Paneras and pickleball got approvals Thursday night from Lower Macungie commissioners, who also began the process to hire crossing guards for Willow Lane Elementary School and briefly debated whether holding afternoon committee meetings stifles public participation.
A drive-thru will be added before the end of this year at the Panera Bread restaurant, located at Hamilton Boulevard and Mill Creek Road. Adding a 300-square-foot addition for the drive-thru was approved by commissioners after they held a conditional use hearing on the proposal.
Scott Chamberlain, one of the restaurant’s owners, said if all goes well the drive-thru will open “early to mid fourth quarter, hopefully before Thanksgiving.”
“I go there quite a bit,” said township manager James Lancsek. “In fact, the manager would hound me every time I go in: ‘Why don’t we have a drive-thru?’”
The drive-thru will be at the rear of Paneras, which opened three or four years ago. Up to nine cars can fit behind the building. Waits are expected to take about four minutes. The improvements include two pick-up parking spaces for orders that take longer, as well as a bypass lane at the drive-thru.
A Walgreens, Chick-fil-A and Embassy Bank already have drive-thrus in the same retail complex.
Commissioners approved painting lines of a different color on one of the tennis courts in Rodale Park so pickleball also can be played on that court.
Township resident Jim Windt asked commissioners for the pickleball court in the park on Riverbend Road, stressing that court still can be used to play tennis: “It’s an additional use of the tennis court.”
Invented in 1965, pickleball is named after a dog named Pickles. It is played on a badminton-sized court with wood paddles and a plastic whiffle ball.
Windt admitted he asked the township to put its first pickleball court in Rodale Park because he and his wife live about four houses away. He said tennis courts in that park almost never are used. He suggested if pickleball gains popularity, tennis courts in other township parks also might double as pickleball courts.
Despite many reservations, commissioners voted 4-1 to authorize Township Manager Bruce Fosselman to advertise to hire at least six part-time crossing guards for Willow Lane Elementary, as part of safety improvements being made in anticipation of more children walking to that school before the end of summer.
Before voting no, Lancsek said the amount crossing guards will be paid should be included in the job ad, but that salary has not yet been determined. He also would like to see the ad before it is published: “If it doesn’t go out properly the first time, we’ll delay even more trying to straighten it out later.”
Other unresolved issues include how much hiring and equipping crossing guards will cost, how Lower Macungie and East Penn School District will split that cost, whether guards will be township or school district employees, what qualifications should be included in a hiring ad and even exactly how many guards must be hired. Commissioner Douglas Brown said criminal background checks will have to be done on all applicants because they will be dealing with children.
Commissioners Ryan Conrad and Ron Eichenberg cast surprising votes in favor of the job ad, only moments after agreeing there still were too many unanswered questions to do so.
Commissioner Roger C. Reis repeatedly urged his colleagues to advertise without delay, because Willow Lane parents are concerned about the safety of their children. “There has been some criticism that perhaps we haven’t acted as quickly as we should have,” said Reis. “I think we should get moving on this. If we act on this tonight, that saves us two weeks. I don’t see the harm in getting a number of names of people who are interested in doing this.”
The commissioners’ vote also authorizes Solicitor Richard Somach to contact East Penn’s solicitor about the crossing guards. Somach said they may need to develop an inter-governmental agreement regarding who will pay what.
Lower Macungie’s review of the school district’s plan to make on-site safety improvements at the elementary school finally has begun. The township was waiting for the district to submit that plan since March.
Township engineer William Erdman told commissioners he personally picked up the plan from Liberty Engineering, the school district’s engineer, late Friday afternoon and immediately began reviewing it. “We’re trying to make up for lost time, by moving as quickly as we can.”
The public can learn about the district’s plan when Erdman shares it with the commissioners’ planning & zoning committee at 4 p.m. Thursday in the township building. That committee will make a recommendation on the plan to all five commissioners, who must approve it before East Penn does any work at the school.
Conrad expressed concerns about the public’s ability to attend commissioners’ committee meetings after Lancsek and Reis announced their public works committee will begin future meetings at 3 p.m. rather than 4 p.m. Lancsek said those meetings often last two or three hours, which involves paying township staff overtime or compensatory time.
But Conrad said the earlier in the day committee meetings are held, the more difficult it is for the public to participate. He said committee meetings should not be held during the day. He suggested if later meetings cause overtime problem, staff participation at those meetings should be minimized.
“The staff is critical at our meetings, because a lot of technical information is needed,” said Lancsek, “or else we’re not going to get anything done.”
Reis said people generally don’t come to committee meetings unless they have specific issues. But he added: “If get complaints from the public, we’ll certainly revisit it. It’s not our purpose to try to discourage the public from attending or to inconvenience anyone.”
“I’m not questioning your intentions,” said Conrad. “It’s practical; I get it.”
Both Reis and Lancsek said they are willing to wait if someone calls and says they can’t get to a meeting until 5 p.m.