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Commissioners concerned about Hamilton Crossings' impact on township park

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 21 2014 09:04:39 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 21 2014 02:23:53 PM CST
LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. -

Two Lower Macungie commissioners are concerned about the impact the long-proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center will have on a small township park.

One concern involves a stormwater detention basin - called a rain garden - that is planned by the developers in Wescosville Park, which is along Hamilton Boulevard next to the 63-acre site of the shopping center.

Another is that an entrance road to that shopping center will be right next to an old log house that faces Hamilton Boulevard in the front of the park.

Both issues were raised at Thursday night's township meeting, where progress was announced on another controversial development project.

In March, plans for three huge warehouses and an office building, the first projects in developer David Jaindl's Spring Creek Properties subdivision, will be presented to the township's planning commission.

Commissioner Douglas Brown raised the rain garden issue.

Brown said the rain garden has not been discussed by the commissioners and asked if the developers are offering compensation to the township for the park land.

"It just kind of showed up in our park," said Brown. "We're losing a little corner of our park. Do we just give it to them? Or do we sell it to them? It's still park property. It's for the good of the community. And this is necessitated by private development."

The 6.7-acre park has two baseball fields, the log house and a large picnic pavilion.

Township planning director Sara Pandl said the proposed rain garden will take less than a quarter acre of the park and will have no impact on the softball fields.

Commissioner James Lancsek said that basin will be part of the full Hamilton Crossings land development plan that eventually will come before the commissioners for approval -- assuming the developers proceed with the project, which they say they can't build unless Lehigh County commissioners approve a tax increment financing plan.

Brown was disappointed that township commissioners won't have a formal discussion about the rain garden in Wescosville Park before it becomes just one small part of the shopping center's overall development plan.

Lancsek suggested the rain garden issue could be brought before the commissioners separately, with a presentation by the developers and/or township staff before the rest of the land development plan is considered for approval. None of the other commissioners objected to that idea.

Pandl said the rain garden will include extensive landscaping and overlooks, as well as interpretative signs and exhibits explaining how a rain garden absorbs storm water.

"It's meant to be an educational experience, to show the aquatic plant life that thrives in that environment," explained Alan Fornwalt, assistant township engineer.

Lancsek said all maintenance of the rain garden will be the responsibility of the developers. And he said it will improve drainage across Wescosville Park, including on the ball fields. "There's going to be some benefit to the township. It's not that we're just giving them this property. There is coordinated cooperation between the township and the landowner for the good of both."

Commissioner Ron Beitler is more concerned that a Hamilton Crossings entrance road off Hamilton Boulevard will be only a couple of feet west of the small log house, which was moved to the park from another location many years ago.

"We're giving away land so they can build their driveway," said Beitler. "It is going to have an adverse impact on the log home, which is used very heavily by the historical society. They are losing a significant amount of space."

Beitler acknowledged: "Hamilton Crossings has committed to building a street wall there and some enhanced landscaping to protect the log home. They are doing their best to curb that impact. But we are giving away land that is needed by a private developer."

From the very beginning of the project, said Lancsek, the township requested that Hamilton Crossings developers install that entrance way off Hamilton Boulevard, so people can leave both the park and the shopping center at traffic lights.

Beitler agreed that makes sense, but said anything that involves a giveaway of township park property "needs to bubble up" to the board of commissioners much sooner.

As for the rain garden, Beitler said it is going to be an amenity.

Pandl said it is being required by the state.

"I look at it as an enhancement to our park, not giving away land," said Commissioner Brian Higgins. "It will make it more useable for more people."

Higgins said Hamilton Crossings will provide more parking for Wescosville Park, with walkways from the shopping center's parking lots to the ball fields. He said now those fields often can't be used on weekends because "when you rent Wescosville Rec Center, those fields come with it."

As for the proposed rain garden, Higgins said: "I'm not going to buy that it's an educational thing. You're not going to find 500 people walking to see flowers. But because it's important to that project, that rain garden helps us in the long run."

"That property still is being taken away from the recreational portion of the land," said resident Julie McDonnell.

In November, a member of the township planning commission also objected to township land being taken for the Hamilton Crossings detention pond.

Higgins suggested: "We have the cart before the horse, because we're a long way from this actually coming to fruition."

Jaindl

When the 608-acre Spring Creek subdivision was approved by commissioners last October, David Jaindl predicted some of the properties in it would be sold in less than a year. The subdivision contains 16 lots, the largest covering 77 acres.

The subdivision property now is mostly farmland west of Route 100, between the borough of Alburtis and Merztown Road. Spring Creek Road runs through the center of Jaindl's land.

The first four properties being proposed for development lie in the northwest corner of the subdivision, south of Mertztown Road and west of Spring Creek Road.

"It's about half of the industrially zoned property," said Fornwalt.

The engineer said each of two proposed warehouses will cover about one million square and the third will cover about 650,000 square feet. He did not have information about the size of the office building, but said it will be smaller.

Fornwalt said all four properties will be north of a proposed private road that eventually will tie into a future extension of Sauerkraut Lane at Spring Creek Road. He indicated that road will be built when the first lot is developed.

He said Jaindl will need a highway occupancy permit from PennDOT to connect the private road with Spring Creek Road. He noted that will trigger improvements on Spring Creek Road all the way up to the intersection with Route 100.

The engineer said the four planned buildings are scheduled to go before the township's planning commission on March 11. Eventually, the plans will go before township commissioners for final approval.

"Unfortunately, it will be one review," said Lancsek, the township's former zoning officer. "They decided to submit all four lots under one application. That makes it much more difficult, because if one thing goes wrong on one of those lots, all four fail. Personally, I think it's a mistake that they did it that way. But it's their call."

Fornwalt agreed that, by intertwining all four lots for the township's review, "if there's anything wrong with any of those, they rise and fall together."

East Texas study

The commissioners unanimously voted to hire Glackin Thomas Panzak, a Paoli-based land planning and landscape architecture firm, to do a $20,000 zoning revitalization study of the village of East Texas in the township.

The consulting firm was one of two that applied to do the project. The township planning commission recommended hiring Allentown-based Barry Isett & Associates for the job but commissioners said that was a split vote.

The township got a $10,000 matching grant through Lehigh County to do the study, said Pandl, who also is the township's community development director.

She said the study will include the former Day-Timer property in the village. She said it could lead to possible rezoning or changes in existing zoning language for that area of the township.

She and Fornwalt predicted that study should be completed by the end of this year.

Snow removal progress

 "As you may or may not remember, we've had some snow," township manager Bruce Fosselman told commissioners as he gave them a progress report on snow removal in Lower Macungie.

"We got more snow last week than we got in the last three years combined," said Fosselman. "I think we're up to 66 inches of snow. Our normal amount is in the 30s. In the last three years, we've had like 17, 18 and 20 inches."

He said when the township pushes snow off the streets, sometimes it does get calls about why it was pushed onto driveways and sidewalks.

"I empathize with how upset people become when we do this," said Fosselman. "I think they do my street last. I live in a cul-de-sac and they dump the snow right in my front yard. They've got to put it somewhere. I guess my grass will be much greener this summer."

He thanked people for their patience, saying the township has to do 134 miles of roads.

He said snow removal will be done Friday on Sauerkraut and Willow lanes. On Monday and Tuesday, he added, the township will be working in Heritage Heights, Ancient Oaks West and Hills at Lock Ridge.

He said no parking signs are put on streets to be cleared and notes stating "we do not want to tow you" are put on parked cars. He said the township has not had to tow any cars after the recent snowstorms.

Fosselman's presentation included video of a piece of equipment called the Blue Goose, which looks like an overgrown snow blower pushed by a tractor. It cuts up snow and ice and hurls it into dump trucks, which haul it to nearby parks. He said several dump trucks wait in line behind the Blue Goose, because it fills them so quickly.

He said this was the first winter the Blue Goose has been needed since 2009.

Fosselman said the township uses about 100 tons of salt for every snowstorm. "We were never out of salt or in desperate need for salt.

We actually gave some to communities that needed it. We were prepared."

After the meeting, he indicated handling all that snow has not put a financial strain on the township budget.

 "We're six inches away from the most snow ever, since 1922, when they started recording it in this area," said Higgins. "There's supposed to be another storm next week; we could be well over that total."

Other news

 Also during the meeting, commissioners:

  •  Appointed finance director Cassandra Williams the township treasurer, as required by the state's First Class Township Code;
  •  Briefly discussed the possibility of having an annual township fair or bazaar, possibly with hit-the-manager-with-a-pie or dunk-the-commissioners booths;
  • Agreed to meet only once in July, canceling the meeting scheduled for July 3.
  • Solicitor Richard Somach told commissioners he is reviewing the township's rules on sidewalks. Somach said one of the issues is gaps where no sidewalks exist between other properties that have sidewalks. Can the township require that a sidewalk be installed, he asked, does the township or the property owner pay for it "and whose responsibility is it to maintain it after it is put in?"