Allentown finishes inventory of natural resources

Environmental planner presents borough officials with results of study.

By: Mark Moffa
   ALLENTOWN — An environmental planner last month presented officials with findings from a recently completed $5,000 natural resource inventory of the borough.
   Suzanne Forbes, director of environmental planning for Princeton Hydro of Lambertville, was contracted to study the borough’s natural resources. Her report detailed a series of recommendations.
   The borough should update its Master Plan, strengthen its zoning and land development regulations, implement a tree and shrub planting program, obtain money to preserve and protect sensitive lands and do additional environmental studies, according to the report.
   Ms. Forbes praised the borough for its resource protection efforts to date. She said the borough’s Environmental Commission, which is 30 years old, was likely one of the first of its kind in the state.
   She noted the borough has conducted traffic impact and water quality studies, participated in the Scenic Roadway Program, devised a Street Tree & Forestry Master Plan, and preserved the 38-acre Heritage Park.
   Her report detailed the borough’s history, geology, soil characteristics, and environmental features such as Doctors Creek, Indian Run and the Mill Pond.
   Ms. Forbes said the most significant aspect of the report is the Geographic Information Systems technology used to develop more than a dozen maps depicting natural features in the borough.
   She said the new GIS data will be a valuable tool for borough officials in examining proposed development sites or deciding which land should be preserved.
   Allentown Environmental Commission member Greg Westfall said he and the other commissioners were very pleased with the results. He said the commission hopes the borough’s planing/zoning board will incorporate language in the Master Plan to reference the study’s findings.
   "It’s an excellent tool because it’s science-based," Mr. Westfall said. "It’s not just hearsay."
   He said many residents do not realize that there is land in the borough still to be preserved.
   "Many people feel that the borough is built out," Mr. Westfall said. "But there is the potential for future development and redevelopment. That development might compromise natural resources."
   Ms. Forbes’ report states there are 35 acres of critical forest wetlands in Allentown, most of which are along Doctors Creek. She said there are 19 acres of critical grassland habitat, most of that near the Mill Pond.
   "We were just really surprised at the amount of significant resources compared to the amount of land that is there," Ms. Forbes said.
   She said the Mill Pond is one of the oldest manmade water bodies in the nation. Designated a New Jersey Wildlife Sanctuary, the pond is listed in the Monmouth County Unique Areas Study as a "unique recreational, scenic, historic, watershed, wildlife habitat, and floodplain feature."
   The report noted one concern that has been painfully obvious to borough residents — traffic.
   "There is a concern about negative effects of increased traffic upon air quality, support for a bypass, and interest in additional air quality monitoring information," the report reads.
   Included in Ms. Forbes’ recommendations is a suggestion the borough implement educational and other nonregulatory programs to protect natural resources. For example, she said, the borough could produce pamphlets or brochures promoting restraint in using pesticides and fertilizers near waterways or advising residents not to mow grass too near a river bed.
   Officials could use the data in the study to pinpoint areas in need of preservation, and then could work to acquire funding to purchase the land or could work to acquire the development rights, she said.
   Ms. Forbes also suggested a diagnostic feasibility study for the Mill Pond to better restore and enhance its value, a threatened and endangered species study to determine if there are any such species in the borough, and a volunteer water quality monitoring program.
   Ms. Forbes said the project took less than one year to complete. She thanked Mr. Westfall, Betsy Poinsett, Mayor Stu Fierstein, borough officials and staff for their cooperation. She added that Monmouth County’s Planning Commission provided valuable information as well.
   The project was funded through a $2,500 Department of Environmental Protection grant and $2,500 of borough money.