EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL
Emmaus Borough Hall was filled to standing room only as residents showed up at the Nov. 4 Emmaus Borough Council meeting and public hearing to express their concerns for the proposed zoning district.
Developer Jeff Trainer came before council in September regarding a proposed zoning change for 6.1 acres of land at 300 Furnace St. and 2.7 acres of land on 326 S. Second St. The properties are currently zoned as light industrial and conservation residential and council will vote on whether to change the areas to a high dentistry residential office zoning district.
It was noted several times by council and by the borough solicitor, during this almost two-hour public hearing, this vote would simply determine a zoning change for the two tracks of land and the apartment complex being brought forward was not being approved.
Currently, the acres of land are a largely wooded area at the base of South Mountain, and contain an abandoned industrial facility, office and a garage. The area has been home to trespassing, arson, drugs, graffiti, and gang activity over the last 20 plus years.
Borough Manager Shane Pepe said at least six developers have taken interest in revamping the area in the past several years, but were turned off when they realized how much would go into cleaning up the area environmentally.
Trainer, who is the owner of the Wind Creek Event Center, has an end goal of cleaning up the area and turning it into Iron Works Apartments, which will be high end apartments. The current proposed design has six complexes, each consisting of three floors, with 24 units in each complex. The development will also have an exit and entrance way that will be gated off for emergency vehicle access only and a retention pond. Council noted these proposed plans are not permanent, and the number of complexes, units and land design could change.
Trainer had many people with him including Jeffrey Ott, of Ott Consulting Inc., Geologist Jeffrey Christopher, of GeoTechonolocy Associates and Pete Spisszak, senior project manager, Traffic Planning and Design Inc.
After a lengthy presentation and discussion by Trainer and his entourage, residents came up to speak regarding issues such as increased traffic, overcrowding of local schools, stormwater runoff and environmental impact.
Almost every resident who got up to speak commented on the additional traffic this will bring to the borough. A few residents were concerned specifically about Minor Street and the continuing traffic issues caused by the buses of Seven Generations Charter School and the additional standstill traffic around school and rush hours.
Traffic concerns seemed to spike a nerve with residents even more after Spisszak said the traffic study done for the new complex would bring an additional 784 trips per day to that area which would be “minimal.” The residents in attendance did not consider 784 trips to be minimal.
The other popular concern brought up by a handful of residents was the overcrowding of the school district, specially Lincoln and Jefferson elementary schools and the high school, which are located in the borough.
One resident, who after speaking received applause, said her second grader at Lincoln Elementary School recently had his desk removed because there were too many kids in the small classrooms. They now instead sit at small tables.
“I think it’s pretty pathetic that in East Penn School District, my second grader doesn’t have a desk, so how is this going to affect the schools?” she asked.
A few other residents who spoke commented on the stormwater runoff already a major issue in the borough. One resident, whose property lines the proposed development, said every time they get heavy rains her backyard and the proposed property get flooded and turn “marshy.”
A majority of the residents who came to express their concerns during the public hearing left before they heard council’s final remarks on why they would be voting for the zoning change during the actual council meeting itself.
Council spoke for over 10 minutes reiterating issues that came up, what they would be looking into and thanking the residents for coming out to express their concerns.
Councilwoman Teri Sorg-McManamon thanked all of the residents for coming out and commenting on the issue.
“We have to allow the planning commission to do their due diligence,” Sorg-McManamon said. “This property has been a problem for decades, and if we don’t take a stand right now and give us the opportunity to talk through the solutions and the challenges, we don’t get anything in that property, and it will just stay the way it is.”
Councilman John Hart wanted to remind residents this is just the “first step in the dance” and that it’s simply approving the land for high density residential. “I understand the economics of this, and I don’t think anything less than that would be economically reasonable for a developer to try and put something in there given the clean-up duties to be done,” he noted. “Understand that council gets another bite of the apple at this, and we’ll be bringing back all of the issues that were brought up here tonight for our approval.”
Councilman Chris DeFrain said they do hear the residents’ concerns, even though it might not show in the outcome of the vote tonight. “If people are willing to work together, we can make things better than what they are now,” he said. DeFrain used Wawa as an example, and noted all of the concerns brought to council, were brought back to the developer and changed before approval.
Councilman Roy Anders said this proposal is possibly going to create some new traffic issues, and council will see how that pans out and make adjustments as needed which includes working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to try and get an additional stop sign on South Fourth Street.
Councilman Jeff Shubzda said everyone involved in this process has been addressed. “It’s not like we looked at this blindly and just went in, and everybody is looking from all different directions,” he said. Shubzda also mentioned these apartments will bring new people into the borough that will be in walking distance of the downtown area which will help generate revenue for local businesses.
Council President Brent Labenberg, noted the attorney working with this project also represented the Wawa project, and “every issue that we brought up they addressed it and then some.”
Council approved the rezoning 7-0. The proposed development will now go through quite a few steps to be approved, which includes appearing before the planning board commission several times as well as council once again. Residents are encouraged to show up to the planning board and council meetings to continue to express any concerns or ideas.