Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Planning Commission talks hotel, developer a no-show

Architect's rendition of the proposed hotel

At last week's Columbia Borough Planning Commission meeting, Commission members discussed details of the proposed hotel to be built on the footprint of the former Becker Potato Chip Factory at 12 North 2nd Street. Unfortunately, developer Don Murphy, president and CEO of Cimarron Investments LLC, and attorney Mike Grab did not attend the meeting, even though they had been expected to be there to update the Commission.

"I thought we would have Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grab back here this evening" Commission Chair Mary Wickenheiser said.

Zoning and Planning Officer Jeff Helm agreed: "I was under the impression that they were going to be here tonight to get us up to speed on property acquisitions that required them to change their former zoning hearing date."

At its previous meeting in October, the Commission had recommended that the requested variances and special exceptions be approved by the Zoning Hearing Board. However, Murphy and Grab were in the process of acquiring additional properties to afford extra parking, and a Zoning Hearing Board meeting scheduled for October 30 was postponed until November 27. In the interim, those properties were acquired, allowing for 20 extra parking spaces.

Wickenheiser said 150 and 152 Walnut Street were the properties acquired, plus a parking area at 131 Locust Street, behind Art Printing.

Commission member Barbara Fisher asked if Avenue H can handle increased traffic volume and questioned how that would affect nearby residents who use Avenue H. "Is it going to inhibit them from how they use that avenue at this point?" she asked.

Helm replied, "This is not unlike what you typically see in Lancaster City. It may look like a lot on both sides but that's only because right now we see fences..."

Fisher asked, "It is one lane, right? It's not a two-way. If someone's coming this way they're going to have to wait."

Helm: "It's basically 1-1/2 lanes. It's 14 feet wide - just a little bit of leeway on one side and the other - you could potentially pass, but that's exactly what happens down in Lancaster City."

Fisher: "Has anyone considered the volume of people and traffic on a busy night for this hotel and whether or not Columbia can handle that volume just in terms of traffic, in terms of these extra people in the city? Have you thought about that?"

Wickenheiser: "The thing is, no matter where it would be located, you would have the same problems. No matter where you would locate something like this within the borough, you would still have the same traffic issues."

Fisher: "Have we foreseen possible problems that could arise so that we are on top of them? For example, the extra traffic flow. I'm just wondering if we thought through the possible issues, having something this large."

Councillor-Elect Heather Zink said, "I want to see a tractor-trailer negotiate that Avenue H, either going in or going out." (At the October meeting, Murphy said that food deliveries will be made to the back of the hotel via tractor-trailer. The trucks would need to enter Avenue H in order to access that area.)

Wickenheiser noted that tractor-trailers go into Avenue H off of 7th Street, off of 8th Street. "It's the same avenue."

Councillor-Elect Sharon Lintner replied that on the 700 block of Avenue H, there were complaints about trucks departing the avenue and in the process, breaking curbs on 8th Street. Lintner also asked about staging the construction equipment. "Has the Planning Commission considered where all the heavy equipment will be stored, because that's a major project larger even than 401 [Locust]. Where are they going to put everything in the meantime?"

Wickenheiser said she thought that the properties acquired for parking will be the staging area. Helm agreed. Lintner pointed out that would be right behind residential homes with children. She also asked if those properties would no longer have yards. Wickenheiser replied that the Commission hadn't seen how much they will devote to parking. "We don't know," she said.

Zink asked how the parking area would be paved. She said her concern is with groundwater. Commission member Justin Evans replied, "We're just not that far along in the process yet." He said the Commission had some discussions with a design engineer. "They're going to have to address that impervious area," Evans said, adding that some sort of underground detention system was proposed. Evans said engineers are going to do a capacity analysis of the Avenue H storm sewer. He said a traffic study will need to be done to formulate a circulation plan. Evans noted that other questions remain, such as how people will be dropped off, and whether Bank Avenue will become a one-way street going the other way. "Nowhere have they put anything on paper, and nothing's been decided yet," Evans said.

Wickenheiser added that the "hard engineering" won't be undertaken until the project has final approval. "There's a lot of steps in this project, in any project," she said. "At this point we've really no more information to make any change to a recommendation that we'd made at our October meeting."

Referring to the Zoning Hearing Board, Evans said "It's in their court now."

A public hearing by the Columbia Borough Zoning Hearing Board is scheduled for Wednesday, November 27, 2019, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 308 Locust Street. The board will consider an application by Cimarron Investments LLC, which is requesting special exceptions and variances to build a 6-story, 91-room hotel at 12 North 2nd Street on the site of the former Becker Potato Chip factory.

The following legal notice appears on the Columbia Borough website.

“The Zoning Hearing Board of the Borough of Columbia will meet on Wednesday, November 27, 2019, at 7:00 P.M., in the Municipal Building at 308 Locust Street, Columbia, PA, to consider the following application(s) and/or appeal(s):

Cimarron Investments LLC is requesting special exceptions, dimensional variances and/or use variances to establish a hotel and off-street parking on 12 North Second Street in the Downtown Commercial (DC) District; off-street parking facilities associated with the hotel on 131 Locust Street in the Downtown Commercial (DC) District in addition to the existing use of such lot; and off-street parking facilities associated with the hotel on 20, 28, and 30 North Second Street and 150, 152, and 156 Walnut Street, all of which are in the High Density Residential (HDR) District, with such off-street hotel parking being in addition to the residential or other structures and uses currently existing on such lots.

If you are a person with a disability wishing to attend this meeting and require an accommodation to participate in the meeting, please contact the Columbia Borough Office at 684-2467 to discuss how the Borough may accommodate your needs."

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