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Parkland News

Appointed South Whitehall commissioner is running for a full term

Jacob Roth
Jacob Roth
A headshot of Jacob Roth, member of the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — At 20 years old, Jacob Roth soon may become the youngest elected South Whitehall Township commissioner.

Roth, a Republican who was appointed to the board in December, now running for a full term.

  • 20-year-old Penn State student Jacob Roth is running for a full term on South Whitehall Board of Commissioners
  • Roth said his priorities include balancing growth with land preservation, public safety, financial responsibility and preserving township history
  • Roth first got involved in local politics as a high school student when the controversial mixed-use development Ridge Farms was first proposed

Roth is a 2020 graduate of Parkland High School. He is studying political science at Penn State University's main campus and hopes to soon attend Villanova University School of Law.
Roth said his legislative priorities include public safety, financial responsibility, preserving township history and balancing development with land preservation.

“If elected, my chief objective is to continue protecting our quality of life,” Roth said in a news release. “We must proactively work to balance moderate growth and land preservation, all while keeping property taxes low.”

In December, Roth was unanimously appointed to fill the vacant seat left by former commissioner Michael Wolk’s resignation.

Roth’s seat is among three that will be up for election later this year.

Roth’s stance on development, Ridge Farms

Roth started attending public meetings nearly five years ago as a member of the group South Whitehall Concerned Citizens, he said in a news release.

He still was attending Parkland High School at the time.

"I was deeply troubled by the former Board’s willingness to rubber stamp high- density development with little concern for public safety, drastically hike our property taxes, and conduct business in a non-transparent manner.”
Jacob Roth, South Whitehall commissioner

Roth said he began attending the meetings because he was concerned about the impact the mixed-used development Ridge Farms would have on the township.

“At the time, I was deeply troubled by the former board’s willingness to rubber stamp high-density development with little concern for public safety, drastically hike our property taxes, and conduct business in a non-transparent manner,” Roth said in the release.

“Fortunately, South Whitehall voters recognized this problem and elected an entirely new board in the 2019 and 2021 municipal elections.”

230308 Ridge Farms plans.jpg
South Whitehall Township
A plan for Ridge Farms presented at a recent Planning Commission meeting.

Many other residents also were concerned about the impact of the development, and many expressed outrage that commissioners at the time allowed it to proceed.

Commissioners at the time said they were legally required to grant the plan conditional use approval because the plan met the necessary requirements for approval.

They said they would face legal trouble, as other municipalities have, if they did not approve it.

Roth said in an interview that he believed the plan did not meet the requirements needed for conditional use approval.

“The board certainly has to follow the law, and they have to follow the zoning ordinance,” he said.

“But it's also incumbent upon the commissioners to make sure that the developers are meeting all of the conditions, and that if there are concerns raised about whether or not they are meeting a specific traffic condition or a public safety condition that the developer is accounting for that.”

Roth said he is not against development in the township.

“Balance is important in every aspect of our lives," he said. "And development is certainly no exception. Balancing moderate growth and land preservation, I think it's something that's good for the long term health of our community.”

Addressing his age

Roth said in a previous interview that while he does not have many years of experience in local politics, he has attended almost every commissioners and planning meeting for the past five years and has done extensive research into the township code and its ordinances.

Roth also said bringing a younger perspective to the board is important to ensure there is a diversity of viewpoints.

Roth said he believes more young people should get involved in local politics. He said most of his friends who are politically active focus on the federal and state level.

“There's certainly a lot of value to that," he said. "But I've always found the local level to be very interesting, because you really can have an immediate impact.”

The upcoming election

230309 South Whitehall Board of Commissioners.jpg
Olivia Marble
Jacob Roth and other South Whitehall commissioners at a recent meeting.

The primary election is set for May 16.

The three seats up for election in 2023 are those held by board President Diane Kelly and commissioners Roth and Brad Osborne.

Kelly also is running for re-election and Osborne is not running, according to Lehigh County records.

Former commissioner and business owner Ben Long also will be on the Republican primary ballot, along with Township Public Safety Commission member Chris Peischl.

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, ran unsuccessfully in 2021.