LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - A new Weis Market is being planned along Route 100 in Lower Macungie Township, almost directly across the highway from where a Weis Market already exists.
The 24-hour grocery store, which will have its own small gas station, is proposed between Allen Organ Company and the Mack Trucks plant just outside the borough of Macungie.
The Weis store now along Route 100 encompasses 50,000 square feet, said David Gill, architecture director at Weis, but the new "state-of-the-art" grocery store will cover 75,000 square feet.
He estimated the store now there is about 20 years old.
Why replace it?
Gill said dramatic changes have happened in those 20 years.
He explained the number and variety of products Weis offers, including international foods, has greatly expanded, which requires more space.
"It's not enough that you have white and brown rice. We carry 20 different kinds of rice."
He also said Weis is expanding its ready-to-eat, hot home meal offerings for customers. "That is commonplace in a modern grocery store."
When asked why the new store will be 50 percent larger than the existing store, Gill explained: "We increase the size of a store for the amenities. We don't necessarily think we're going to magically get 50 percent more people shopping there. But the people we do have shopping there have more offers and more options."
He indicated that means they will put more into their shopping carts, and added eventually the number of customers will increase at the store. "We do this to keep current and keep competitive in the market."
The new supermarket building will be set back from Route 100, standing on about 12 acres next to Gehman Road.
Gill said the property will include a Weis fueling kiosk and, across the parking lot from the supermarket, two unnamed sit-down restaurants.
Four other small businesses will be along the east side of the grocery store. Gill said they may include a nail salon, ice cream parlor, hair salon or laundry.
The Weis plan was before the Lower Macungie Zoning Hearing Board Tuesday night. One variance and one special exemption were requested and approved.
One will allow the Weis building to be only 80 feet from Gehman Road rather than the 150-foot setback required by the township. A heavily landscaped buffer will stand between the building and the road.
The zoners also approved allowing the grocery store's parking lot to have fewer spaces than required by the township. Gill said 408 spaces are proposed for the market and the two restaurants, but 433 are required.
He said 408 spaces "absolutely" will be enough parking.
He said the common joke among architects is that supermarket parking is designed for the two days it is needed: the day before Thanksgiving and the day before Christmas.
"Ninety percent of the time, you're using a quarter or a third of the parking," said Gill. He explained Saturday and Sunday mornings are the busiest times of the week at Weis stores. During the week, the stores are busiest around 11 a.m. and again from 3:30-5 p.m.
Gill said Weis does not want to have "a sea of asphalt" at its stores.
The Weis official explained the parking lot will be shared with the two restaurants, because the grocery store will have different peak times than the restaurants. He said restaurants such as Applebees and Outback are busiest from 7-9 p.m.
Gill said the Weis across Route 100 has 255 parking spaces, but peak parking at that store tops out at 60-70 spaces. He said on very busy days, excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas, that lot tops out at 100 to 110 spaces.
Gill said Weis has 165 grocery stores. He could not predict when the new building will be constructed, but told zoners the old Weis will close when the new one is completed.
He said the old building will be leased for a compatible use –"an Old Navy, a fitness center, doctors' offices. The sky's the limit. But we're certainly not going to lease it out to another grocery store."
He anticipates 50 percent more employees will work in the larger new store, adding that does not include additional employees who will work in the two restaurants and four shops on the property.
Another variance for adjoining apartments
The proposed Weis will be part of a mixed-use development proposed by a company called Sterling Lehigh Valley LLC.
Next to the Weis, and directly behind Allen Organ, will be seven three-story apartment buildings on 25 acres. Thirty-six units will be inside three of the buildings. Each of the other four buildings will have 24 apartments. A 2,500-square-foot clubhouse also will be on the property.
The apartment complex also got a variance, because three of the buildings are less than 50 feet apart, which is required by the township.
Some are as close as 35 feet from each other, testified Thomas Barton, the architect. He described them as fire-protected wood frame buildings that will have sprinkler systems and non-combustible exterior "skins."
The entire project will have to undergo a land development review before being approved by township commissioners.
All the changes were backed by township officials. "We're generally supportive of the project; it's going to be a good addition to the township," said Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie's planning and community development director, who was speaking for the township commissioners.
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