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Officials to seek funds for farm restoration

During a virtual Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners meeting Oct. 12, commissioners voted on a resolution to request $200,000 from Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to fund the renovation and restoration of the historic Mickley Prydun Farmstead, 3540 Ruch St., Hokendauqua.

Commissioner Joseph Marx expressed concern about the project. He said if the township cannot raise enough grant money to complete the project, it will be forced to tap into public money to finish the job. The uncertainty of the pandemic and the economic downturn Whitehall Township has already faced because of COVID-19 will make that kind of spending even harder to justify, he said.

“I admire what everyone’s trying to do here, and if it made sense right now, I’d be in support of this,” Marx said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Warren, who spoke in favor of the project, was sensitive to concerns of unnecessary public spending but advocated for the importance of historic preservation in the township.

“I’ve been working to stretch the public dollar, but we can’t just walk away from an opportunity to improve the quality of life,” Warren said.

President Philip Ginder was also critical of the renovation project and specifically called out what he described as “secretive” actions of the committee, which was set up to manage the renovations. Ginder said the committee has had very delayed responses to his requests for information on the project since the property was purchased by the township years ago.

“A proper committee should be assembled to decide what should and should not be done with this property,” Ginder said.

The resolution passed on a 5-2 vote, with Marx and Ginder casting the only “no” votes.

In his public official’s report, Commissioner Randy Atiyeh commented on his own decision to vote “yes” on the resolution to request grant funding for Mickley Prydun Farm. That vote, he said, should be seen as a demonstration that Whitehall Township values quality of life. Investments like that can have the most profound effect on youth, and Atiyeh stressed the most important investment in Whitehall’s future is “providing a positive influence for young people.”

In other business, the board approved a number of ordinances, including one that will add a 35-foot no-parking zone at Kuhns Lane and Main Street. This change will give the township firefighters at the Egypt station more space to get their fire engines out of the parking lot.

The board of commissioners also authorized the installation of fences around the basketball and tennis courts at Victor C. Talotta Park in Cementon.

Whitehall Township Police Department was given permission to purchase its first body cameras for officers. The department was also given approval to purchase three 2021 Dodge Chargers.

Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. and the board discussed rezoning undeveloped township property along West Columbia Street and MacArthur Road so it can be sold. The land in question was preserved in the past to hold off overdevelopment in Whitehall.

At the time, the township hoped to increase its residential capacity, but that land’s proximity to a nearby quarry meant there was little interest in residential development. Because there has been so much interest from commercial developers, the township is now considering changing the zoning, so it can be sold as commercial property.