre camp. We want to serve the Girl Scouts of the Lehigh Valley.”
Regarding the letter sent to neighbors, Fraites-Dow said, “No one contacted us in response to the letter.
“One of our neighbors said she never noticed anything on the property and enjoys the singing of the girls,” Fraites-Dow said.
During questioning at the zoning hearing by neighbors, not every resident who spoke could be readily identified.
Among those who could be, Ellen Storm said, “Girl Scouts are supposed to be roughing it. Why are we putting in showers?”
After Storm asked her question, many residents applauded.
“I was in Girl Scouts,” Storm continued. “I had to use a latrine.”
Responded Fraites-Dow, “Our girls are asking for sinks and soap and showers.”
Hewes, partner, MKSD, architect, said she’s made nine to 10 visits to the property as part of preparing architect’s renderings of the proposed building. Hewes said she’s a former Girl Scout who camped at Mountain House and volunteered there with her mother.
Hewes testified that in choosing the location for the new building, which is 3,477-square-feet, she took into consideration the location of trees, views of neighbors’ properties and views from the road into the property.
The design of the new building is residential in keeping with the existing lodge, Hewes said.
Some residents at the hearing voiced concerns about water use, wells, springs and the aquifer in the vicinity of the camp.
Koenig said, “We are not here for septic or stormwater matters.”
Subdivision and land-use matters are reviewed by the township planning commission.
At that point, after approximately two hours of testimony, Herman said, “This is not to be a marathon” and recommended the hearing on the Girls Scouts’ zoning appeal be continued.