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The Confluence gets conditional approval from Easton planning despite parking concerns

City Center Group/Peron Development
An up-to-date rendering of The Confluence, a mixed-use apartment and retail complex intended for Downtown Easton. Residents and business owners raised plenty of concern over the impact the facility would have on parking in the area at Wednesday's planning commission meeting,

EASTON, Pa. — Despite strong concerns over parking issues, Easton’s Planning Commission granted conditional approval to a 273-unit apartment complex which is set to be built in the downtown district.

The commission met Wednesday evening to discuss land development for The Confluence, a mixed-use property which aims to include residential and retail or restaurant space at 185 South Third Street.

As is almost always the case, issues concerning the necessary parking played a pivotal role in the discussion on the matter, with both commission members and residents and business owners expressing worries over how The Confluence could adequately accommodate renters’ vehicles without causing additional problems with parking in the downtown area.

“I spend a lot of time sharing to my customers the importance of using the garages. So I feel like I've been a cheerleader for trying to get people into them. I am concerned that as we continue to grow, which is our intent, there is not enough space. And we're giving away a lot of those spaces in this."
Mercantile Home owner Ron Morris

Although the commission ultimately decided to grant the conditional approval — with only Commissioner Hubert Etchison voting against the measure — Solicitor Joel Scheer recommended the addition of an agreement with the city to secure “at least the number of spots set forth in the analysis [made by city officials].”

However, the road to the final approval ran over two hours and featured plenty of pushback and questioning by a number of Eastonians.

The “P Word”

Commissioner Ron Shipman noted a few minor issues before delving into the parking setup, with developers' representative Robert DiLorenzo explaining the makeup of the plan.

“So we're providing an excess of [the required spaces] in this proposed project by having 73 spaces available as a part of the project. And then in addition, we'll have spaces at the Third Street garage adjacent that will accommodate parking,” said DiLorenzo, director of planning and construction for City Center Group, which is developing the project with Peron Development.

Etchison was particularly concerned with the reduction of on-site parking in lieu of a handshake deal to purchase parking spots in garages from the city, alongside several community members.

“Alright, provided parking is 159 [spaces], assuming that the spaces are available in the intermodal connection thing, right, and people on the first floor don't mind going to third floor to get in and out of their car? OK. Let's let that go. But 273 units and 159 parking spaces, and people like to park on the street. Does that feel OK to you?” Etchison said.

Under the agreement, The Confluence’s developers would have to provide for at least 86 additional parking spaces in one of the city’s garages to conform to zoning regulations. According to the plans for the apartment complex, they may opt for as many as 241 spaces.

Mayor Sal Panto Jr. explained to Etchison that the city’s garages would be the intended parking spot for the apartments, noting that any construction involving over six residential units cannot obtain street parking permits in the city.

“One of the fallacies is that in changing the ordinance at City Hall and City Council, the two bookend projects are not allowed to get on-street parking permits. So they're not going to pay $1.50 an hour and $2 an hour if they can park in a garage included to rent, [since] they're paying the bill,” Panto said.

Ron Morris, owner of Mercantile Home, said he worried about the future of business in the downtown area if over 200 spaces in the local garages were taken up by The Confluence.

“I spend a lot of time sharing to my customers the importance of using the garages. So I feel like I've been a cheerleader for trying to get people into them. I am concerned that as we continue to grow, which is our intent, there is not enough space. And we're giving away a lot of those spaces in this,” Morris said.

After hearing a few speakers, Scheer made a point to explain to the commission and the crowd that the evening’s review of the plan was meant to determine if outstanding issues had been met, which the developers had done.

“I'm just suggesting that the planning commission can't reinvent the zoning tonight and can't reinvent our parking requirements tonight,” Scheer said.

Brian Myszkowski
The Confluence is intended to be built at 185 South Third Street.

Easton City Councilmember Crystal Rose expressed worries about the influx of traffic that hits the Downtown over weekends and during festivals, and how a reduction in parking could hurt both residents and visitors.

“So I really urge the commission to require additional onsite parking and I will be going to the zoning commission to request the same. I think you know that that will help address our short-term and long-term needs as we push forward with the best plan for our city residents and businesses,” Rose said.

Panto later said a parking summit open to Downtown residents and businesses would be launched very soon to address some of the longstanding and more immediate issues with parking.

Changes to The Confluence plan

DiLorenzo provided an initial review of the plan, taking time to detail the changes which had been made since an initial proposal that received approval in April 2022.

Since then, the building’s height has been reduced to five stories, gross square footage went down to 291,264 square feet, on-site parking has been dropped to 73 spaces, and a planned cinema space was abandoned.

A public park space was expanded by nearly 6,000 square feet to 29,415 square feet, in addition to permeable space being bumped up to 46,713 square feet. Retail and restaurant space more than doubled to 5,040 square feet.

As for the apartments, planned condominiums were removed, and 73 studio units were added, in addition to another 16 one-bedroom units for a total of 132. Two-bedroom apartments were reduced from 96 to 68 units.

“The biggest change that you'll notice on here is there's an implementation now of studio units, and we've received a ton of positive feedback on a demand for studio units,” DiLorenzo said.

“Part of one of the one of the reasons we looked at implementing studios is we've also found that one, they're just popular. You know, most people who are in a roommate situation aren't really looking to get a two bedroom with a roommate, they’d rather have their own space they put their own.”

DiLorenzo said the planned privately owned but publicly accessible park, intended to sit at the corner of South Third Street and Larry Holmes Drive, is a standout element that would set the project apart from other apartments.

“We want to have some flexibility with how we can use this space, so the central lawn is great because it allows both passive and active uses. There is a little performance platform identified as number three there, but it's not a full-sized stage pavilion that has a full backdrop to it. It's a performance platform that can be set up for that where people can go sit on it even when there isn't an event taking place,” DiLorenzo said, adding the park would also include plenty of seating, swing sets, “iconic art” installations, a water fountain, and other elements.

According to DiLorenzo, if additional planning and zoning goals are met, groundbreaking could commence in October 2024, with rental units opening by early 2026.