The proposed zip line known as Navitat Canopy Adventures has been getting a lot of attention in Penn Forest Township recently. Thursday night's planning commission meeting was no exception. The meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for Navitat to submit its application to the planning commission. Instead there were three hours of public comments, questions, insults and threats.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled for Oct. 22, had to be rescheduled and moved to accommodate the hundreds of residents who tried to attend the October meeting. The extra week brought out even more residents, many of whom were still without electricity, heat or water in their homes as a result of Monday's storm.
Navitat Canopy Adventures is planning on developing a canopy level zip line tour on property owned by Scott and Christine Dietrich. The property to be leased by Navitat sits at the northernmost 200 acres of the Dietrich parcel and boarders the Lehigh Valley Gorge.
Allen S. Heydt, chairman of the planning commission, addressed those gathered, explaining that the commission was granting Navitat an opportunity to address the crowd first.
"They want an opportunity to tell people a bit about what they are planning," said Heydt.
First to speak was Sam Walker, a partner at Navitat. Walker told the group about his son, John, who is a partner at Navitat and also owner of Bonsai Design Inc. The younger Walker has been designing canopy tours for 20 years according to his father.
"John would design these projects and go back later, and he did not like the way they were being operated. He didn't like the destruction he saw. So we got together and created Navitat," said the elder Walker.
Also addressing the group was Rocco Caracciolo, a professional engineer with the firm of Pennoni Associates, Bethlehem. Caracciolo had a copy of the initial plan and attempted to explain it to those in attendance.
"The road through the Deitrich property will follow the existing logging road, except where the existing road enters the state game lands. In those areas it will be moved onto the Deitrich property," said Caracciolo. "The approximately one-mile road will be widened to 20 feet and will have pull offs every 300 feet or so to allow for passing cars, and will ensure enough room should emergency vehicles need to turn around on the road."
Caracciolo also described the proposed welcome center and parking area. The welcome center would consist of about 2,400 square feet and include a lobby, two rest rooms, an office and two rooms used for getting geared "up" and "down" for the tour.
A number of people in the crowd interrupted Caracciolo numerous times while he tried to complete his presentation. Heydt had to address the assembly several times, eventually just letting the residents ask questions of Caracciolo and Walker.
Most of the questions centered on the private road that provides the only ingress and egress to the property. Bear Creek Drive is located off Behrens Road. It is the only road in and out of the Bear View development and is the only access road for both Bear View and the proposed Navitat site.
Caracciolo tried to explain that as part of the planning they did a traffic survey.
"We had to estimate the use of Bear Creek Drive because when our man put down counters someone ripped them up," said Caracciolo. "Based on the numbers we came up with, we believe that there would be a 10 percent increase in the traffic on Bear Creek Drive."
Bear View is a private community with no homeowners' association; as such the homeowners bear the burden of any repairs that need to be done to Bear Creek Drive. Bear View homeowner Judy Herman said that in "the 27 years I have lived here, I have watched that road deteriorate and now we have no volunteers to work on it."
Resident after resident came up to the podium to address their current and future concerns with the condition of Bear Creek Drive, and to express their dissatisfaction with the traffic survey results. Walker and Navitat attorney Kate Durso both assured the residents that it was their intention to first study the situation, and if necessary adopt a plan for the road in which they would, according to Durso, "be responsible for their portion of the upkeep of the road."
Another concern voiced by residents was the school bus stop at the junction of Behrens Road and Bear Creek Drive. Caracciolo addressed the issue.
"We heard that people were attending meetings and had concerns," said Caracciolo. "We are here because we wanted the opportunity to hear what people had to say. Issues like the bus stop would be taken into consideration before a final plan goes before the planning commission."
Of equally important concern was that the influx of visitors to Navitat would increase the possibility of brush fires. Township Supervisor Paul Montemuro, who attended as a resident and not in his capacity as supervisor, stressed that with "only one road in and out of the development, residents already panic whenever there is brush fire."
Another issue addressed was security. Penn Forest Township does not maintain a police department, but instead, relies on the Pennsylvania State Police for police emergencies. A number of residents spoke of incidents where they had to wait for more than an hour when they have called for the police.
"I am very concerned at how unprepared 'they' were for the meeting," John Ray, a resident of Bear View, commented. "There should have been more information put into the hands of the people before now."
One issue that came up again and again is the fact that in 2010 this proposed project was granted a "Special Use" variance. When questioned about why residents were not informed of the application or given notice of a meeting, Durso explained that when the permit was submitted to the township in 2010 "the use fell within the definition of permitted uses. Navitat is proposing an 'agricultural open use' of the property. The process did not require notice or a public meeting."
Resident Frances Rauch tried to ask commission solicitor Gregory Mousseau questions regarding the legalities of the process. Mousseau explained that he did not represent the residents and could not advise them. Rauch then turned to those in the audience and suggested that "we need to take up a collection to hire a good lawyer."
One Bear View resident, Judd Zimmermann, went so far as to say "You guys are gonna turn me into an eco-terrorist, cause I'll be doing backflips or whatever I have to do to bring your lines down."
At the conclusion of the meeting, after numerous interruptions, Caracciolo summed up.
"This is not the Record Plan, it is preliminary. The Record Plan will have all the notes as to how the property can be used and any restrictions and it will be recorded at the county Recorder of Deeds. All of these plans will be available for review before anything is approved or filed"
The next planning com mission meeting is scheduled for Nov. 26. As of Thursday's meeting, Durso was not sure if Navitat would be revising its application prior to the meeting and did not know if it would be on November's agenda.
Residents interested in attending the meeting should check the Times News for meeting notices or contact the township prior to Nov. 26.