LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - A concept plan will be done to determine what improvements are needed in Lower Macungie Township's Quarry Park -- and how much making those improvements will cost.
On Thursday night, township commissioners unanimously approved paying $4,000 to D'Huy Engineering, Inc., of Bethlehem to develop that plan.
D'Huy has done many athletic field projects for municipalities, school districts and universities.
The concept plan will precede more detailed land development plans that will be needed before any actual improvements are made in the park, which is along Quarry Road west of Route 100.
Yet one commissioner expressed optimism that doing the concept plan now will lead to a 2015 township budget allocation for more detailed planning, and perhaps even some improvements next year at the park.
"I've been pushing for years to take Quarry Park and turn it into more of a regional athletic complex," said Commissioner Brian Higgins, "where we have lights, scoreboards -- and we may have an artificial surface field, so we're not constantly chewing up the fields by overusing them.
"We're asking for a concept plan so we can get an idea of what a project like this would cost."
Higgins said the concept plan will be done within just four weeks.
D'Huy officials will attend one public township meeting to present and discuss the concept plan.
Higgins said the township will try to include funds to start making improvements at Quarry Park in the 2015 budget.
He said Quarry Park is more than 20 years old, but offers few amenities. He explained it only has restrooms in one building, which has to be locked during major sports tournaments because "they would overflow."
Higgins estimated improving only half of Quarry Park would cost about $4 million.
"We're only looking at a concept plan for the front half of the park right now," he said.
The commissioner said the 35-acre park has four baseball fields and three regulation flat fields, used for soccer, football, field hockey and lacrosse. But he added one of those flat fields is in the outfield of a baseball field.
While Commissioner Douglas Brown joined his colleagues in voting to hire D'Huy, he expressed reservations about getting only one proposal to do the concept plan.
"This was rushed, pushed forward," complained Brown. "This is how mistakes are made. We didn't properly vet this thing."
Township engineer William Erdman said the D'Huy proposal "looks reasonable. It's a very limited scope of work. My understanding is D'Huy Engineering has done things exactly in line with what the intent is here, so they can hit the ground pretty quickly on it."
Erdman said the sole purpose of the concept plan is to get numbers for the 2015 township budget, which is why the township is moving quickly.
"Whether it goes forward in the budget or not, at least the numbers will be available," said Erdman.
Conrad agreed the township needs to have the concept plan before budget time, to help determine how much to allocate for improvements in the park.
"This is a positive move forward," he said.
Park lights moving
In a related matter, township commissioners formally approved a request from the Lower Macungie Youth Association to move lights used to illuminate playing fields from Creamery Park to Quarry Park.
Quarry is considered a better site for after-dark sports activities because no residents live nearby to be annoyed by the "very bright" lights.
Higgins said the lights have become an issue for township residents living near Creamery Park, which is along Spring Creek Road.
"It's an improvement," said Conrad.
Rather than lights mounted on poles around the perimeter of an athletic field, the youth association has four or five portable units, said Higgins, who explained they are similar to lights used on night-time road construction projects.
Higgins, a former president of the youth association, explained the rented lights are used for early evening soccer practice in autumn, when days start getting shorter.
"We do not have a field in this township that has lights," said Higgins. "Once the sun goes down, that's it, we're done."
PPL cutting Hamilton Boulevard trees
In other news, commissioners learned PPL plans to cut more trees that are near power lines in the township, including along a section of Hamilton Boulevard.
Last year PPL caused an uproar in the township when it cut down hundreds of trees – as well as other vegetation -- to protect power lines from storm damage that knocks out electrical service.
Township manager Bruce Fosselman said PPL tree trimming will be done along Hamilton Boulevard between Lower Macungie and Mill Creek roads, plus along the western half of Lower Macungie Road.
Fosselman reported the sycamore trees along Hamilton Boulevard will have their branches and limbs "trimmed back to the trunks" on the sides facing away from the street, but the canopy over Hamilton will not be touched.
Township officials initially were concerned that the trees lining the road would be completely removed by PPL.
Commissioner Ron Beitler said "my heart kind of sank" when he found out sycamores along the boulevard were being cut, but added: "It's not a terrible outcome. In a way, they are deviating from their standard protocol."
The work, which will be done by Jaflo tree service for PPL, will begin in two or three weeks.
Fosselman said Jaflo representatives already have contacted property owners along Hamilton Boulevard.
EAC recommending open space tax
Lower Macungie's Environmental Advisory Council wants a voter referendum on implementing a township tax specifically for open space preservation.
Conrad said the EAC first brought the idea to the commissioners' budget & finance committee a year ago, but commissioners asked the EAC to provide them with more information about the issue, including what other options exist for open space preservation.
Conrad said the EAC has prepared "a very comprehensive and detailed report," which he encouraged his fellow commissioners to read.
That 17-page report outlines all viable funding methods available to the township for preserving its remaining desirable tracts of open space.
In a letter accompanying the EAC's "Open Space Preservation White Paper," EAC chairman Scott Alderfer wrote: "It is the opinion of the EAC that a .25 percent earned income tax with a five-year sunset provision would likely be the best fit for Lower Macungie Township."
Alderfer had been invited to the budget & finance committee meeting that preceded Thursday night's commissioners meeting, but he did not attend.
One unresolved question is when a public referendum could be held on the proposed open space tax, even if commissioners eventually agree to put the issue on the ballot for township voters to decide.
Conrad said it's also not clear how much money such a tax would generate, although Higgins suggested it would be about $2.5 million a year.
Conrad said the budget & finance committee is seeking answers to those and other questions and will continue discussing the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Sept. 4.
Conrad also announced that three public workshops on the 2015 township budget have been scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and, if necessary, Oct. 29.
He said the first meeting will outline the needs of township departments, the second will focus on the needs of community organizations and the third will be held if needed.
Brown announced a new ordinance is being developed that would require all residents to remove their vehicles from all streets and roads in the township when snow and other weather emergencies are declared.
Brown indicated whether signs will have to be posted on every road "is still up for debate."
The commissioner expects to have a proposed weather emergency ordinance at the next meeting of his public works committee at 7 p.m. Aug. 25.
Complaint about train horns
Commissioners briefly discussed a letter from resident Jeffrey Codrea, who complained about trains sounding their horns when rolling through the township.
Codrea said countless Lower Macungie residents who live near the railroad tracks must face sleepless nights because of the horns and suggested the township create a quiet zone.
It certainly was not the first time township officials have been asked to do something about train horns over the years. But rather than simply dismissing the letter, Conrad, who is president of the five commissioners, referred it to their public safety committee.
"We looked into this about six or seven years ago and the answer was flat-out ‘no'," said Erdman, the township engineer. "They will not back off on that horn. Norfolk Southern will not touch it. It's a safety issue."
Some railroad crossings in Lower Macungie are among the most dangerous in the entire state, said Commissioner James Lancsek. "That's a fact."
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