Miller Farm, on Farmersville Road in Bethlehem, includes two historical buildings and others that predate township records. Surrounding the property are homes and a community center.
This characteristic farm has been owned by the Miller family for over nine decades, during which, it has become a landmark in the city.
It is now up for sale, prompting a proposal sent to the township to convert the land into a mixed housing development brought forth by building company Kay Builders.
“I think it’s really sad,” vice president of the Bethlehem Board of Commissioners Malissa Davis said. “It’s a really visible piece of property in the township.”
Davis said Kay Builders does not yet have ownership of the property, but they have agreed to terms with the Miller family on a price. As of now, Kay Builders has only put forward a sketch, showing their proposal to build 166 housing units.
Ninth-generation Bethlehem farm owner Dale Koehler worries that his storefront, near Miller Farm, may see fewer visitors because people may not want to turn out of his driveway due to traffic.
Though, he said the most damaging impact on his property may be from wildlife being squeezed into less space.
“You have more animals trying to cram onto smaller tracts of land,” Koehler said. “So when they come onto one of our fields, they do a lot more damage.”
The prospective loss of Miller Farm is yet another notable example of farmland being destroyed in Bethlehem Township.
Davis notes that Bethlehem was almost entirely farmland, but over the last 50 years, Bethlehem has developed into a suburban area, and there’s not much farmland left.
Koehler said this has occurred because the value of land, housing and warehousing in Bethlehem is so high.
“The township grew a lot in the 1980s, 1990s, 1970s,” Davis said. “From 1980, the (population) census was 10,148, and the current census is 25,868.”
Even though farmland is dwindling, Chad Meyerhoefer, a Lehigh professor who has won awards in agricultural economics, believes that the town can still retain the remaining farms.
“Ultimately, if people want greenspaces in their communities, the incentives that they provide have to be larger,” Meyerhoefer said. “Which is going to cost taxpayers more money, but if people are willing to pay that then that can be a solution.”
Meyerhoefer believes there are a lot of outside economic pressures at play, and it is likely that more small farms in Bethlehem and other suburban areas around the U.S. will shut down in the coming years.
Despite the negative backlash the development has received, Davis believes the situation has gotten more people involved in local politics in Bethlehem.
“This has made it so people are interested,” Davis said. “And that’s a good thing.”