UPPER MILFORD TWP., Pa. - Traffic issues dominated the conversation when planners from Emmaus, Upper Milford Township and Lower Macungie Township in Lehigh County met with developers of the proposed 218-home Fields at Indian Creek project Monday night.
While the meeting was called to discuss a proposed emergency access road for police, fire trucks and ambulances off Chestnut Street in Emmaus, the underlying issue was the development's impact on traffic throughout that area.
The age 55-and-older development is proposed on 72 acres of a former golf course in all three municipalities.
It will be surrounded by Chestnut Street, Cedar Crest Boulevard, Indian Creek Road and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Matthew Hunter, chairman of Upper Milford's planning commission, said he wanted to confine the conversation to emergency access to the site, but that didn't happen.
The discussion included the developer's plans to install traffic signals at Chestnut and Allen streets; traffic problems at the intersection of Indian Creek Road/Indian Falls Road and Cedar Crest Boulevard, and even whether the proposed emergency access road should become a main entrance into the development.
While the developer intends for residents of Fields of Indian Creek to walk along that emergency access road to reach nearby shops in Emmaus, a member of the Emmaus Planning Commission noted that will only give them access to shops on one side of Chestnut Street.
During the meeting, it was announced that Upper Milford Township is asking the state Department of Transportation to prohibit people on Indian Falls Road from turning north onto Cedar Crest Boulevard.
And Lower Macungie planning officials said the proposed development will have no benefit to their township, but will only put more traffic on its roads.
Only a small section of the Fields at Indian Creek is in Lower Macungie and none of its homes will be in that township.
The largest chunk of the property is in Upper Milford, which is why the township's planning commission hosted the unusual meeting.
Members of the Emmaus Planning Commission attended, as did the chairman of Lower Macungie's planning commission and that township's planning director.
Several people who live nearby complained that Fields at Indian Creek will add to already-growing traffic congestion in the area.
"We can't make one developer responsible for all these regional problems," said Hunter.
"We're trying to come up with the best traffic solution we possibly can," said developer Rick Koze, who owns Kay Builders.
Hunter reminded residents that the proposed development "is a permitted use by right" and, based on sketch plans, it coincides with Upper Milford's ordinance.
Koze came to the meeting looking for consensus from the planning commissions on traffic and access road issues.
"Those are the two issues we've noticed perhaps a disagreement among the municipalities," explained Atty. John Hacker, Koze's lawyer.
Koze wanted to make sure all the parties share the same opinion "so we can move forward."
Last year, Koze expressed hope that he could begin building homes in Fields at Indian Creek this year. Now he hopes it can happen by the middle of next year.
The next steps in the process will be for him to present a preliminary plan to the three municipalities and to submit a traffic impact study to PennDOT.
Koze proposes an emergency access road into the development off Green Drive, behind the Auto Zone store along Chestnut Street in Emmaus.
The 15-foot-wide roadway would include a bridge over Leibert Creek and will be designed to be accessible even during a storm that comes along only once every 100 years, according to Koze.
Planners indicated they want that access road designed so it safe for pedestrians to walk along at the same time it is used by emergency vehicles.
The developer's engineer said that will be part of the preliminary planning process.
Atty. Thomas Dinkelacker, solicitor to the Emmaus Planning Commission, said all Emmaus requested was an emergency access road and the developer has agreed to provide that.
"We're fine with it being emergency access only," said Dinkelacker. "We understand it's likely that pedestrians will use it no matter what you call it. It may well be that when we look at it we'll want you to do something to accommodate pedestrians."
More than emergency access?
Green Drive is a short street that runs behind the East Penn Plaza shopping center in Emmaus. It connects to Cedar Crest Boulevard at one end and swings out to Chestnut Street next to the Auto Zone store at the other.
Koze said he is even receptive to the idea of having the proposed access road off Green Drive open to all Fields at Indian Creek residents -- "if it requires minimal improvement" and if both Upper Milford and Emmaus agree.
"It would be ‘in' only – no ‘out'," said Koze. "It wouldn't be a through street."
He said residents of the development could be issued "clickers"so they could open a gate to drive in.
He indicated one potential obstacle is if that would require adding a left turn lane on northbound Chestnut Street to reach Green Drive.
Michael Gibson, chairman of the Emmaus Planning Commission, suggested the new access road off Green Drive should become a main entrance into the development, with two-way traffic.
Gibson said that would involve making the road 33 feet wide, rather than 15 feet wide, and putting traffic lights at Green Drive and Chestnut, rather than having lights at Allen and Chestnut.
"It seems that would make more sense than dumping traffic onto Allen Street," said Gibson. He also argued that also would reduce the amount of traffic using Indian Creek Road from the development.
Gibson said traffic lights at Green and Chestnut also would give pedestrians a safe way to cross Chestnut Street to reach the Weis market and other shops on that side of the street.
Gibson said he appreciates that Koze wants to give the development's residents easy access to local businesses in Emmaus. "I just want to make sure that it's done safely."
Widening that road to handle two-way traffic would substantially add to his costs, said Koze.
"It's mushrooming," complained Koze at one point. "I've got to draw a line somewhere."
Larry Turoscy, the development's engineer, indicated there would not be enough traffic volume to convince PennDOT that traffic signals should be installed at Green and Chestnut.
"It would be strictly for one development." He indicated the development will not have through roads open to the public.
But Robert Sentner, chairman of the Upper Milford supervisors, maintained PennDOT likes that idea of the development's main entrance being off Green Drive.
Koze said when he met with PennDOT more than a year and a half ago, PennDOT officials agreed Allen and Chestnut was the best location to add traffic signals.
"It should be at Allen," argued Koze. "The whole area benefits from having it there more than anywhere else."
Safety concerns at Allen and Chestnut
Koze said adding the traffic signals at Chestnut and Allen streets in Upper Milford will cost around $500,000.
He envisions Allen Street becoming one of the main access roads to the development.
Sentner said he's "not all in" on the idea of traffic lights at Chestnut and Allen.
Sentner maintains there won't be enough room for a sufficient turning lane for northbound traffic to go left from Chestnut onto Allen, because of a curve coming off an old bridge over the railroad tracks just south of that intersection.
Turoscy said PennDOT may change that curve when it replaces that Chestnut Street bridge, which some locals still refer to "the rabbit farm bridge." He said the road then will have a smoother and safer curve, and room for a longer left turn lane at Allen.
Hunter noted replacing that bridge, which he called "a significant choke point" for traffic, is not the developer's responsibility.
Turoscy also said the Chestnut Street traffic signals south of the proposed Allen Street signals will be retimed and synchronized to improve traffic flow through what now is the most congested area of the township.
Koze said Emmaus and Lower Macungie support traffic signals at Chestnut and Allen, adding: "I thought Upper Milford wanted it."
"We're getting a little frustrated on our side," commented Turoscy.
"I'm just speaking for myself," said Sentner, noting the township has two other supervisors. "But what I see right now, no way it's going to work. I want to see something that's going to work."
Sentner said late afternoon traffic on Chestnut Street already is ‘bumper-to-bumper" from the Upper Milford Township building all the way north to Emmaus.
He's concerned backed-up traffic waiting to go left onto Allen will block through traffic.
Changes requested to Indian Creek Road
Upper Milford's supervisors recently sent a letter to PennDOT recommending that the state impose traffic restrictions on Indian Creek Road, announced Sentner, who serves on the township's planning commission in addition to being a supervisor.
Sentner described Indian Creek Road as "horrible ---one of the worst roads in the state. Traffic on Indian Creek Road is crazy."
He said one of the township's recommendations is for PennDOT to prohibit traffic from turning left from Indian Falls Road onto Cedar Crest Boulevard.
Drivers could only go right from Indian Creek Road onto Cedar Crest Boulevard, said Sentner, but traffic still could turn right off southbound Cedar Crest to reach Indian Creek Road via Indian Falls Road.
Sentner said if those changes are approved by PennDOT, they will impact access to Fields at Indian Creek.
Brian Miller, Upper Milford's planning coordinator, said the Indian Creek/Cedar Crest Boulevard intersection has a high rate of accidents.
"It is a very hazardous intersection," agreed Hunter. "PennDOT's aware of it; the township's aware of it.
Hunter said "the solution that should happen" for the intersection of Indian Falls and Indian Creek roads with Cedar Crest Boulevard would cost millions of dollars. "It's not this developer's job to undertake that," he said. "It's PennDOT's job to undertake that fix."
Near the end of the meeting, resident John Roth complained the traffic issues "are not being addressed properly here. Everybody knows what a terrible intersection Cedar Crest and Indian Creek Road is. And this development, with the number of units that are going to be put in here, is going to adversely impact that intersection. That intersection is a failure right now."
Replied Hunter: "It's a PennDOT roadway. We don't really have any jurisdiction."
Roth said the planning commission is just passing the responsibility off on PennDOT.
Lower Macungie weighs in
Irvin Keister, chairman of the Lower Macungie Planning Commission, said Fields at Indian Creek will not be an asset for his township.
He said the proposed new traffic signals at Allen and Chestnut probably will help, but added many people living in the development won't use that intersection, especially if they are going north.
He named several township roads they will take instead, adding "it's going to be burden for us; the traffic is going to be an impact in Lower Macungie."
Keister also said the projected traffic counts he's seen for the development seem low. He noted a great many people over age 55 still are driving, many because they're still working.
Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie's planning director, agreed with Keister.
One resident in the audience questioned whether Fields at Indian Creek will remain a 55-and-older community, indicating there will be even more traffic if it does not.
Said Hunter of Upper Milford's planning commission: "I believe federal law mandates that up to 20 percent of the homes in an age-restricted community are open to any age."
Turoscy said his company, Lehigh Engineering, has done about a dozen age-restricted communities throughout the Lehigh Valley in the last 15 years and not one of them has ever changed its age requirements.
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