LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - The proposed Hamilton Crossings shopping center was blasted as a hodge-podge of stores that lacks a consistent design theme by George Doughty of the Lower Macungie Planning Commission Tuesday night.
Doughty made his remarks in front of two Hamilton Crossings developers, along with their lawyer and engineer, during the planning commission meeting in the Wescosville Community Center along Hamilton Boulevard, literally right next door where the shopping center is planned in the township.
"As I look at your plan, it is like a hundred other places, where you are accommodating three or four big box stores, based on their demand, and then squeezing other stuff around it," said Doughty.
"When you do that, you end up with what we have here, which is sort of a hodge-podge kind of approach. There really isn't a theme design at all here and there really isn't anything that even approaches pedestrian friendly, or streetscape, or creating an attractive area that people would want to go to."
Doughty said if people want to go to Dick's Sporting Goods store, which apparently is planned in the shopping center, they will park in front of Dick's, buy what they want and leave.
He predicted Hamilton Crossings is not going to be a center of activity where people will want to stroll around and shop. "I think we need to understand that's what we're buying here, as far as the township's concerned."
Doughty also said: "If I had my way, it would stay farm fields forever, but it's not going to be."
The developers did not respond to Doughty's criticisms.
Sara Pandl, the township's planning and economic development director, later reminded planning commission members that Hamilton Crossing stores will be located in places that avoid building them over huge deposits of mine wash.
Said to have the consistency of pancake batter, mine wash is material left from open pit mining done on the site in the 19th century. The developers plan to remove and remediate that mine wash, then put it back into the old mine holes. But they will only build parking lots over it.
Doughty's criticism of Hamilton Crossings was unusual because it was came from a planning official in a township where the top leaders have embraced the shopping center project.
Doughty prefaced his comments by saying "I'm late to this game." He later explained he has been on the planning commission since January.
Hamilton Crossings has been in the planning stages for years.
While Doughty was the most vocal, he wasn't the only planning commission member expressing some disillusion with the 63-acre project during the meeting.
"One concern that we hear tonight is we've offered some fairly significant concessions with variances and waivers," said Irvin Keister, chairman of the planning commission. "Part of the reason for that were the amenities we were anticipating getting. But it seems like each step that we go here, there is some backing off.
"I'm sensitive to the trend. I would like to see us get more things back in, as opposed to finding things are disappearing."
Doughty indicated the developers have shown a continued pattern of disregard for comments from the township.
An unexpected detention pond
Commission vice chairman Maury Robert wasn't happy to learn the Hamilton Crossings developers now want to put a detention pond near a softball field in Wescosville Park.
‘This is the first I became aware that they are actually taking township land," said Robert. "They want to cram all sorts of stuff on their land and then say ‘we need some township land for another detention pond'. Seems a little excessive. I wasn't thrilled to see that. It sure as hell hasn't been talked about at the planning commission."
The proposed detention pond would cover about a half acre, estimated Bud Newton, the project's engineer. He described it as a landscaped rain garden.
"That park is relatively small to start with," said Robert. "I'm not very happy about that."
Developer Jeremy Fogel apologized, saying the detention pond has been discussed for months, but obviously not in front of the planning commission.
Fogel said the pond is being designed so it will not impact play on the park's ball fields.
Pandl suggested a fountain might be added to the detention pond so it looks more like it belongs in a park.
Another point of contention is a traffic roundabout proposed by the planning commission.
It would be on the shopping center property between the Krocks Road entrance and the Target, one of Hamilton Crossings' three anchor stores.
Planners cited the roundabout in the Promenade shopping center in Upper Saucon Township as an example of what they would like.
"You folks have brought up the Promenade on a regular basis," Keister told the developers. "You go from one end of that to the other with roundabouts and you don't have trucks mixing with the cars or pedestrians."
"It's not a design that we like," said Fogel.
Robert indicated the developers don't like the roundabout because of truck traffic, but he said trucks will be able to access the shopping center's stores via other roads without going through the roundabout.
He questioned whether the developers want trucks in front of stores, mixing with cars and pedestrians.
"It seems like, if we keep trucks out of there, the roundabout would work," said Keister.
Fogel said trucks aren't the only issue. Another is the size the roundabout would have to be to accommodate traffic. He said there is no "traffic reason to install it." He indicated Target's management also took issue with the roundabout proposal.
Keister asked the developers about progress to get a more upscale design for the facade of the Costco, the most highly anticipated anchor store in Hamilton Crossings.
Fogel said a request has been sent to Costco in response to "significant comments" the developers recently have received about the appearance of the proposed building, "to see what they would be willing to do in terms of change to their building and their gas facilities." He said no response has been received yet.
"The facade they propose is a lot different than the rest of the center," said Pandl.
Ron Beitler, township commissioner-elect, said Lower Macungie was sold "a town center concept" by the developers when they were "trying to win the hearts and minds of the public for TIF funding."
"A certain quality was being sold to us and now we're hearing that this might change."
Beitler wants to see more artists' renderings of more areas of Hamilton Crossings so the public is assured the entire shopping center will be "the same level of quality we were sold."
Fogel said the renderings made public were part of the approvals already received from the township "and we're obligated to deliver those. The images we presented to you are still our commitment to deliver."
After the meeting, Doughty said the Promenade shopping center "may not be ideal but it's certainly nice, and walkable." He predicted the design of Hamilton Crossings will be less like the Promenade and more like a larger version of the Crest Plaza Shopping Center in South Whitehall Township, which has a Target.
Robert said another area of concern is why the township should own sewer lines that only serve the shopping center development. Township engineer William Erdman said Lower Macungie would maintain those sewers, but the developer would pay for their operation and maintenance.
Purpose of planning meeting
Lower Macungie commissioners gave Hamilton Crossings conditional use approval last week. The project now is moving into the land development approval process with the planning commission, which ultimately will make a recommendation to township commissioners.
Tuesday's discussion focused on details.
Pandl told the planning commission members they would be looking at some specific design issues that have come up as the land development plan has evolved, so the developers can move forward to fully develop plans.
The developers wanted clarification on design details before they prepare and submit those more detailed plans, explained Pandl and Erdman.
"This is such a large project that it's kind of nice to be able take bite-size pieces of it," said Pandl.
Pandl raised several issues, some about specific sections of the project.
She said there are a number of areas where dumpsters are detached from proposed buildings in the shopping center, raising concerns about how they will look compared to the architecture of the project and how they will be screened. She said dumpster locations ideally should be attached to buildings and integral to the architecture.
Pandl said another issue is whether continuous sidewalks are appropriate in all locations on the site. She said walkways have been removed from a couple of places where they were shown in the original plan. Fogel explained why a couple of sections of walkways, which he referred to as bike paths, were eliminated.
Fencing and landscaping are planned around the perimeter of the property to help reduce noise and reduce the potential for trash to blow from the shopping center to nearby homes.
Developer Tim Harrison explained they intend to create a Hamilton Crossings condominium association with three owners. One will be the Costco store and its parking lot, which Costco will own. Another will be the Target anchor store and its parking lot, which Target will own.
"The developer will own the balance of the units," said Harrison. "We have not yet determined how many there will be. We will have one management for the whole center."
Last week resident Mike Siegel, a retired professional planner, presented the township with 31 design recommendations he came up with for Hamilton Crossings.
Siegel talked about a few of his suggestions Tuesday night.
He said decorative design features should hide cooling towers and air conditioning units on the roofs of buildings, indicating such features also should reduce noise from that equipment.
Siegel also said refuse areas should be gated and locked and that oil drums for grease in those waste areas should not become "a nasty-looking mess."
He recommended the township should not allow products for sale to be displayed outside stores and that Hamilton Crossings should have fountains and a landmark clock in the entranceway.
Harrison thanked Siegel for his suggestions: "We have studied them. We feel the vast majority of them are part of the plan already. But there are some good ideas, which we'll continue to work on. I can't promise we're going to do every single thing. Where we find we cannot, we'll explain to you why we cannot."
Resident Glenn Wagner, who lives near the proposed shopping center, asked if stores will be open 24/7 and if trucks will be making deliveries to those stores at 3 or 4 in the morning.
Fogel said none of the stores will be open 24 hours. He said deliveries will begin at 7 a.m. at Whole Foods, one of the anchor stores near Wagner's home, and end at 1 p.m.
Pandl said the township will work with the developers to set delivery times.
Allentown, PA 18102