ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A large and angry group of residents went to the Allentown Planning Commission Tuesday afternoon to try to stop what some claimed will be a scrap yard from coming into their neighborhood.
If they expected the planning commission to kill the planned recycling processing facility, they were disappointed. Even a letter from Mayor Ed Pawlowski supporting their position did not help.
The property they are concerned about is along North Meadow Street, between Cedar and Washington streets near the north edge of the city.
John Schneider of E. Schneider & Sons, Inc. plans to create the facility on the 2.57-acre site by constructing three attached buildings totaling 10,040 square feet and renovating an existing building fronting Washington Street.
He said he will be recycling materials from just a few manufacturers, not from the public.
He repeatedly stressed no materials will be stored outdoors on the site.
And he said his operation will produce no noise or pollution.
Materials will be delivered and taken away by "18-wheelers," but he added: "The volume of material is extremely low." He said only two tractor-trailers will come in and go out in a month.
Initially the site will only have two employees, but Schneider indicated that could change depending on future business activity. He intends to operate 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
Some residents at the meeting simply didn't believe Schneider.
"The proposal is to put a scrap yard directly in the middle of a neighborhood," said neighbor Ron Semanick. "This will destroy the neighborhood, the quality of life and the value of homes. Who would ever want to live near a scrap yard?"
City planning officials tried to assure residents the operation is not being approved as a scrap yard and cannot become a scrap yard.
E Schneider & Sons operates a scrap yard at 616 Sumner Ave., just west of the N. Seventh Street bridge. "I'm sure some people are concerned that this site is going to be what he has on Sumner Avenue, but it's totally different," said Adam Smith of Barry Isett & Associates, Schneider's engineer for the project.
"There is a large crowd in here today, one of the largest we've seen in awhile," said planning commission vice chairman Anthony Toth at the start of the meeting in City Hall. "We ask that you be courteous and respectful of us and we'll work through this together."
The audience became rebellious when planner Martin Velazquez asked Schneider if adjacent businesses have truck traffic using Meadow, Washington and Cedar streets.
When Schneider said yes, many in the audience loudly responded "no!"
Toth, who ran the meeting, implored people to "keep it civil," telling them they would have a chance to speak and offer rebuttal.
Hilda Gammer, who said she's lived on North Meadow Street for 74 years, walked right up to the table where Schneider and his engineer were seated and told them what Schneider is proposing is "a disgrace." She asked Schneider if he would like to live across from what he is proposing.
He did not answer.
"You think people in our neighborhood are deserving of this? It's very rude of you."
Gammer was applauded. When she told Schneider if he owns the property, he should do something more valuable for the whole neighborhood, she was applauded again.
Toth asked resident to keep their emotions and applause to a minimum.
Said another woman: "Most of the people here are neighbors and we do not want this in our very residential neighborhood. We want to keep our neighborhood quiet."
Toth repeatedly told residents Schneider has the right to use the property as he plans, according to the city's zoning ordinance and its zoning officer.
Velazquez told residents: "I'm concerned you have an expectation this board cannot meet."
He explained: "We need to look at a plan presented to us, consider as it relates to existing zoning and determine whether or not it fits. That's our job. We're not going to rewrite zoning here today. That's not what we're here to do."
Planner Richard Button said he understands the concerns of residents, but added: "This is not the place to discuss that."
Residents could attempt to appeal the decision of the city's zoning officer regarding the use of the property to the Allentown zoning hearing board, suggested Button and Michael Hefele, the city's planning director.
Schneider was seeking preliminary/final plan approval from the planning commission.
But the commission decided to table the plan until it is "cleaned up." If that is done, Toth said: "It will be in our best interest of our commission to approve that plan at next month's meeting."
Toth announced that Mayor Pawlowski sent a letter to the planning commission opposing the proposed plan. Toth said that while the mayor "does concede that the use presented is consistent with the city's zoning ordinance, he nonetheless opposes the use based on the changed landscape of this portion of Meadow Street."
More than once, Schneider replied "I don't know" or "I'll get back to you" when questions were put to him.
When asked by planners for an explanation of the purpose for the proposed buildings, Schneider initially replied: "Could you be more specific?"
Then he said: "We will be serving a couple of our customers. We're going to do additional manufacturing to their co-products, so the product is suitable to be shipped to another facility to be melted.
"We package and size it so it can go on through the economic food chain to be re-melted. Sizing means you cut it to a specific size." He said no melting of materials will be done at the Meadow Street operation.
Button asked for an explanation of "co-product."
Schneider indicated it is types of metal that are very valuable, but too big to go into a furnace to be melted down for reuse. "It will be cut. It needs to be sized and kept in a secure place prior to shipment."
He said cutting will be done indoors, using a cutting torch, plasma torch or an air chisel. "The residents won't hear the noise."
Smith said Schneider has been operating his business for many years on the former Lehigh Structural Steel property beneath the Tilghman Street Bridge, but has to leave because that property is scheduled to be redeveloped.
Schneider plans to put eight-foot-high chain link fence around the 801 N. Meadow St. property, with automated gates, surveillance cameras and security patrols. He also said the premises will be alarmed. "The public is not allowed on this property."
Commented Schneider: "We have a huge problem with security on Sumner Avenue. They're coming in nightly and taking our stuff."
He said he will not be doing scrap metal processing, storage or shipping at the Meadow Street facility.
"The products we are gong to handle there are defined as co-products, not scrap. ‘Scrap' denotes something that's obsolete. You cannot come to Meadow Street and sell me your aluminum cans, your old screen door, your old swing set or anything that has outlived its usefulness."
Smith said the site now is vacant "and kind of overgrown." He said another industrial facility on the site was torn down several years ago.
Much of the property closest to Meadow Street on the west side of the property will remain undeveloped, according to Smith.
In addition to trees along Meadow Street, he said evergreen trees will be planted along that side of the property to serve as a buffer between the planned facility and homes across the street.
Smith told planners Schneider has no immediate need for that western part of the property but does not want to subdivide it in case he wants to develop it in the future, which would involve returning to the planning commission.
Resident Richard Lake said he was told the site where Schneider wants to build his recycling plant once was a dye manufacturing plant and that 55-gallon drums of dye were put underground.
Hefele recalled there were environmental issues with the property and that the state Department of Environmental Protection or federal Environmental Protection Agency had been involved there many years ago. He said he will check into that.
Schneider was grilled by Atty. William Malkames, who said he was representing "727 N. Meadow St. LLC, a neighbor of this property." When asked by Toth, Malkames said that address is apartments across the street owned by Nat Hyman.
Schneider confirmed to Malkames that he does recycling work for three companies.
When asked if he was doing the work for other companies, Schneider said: "I'd have to get back to you on that. I'd have to give that some thought."
When Malkames asked Schneider if the project's description had changed since it first was proposed, Schneider replied: "I don't know."
Said Malkames: "I can help you with that."
Said Schneider: "If you knew the answer, why would you ask the question?"
Malkames later told the planners: "Today is the day he should be able to tell us what it is he's going to do."
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