Plans for soccer dome at Northampton Community College rejected by Bethlehem Township zoners
- Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Board on Wednesday denied a height variance request for a dome over a new soccer field planned for Northampton Community College
- The inflatable dome would have been 78 feet high, covering a new synthetic turf field
- A school official said current sports offerings and intramural sports on campus would benefit from such a project
BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. — Bethlehem Township zoners on Wednesday denied a requested height variance for a proposed 78-foot inflatable dome to go over a new soccer field at Northampton Community College.
The property is in the township’s Rural Residential with Institutional Overlay district, where the maximum allowed height for a facility most similar to a gymnasium is 40 feet.
The panel voted 3-0 in opposition, citing that the applicant failed to meet the standards of Section 275-F(4) of the township's zoning ordinance.
This includes proving unique physical conditions on the property, therefore causing an unnecessary hardship involved with following the current zoning procedures. It also involves the applicant making a cause that if the variance was approved, the incoming development wouldn't alter or impair the surrounding area in a substantial way or be a detriment to the public.
The panel members shared their thoughts on the application before announcing their individual decisions.
Zoners Vice Chairman Rodman Law said he felt the request for the dome was “more a desire and a want” instead of something needed, and ultimately voted against the proposal.
Board member Richard Pelizzoni said he saw it ending up too close to nearby residents along Hecktown Road. Zachary Chromiak, fellow zoner, also voted in opposition.
Zoners Chairman Paul Weiss was absent.
NCC had plans to install two new synthetic turf soccer fields on an 8.5-acre property, to be placed where a single grass field now sits.
One of the fields would have featured a nearly 80-foot “air-supported” dome to allow the college’s soccer players to practice year-round with adequate room.
Before the vote, the zoning panel was able to hear more from the applying party as well as residents who live near the current soccer field.
NCC Athletics Director Troy Tucker said the covered facility could even be used for campus intramurals and other community teams, as well as for various campus teams to get practice time in when the weather isn’t ideal.
It also could set NCC Athletics apart from the competition, he said.
“It gives us that ‘wow’ factor, the ability to do some things other people in this area just don’t have,” Tucker said.
He added that it’s made of a fire-retardant material. And in case of a power outage, there would be a backup generator handy to get it filled back up with air.
“It gives us that ‘wow’ factor, the ability to do some things other people in this area just don’t have."Northampton Community College Athletic Director Troy Tucker
Martin Smith, of supporting engineering firm Pany & Lentz of Allentown, said the new facility would feature some stormwater and landscaping assets, including an infiltration basin and trees planted for natural buffering.
He said the project would include a concrete footer and access doors. Its design would call for the ability to come down when needed, something that Smith said would only happen maybe once a year.
Smith said the dome’s sides would gradually curve up to the 78-foot point, using about 100 feet of material to get there.
The dome also would sit 168 feet from the edge of the right-of-way at nearby Hecktown Road to the west.
Daniel Rowley, of Saul Ewing LLP, the legal representative speaking on behalf of NCC, said the proposed use was consistent with the overlay zoning, just like the existing soccer field.
Rowley said the dome wouldn’t “alter the essential character of the neighborhood,” or “be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare.”
But some begged to differ.
Township resident Tom Walker asked about how high the buffer trees and "evergreen screen" would end up.
Smith said the pine trees would be similar to those currently on the south end of the soccer area, and they’d be planted at 6 feet tall and left to grow.
Walker said water already flows from that area down to his neighborhood, and a current nearby retention basin already regularly overflows. He said the project would just make that worse.
Smith said that any potential development of a detention basin with the project would have to retain whatever runs off, but those details would come during the land development phase of the project.
“I feel as though the 38-foot restriction that we have now is perfect for the residential community, its grounds, the college grounds. And I have great concern that it’s going to negatively affect the values of our homes because of how tall it is, big it is and how close it is to our homes.”Bethlehem Twp. resident Tom Walker
“I feel as though the 38-foot restriction that we have now is perfect for the residential community, its grounds, the college grounds,” Walker said.
“And I have great concern that it’s going to negatively affect the values of our homes because of how tall it is, big it is and how close it is to our homes.”
Nearby resident Wesley Edris said traffic studies need to be completed on the project’s potential impact on Hecktown Road before moving forward.
Vice Chairman Law said that all that was being discussed Wednesday was the height variance request, but those other details would be hashed out later if the variance was approved.
April Davis, another resident, asked whether the elevation of the land and the resulting impact of the dome going up was taken into consideration.
Applicant officials said the project would start “at the grade of the existing soccer field.”
She also asked if the field could be placed at NCC's campus in Tannersville, Monroe County, and potentially around a less residential area.