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Allentown planners consider 3 projects on the south side

Published On: Mar 12 2014 06:59:40 AM EDT   Updated On: Mar 12 2014 07:00:53 AM EDT
Allentown Planning Commission 3-11-14

Three south Allentown projects came before the city's planning commission Tuesday afternoon -- a new Dunkin Donuts, a rebuilt McDonalds and an evolving plan for a new neighborhood of cottages.

Only the Dunkin Donuts project was reviewed by planners for the first time. It was tabled because they decided it needed more work to address both traffic flow and traffic safety.

The Dunkin Donuts is proposed at 1547 Lehigh St., at the Parkway Shopping Center. If approved, it will be built on the site of the former Ragonas Lighthouse seafood restaurant, which was torn down.


Plans to demolish and rebuild the McDonalds in front of the Kmart along S. 4th Street had been reviewed and approved last October by the planning commission.

It came back Tuesday for a child-oriented change apparently spurred by popular demand.

The commission got its first look since last summer at a slightly refined plan for the cottage neighborhood development proposed at South Sixth and West Cumberland streets, where both streets end at the hilltop site of the former Montex textile mill, which was destroyed in a fire years ago.

Dunkin Donuts

The new Dunkin Donuts will be built in front of Parkway Shopping Center, between the Arby's restaurant and Penske truck rental. It will be less than 1.5 miles from an existing Dunkin Donuts at 31st and Lehigh streets.

The doughnut shop will cover 2,000 square feet and have 20 seats inside. It also will have a drive-thru. It will be built on less than one acre of land, leased from a company called Parkway Pad, which owns the shopping center.

Brian Gasda, the project's engineer, said no new driveways are proposed onto Lehigh Street, a state road. He said Dunkin Donuts' customers will come and go via the shopping center's access road with traffic lights just north of Arby's.

But planners are concerned that drivers will use another shopping center access road, just south of the proposed doughnut shop, which does not have any traffic lights. They especially are concerned drivers leaving the shop will attempt to turn left to go south on busy Lehigh Street from that exit.

Oldrich Foucek, planning commission chairman, said if he had the authority, he would require that a sign forbidding left turns be erected at the shopping center exit. "But I don't know that we have that authority," he said, noting Lehigh Street is a state road. He suggested PennDOT may say "this is fine, it's been like this for 50 years."

The project engineer indicated the Dunkin Donuts owner also won't have the authority to put restrictions on an entrance road owned by the shopping center but said "we can make suggestions to the shopping center."

City planning director Michael Hefele said if the Dunkin Donuts would be moving into an existing space within the actual shopping center, the planners would not be looking at that unsignalized exit, which he called "a permanent driveway to the shopping center."

But planner Richard Button said the shopping center entrance without traffic lights will be "just a couple of feet away" from the Dunkin Donuts. After leaving the shop, he said:"They're going to want to go there and make a left to get on I-78." He noted drivers would be puling out into traffic at the point where S. Jefferson Street merges into Lehigh.

Planners suggested the problem might be solved by developing better traffic circulation around the Dunkin Donuts, including making sure the drive-thru's exit is not near the shopping center exit with no traffic lights.

"The key is getting people away from that southern exit," said Foucek.

Some suggested turning the proposed building, so the drive-thru exit would be closer to the signalized shopping center exit. Gasda said he prefers to leave the building oriented as it is, but said he will work on addressing traffic flow issues.

He expressed concern that too much curbing at the Dunkin Donuts will interfere with snow plowing and stormwater running off the property.

But Richard Young, the city's public works director, indicated something more needs to be done. "This design is kind of a free-flow," said Young. "You could wind up having traffic all over the place. A white line doesn't stop traffic."

Some planners suggested bollards -- vertical posts or pillars - or other separators used to delineate lanes and control traffic flow.

"We did want to keep it as simple as possible but we do understand the importance of controlling traffic flow," said Gasda.

Young recommended removing the paved surface of areas not needed for parking and traffic and planting grass in those areas. Foucek indicated plantings in those grassy areas could be used to help direct traffic.

"That seems like a great idea," said planner Christian Brown.

Said Hefele: "The essence of the issue is that both parking and driveways need to be physically delineated somehow over the entire site, either through curbing or replacing macadam with grass."

The site meets city requirements for parking, said Gasda, but he could add 15 more spaces. "Knowing how busy Dunkin Donuts gets in the mornings, I would add some more parking," said Hefele.

Action on the doughnut shop's plans was tabled until a future meeting.

Kishor Dalsania, who will own the Dunkin Donuts, said he hopes to start construction in June and be open by the end of September.

PlayPlace stays at McDonalds

When the planning commission approved plans for the new McDonalds at
1432 S. 4th St. last year, they were told the PlayPlace, an indoor playground for small children that is attached to the current restaurant, would be eliminated.

But now the developers want to add a new PlayPlace to the new restaurant, in response to customer demands.

Anthony Caponigro, the project's engineer, explained as McDonalds moved closer to the start of construction, its rebuild plans were presented to some of the restaurant's regular customers.

McDonalds personnel heard "a lot of public outcry about losing the PlayPlace." So the chain's management decided to change the building and keep a PlayPlace.

Caponigro said the new fast-food restaurant will cover 5,100 square feet. Without the PlayPlace, he said it would have covered 4,500 square feet --"one third dining, one third kitchen, one third storage."

Caponigro said the change will not reduce 41 parking spaces planned for the restaurant, but will change the configuration of the drive-thru, eliminating a bypass lane. "After you place your order, you're basically locked into the drive-thru," he said, but added that can be avoided before that point, with access to the adjoining Kmart lot.

Hefele asked the planning commission if it wanted to review the McDonalds project again for revised final approval or just allow the city's planning staff to review it. The commission agreed to have the staff review it.

The new McDonalds will be closer to 4th Street on the same property and will face that street, making it more prominent to potential customers driving by.

Trout Creek Cottages

The planning commission got its second look at plans for a development of 52 small homes in the Trout Creek Cottages development.

Plans for what is called a pocket neighborhood previously were reviewed by the planners last June and Allentown City Council approved a zoning change to allow the project to move forward last August.

Richard Kontir of Cottage Communities LP, the developer, told planners there have been only a few minor tweaks since the proposal first was brought before them.

One is that the development originally was called Cumberland Commons, but the name has been changed to Trout Creek Cottages. That was done so it will not be confused with the Cumberland Gardens housing project, which is off E. Susquehanna Street in another part of the city's south side.

Another change is the number of homes has increased since 49 were first proposed. A few more are planned along Rye Street, an alley the runs up the hill between S. 5th and S. Fair streets.

The homes will be a mix of singles, townhouses and carriage houses, which are living units atop garages. One unusual feature is every home will front on, or have access to, grassy open space common areas.

"Personally, I think it's a refreshing approach," said Foucek. "A very good notion."

Every home will have a garage or carport, although they won't all be attached to the houses.

One drawback is most of the homes won't have basements and, because they are small, storage space will be limited.

Kontir said the homes will range in size from 700 to 1,700 square feet. He previously told city officials they are designed for "first-time home buyers and empty nesters."

Last year Kontir told City Council the cottages will sell from the
low-$100,000-to-low-$200,000 price range, but on Tuesday he told the planning commission "we're still working on that."

The homes will have no more than three bedrooms, but those third bedrooms will be small and marketed as home office space.

Two commercial units also are planned in the development, but planners were told they will not be retail shops that would draw traffic.

After the meeting, Kontir could not predict when Trout Creek Cottages will be back before the planning commission for preliminary and/or final approval.

But he did say he hopes to get all approvals by mid-summer, adding: "We'll start construction right after that." He predicted sales of the new cottages probably will begin sometime in 2015.

Four-home subdivision tabled

The planning commission also considered a sketch plan for a four-lot subdivision on one acre at 502 Cedar Creek Blvd.

Single-family homes would be built on the four lots, which would require extending Cedar Creek Boulevard near S. 22nd and South streets.

Several neighbors interested in the proposal attended the meeting.

Foucek assured residents the planning commission was only looking at a sketch plan. "We're far from approving a final or even a preliminary plan on this.
This is just the start of a process."

The developer is Elysium Acquisitions.

The project might require city approval for a "temporary' turn-around or cul-de-sac on city-owned property, until Cedar Creek Boulevard eventually would be extended to Mosser Street.

But Hefele said he doesn't know that the city has any intention to extend Cedar Creek Boulevard to Mosser.

And any transfer of city property requires City Council approval, said Young.

"My recommendation is you don't go down that path," said Hefele. "It's on city park land. That's going to be an issue. It's a long, drawn-out problem. There should be an easier way to handle that."

Hefele recommending tabling the proposal because "it utilizes property they don't control."

"We need to meet as a staff with the developer. This was presented without any discussion with anybody at the staff level."

Planning commission members agreed to table the plan.