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Valley Youth House camp plans to operate year-round with new recreation center

Carter Family Center plans
Valley Youth House
A scanned rendering of the proposed Carter Family Center at Camp Fowler.

NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — Vulnerable youth soon may be able to get year-round care at a Valley Youth House camp.

North Whitehall Planning Commission on Tuesday reviewed a sketch plan for a new recreation center at the organization's Orefield-based Camp Fowler.

  • Valley Youth House's Camp Fowler may soon operate year-round with a new recreation center
  • North Whitehall planners reviewed a sketch plan for the building, which would allow the camp to host more group activities in inclement weather
  • Planners were split on whether to waive the land development review requirement for the project

The building would let the camp hold more group activities in inclement weather.
Camp Fowler is run by Bethlehem-based nonprofit Valley Youth House. It offers therapeutic summer programs that use outdoor behavioral healthcare to treat at-risk children and teenagers.

“Being in an outdoor setting, under the leadership of trained therapists — a lot of kids have very positive breakthroughs as a result of that."
President and CEO Tom Harrington

Chief Executive Officer Tom Harrington said campers do outdoor activities such as climbing and zip-lining, then have sessions with masters-degree-level therapists.

“Being in an outdoor setting, under the leadership of trained therapists — a lot of kids have very positive breakthroughs as a result of that,” Harrington said.

The camp’s programs are free for youth who are from low-income families, are in foster care or are homeless.

Harrington said recent major upgrades to the camp’s cabins make year-round programming possible, but other than the dining hall, there currently is not a place to gather indoors.

“Now we have the opportunity to bring kids out other than just the summer, but we need some kind of indoor recreation and educational space,” Harrington said. “So that's the purpose of this building.”

The recreation center would be about 5,000 square feet and would have two multipurpose rooms, an office and storage space. It would be called the Carter Family Center.

Harrington said Valley Youth House also would be able to rent the campground to outside groups year-round when the project is completed.

Planning Commission split

Valley Youth House representatives came before the planning commission to request it recommend the township Board of Supervisors grant a waiver from land development review.

That would mean the nonprofit would not have to go before township boards with its final plans for the building. Instead, township staff would review and approve the plans.

Valley Youth House’s lawyer Jim Preston said North Whitehall planners had granted this waiver to the camp before as a way to help keep down project costs.

“I'm not following where the excessive burden is.”
Planning Commission Chairman Brian Horwith

The planning commission on Tuesday was split about whether to recommend the waiver to the board. Vice Chairman Robert Korp said he was “a little uncomfortable” with the idea.

“I think it's a nice project, and I don't perceive there being any big issues with this,” Korp said. “But there's a process that we run through that kind of smokes out the details and allows everybody to see it — and allows the public to see it.”

Al Geosits, the supervisors’ representative on the planning commission, said he thought going through the land development process would be unnecessarily expensive for Valley Youth House.

“I don’t see the risk to the township,” Geosits said.

But planning commission Chairman Brian Horwith said he didn't think the nonprofit would benefit enough from the waiver to justify it, since the project engineers are working pro-bono.

“I'm not following where the excessive burden is,” Horwith said.

The planning commission split 4-4 vote about whether to recommend waiving the land development process.

The issue will now go to supervisors without a recommendation.

Coplay Apartments

230523 NWT Coplay Apartments rendering.JPG
North Whitehall Township
A rendering of the proposed Coplay Apartments. Developers submitted the rendering to the Planning Commission August of last year.

Planners also voted to table the preliminary plan for Coplay Apartments, a complex proposed on three acres at 2260 Quarry St.

The plan for the development has two two-story buildings with 20 units total — 10 in each building. The total square footage of the building is 13,400 square feet.

Township officials identified problems with storm water management, the design of the intersection at Quarry Street and the lack of direct access to the Ironton Rail Trail.

The commission also voted to table the preliminary plan for the complex at its May meeting.