East Penn Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL

Thursday, February 6, 2020 by TARA CARMAN Special to The Press in Local News

Peering into the future

Emmaus Borough Council members were given a presentation on the future vision of Emmaus at the council meeting held Feb. 3.

Mike Gibson, chairman of the Emmaus Visioning Committee, appeared before council in August 2019 to give an update on the progress of the committee.

The Emmaus Visioning Committee was the combined effort of 15 people including local business owners, developers, residents, the Emmaus Planning Commission, community volunteers, local school personnel and Emmaus Borough Council.

The group met monthly to identify nine key areas in the borough and their impacts. From each of those nine areas, they discussed the resulting benefits, needs for future planning, potential change to current borough ordinances if applicable and challenges each area had in regard to municipal resources.

Each of the nine key areas were then broken down into proposed initiatives and then each initiative was assigned one of three priority timelines. The timelines ranged from one to two years, two to four years and five plus years.

Gibson explained how the group considered various challenges all across the board including current borough staffing to execute the key area initiative, the need for ordinance modifications, the borough’s financial resources and many others.

From the nine key areas, Gibson said they condensed them into six categories for ease of future assignment.

The first key area is community utilities, which includes natural gas, sewer, water, fiber optic cable, 5G utility antenna, electricity and stormwater. The main takeaway from Gibson’s presentation on this area was that they wanted to “provide financially and environmentally-sound sewage disposal” as well as “adequate quantity and quality of water supplies.” Gibson said they will also be working on managing all aspects of storm runoff and encouraging utilities to provide fiber optic lines and 5G network.

The second key area is community services, which includes the park and trail systems, the library, solid waste disposal, emergency services and disaster response facility. Gibson said the committee wants to help to provide and maintain the parks, bicycle and walking trail systems. They also want to make these resources more known to the public, as a lot of people don’t realize they are available for use. The committee also wants to focus on the library services, continued educational resources and continuing to provide reliable and responsive emergency services.

The third key area is natural resources, which includes streams, ponds, natural scenic resources, natural heritage areas and water/stormwater. This area will focus on protecting and restoring the natural resources in the borough.

The fourth key area is agriculture, which for the borough of Emmaus, is the community garden. Gibson said they are discussing having smaller gardens throughout the borough.

The fifth key area, which is one of the biggest, is development. This includes existing development, community design and designating recreational uses where appropriate.

Gibson said one focus of this area was ensuring new land development proposals avoid adverse environmental impacts and serve a genuine good to the public. They should also continue to focus on blighted areas in the borough and focus on areas that can be redeveloped.

Another focus of development was keeping housing looking consistent. “If there is a green space in the middle of a block, that doesn’t become a high rise apartment in a neighborhood full of single family or twins,” Gibson said. “Everyone builds to the consistency of the neighboring homes.”

Gibson said this isn’t about telling people “what color roof shingles, what color brick or what color siding” they are allowed to have. Residents will still have the freedom to express themselves through design.

The sixth key area is transportation. This category is another large one, and includes freight, road, bike and pedestrian. In regard to those modes of transportation, the committee will be looking at appropriate and safe trucking patterns, traffic calming, creating safe and convenient walking/biking routes, connective road systems and program funding.

One aspect when it comes to trucks is working with neighboring communities to encourage specified routes of regional truck traffic to the most efficient roadways. Related to that would be ensuring existing and future facilities involving truck traffic be located along those specified roadways.

The committee always wants to focus on promoting designated walking and biking paths offering safe and convenient routes to popular destinations. The committee wanted to put in designated bike lanes, but it’s proving to be difficult.

“We understand that the challenge of an older community like Emmaus, is it’s very difficult to put those bike lanes in,” Gibson said. “They work on Harrison [Street], they may work on Broad [Street] and they work on some other streets, but they don’t work on Main Street or Chestnut Street, so it’s going to be very difficult to make that work.”

He said that’s why the committee wants to encourage bikers and joggers to start using the streets that will be able to accommodate bike and jogging lanes.

Gibson said the next step in the vision process is to hold at least three public meetings over a 90-day period that will allow the committee to get feedback and collaboration from residents. After the feedback, the ideas and key areas can start to be distributed to the borough council committees to start working on.

Council members praised Gibson and the entire committee for all of their dedication and hard work over the past year.

“I think just knowing what you started with, and all of the pages and page of notes and conversations, there was a lot to drill down and you’ve made it so easy for all of us,” Councilwoman Teri Sorg-McManamon said.

“Communities slightly larger than us, and larger, would have full-time salary planners doing what you’re doing” Councilman John W. Hart said. “We’re very fortunate to have you all involved and serving as volunteers. We certainly appreciate it and you’ve done an outstanding job.”