Zoning Changes and Legal Filings

What’s up with the June 13 Court Hearing? 

Residents and Their Allies to Defend Efforts to Restore and Enforce Scenic and Conservation Easements Prohibiting Landfill Expansion

On June 13, 2024, Northampton County Judge Abraham Kassis will conduct a hearing on the lawsuit to restore and enforce the scenic and conservation easements that Lower Saucon Township terminated to allow the expansion of the Bethlehem Landfill. 

A brief history lesson is helpful here. Readers may recall that scenic and conservation easements protected the land on which Bethlehem Landfill wanted to expand. These easements obligated the landfill and the Township to preserve the “original character and scenic nature” of the land. Landfill operations were expressly prohibited. To allow the expansion, the Township not only had to change its zoning ordinance, but also had to get rid of these scenic and conservation easements.  In a betrayal of the community, the then-Township council majority did so. 

In response to the Township’s termination of the easements, Lower Saucon Township residents and their allies (St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethlehem Township, and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor) sued the Bethlehem Landfill Company and Lower Saucon Township.  This “declaratory judgment” case seeks a court order to uphold and enforce the scenic and conservation easements, and ordering the Township to reverse its rezoning that allowed the expansion.

After the residents and their allies filed their lawsuit. Bethlehem Landfill Company predictably filed objections, requesting the Court to dismiss the complaint.  At the June 13 hearing, the Court will address the landfill’s attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed. 

This is where it gets complicated.

A legal complaint often contains multiple parts, each with its own separate request for relief from the Court. Each separate part is called a “count.”  The residents’ complaint contained four counts. Count #2 was filed only against the Township, not the landfill. That count asked the court to issue a judgment against the Township declaring that the Township acted unlawfully when it terminated the easements. But even though Count #2 was filed only against the Township, the landfill company filed objections to it. This was a dubious attempt by the landfill to insert itself into a dispute between the residents and the Township only. 

Not to be outdone, the residents then filed objections to the landfill objections (“We object to your objections!”) These objections-to-the objections essentially say: “Butt out, landfill! You’ve got no business getting involved with this part of the lawsuit.”  Granting the residents’ objections would allow the Court to resolve Count #2 of the complaint without the landfill’s interference.

But wait! There’s more! Probably realizing it was skating on thin procedural ice, the landfill then filed a formal request that the court grant it the right to intervene in Count #2 attempting an end-run around the objections-to-the-objections.

This is the whole ball of wax which the Court will address at the June 13 hearing. It will include: (1) the landfill’s attempt to get the entire lawsuit dismissed; (2)  the efforts of the residents and allies to keep the lawsuit moving forward; and (3) the residents’ and allies’ request to dismiss the landfill’s tactic to involve itself in a claim against the Township alone (Count #2). 

It’s complicated, to be sure, but how the Court decides these issues will determine whether – and how much of — the lawsuit can move forward.  The lawyers for all the parties will make their arguments, and the Court will rule some days or weeks thereafter.  As always, Court hearings are open to the public and we encourage you to attend to support the courageous residents and their allies in their fight to protect the scenic and conservation land from landfill destruction. 

Stay tuned! We’ll post more information as we get closer to the hearing.

New Court Filings in Litigation to Restore and Enforce Scenic and Conservation Easements Prohibiting Landfill Expansion

A flurry of new court filings has been made in litigation brought by Lower Saucon Residents and their allies (St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethlehem Township, and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor) against Bethlehem Landfill Company and Lower Saucon Township. 

The “declaratory judgment” case seeks a court order that upholds and enforces the scenic and conservation easements that had prohibited landfilling on property acquired by the Bethlehem Landfill Company from the City of Bethlehem. It also seeks a court order requiring the Township to rescind its rezoning that purported to allow landfilling on scenic and conservation property, thus preventing the landfill expansion on that land. 

Copies of these recent court filings are below. They include: the residents’ and allies’ Amended Complaint to enforce the scenic and conservation easements; the landfill company “preliminary objections” seeking dismissal of the Amended Complaint; the residents and allies’ own preliminary objections to the landfill objections; and a brief with legal arguments in support of the residents and allies’ preliminary objections. 

The most recent filing by the residents and their allies attack Bethlehem Landfill Company’s attempts to dismiss their claims by demonstrating that these attempts are procedurally incorrect.  In their own preliminary objections, the residents and their allies raise the following deficiencies in the landfill’s filing:

  • Misapplication of Preliminary Objections: The document highlights that the landfill company filed preliminary objections to the entire amended complaint, including parts not directly related to the landfill. Notably, they objected to Count II, which exclusively concerns actions by Lower Saucon Township regarding the conservation easements and zoning changes, and not the landfill company directly. The plaintiffs argue this is a procedural misstep, as the landfill company should not challenge claims not brought against it.
  • Violation of Legal Procedure Rules: The landfill company’s broad objections, containing some 287 paragraphs, violate Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure by failing to adhere to requirements that each objection should address only one material allegation. They suggest that the landfill strategy is intended to overwhelm the court system. 
  • Standing and Capacity to Sue: The landfill company lacks standing to object to Count II of the amended complaint. Since Count II is directed only at the township and involves legal questions about the applicability of certain conservation and zoning laws that do not directly involve the landfill company, the plaintiffs argue that the landfill company has no substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the outcome of this specific count.
  • Request to Strike Objections: Based on these arguments, the plaintiffs request the court to strike the landfill company’s preliminary objections regarding Count II. They argue that the landfill company’s objections to this count do not conform to law or court rules, as they address claims not made against the company and involve issues where the company lacks standing.

St. Luke’s Hospital – Anderson Campus has filed its own appeal from Lower Saucon Township’s approval of the Bethlehem Landfill land development plan.  It filed its Land Use Appeal with the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County on January 4th. This court filing brings the number of legal proceedings currently pending against the landfill expansion to five.  

St. Luke’s appeal attacks the township’s approval of a preliminary land development and lot consolidation plan, the granting of waivers from ordinance requirements, and approving the plan despite the illegality of the underlying rezoning of the land. The hospital argues that these decisions were flawed both procedurally and substantively, violated conservation easements, were contrary to the Township’s own land development ordinance and its comprehensive plan, and violated other legal requirements. It notes that the hospital was denied the opportunity to make statements or present any evidence in opposition to the landfill’s land development plan, thus denying the hospital due process and violating the state Municipalities Planning Code. St. Luke’s also contends that the decisions lacked substantial evidence and were made without adequate public participation. The appeal aims to reverse the township’s decision and calls for a reassessment of the application’s environmental and community impact and for the matter to be remanded to the Township for proper proceedings.

The case is likely to be consolidated with other pending legal challenges, with hearings to be scheduled by the Court. We’ll post additional information as it becomes available. 

On September 19, 2023 residents filed a procedural due process challenged to the zoning ordinance adopted by Lower Saucon Township on August 30th.  Lower Saucon Township violated the due process requirements of the municipalities planning code when council majority limited hearing comments to 3 minutes, and refused hearing comments from any affected individuals, municipalities, or organizations that do not live or pay taxes in Lower Saucon Township.  The hearing also did not begin at 9am as advertised, and the procedures and conduct created a hostile environment for those attending.  

CRD-LST strongly supports these courageous residents in their fight to protect the rights of all!

In response to Lower Saucon Township’s adoption of a new ordinance allowing landfilling “as of right” on conserved land, residents filed a substantive challenge arguing the rezoning amounts to unlawful zoning including spot zoning, contract zoning, and violations against the PA Constitution.  These are just some of the arguments that residents claim should void the zoning ordinance. 




Substantive Zoning Board Hearing Appeal

The complete Zoning Hearing Board Validity Appeal filed on January 17, 2023 can be downloaded at the link above.

Zoning Changes Approved by Township on 12/21/22

  • Make landfills a Conditional Use instead of a Special Exception. This means the Landfill doesn’t need Zoning Hearing Board approval for landfill use.
  • All previous environmental protections would be removed. Allows the Landfill to pay money in exchange for expanding rather than dedicate other land of equivalent environmental value for Open Space.
  • Eliminate the Township’s site plan approval process for landfill uses.

Final Zoning Ordinance Amendment

The full text of the Zoning Ordinance Amendment, Ordinance 2022-2, as adopted by the Township is linked at: https://ecode360.com/laws/LO1675 under the heading Ord. No. 2022-02.

Land Use Appeal


On Friday, January 13, 2023, citizens of Lower Saucon Township filed an appeal against Lower Saucon’s rezoning of 275 acres of land. You can download the file here and read it. Click the Download button below.

Brief in support of appeal to void zoning ordinance for failure to comply with notice requirements and exhibits