East Penn Press

Monday, May 21, 2018

EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL

Thursday, February 8, 2018 by TARA CARMAN Special to The Press in Local News

Council approves rezoning ordinance

The Emmaus Borough Council approval of changing a four-acre parcel of land on South Cedar Crest Boulevard from a medium density residential district to a limited commercial district means a Wawa gas and convenience store is one step closer to entering the borough.

The request to rezone the area comes from Cedar Crest Chestnut Development LP. Developer John Cogan said the company would purchase the tract of land if council approves the building of Wawa in the future.

The land is located near the intersection of Cedar Crest Boulevard and Chestnut Street behind the McDonald’s and adjacent to the Colonial Crest apartment complex. More specifically, the plot is between North Tenth Street and South Cedar Crest Boulevard. By the current plans, one driveway would connect Wawa to Cedar Crest and another would stretch to either 10th or 11th streets. The company would also extend Green Street with one-way traffic flowing toward 10th Street.

This vote follows the approval from the Emmaus Zoning Hearing Board allowing, contingent upon council’s rezoning approval, the developers to build the Wawa at 5,585 square feet instead of the typical borough code of less than 4,000 square feet for convenience stores. Council also approved the addition of an LED sign on the Chestnut Street property belonging to Eyecare Of The Valley, which would direct drivers to the rear driveway.

Roughly two dozen residents showed up to the public hearing, with nine speaking. Each of the nine residents who spoke before council had two concerns in common: traffic and safety.

Effe Draklellis, whose family owns the East Penn Diner, stated Cedar Crest Boulevard is one of the most congested roads in the Lehigh Valley according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. She said Wawa would just further the congestion problem.

Draklellis stated there have been 18 accidents involving pedestrians struck by vehicles in Emmaus over the past six years, some of which have resulted in death, one of which happened right at the corner of Chestnut Street and South Cedar Crest Boulevard.

“The Emmaus Borough has taken several steps over the years, some very costly, to insure that people in our town are safe when crossing streets, walking to school, or the store or work, and bringing Wawa into our town will reverse the strides that you’ve made to keep us safe,” Draklellis said.

Resident Barbara Ferguson brought a petition signed by business owners and residents who were concerned about traffic and safety for residents and children alike.

Resident Deborah Brownbridge was concerned about the already narrow 10th and 11th streets and how delivery trucks were going to get through.

“Only four cars can fit from the light at 10th Street back to the creek, so I don’t understand how 10th Street can support the traffic.”

Another concern brought up by Michael Irwin, vice chairman of the Emmaus Main Street Partners, was the location of the building site in proximity to Liebert’s Creek. He was concerned about stormwater runoff, erosion and underground gas tanks impacting the creek.

The final vote was 5- 2, with Councilwoman Terri Sorg-McManamon and Councilman Jeff Shubzda voting against the rezoning.

It was stated multiple times by council members that this decision has nothing to do with approving the Wawa.

“I just don’t want people saying, ‘oh, Wawa’s been approved, it’s now coming to Emmaus,’ ” Councilman Chris DeFrain said. “That’s not what happened tonight.”

DeFrain went on to state there will be plenty of opportunities for residents and business owners to express their concerns about the project. “There’s plenty of time to voice their opinions,” DeFrain said. “We [council] have the same concerns, so help us.”

DeFrain said Wawa might not even come to the borough, and unfortunately, in his opinion, the name was attached to the rezoning project before hand.

Borough Manager Shane Pepe said the next step in the process will be the developer submitting a formal plan for review. This plan has to go through the Emmaus Planning Commission, borough engineer, borough solicitor, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and the Lehigh Valley Conservation District. Each committee will make recommendations.

Pepe said all of these recommendations will come back to the Emmaus Planning Commission. He also noted the developers will most likely be going in front of the commission at least six or seven more times, all of which will give residents more opportunity to voice their opinions.

Pepe said this next step in the process could take anywhere from six months to a year.

“We will wait for the traffic studies, the environmental impact stuff, the conservation district, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission to review the plans, for the engineer reviews, the solicitor comments all that stuff,” Pepe said.

If all of those studies and decisions pass through the Emmaus Planning Commission, then it will be put before council to make the final decision.

It was noted the Emmaus Planning Commission only meets once a month, and the meetings are typically not advertised like public hearings, so council is going to work on a way to make sure residents know when each meeting is being held since there is a lot of concern surrounding the possible arrival of Wawa.