About 150 Northampton residents showed up to debate the fate of the former Newtown-Fox Chase rail line at Richboro Middle School on Monday night.
A special meeting was arranged after months of discussion so that residents, both for and against a proposal to turn the abandoned rail line into a recreational trail, could be heard by the township’s board of supervisors.
The issue hits home for about 300 residents whose properties run adjacent to the tracks, and many of them pleaded with the supervisors to abandon the idea entirely.
“If we had known about the possibilities of a trail, we would have never bought our house three years ago,” said Chad Lonergan, whose back fence is about 20 feet from the tracks. “I don’t know who would have, especially with kids.”
Lonergan spoke with his wife, Dawn, and their five children, all under the age of six, at his side. The Lonergans, and many others present, wore t-shirts with the a strike mark through the word “trails.”
He argued that the proposed trail would put his children “at risk” because strangers would be in proximity to his back yard, where they play.
“The pro-trail groups want you to believe that stranger danger doesn’t exist,” he said. “This is complete nonsense.”
Other neighbors worried about privacy, home security and the potential for higher taxes.
“More people equals more crime,” said Dave Patterson, a Holland resident. “It provides a backdoor into our community.”
Patterson also suggested that the increased foot traffic would cause police patrols on the trail to be a “full-time job.”
Others against the proposal argued that with nearby outdoor spaces like Northampton Municipal Park, Core Creek Park, Tyler State Park and Churchville Nature Center, the trail seems unnecessary. Some even held signs reading “Needs Not Wants.”
According to a previous presentation by the Bucks County Planning Commission, the trail would link Newtown Borough with Upper Southampton with connections to Tamanend Park and the Churchville Nature Center.
About 4.5 miles of the trail would be located in Northampton Township, with 2.5 miles in Upper Southampton and smaller pieces in Middletown, Newtown Borough and Newtown Township.
The trail would also link with Montgomery County trails as part of the larger system that connects with 750 miles of existing trails throughout the Philadelphia region.
Supporters, who seemed to outnumber those against the plan at the meeting, argued that exercising outdoors in Northampton has become difficult because of traffic and lack of bicycle lanes.
Herb Heffner, who has lived in the township for nearly 50 years, spoke in support of the proposal.
“Walking and cycling safely has become increasingly more difficult,” Heffner said. “I’ve been told by some that I’m a member of some special interest group. If that is the case, then my group’s special interest is good health.”
Many of the supporters also thought that risk for “stranger danger,” a term brought up many times, and increased criminal activity are just speculation.
“People can pass through our township in cars every day. There’s a road that leads to one of our houses already,” said Holland resident Steve Tillery. “I can’t imagine somebody coming up from the city of Philadelphia on a bicycle to commit crime in our township.”
The main push for advocates of the trail was for supervisors to vote for a resolution to sanction comprehensive study that would give residents more information on the potential benefits or drawbacks of the trail proposal. A study done by the county, among other factors, would account for issues of design and engineering and is estimated to take 18 months.
“If it does show it’s going to be really bad for you guys, then I don’t want it,” said Judy Kroll, a pro-trail resident of Holland. “I just hate this. It reminds me of the election that’s going on. It’s so divisive.”
Northampton Supervisors Chairman Larry Weinstein said no decisions on the resolution would be made that night.
“You’ll know in the near future as to our next step,” he said.