After months of postponing a conditional use hearing for Amherst Village Phases 5 through 7 due to pandemic concerns, Adams Township supervisors held one Monday night that lasted almost two hours.
With some township officials physically present in the township building and others calling into the meeting, the public was invited to attend online or by phone.
The move wasn't welcomed by all.
“I think that a public hearing really needs to be an in-person public hearing,” said resident Tina Wilson.
“I don't agree with the township's decision,” said Tim Stack, who lives near the Amherst development. “I believe these remote meetings severely deter public input and media coverage.”
Russell Ford, supervisor chairman, told the public the township is participating in remote meetings out of a concern for public safety.
“There's not one person in this room that prefers to do it the way that we're doing it,” Ford said. “This is going to be ... what we're up against for a while.”
The hearing was originally scheduled March 16 before being rescheduled for April 20.
Citing Pennsylvania's Act 15, township solicitor Michael Gallagher said the hearing was deemed appropriate to continue Monday night if done so remotely.
“The public hearing, even though it's remote, will be much like other hearings,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher explained to those attending the meeting the public would be invited to speak following a presentation of the plan. Supervisors would also be able to ask questions.
Before a plan presentation by Allan Beechey, project manager and senior engineer for Sheffler & Co., Gallagher advised supervisors of a change.
“I've been told that there's been a modification with the plan,” Gallagher said.
Beechey said when the plan was brought before the township planning commission, there was discussion about whether a cul-de-sac was necessary. As an alternative, Beechey said he provided a drawing of the plan that didn't include the cul-de-sac.
“The plan ... is the same as what was presented to (the) planning commission,” Beechey said. “It doesn't change any of the ratios.”
Gallagher told supervisors the first thing they needed to decide was if the hearing should continue or if the plans should be reviewed again.
Ford said Beechey should present first.
Amherst Village phases 5 through 7 include 302 single- and multi-family housing units about a mile north of Route 228.
With frontage along Forsythe Road, Beechey said the plan follows a zoning village model: It stays within a minimum of 60 acres, a maximum of 200 acres and is 25 percent open space.
Beechey said the plan has eight open space — or “green” — parcels. Trails connect “pods” of buildings and cut through the center green to connect residents with the community center.
The cul-de-sac in question doesn't have much impact on plan layout, according to Beechey.
Beechey said taking out the cul-de-sac would drop the total number of housing units from 302 to 290. He said it also decreases the plan's green space footage, but maintains its overall percentage because of fewer lots.
“The numbers change, but they still comply with your ordinance,” Beechey said. “We found that that (cul-de-sac) could be easily removed.”
Impact on roads
Traffic engineer Josh Haydo of David E. Wooster and Associates told supervisors a traffic study for the plan was started in October 2019, reviewed in November and presented in December to the planning commission.
While the study was completed before a no-left turn rule was implemented on Beaver Street Extension from Route 228, Haydo said the study was revised to reflect that change.
Overall, Haydo said the study doesn't anticipate vehicle cues to increase by more than one car length at major intersections during peak travel hours. He said the study indicated the plan also won't impact truck traffic.
Wilson argued the study doesn't accurately depict what will happen when residents move into the plan's 300 units.
“That is a tremendous impact on these country roads,” Wilson said.
Township officials explained the pivotal element might be traffic dispersion. Most residents may use alternative roads instead of Route 228.
Ford said the township has been planning to improve Forsythe Road, but hasn't been able to fund the necessary work. Ford said the township has an understanding with Amherst developer Chris Kaclik of Kaclik Builders to address that problem.
Kaclik said the township will receive a $250 “donation” per lot. At roughly 300 lots, that's close to $75,000.
“For Forsythe Road,” Kaclik said. “You guys can do whatever you want to with that.”
Donna Miskolcze, who lives along Forsythe Road, wanted to make sure officials consider pedestrian safety near the plan.
“It's very hard now to walk along (Forsythe Road),” Miskolcze said.
Stack said he'd like to see fewer housing units and more green space in Amherst. He also asked about a proposed stop sign that could be installed on Forsythe Road to help with traffic at the plan.
“Why are we punishing the people who are already here?” Stack asked.
Beechey said the sign is a “preliminary idea.” Ford said considering how fast people seem to drive in residential areas, the sign might be an improvement.
Before closing the hearing, Ford invited the public to submit any comments or concerns to the township in coming weeks.
Gallagher reminded supervisors any information not discussed in the public hearing couldn't be considered as evidence for the conditional use application. Ford said he'd still like to hear from residents.
Township engineer Ron Olsen asked how supervisors would handle comments from the planning commission's March 4 meeting, when the plan was brought before members. Olsen said, for instance, plan developers had discussed the need to secure an easement to connect a sidewalk to an existing cul-de-sac.
Ford asked Olsen to go over the plan with the comments outside the hearing to make sure everything was addressed.
Linda Lees, township supervisor, said she'd like to review the traffic study information before making a decision on the conditional use.
She said she's not sure the numbers presented in the current study are accurate.
“I'd like to see a traffic study I can trust,” Lees said.
Supervisors must make a decision on whether to approve the plan's conditional use application within 45 days of Monday's hearing.
Officials said they'd make a decision at the supervisor's June 22 meeting.