Northampton Supervisors vote down Rails to Trails study

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Times file photo.

Northampton Supervisors shot down a proposal to conduct a feasibility study on converting an abandoned rail line to a walking and biking trail on Wednesday.

The 3-2 decision brought an end to a year-long discussion that divided the township’s residents on the fate of the long-unused Newtown-Fox Chase Rail Line. The vote effectively buried the project, at least for the immediate future.

The supervisors made the decision without public comment, as the issue has been hashed out over several public meetings, including one in October, where the lines of division were clearly drawn.

Members of the anti-trail group attended meetings wearing shirts with the word “trails” crossed out in red, held signs reading “Needs Not Wants” and spoke out in opposition to the trails whenever the opportunity arose.

The main issue with the trail proposal, according to many on that side, is that it was designed to run adjacent to about 300 township residences. This brought on concerns about safety, which many argued would require increased fencing at their property lines, security cameras and other measures to mitigate the threat of “stranger danger.”

Supervisors Chairman Larry Weinstein said that the township received invoices from many residents, detailing the cost of the improvements. Some totaled tens of thousands of dollars.

Weinstein dismissed the notion that there would be “marauding waves of criminals coming up from Philadelphia to Northampton Township,” as “far-fetched” and “ridiculous.”

But he did end up siding with the anti-trail group, representing the fifth and ultimately deciding vote.

“Were we to go forward with this, we would be burdening our residents,” Weinstein said. “Those residents can only look toward the Northampton Board of Supervisors for protection.”

Much of Weinstein’s concern with the project seemed to come from a perceived lack of cooperation from county officials. He named Executive Director of the Bucks County Planning Commission Lynn Bush specifically, saying that when he emailed 57 questions about the proposal to her before the vote, she never responded.

The other no-votes were from supervisors Frank O’Donnell and Eileen Silver.

“I know a lot of you don’t like to hear this, but this is not a need,” Silver said. “If you are a biker, good goin’. I would love to be a walker. I would love to be a biker, and I would love to get out there. We have it. We have places.”

Silver is not wrong—there are opportunities for outdoor exercise in the township and nearby. There’s 10.5 miles of multi-use trails at Tyler State Park, 4 miles at the Churchville Nature Center, 3.5 miles at the Northampton Municipal Park, as well as others.

The issue for pro-trail people is that none of these areas connect. The Rails to Trails proposal would have linked five Bucks municipalities including Northampton, Upper Southampton, Middletown, Newtown Borough and Newtown Township.

But Northampton would have housed the largest stretch at 4.5 miles. According to those in opposition, Northampton, not the county, would have been responsible for much of the maintenance of the trails, which would cost out of the township’s budget.

Still, the pro-trail group was strong. Like the opposition, they showed up to the meetings, let their voices be heard and had two supervisors on their side. Supervisors Kimberly Rose and Barry Moore pleaded with their peers to reconsider the feasibility study, claiming that it did not represent a commitment to the trail and would not cost the township money.

“I don’t want it to affect residents’ houses, either,” Rose said, adding that the study could look into other routes that would bypass the concerned homeowners. “To throw the baby out with the bathwater is just wrong to me.”

Weinstein said that the board would be willing to look into other options for bike lanes and outdoor walking and biking space in the future.

“I don’t think that turning the rail into a trail is the right connection,” he said.••

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