'Gridlock city:' Bethlehem Twp. planners don't sign off on Freemansburg Ave. warehouse
BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. — The Bethlehem Township Planning Commission has voted to not endorse a proposed warehouse at an old limestone quarry site at the border with Freemansburg.
The project, which has borough residents and officials concerned about potential safety and traffic impacts, now heads to the township Board of Commissioners, which is set to next meet Dec. 4.
The proposed 866,000-square-foot building is planned to sit on 45 acres at 1600 Freemansburg Ave., where the borough and township lines would divide the proposed building nearly in half.
The development is being spearheaded by developer Trammell Crow Co.
“I understand the zoning implications, but in good conscience, I believe that there are safety concerns that haven’t been addressed."Bethlehem Twp. Planning commission Chairman Leslie Walker
Planners voted 4-3 on Monday against recommending the plan. Planners Harold Levy, Barry Roth, Anna Thomas and David Wong voted against the proposal, while planners Leslie Walker, James Daley and Peter Chase approved the motion.
“I understand the zoning implications, but in good conscience, I believe that there are safety concerns that haven’t been addressed,” Walker said.
Levy responded, “This is not good on a whole lot of levels — and we all know, we all know. My recommendation is telling them they need to go back and look at this again.”
Walker said the planning commission won’t meet again until after the legal deadline for action from the commissioners.
Truck trips and more traffic
Daley motioned to “reluctantly” send the commission’s approval to the commissioners based on the developer’s ordinance compliance, with attention placed on “a propensity for this project to develop significant traffic problems at the intersection of Willow Park Road and Freemansburg Avenue.”
Developers have said there would be an estimated 17 total truck trips on the site during morning peak hours of 6-9 a.m., as well as 26 trips during the afternoon peak hours of 4-6 p.m.
Throughout the day, the development reportedly would see 1,481 daily vehicle trips, including 520 trucks and 961 passenger vehicles.
But that number ultimately depends on the tenant that ends up occupying the space if the project is approved, developers have said.
Developers said the total trip amount would be regulated under permit by the state Department of Transportation.
The site would feature 74 dock stations and more than 500 parking spaces for passenger vehicles, according to project plans.
Officials said truck traffic likely would be a 50-50 split, heading east and westbound on Freemansburg Avenue.
Increases in traffic could go on to affect not only the township and the borough, but also Lower Saucon Township, Hellertown and Bethlehem, LehighValleyNews.com reported in July.
Walker asked about the estimated operation hours versus the peak hours that highlight the busiest times of day on regional roadways. His concern revolved around large trucks driving near residential areas late into the night.
“We wouldn’t be able to tell you specifically what it would be for this site because there’s not a specific tenant" yet, said the developer's attorney, Catherine Durso.
“I don’t know who at PennDOT thinks this intersection works. It hasn’t worked for 30 years, and it needs to be fixed.”Bethlehem Twp. planner Barry Roth
“The key here, though, is that the use is permitted by right, so the zoning ordinance takes into account the fact that it could be any type of tenant, any other type of use and is permitted by right on the site.”
Roth said cars stopping to turn left onto Willow Park Road would cause further delays, especially if the trucks stack up behind them.
The township will be “gridlock city” if the warehouse goes up and the intersections aren’t addressed, he said.
“I don’t know who at PennDOT thinks this intersection works,” Roth said. “It hasn’t worked for 30 years, and it needs to be fixed.”
'Traffic is going to be outrageous'
Daley asked that the developer take the township’s traffic gridlock concerns to state officials. He said the intersection at Willow Park and Freemansburg needs an additional left-turn lane.
Durso said her client has done its homework, and PennDOT has met repeatedly with township and borough officials to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Durso repeated that her client was only required to address the respective zoning ordinance, subdivision land development ordinance and PennDOT road requirements as part of its planning process.
“These are residential neighborhoods; this is a much more greater impact. That’s why we’re very concerned about this. The tractor-trailer backs up, it affects all the residents, not an industrial park.”Bethlehem Twp. planner David Wong
“I’m just frustrated here that we have a chance to improve something and all we keep looking at is the same thing as it was since 1960,” Roth said. “It hasn’t been improved, but the entire area is getting swamped with traffic ever since we put [Route] 33 in.”
Wong was concerned about the warehouse size, traffic safety and potential sinkholes from the weight of the trucks.
“These are residential neighborhoods; this is a much more greater impact,” he said. "That’s why we’re very concerned about this. The tractor-trailer backs up, it affects all the residents, not an industrial park.”
Resident Tom Keefer agreed: “The traffic down there is going to be outrageous."