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Housing project faces hurdles in Emmaus, Upper Milford, Lower Macungie

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: May 05 2013 09:15:15 AM CDT
Updated On: May 06 2013 06:14:17 AM CDT
Kay Builders

A 211-home development is being proposed in Emmaus, Upper Milford and Lower Macungie townships.

UPPER MILFORD TWP., Pa. -

A 211-home development called Fields at Indian Creek is being proposed by Kay Builders on a golf course in Emmaus, Upper Milford and Lower Macungie townships.

“This will be the most residential units approved in a single development in the history of Upper Milford Township,” said township manager Dan DeLong.

One hundred-and-fifty-five of the proposed homes will be in Upper Milford and 56 in Emmaus. A small portion of the 72-acre site containing no homes is in Lower Macungie.

Fields at Indian Creek will be an age-restricted condominium community of single-family homes for residents age 55 and older, with a homeowners association responsible for cutting grass, shoveling snow, plowing streets and more. Residents will own homes, but not their yards.

The development will include a community center, an outdoor swimming pool and private roads.

It will be built on Indian Creek Golf Course, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike just north of Chestnut Street in Emmaus. The plan is for part of the golf course to remain on the south and east sides of the development, but with only nine holes rather than 18.

No new public road is proposed to link Fields at Indian Creek to nearby Chestnut Street. Its residents will come and go via Indian Creek Road on the north side of the development.

The project faces several potentially “deal-breaking” hurdles -- ranging from traffic concerns to requirements for sidewalks and open space -- and is complicated by the fact that it needs local approval from three different municipalities.

On Monday night, Emmaus Borough Council will discuss a major zoning change needed before it can proceed.

“You typically only chase a deal if you’re 90 percent sure you can get it through,” said Rick Koze, president and owner of Kay Builders. “This one’s a little less. I don’t know what got into me. I threw caution to the wind. But I think it’s doable.”

Koze said he has emotional ties to the project because he was raised in Emmaus and is a 1982 graduate of Emmaus High School. Based in Lower Macungie, Kay Builders has done at least 30 developments since the company started in 1961.

The developer hopes to have all local and state approvals so he can break ground by the summer of 2014. He plans to build three or four model homes on the property before the end of next year. And he hopes to lock in at least 10 or 20 buyers even before he starts groundwork.

Single-family homes are proposed, although Koze said: “I’d love to do some twin homes.”

Many will be three-bedroom, ranch-style homes, but he expects nearly half the buyers will want Kay to build two-story homes so they have more living space. The homes will sell for around $290,000 and up, with two-story homes adding about $40,000 to that price. All the homes will have two-car garages.

Indian Creek traffic concerns

Fields at Indian Creek won’t be the first residential development creating additional traffic at the point where Indian Creek Road splits into a “Y” and climbs a hill to meet Cedar Crest Boulevard -- with no traffic lights and no turning lanes from Cedar Crest onto Indian Creek.

Kay Builders is not proposing making traffic improvements at that intersection near Fields at Indian Creek.

Koze said making such improvements “would kill the deal” because it would include demolishing a house, building a bridge and regrading a steep slope. “You’re talking three million bucks.”

Brian Miller, Upper Milford’s planning coordinator, said the township’s biggest concern about Fields at Indian Creek is traffic and traffic impacts. A big part of that concern is the intersection of Indian Creek Road and Cedar Crest – both state roads. Miller said it’s a bad spot on an already congested road.

“Our concern is the traffic safety issues,” said Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie’s director of planning and community development. “Where’s the traffic going and how can it be accommodated safely?”

She added: “We’re very concerned about traffic on Indian Creek Road. We want to discourage any traffic from coming out onto Cedar Crest. That’s a very difficult intersection. You would hope people will avoid it because of how difficult it is.”

Lights at Allen and Chestnut

Kay Builders plans to add traffic signals and turning lanes at the intersection of Allen and Chestnut streets in Upper Milford. Allen Street intersects Indian Creek Road just west of the turnpike. Miller said the developer will pay “a good portion” of the costs for those improvements.

Kay Builders recently submitted a traffic study to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which Koze said focuses on adding the lights at Allen and Chestnut.

Miller noted that section of Chestnut Street already is “fairly congested” and the township already gets complaints from residents about people speeding on Allen Street.

“They’ve told us they expect most of the traffic will go out and down Allen,” said Pandl.

Municipal officials realize Fields at Indian Creek residents who want to drive north or east probably won’t go west and south to the Allen and Chestnut intersection.

Pandl said people living in the new development may go north on other Lower Macungie roads, putting more traffic onto Mill Race Road, which goes north from Indian Creek Road to Lower Macungie Road

Emmaus needs zoning change

Since April 2012, Kay Builders has an agreement of sale to buy the golf course land from Barbara and David Bollinger. “I close when I get my approvals,” said Koze.

“I’ve looked at this project off and on for five or six years,” he said. “We’re at the critical point where things move quickly from here.”

Koze said a preliminary plan was filed with all three municipalities about two months ago. He withdrew the plan in Emmaus to see what happens with the proposed zoning change in the borough. “That’s the critical aspect,” said Koze. “If the zoning works, we’ll move forward. If it’s not workable, we probably won’t move forward.”

Kay Builders is asking Emmaus officials to amend the borough’s zoning ordinance by approving “an age-qualified community overlay district” so the Emmaus portion of Fields at Indian Creek can be built.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Emmaus borough council is expected to begin reviewing that proposed overlay district ordinance.

Borough zoning officer James Farnsworth said that corner of Emmaus is now zoned conservation-residential, the most restrictive zoning. It allows only low density development in areas that are very environmentally sensitive or have inadequate road access. Lot sizes must be nearly a half acre.

Unless council approves the proposed overlay district, the borough’s planning commission will recommend denying the Emmaus portion of the development because it does not meet existing zoning, explained Farnsworth.

Last Wednesday morning, borough council’s three-member general administration committee recommended the proposed overlay district be considered by the full council.

Borough manager Shane Pepe said approving the overlay district will take a couple of months. He said if council advances the proposal after its first reading Monday, the Emmaus planning commission, the developer and other parties will have 45 days to review it, then it will go back to council for final adoption. Unless major changes are required, Pepe predicted that vote for adoption will happen in mid-July.

If the overlay district is approved, Kay Builders will have to go through the land development review and approval process in all three municipalities. “They’re not planning to put a shovel in the ground until the end of next year,” said Pepe.

Sidewalks to nowhere?

By a 2-1 vote Wednesday, council’s general administration committee recommended that council require sidewalks on both sides of private roads in Fields at Indian Creek.

The developer initially did not intend to put any sidewalks on those roads – only painted walkway lanes on the edges -- but the proposed Emmaus zoning ordinance requires sidewalks on one side of the street.

Council member Wesley Barrett said Emmaus requires everyone in the borough to have sidewalks so everyone should be treated equally. But Brent Labenberg, who cast the no vote, said the development will be a private community. “I don’t think we should be restrictive like that.”

Countered Michael Waddell: “But what if it becomes ours someday? Who knows about 50 years from now? We have to think that far ahead.”

If Emmaus requires sidewalks and Upper Milford does not, sidewalks could end at the borough line in the development.

But Farnsworth told the council committee that Upper Milford also wants sidewalks.

Miller said Upper Milford typically gives waivers to the requirement for curb and sidewalk, but added its ordinance states: “Sidewalks built to township specifications shall be required where the average residential density exceeds three dwelling units per acre or where the Board of Supervisors determines they are necessary for safe pedestrian movement, such as near a school.”

In Upper Milford, rather than sidewalk or curb, Koze proposes the development’s main roadway be wide enough to stripe off a four or five-foot-wide walking lane. He’s comfortable with just one-third of his development having sidewalks and curbs “if that’s the way it has to be.” But he added: “It doesn’t really make sense.”

Koze is concerned that being required to have sidewalks on both sides of roads in the Emmaus portion of his development could leave him without enough area to build homes.

Borough council members expressed reservations about narrow roads proposed in the development, but Pepe said they are two feet wider in the proposed ordinance than Kay Builders originally proposed. He said if roads must be 33 feet wide rather than 26 feet, the developer will be forced to eliminate houses.

Lower Macungie would like sidewalks installed along Indian Creek Road on the north edge of the development. “We’re trying to get pedestrian connectivity throughout the whole township,” said Pandl.

She said the township also has asked the developer to determine if the existing golf cart path could become be part of a walking/bicycling trail linking Lower Macungie’s Camp Olympic Park and Emmaus shops along Chestnut Street. She acknowledged: “There are concerns about using the cart path if golfers are on it.”

Said Koze: “Now we’re debating about how do you deal with walking paths where there is golf, to make sure nobody gets hurt.”

Open space and emergency access

The proposed overlay district ordinance for Emmaus stipulates 50 percent of the development should be open space. Koze proposes slightly less: 31 of the 72 acres. “I don’t know if I can make 50 percent,” he said, adding Upper Milford requires 30 percent open space.

A gated access roadway for emergency vehicles is planned to link Chestnut Street and the development, crossing through the Farmhouse restaurant/Indian Creek golf course entrance, which are owned by the Arthur Schmidt family. Koze will pay the Schmidts for an easement to put in that emergency access, as well as for a sewer line that will cross their property. (The development will have public water and sewer.) People living in the development will be able to walk on that access road to shop on Chestnut Street.

Koze said the development has enough buffer space so any future widening of the turnpike can be done without impacting homes in the development.