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'Injustices' in development concern SWT commissioner candidate

Ben Long
Ben Long
A headshot of Ben Long, candidate for the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — Development has been among the most controversial issues in South Whitehall Township politics in recent years.

A new candidate for a township board of commissioners seat said he's looking to bring a different perspective in the debate.

  • Business owner Ben Long announced his candidacy for South Whitehall Board of Commissioners
  • Long, a 2012 Parkland graduate, said he thinks growth in development, done right, often is good for the township, and he wants to work with developers to make their plans into the best possible development
  • Long previously was appointed to the board in a contentious vacancy filling

Long, 29, graduated from Parkland High School in 2012. He is the second-generation owner of South Whitehall-based water treatment company Lehigh Valley Water Systems.

    Long said he wants to be a representative for young families and small business owners, and to work with developers who he thinks have been treated unfairly in the township.
    “I believe in what's true, I believe in justice. And I think there are some injustices that are going on,” Long said.

    “I don't think it's fair the way that some developers, business owners, et cetera, have been treated. And I think at the very least, we should have open and honest, compromise-geared dialogue.”

    Long’s view of development, Ridge Farms

    Long said he thinks development in the township is inevitable.

    “Not only that, I think it's a good thing, so long as we're looking out for the best interests of the township — not just for the short term, but the long term,” Long said.

    Long said if he becomes commissioner, he would try to work with developers to make their plans into the best possible development for the township rather than trying to stop them.

    “I want to be at the table in those discussions, coming up with compromise plans with developers, rather than just digging our heels in the sand and saying, ‘No, we don't want to,’” Long said. “We don't have that option. We have certain limitations.”

    Long said he does not feel like there is currently a diversity of opinions on the board when it comes to development.

    “If nothing else, I'm doing it so that there is an alternative, not just one voice,” Long said.

    "I want people to understand I care, and I want to do what's right for them. And sometimes doing what's right isn't necessarily always the popular position.”
    Ben Long, candidate for the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners

    Tensions surrounding development in the township came to a head in late 2017, when the proposed mixed-use development Ridge Farms sparked controversy, with hundreds of residents coming to township meetings to try to stop the development.

    But the plan met the zoning requirements for the site. Once zoning ordinances are in place, it can be very difficult — sometimes impossible — for townships to stop developments that follow those ordinances.

    “Unfortunately, there were a few people that were the loudest voices in the room that made the perception that those commissioners didn't have the best interests of the township at heart,” Long said. “And that's just so not true. They did what they had to do from a legal perspective.”

    Long said he understands that change is difficult for people, but he doesn't want to let emotions dictate his decisions.

    “Rather than err on the side of human emotion and kind of feed into fear and fear of change, I want to have those honest conversations with people,” Long said.

    “I want people to understand I care, and I want to do what's right for them. And sometimes doing what's right isn't necessarily always the popular position.”

    None of the commissioners who were on the board at the time of the plan’s approval still are on the board. Some decided not to seek re-election, and others were voted out.

    Long is running without a slate of candidates, but he said he would do “everything [he] possibly can” to find common ground and compromise with the other commissioners if elected.

    Long’s previous time on the board

    Long was previously appointed to the board of commissioners in May 2021 after former commissioner Matthew Mobilio resigned. He served on the board for seven months.

    Long said he chose to not run for a full term in the 2021 election because his wife was expecting their first baby at the time.

    Long’s appointment was decided by the township’s vacancy board after a deadlock between the supervisors at the time, according to past meeting minutes.

    Former board president Christina “Tori” Morgan and former commissioner Joe Setton supported Long’s appointment, while current board President Diane Kelly and former commissioner Michael Wolk did not.

    Long said in a news release that he is proud of his service and accomplishments from his time on the board of commissioners.

    “I thoroughly enjoyed representing the business community as a member of the board,” Long wrote in the release.

    The upcoming election

    221102 SWT Commissioners.jpg
    Olivia Marble
    The South Whitehall Township commissioners at a recent meeting.

    The three seats up for re-election in 2023 are those held by Kelly and commissioners Brad Osborne and Jacob Roth.

    Kelly and Roth are running for re-election and will both be on the Republican primary ballot with Long. Osborne is not running, according to Lehigh County records.

    Township Public Safety Commission member Chris Peischl also is running in the Republican primary.

    Thomas Johns is the only Democrat running for a seat on the board, which is currently made up of only Republicans. Johns, a former commissioner, previously ran unsuccessfully in 2021.

    Long encouraged Democrats to write in his name on the Democratic primary ballot.