Keep West Mill Hill Road Open, Says Planning Commission

LOWER MILFORD – Planning Commission members here unanimously recommended on Monday that West Mill Hill Road stay open to local traffic rather than be vacated for use by Geryville Materials.

The planning commission’s recommendation will next go to the Lower Milford Township Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decision on whether or not to vacate the road.  The board will meet on Nov. 4 for a workshop and on Nov. 18 for its regular meeting.

Planning Commission Member Ann Frey questions Geryville Materials Engineer John Ross and President David Rittenhouse on Monday about West Mill Hill Road. Photo by Judd Wilson, Southern Lehigh Tribune.

Lower Milford Residents Association Vice President Lori Sickenberger applauded the recommendation, calling it a “wise decision.”  Resident Richard Hate told commission members it was “evident you did a lot of extra work” before forming their recommendation.  “I applaud your outcome and all the discipline and effort you put into it,” he said.

Commission members Lois Gadek, Ann Frey, Gail Linde, and Jared Roberts made the recommendation.  Chairman Michael Snovitch, who is also on the board of supervisors and sits at curative amendment hearings on the proposed Geryville Materials quarry, excused himself from the room when the commission discussed Geryville Materials issues.

Gadek guided the commission in Snovitch’s absence through a memo prepared by township staff.  Principally written by Township Zoning Officer Richard Kinsey and read by Township Manager Ellen Koplin, the memo touched on findings from a transportation impact study of the West Mill Hill Road-King’s Highway intersection.  According to Koplin, though drivers currently face limited sight distance at the West Mill Hill Road-King’s Highway intersection, if West Mill Hill Road were closed they would encounter even worse visibility at the intersection with Schultz Bridge Road. 

Lower Milford Township Planning Commission Solicitor David Backenstoe helps commission members wade through legal wording Monday night. Photo by Judd Wilson, Southern Lehigh Tribune.

Koplin also noted that the study hadn’t considered the needs of area farmers to transport their heavy equipment.  According to Kinsey, alternate routes “would appear to be hazardous with cumbersome farm equipment.”  Members discussed the inherent hazards of driving up the hill on King’s Highway during inclement weather, and residents’ use of West Mill Hill and Buhman Roads as alternate routes during those situations.  According to Gadek, driving conditions on King’s Highway can become “bad beyond belief.”  She said she had suffered a bad accident as a result of black ice there.  Koplin pointed out that local roads often give drivers better traction during winter weather.  She also stated that when accidents close down King’s Highway between Jane’s Lane and Palm Road, traffic detours through West Mill Hill, Buhman, and Schultz Bridge Roads.  Koplin claimed that that stretch of King’s Highway suffers accidents at 16 times the state average.  Also, county and local emergency plans direct first responders to West Mill Hill Road during heavy rains to avoid flooding elsewhere.

Frey asked representatives for Geryville Materials how far down the hill a proposed turning lane would go.  Engineer John Ross said it would extend several hundred feet.  After no members of the public offered comments, Frey told the commission that her feeling was not to vacate the road, as she said that dozens of people used it daily for work and for convenience.  Frey said she was “surprised by how many people use it.”  Gadek said that she wanted “to make sure farmers can farm.”  Frey concurred, saying “they have to have access.”  Roberts said that “from a safety point” of view, “it’s not worth it” to vacate the road and force farmers to use the more difficult Schultz Bridge Road intersection.  When Gadek asked for her opinion, Koplin said that the township would be “doing a disservice” to farmers and first responders if it vacated West Mill Hill Road without providing a better alternative. 

When members finished their discussion, Planning Commission Solicitor David Backenstoe helped them formulate the wording of the unanimously-approved recommendation.  He then advised the commission to wait until the board of supervisors makes its decision on the recommendation before moving on to the issue of waivers for Geryville Materials.  Geryville Materials’ attorney Terry Parish assented to this.  Geryville Materials also granted the township an extension through Jan. 31, 2011 to make a decision on their preliminary plan.

The next Lower Milford Township Planning Commission meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held at the Township Municipal Building at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15.

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One Response to Keep West Mill Hill Road Open, Says Planning Commission

  1. Omar says:

    On http://www.LowerMilfordTownship.net lists Ellen Koplin as a member of the Planning Commission, which is a voluntary appointed position.

    In the fifth paragraph of this article it states, “Township Manager Ellen Koplin,” which is a salaried position in the township.

    Voluntary Planning Commission vs. salaried Township Manager? Which is it?

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