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Girl Scouts to donate land to Wildlands Conservancy

The Girl Scouts Of Eastern Pennsylvania will donate approximately 38 acres on South Mountain to Wildlands Conservancy.

The donation is an offshoot of the Girl Scouts’ Mountain Home project to build “Adventure Place at Mountain House” at its longtime camp along West Rock Road, west of the Interstate 78 Interchange in the Summit Lawn area of Salisbury Township.

The monetary value of the transaction between the nonprofits was not immediately available from the organizations’ representatives attending the Sept. 14 Salisbury Township Planning Commission meeting.

The donation of land was hailed by some at the planning meeting, including two residents who have homes near the Girl Scouts’ project and have opposed it.

To facilitate the land donation, the Girl Scouts requested approval from township planners for a preliminary-final site plan for a lot-line adjustment and request for waivers for 2660 W. Rock Road and 233 Chestnut Hill Road. The properties are in the township Conservation Residential zoning district.

The planning commission voted 4-0, with one abstention, in two separate motions, to approve the lot-line adjustment and variances, the latter mostly having to do with the plan’s drafting details.

Planners also voted 4-0, with one abstention, to approve a time extension for the Girl Scouts’ land development plan at 2638 W. Rock Road, until March 31, 2022, to construct a new multipurpose building with supporting infrastructure, including additional parking. The project was tabled at the Jan. 12 planners’ meeting and was previously granted time extensions.

The Girl Scouts will convey 38.4328 acres from 2660 W. Rock Road, which is a property the Girl Scouts purchased, to 233 Chestnut Hill Road, which is in the Wildlands Conservancy South Mountain Preserve, which will become 235.7545 acres.

The Girl Scouts purchased the property from Roger Persing, 2660 W. Rock Road.

“You’re essentially guaranteeing that 38 acres on the mountain is going to be preserved,” Attorney Stephanie A. Kobal, of Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba Attorneys At Law, representing the Girl Scouts said.

“It creates a unique opportunity for two nonprofits to work together. It’s kind of a fun opportunity,” Kobal said.

“We are thrilled that the Wildlands is doing this,” Jacqueline Straley, a neighbor who has opposed the Girl Scouts’ project said.

“I’m thrilled that the two are getting together,” Jane Benning, a neighbor and Salisbury Township Environmental Advisory Council member, who has opposed the Girl Scouts’ project said.

Also attending the planning meeting: Babette Racca, senior adviser of Capital Assets, Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, Inc.; Attorney Loren L. Speziale, Gross McGinley, LLP, representing Wildlands Conservancy and Arthur A. Swallow, managing member, Arthur A. Swallow Associates, LLC., surveyor.

The Girl Scouts will retain 2.0 acres at 2660 W. Rock Road. There’s a house on the two-acre parcel. Representatives of the Girl Scouts did not disclose if the house would be utilized or demolished.

Approximately two acres of the 38 acres is in Upper Saucon Township.

Salisbury Township Planning and Zoning Officer Kerry Rabold said, “Upper Saucon has given Salisbury the approval.”

According to the Wildlands Conservancy website, more than 300 Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts annually learn from Wildlands “knowledgeable naturalists (who themselves are Scouts at heart).”

The South Mountain Preserve was the Wildlands’ first land acquisition in 1973. The preserve is part of the 750-acre Robert Rodale Reserve.

The Girl Scouts’ project was tabled at the Jan. 12 planners’ meeting and was previously granted time extensions by the planners.

“I think the time extension is too long,” planning commission Chairman Charles Beck said before the vote on the project’s time extension until March 31, 2022.

“I’ve submitted a revised plan,” Kobal said of the Mountain House project.

“Right now, the outside agencies’ approval would be until the end of January at the earliest,” Kobal said.

“That gives us time to get outside agencies’ opinion, go through the planning commission and present it to board of commissioners,” Kobal said.

“This thing seems to be going on forever, for a few years,” Beck said.

“But you must take into consideration the COVID situation,” Kobal said.

Salisbury Township Consulting Engineer David J. Tettemer of Keystone Consulting Engineers, Inc. said, “Right now, getting anything through the DEP [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection] is very difficult.”

Tettemer recommended the time extension for the project be accepted.

“Before they [Girl Scouts’ project representatives] come before the planning commission, I would like to make sure it’s [the project] in an approvable state,” Tettemer said.

“Most of the delays are COVID-related at the DEP,” Tettemer said.

During the meeting’s public comment portion, Straley said, “The neighbors of the Girl Scouts object to the six-month extension.

“I was told by the DEP that they didn’t receive any of the applications,” Straley said.

“They [Girl Scouts project representatives] still need the sewer planning module,” Tettemer replied, referring to the project receiving the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

“They [Girl Scouts’ project representatives] have substantially revised the NPDES plan. It’s slightly less than one acre,” Tettemer said.

“Is this a new plan?” Benning asked.

“This is a continuation of the plan,” Tettemer said, adding, “They’re [Girl Scouts’ project representatives] in the process of changing the plan based on what they brought before the board.

“There are a number of concerns that the DEP is concerned about,” Tettemer said.

“When I got the report back, there were six pages of deficiencies,” Benning said.

“I’m going to object. Tonight is not the night to discuss the plan,” Kobal said.

“At this point, we’re only here for the time extension. We’re not here to discuss the plan,” Kobal said.

“How many extensions can they get?” Straley asked.

Salisbury Township Planning Commission Solicitor Atty. John W. Ashley said, “The law requires us to work with them [the Girl Scouts].

“This doesn’t set a precedent,” Ashley said, adding, “This involves an outside agency we have no control over. We have no control over them.”

The Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board voted March 9, 2020, to approve the Girls Scouts’ appeal to build an approximate 7,000-square-foot building that will be heated; include bathrooms with showers, sinks and flush toilets; activity rooms; office space for staff; “Trading Post” for purchase of Girl Scouts-related items and paved parking area for 15 vehicles, in addition to an existing gravel parking lot.

Zoning hearings were held before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. The first two hearings were Feb. 4 and 18, 2020.

The Girl Scouts submitted a sketch plan for the project to the township planning commission at its Dec. 10, 2019, meeting.

The Girl Scouts have been using the 15.21-acre site as a private recreation area since at least 1952. A cabin has been on the site since 1943.

The Salisbury Township Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet 7 p.m. Oct. 12, in the municipal building, 2900 S. Pike Ave.