Several testify regarding proposal of 106 townhomes in Douglass (Berks); decision to be rendered Jan. 2014

After three hearings and more than six hours of expert testimony, the request for conditional land use to construct 106 townhomes, a project known as Rosewood, is now being taken under consideration by the Douglass Berks Zoning Board.

These townhomes would border Constitution Ave. and Quarry Road and would utilize 27.66 acres, affecting residents of West Pottsgove Township and Douglass (Berks) Township. According to residents, they do not want to see traffic increase by their homes.

Both sides of the case, THP Investments and representatives of West Pottsgrove, have presented testimony regarding traffic impact, particularly regarding Constitution Avenue, to the Douglass Berks Zoning Board.

At the Sept. 25 hearing, Howard Brown representing THP Investments presented Eric Mountz, a professional traffic engineer of Traffic Planning & Design, Inc., as an expert witness for traffic.

Mountz and his firm were asked by THP to conduct a traffic study focusing on Constitution Avenue and Quarry Road.

All data and existing conditions were taken into account for the traffic study.

“For this site , we chose apartments to conduct this study. We estimate the traffic generated by 106 units, look at traffic patterns in the area, then add that volume to the baseline volume to come up with projected traffic,” said Mountz, continuing to state that the study focused on peak times of the day: 7 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

According to the study, Quarry Road would facilitate the majority of the traffic and approximately 10 percent would use Constitution Avenue.

“The traffic conditions are within PennDot criteria with respect to additional traffic.”

Brown questioned whether the construction of the townhomes would generate hazardous conditions and what the impact would be on the area.

Mountz stated that the traffic assessment looks at intersections and the adjacent roads—the study is not expanded beyond that.

In regards to Constitution Avenue, Mountz stated that the street width was studied and compared to West Pottsgrove ordinances. Based on their study, they determined that the road is within design standards and that there will not be an adverse impact on the roadway as a result of increased traffic.

According Attorney Lee D. Mescolotto, representing West Pottsgrove, he had received the study only a day before the Sept. hearing and therefore reserved the right to have the study reviewed.

Mescolotto then questioned what the study determined the impact to be.

“We counted 56 in morning and 76 in the afternoon peak,” said Mountz. “If there’s a 106 units, then why not 106 cars? I get this question a lot. We are looking at peak hours. There are certain number of people that travel at that time, some work second shift and some don’t work. Not everyone leaves and returns during peak times.”

At the Oct. 24 hearing, Mescolotto presented his own expert of transportation, John Caruolo, a professional engineer.

Caruolo stated that he reviewed the traffic study, visited the sites and has observed the area’s traffic conditions.

“We disagreed with distribution of traffic. It’s an art, not a science. We feel like 10 percent to and from the site via Constitution Ave. is low,” said Caruolo. He continued to state that the road isn’t wide enough, it lacks drainage and poor surface conditions. “It should be brought up to townships standards and needs improvement, especially with increased traffic.”

During cross examination, Brown asked Caruolo whether the road could stand to be improved whether or not the project comes to fruition.

According to Caruolo, that would be a fair judgment.

Brown then asked, “Would the burden of additional traffic would trigger tipping point of road ?”

“It would obviously have an impact; no studies done, studies needed,” said Caruolo. He recommended that the township should require the applicant to make a contribution towards the improvement of that road. “It’s difficult but not impossible to reject a project based on traffic alone. Our approach was that there should be improvements on Constitution.”

Following Caruolo’s testimony, Mescolotto presented a second expert witness regarding traffic.

Scott Exely, professional engineer of Bursich Associates, Inc., testified regarding traffic for West Pottsgrove.

In regards to the width of the road, Exely stated that Constitution Avenue does not meet the township’s standard of 22’ to 40’.

“The biggest issue would be structural stability of the road,” said Exely.

Issues regarding rain water, or rather the inability to control it, on Quarry Road was also discussed. Exely stated that water is a very difficult thing to deal with and that it has to be handed as the law and ordinances allow.

Following all expert testimony, residents of Douglass and West Pottsgrove Townships were invited to testify. Each person who testified was sworn in.

“If want to live in city then live in the city, if you want to live in the country than live in the country. The whole thing is ridiculous,” said Leonard Norris of Constitution Avenue in regards to the new townhomes. “People have beautiful homes with land. When you put that kind of building up, that big, in that location - roads are not big enough. He added that ‘everybody’ is going to go down Constitution Avenue and Grosstown Road, and vehicles go too fast already. “There is no plus…That’s going to be a lot of burden on Douglas township.”

One couple expressed the frustrations they are already having with the heavy traffic on Constitution Avenue and the efforts they’ve taken to keep their children safe.

Sandra Lloyd of Hill School Road shared her concerns over the use of back roads by teenagers and visitors, and also pointed out the endangerment of the area’s beauty.

“‘Modest Toms’ have their own form of beauty. I do not see a 106 unit development as being beautiful. This developer is a speculator and absentee landowner,” said Lloyd. “I think there have been enough exceptions made in the area surrounding the quarry.”

Helen Brandel of Douglass Township presented the board with petition of names against the Rosewood project. The petition was marked as an exhibit.

“We are no opposed to growth and prosperity of township, this project is unfavorable,” said Brandel. She pointed out that while THP’s expert John Kennedy said they would comply with the township’s requirements, right now the quarry doesn’t maintain them. “I can’t believe the area is going to be subject to this.”

Following public testimony, attorneys representing both sides were offered the chance to summarize before the board.

“I think the applicant has complied with criteria. Proposed use is not going to create unduly and abnormal traffic patterns that would create threat to health and wellbeing of residents,” said Brown.

He also noted that the TDR aspect has gotten lost. “It’s a central feature. It’s an important tool from a planning perspective. That’s critical to bear in mind.”

In his closing statement, Mescolotto asked the board to require an environmental impact assessment and storm water mitigation. He also requested evidence that the developer has done something to obtain these TDR’s.

“West Pottsgrove is not trying to tell you what to build or what not to build,” said Mescolotto, stating that he’s hear to express the township’s concerns. “Constitution has significant shortcomings. It needs reconstruction. When you add increased traffic it’s going to become everyone’s problem. “

Robert L. Brant, special counsel to the board of supervisors, stated that the board needs more time to review evidence. The board will render their decision on Jan. 23, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. in the Douglass (Berks) Township Building.

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