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Wilson Council gives tentative approval for to Dixie plant project

Dixie Cup building
Brian Myszkowski
The old Dixie Cup factory may be repurposed as a 405-unit apartment complex featuring community spaces, as a new developer is making more progress than any other in the property's 40-year vacancy.

WILSON BOROUGH, Pa. — Developers behind the 1921 at Dixie apartment complex on Monday got tentative approval from Wilson Borough Council, with few concerns voiced from council or the public.

Backers for the project to flip the former Dixie Cup factory into a complex of 405 apartments and retail space held a public presentation at the borough council meeting on June 10, addressing numerous questions previously raised in committee meetings.

CHASM Architecture Senior Project Manager Neil Griffin said the previous few approvals from the borough’s zoning board and other government entities were “the main lift.”

Griffin said developers were prepared to take ownership of the building shortly, and that negotiations were in effect with contractors.

“And then once that happens, we're going to ask for some permits and get working,” Griffin said.

Griffin provided input on several primary concerns raised during the past few months in a question-and-answer period helmed by borough solicitor Stan Margle.

Renters, remediation

Griffin touched on the number of amenities both public (a small restaurant, public plaza, bike trail, and a refurbished Dixie Cup) and private (an interior courtyard, a fitness center, a club, a pool, and private meeting and co-working spaces) involved in the $155 million project.

He also addressed anticipated demographics of potential renters, among other concerns.

Dixie Cup plant
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
This is the Dixie Cup plant in Easton, Pennsylvania. Picture made in May, 2023.

Margle questioned Griffin about the impact renters would have on Wilson schools, asking if it was fair to say the intended customers for 1921 at Dixie would be “young professionals” as opposed to families.

“I think that's pretty close to being accurate,” Griffin said.

“We can't necessarily, you know, turn someone down if they do have children," he said. "But I will say that everything within the building is designed for not having kids.

"So the pool, for example, it doesn't have a mushroom or a slide, it's just a lap pool. There's no playground being proposed on the property. These elements that would appeal to a family are not being designed and added.”

Griffin said he expected most renters to be individuals or couples earning 80% to 120% of the borough's median income of about $40,098.

A check-in regarding remediation efforts at the factory, which has been labeled as an EPA brownfield site, addressed the presence of buried tanks, lead paint, asbestos and other potentially dangerous substances revealed “the site has been completely remediated,” as per Griffin.

Council, public question traffic

Only Councilman Scott Palinkas questioned the project, asking Griffin about whether a traffic study had been conducted, and if a response had been received.

“PennDOT approval is not required specifically,” Margle said. “Our engineer reviews the traffic study, and there will be compliance with the recommendations.”

Traffic impact proved to be the biggest issue with the public Monday evening, with one person questioning how the site would impact traffic on 24th Street.

“We’re not anticipating there to be a significant uptick in traffic along 24th Street,” Griffin said. He said most traffic will be directed north of the property.

“And then there's two entrances and exits, one of them is to the north of Lehigh Street," he said. "So we did that purposely to try to get as much traffic away from 24th to Butler and to 25th and try to send more traffic north.”

Wilson Mayor Donald R. Barrett Jr. said residents should consider the amount of traffic that once went into and out of the premises when it was a factory, and compare that with how a residential facility would operate.

“So we're basically returning traffic that was there previously, except for all of it coming at start time of 7 a.m. or when a shift would start to different times throughout the day,” Barrett said.

Both Griffin and Margle offered suggestions when one resident raised concerns about student safety in the area, being that many children walk to their schools.

“We have been working with the school board in terms of addressing any concerns that they may have,” Griffin said. “I think a great thing to look at would be crossing guards, dedicated times, like maybe having them just to help slow traffic.”

Margle noted that several of the roads in question fell under the purview of PennDOT, which would be able to issue mandates on safety protocols.

'It feels great'

Another person asked about the potential for more bike paths, which were not part of the original application, but had been added to the plan’s south side of the site.

Griffin said an additional bike access path on the north end of the property had been questioned by the borough’s planning commission, noting the grading of the land and the property border would make it a challenge.

“This project has been so influential, not just in the borough, but in the county, for generations, and we think this revitalization can be a gem for generations to come.”
CHASM Architecture Senior Project Manager Neil Griffin

The question-and-answer session wrapped with a quick question from Vice President Russ Lipari, who asked about the impact on the electrical grid — a matter the developer would have to work out with the borough engineer prior to the start of the project.

A motion was presented to provide tentative approval, with Margle adding caveats of compliance with any engineering comments submitted in review letters, compliance with comments and mandates from the borough’s zoning hearing board and compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

“I’ll vote yes, because I want to see something done in that building before I die,” Lipari said.

The motion passed 8-1.

“It feels great," Griffin said. "We're moving in the right direction, and we're really excited for what we can build here.

“We think that it's something that is going to give back to the community in a lot of ways. It's something that the community can be very proud of.

"This project has been so influential, not just in the borough, but in the county, for generations, and we think this revitalization can be a gem for generations to come.”