Three south Allentown projects came before the city's planning commission Tuesday afternoon -- a new Dunkin Donuts, a rebuilt McDonalds and an evolving plan for a new neighborhood of cottages.
Only the Dunkin Donuts project was reviewed by planners for the first time. It was tabled because they decided it needed more work to address both traffic flow and traffic safety.
The Dunkin Donuts is proposed at 1547 Lehigh St., at the Parkway Shopping Center. If approved, it will be built on the site of the former Ragonas Lighthouse seafood restaurant, which was torn down.
Plans to demolish and rebuild the McDonalds in front of the Kmart along S. 4th Street had been reviewed and approved last October by the planning commission.
It came back Tuesday for a child-oriented change apparently spurred by popular demand.
The commission got its first look since last summer at a slightly refined plan for the cottage neighborhood development proposed at South Sixth and West Cumberland streets, where both streets end at the hilltop site of the former Montex textile mill, which was destroyed in a fire years ago.
The new Dunkin Donuts will be built in front of Parkway Shopping Center, between the Arby's restaurant and Penske truck rental. It will be less than 1.5 miles from an existing Dunkin Donuts at 31st and Lehigh streets.
The doughnut shop will cover 2,000 square feet and have 20 seats inside. It also will have a drive-thru. It will be built on less than one acre of land, leased from a company called Parkway Pad, which owns the shopping center.
Brian Gasda, the project's engineer, said no new driveways are proposed onto Lehigh Street, a state road. He said Dunkin Donuts' customers will come and go via the shopping center's access road with traffic lights just north of Arby's.
But planners are concerned that drivers will use another shopping center access road, just south of the proposed doughnut shop, which does not have any traffic lights. They especially are concerned drivers leaving the shop will attempt to turn left to go south on busy Lehigh Street from that exit.
Oldrich Foucek, planning commission chairman, said if he had the authority, he would require that a sign forbidding left turns be erected at the shopping center exit. "But I don't know that we have that authority," he said, noting Lehigh Street is a state road. He suggested PennDOT may say "this is fine, it's been like this for 50 years."
The project engineer indicated the Dunkin Donuts owner also won't have the authority to put restrictions on an entrance road owned by the shopping center but said "we can make suggestions to the shopping center."
City planning director Michael Hefele said if the Dunkin Donuts would be moving into an existing space within the actual shopping center, the planners would not be looking at that unsignalized exit, which he called "a permanent driveway to the shopping center."
But planner Richard Button said the shopping center entrance without traffic lights will be "just a couple of feet away" from the Dunkin Donuts. After leaving the shop, he said:"They're going to want to go there and make a left to get on I-78." He noted drivers would be puling out into traffic at the point where S. Jefferson Street merges into Lehigh.
Planners suggested the problem might be solved by developing better traffic circulation around the Dunkin Donuts, including making sure the drive-thru's exit is not near the shopping center exit with no traffic lights.
"The key is getting people away from that southern exit," said Foucek.
Some suggested turning the proposed building, so the drive-thru exit would be closer to the signalized shopping center exit. Gasda said he prefers to leave the building oriented as it is, but said he will work on addressing traffic flow issues.
He expressed concern that too much curbing at the Dunkin Donuts will interfere with snow plowing and stormwater running off the property.
But Richard Young, the city's public works director, indicated something more needs to be done. "This design is kind of a free-flow," said Young. "You could wind up having traffic all over the place. A white line doesn't stop traffic."
Some planners suggested bollards -- vertical posts or pillars - or other separators used to delineate lanes and control traffic flow.
"We did want to keep it as simple as possible but we do understand the importance of controlling traffic flow," said Gasda.
Young recommended removing the paved surface of areas not needed for parking and traffic and planting grass in those areas. Foucek indicated plantings in those grassy areas could be used to help direct traffic.
"That seems like a great idea," said planner Christian Brown.
Said Hefele: "The essence of the issue is that both parking and driveways need to be physically delineated somehow over the entire site, either through curbing or replacing macadam with grass."