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N. Whitehall OKs conditional use for commercial development


Special to The Press

In a 3-0 decision, North Whitehall supervisors voted Nov. 17 to grant conditional approval for a proposed commercial development along Routes 873 and 309, and Schneck Road in Schnecksville.

The applicant, Route 309 Associates LLC, of Hamburg, also known as King’s Real Estate Group Inc., is proposing the development of an approximately 11.77-acre area.

The proposed commercial park would include an approximately 5,600-square-foot convenience store with gas pumps, 30,000-square-foot medical office building, 4,500-square-foot bank with drive-through, 6,800-square-foot retail building and a self-storage facility.

Water would be supplied by Lehigh County Authority. Sanitary sewage service would be provided by Allied Utility Services.

Township Solicitor Lisa Young, and Attorney Blake Marles, representing the applicant, noted the evening’s hearing was a continuation of the Sept. 3 hearing, and would only be focused on granting conditional use to the project.

They said items, such as traffic issues, stormwater management and engineering details would be considered in any future land development plans.

Dave King, one of the owners of Route 309 Associates, testified his company owns the majority of the proposed development area.

The company has agreements of sale for the remaining parcels, which will include the razing existing buildings, including a former veterinary clinic, homes, garages and a car service facility.

King also said he is familiar with commercial development in the area, as his development company owns King’s Plaza Schnecksville, also on Route 873.

King noted the commercial development’s primary entrance will be at the intersection of Routes 309 and 873.

There will be entry and egress points along Schneck Road and a right-in-only toward the medical office building.

He said the layout complies with access and circulation requirements under the township zoning ordinance.

A stub road at the rear or east of the development is also proposed to facilitate development of adjacent tracts.

King said he currently does not have any tenants or signage designs for the development but affirmed any signage plan will be dependent on the needs of tenant companies and will also comply with ordinance requirements.

He noted landscaping, parking and sidewalk plans for the development have not been finalized.

During the public comment period, discussions focused on the proposed convenience store.

At the beginning of the hearing, Marles said the applicant received special exception for the convenience store at a hearing before the zoning hearing board Oct. 28.

Marles said an issue about whether the proposed building was or was not an automotive service station was determined by the zoning hearing board’s solicitor, who decided the building was not a service station.

“So we have no reason to believe there is an outstanding zoning issue at this time,” Marles said.

Attorney Joel Wiener, representing the nearby Mary Ann’s Plaza, however, disagreed with Marles and King’s assertions.

He highlighted the inclusion of gas pumps and sale of gasoline, and maintained the proposed property fit the definition of a service station.

“My questions are going to whether or not there’s been full zoning approval granted to be here this evening,” Wiener said. “Because when one looks at what’s required of an auto service station, one finds a number of items that should be addressed, that have not been addressed with what appears to be an auto service station.”

After a back-and-forth discussion and review of the zoning hearing board transcript, Young said the board had already dealt with the issue and determined the building to be a convenience store with gas pumps.

Additionally, civil engineer Chris Williams, with Barry Isett and Associates, testified about and discussed preliminary traffic impacts.

Marles noted that while general traffic issues were not considered part of the conditional use process, he wanted to ensure supervisors and neighbors were informed on the traffic design process.

Williams said he was working with PennDOT to meet the standards of traffic design and noted a traffic study would be completed as part of the land development process.

He also said there were no identified significant traffic hazards or congestion concerns which could be caused by the center.

Williams said activity at the primary traffic driver of the center - the convenience store - was estimated to be 76 percent pass-through traffic, or traffic already traveling along roadways, which would now be entering the site.

Noting residential concerns about truck traffic in residential neighborhoods, Williams said preliminary analyses showed no increase to truck traffic.

He also said the store’s gas pumps were not designed to accommodate truck fueling.

In response to other concerns about potential delays to emergency services, Williams said PennDOT would consider the matter in its review.

He also presented some exhibits showing EMS services would have no degradation on response times.

Williams said routes for several first responder organizations - Schnecksville Community Fire Co. No. 1, a Northern Valley EMS station to the east, and Eastern Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Service - would be unaffected by the development.

He added vehicles from Walnutport’s NOVA EMS station and Neffs Volunteer Fire Company could continue using Route 873 or take an alternate route on Bellview Road to reach the commercial center.

Williams said the internal road system, while not fully designed, would be able to safely allow fire trucks, emergency responders and other large vehicles to maneuver, enter and exit.

During the public comment period, Schnecksville Deputy Fire Chief Bradley Petrohoy asked the board to consider the impact of the proposed alternative routes on EMS service delivery.

He noted while Route 873 was an arterial road, proposed alternatives such as Spruce Street and Schneck Road were smaller collector roads.

Petrohoy asked whether any evaluation was done as the sufficiency of redirecting larger, heavier emergency vehicles onto “local” streets.

Williams said while no detailed analyses were completed, the planned routes were just looking at available alternates which were shorter and had approximately the same amount of travel time.

Additionally, resident Scott Mellen asked if the Parkland School District was informed of the development.

“Since these roadways are used fairly heavily by the Parkland School District, has the township reached out to the district to solicit its input on this process,” he asked.

Young said informing the district was not a legal requirement, adding Parkland would usually be notified when land development plans are filed, if there will be a major impact.

After the board voted to grant conditional approval, in response to questions about when land development plans will be filed, King said he anticipated the process to take several months.

PRESS PHOTO BY SARIT LASCHINSKY At a Nov. 17 virtual hearing, North Whitehall supervisors voted to unanimously approve conditional use for a new commercial development proposed by Route 309 Associates LLC, which is planned to be constructed along Routes 873 and 309, and Schneck Road in Schnecksville.