Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Northampton County News

Zoning changes to let Bethlehem Landfill expand were improper, allege some

Northampton County Courthouse, Easton, Pa.,
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Northampton County Courthouse in Easton, Northampton County, Pa. in January, 2023.

EASTON, Pa. — Changes in Lower Saucon Township's zoning ordinance that were enacted to let Bethlehem Landfill expand faced a challenge before a Northampton County judge this week.

Expansion opponents are appealing the ordinance that rezoned about 275 acres of rural land for light industry, changed the approval process for landfills in the township, and created exceptions from limits on the amount of sensitive land an industrial use covers.

  • A Northampton County judge heard arguments in an appeal of Lower Saucon Township zoning amendments adopted in December
  • The appeal argues the township didn't correctly follow procedure for a zoning amendment
  • If the amendment is thrown out, zoning hearings regarding the landfill's expansion and other challenges of the amendments would stop

The zoning amendment, passed in December, came at the request of the landfill, which seeks to roughly double its size to extend its lifespan by more than two decades.
In the appeal argued Monday before Judge Abraham Kassis, appellants who live near the landfill said Lower Saucon Township failed to follow proper procedures to enact a zoning change last December, and asked the court to throw out the amendments.

A separate challenge to the substance of the amendments is also pending before the court. Lower Saucon Township, meanwhile, is holding zoning hearings on whether to approve the landfill’s expansion.

If Judge Kassis grants the appeal, both proceedings will come to a halt. He has 90 days from Monday to issue a ruling.

Arguments from the appellants

Gary Asteak, arguing for the appellants, contended the township failed to “strictly” follow laws laying out how a proposed zoning amendment must be publicly advertised.

Asteak identified eight possible breaches of the law.

“You decide whether the public has a right to know in its legal notice the land that’s being rezoned.”
Attorney Gary Asteak, representing opponents of the proposed Bethlehem Landfill expansion

For example, the legal notice the township published in the Easton Express-Times did not include a summary of the proposed ordinance, only its title, Asteak said.

The appellants argue it goes toward showing the township failed to “strictly comply” with relevant statutes; the township argues that the paragraph-long title was sufficiently detailed to also serve as the summary.

The same notice did not identify the parcels of land set to be rezoned. Where the appellants argue that presents a fatal flaw, the township holds that it was enough to effectively communicate that the ordinance being considered would significantly change the zoning map.

“What would you want to know? What would the public want to know?” Asteak asked the judge. “You decide whether the public has a right to know in its legal notice the land that’s being rezoned.”

Arguments from the township

On behalf of the township, Lower Saucon solicitor Lincoln Treadwell and Maryanne Starr Garber, a lawyer for Bethlehem Landfill, argued that it did, in fact, comply with the law.

“We can Monday-morning-quarterback this all day long. [The township] could have hired a skywriter to fly over the Lehigh-Lafayette game. It didn’t do that, because it’s not required.”
Lower Saucon Township solicitor Lincoln Treadwell

“We can Monday-morning-quarterback this all day long,” Treadwell said. The township "could have hired a skywriter to fly over the Lehigh-Lafayette game. It didn’t do that, because it’s not required.”

Treadwell and Garber argued that the well-attended meeting at which the changes were adopted, where community members spent hours speaking against the proposal, shows the announcements were enough to get the message out.

Garber also said that Pennsylvania law presumes that laws are adopted correctly, and sets a high bar for appellants to prove they were not.

When Kassis asked what they made of a Pennsylvania Supreme court decision that held attendance at a meeting “does not breathe life into an otherwise void ordinance,” Gerber replied that the fact dozens of people spoke doesn’t relieve the township of its obligation to comply with the law, but serves as the most compelling evidence that it did.