- The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission approved a recommendation for a new apartment complex on West Hamilton Street in Allentown
- The 189-unit structure would also feature retail space, a gym, restaurants, and other options
- Concerns about parking, affordable housing and more made their way into the LVPC’s recommendations
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A proposal for a new 12-story, 189-unit apartment complex on West Hamilton was approved by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission despite concerns about impacts on local businesses and parking.
The LVPC approved a recommendation for the structure, but not before considering how it would affect the local community. Areas of interest included rental costs for the apartments, relocation of the businesses occupying the spaces, and, as always, parking problems.
Senior Community and Regional Planner Bambi Griffin Rivera said the application for the property consists of a mixed-use development with retail and office space, 189 market-rate apartments, several restaurants, a fitness center and education facilities at 960, 962 and 966 West Hamilton Street.
“The LVPC recommends that the developers consider the affordable housing needs of the surrounding community when determining the cost of rents.”
Senior Community and Regional Planner Bambi Griffin Rivera
Rivera noted the proposed structure would displace at least three currently active businesses, and due to the potential for the new plan to “cater to businesses that can afford higher rents,” those existing businesses might be put into a tricky position financially.
The shops in question – G&E Smoke Shop & Cigar Lounge at 960 W. Hamilton, Lords & Ladies at 962 W. Hamilton, and Beijing Wok Chinese Restaurant at 966 W. Hamilton – may be unable to afford space in the new structure, officials said.
Chairman Steven L. Glickman said the changing dynamic of the area would very likely make it difficult for those businesses to effectively relocate nearby, a subject he hoped the developer could assist with.
“It’s being gentrified, in a sense, and what are we going to do to ensure that these three active businesses remain active? Are we going to end up displacing them for the want of 189 apartments? We’re going to displace three active businesses,” Glickman said.
“So, we’ve already acknowledged that it’s quite likely that these three businesses won’t be able to stay there in the new retail environment. So that being said, I think we have to be a little more specific in what the developer intends to do to help relocate these three businesses somewhere that is acceptable to all of them, so they can continue to stay in business.”
Another point of contention revolved around the prospect of affordable housing at the location, as Rivera pointed out the local community falls in a low-income threshold while spending an exorbitant amount on rent.
“According to the five-year American Community Survey, residents in this area earn a median yearly income of $26,369. An estimated 60% of renter households in this neighborhood pay 30% or more of their monthly income and housing costs. The LVPC recommends that the developers consider the affordable housing needs of the surrounding community when determining the cost of rents,” Rivera said.
Commission member John Gallagher pointed out the ever-present problem of parking in the plans, as accommodations for the apartments would certainly impact tenants and the surrounding area.
“I’m concerned that there’s no dedicated parking for 186 [sic] units,” Gallagher said.
“That’s a lot of units. And some of those are going to be two-car households, perhaps, and certainly the commercial and office use is going to need some parking. And I’m surprised that the local zoning doesn’t require any of that – at least no mention of that has been made. But a stronger recommendation about providing on-site parking, I think would be appropriate.”
Commission member Stephen Repasch said the new parking deck on Hamilton Street north of the site, “the city’s largest parking deck,” had “quite a bit of vacancy.” The outstanding issue lies in the potential for local businesses and residences – including a nearby hotel and a music venue – to rely on the same deck for their own parking.
“So, a lot of these developments, while they might not be residential in nature, are being looked at as projects that the parking authority is going to be working with them to handle the parking of the projects,” Repasch said.
Commission member Jennifer Gomez added that downtown developers can utilize offsite parking to meet their required parking needs, though details on cost would fall upon the developer, landlords and tenants.
Additional suggestions for the proposed apartment complex included working with Allentown Preservation League to remove items of historic value, installing bicycle racks, a parking management plan to prevent tractor-trailers from interfering with traffic – especially emergency vehicles and establishing sustainable energy sources for the building.
Allentown’s zoning hearing board was set to review the West Hamilton apartment complex Monday, though an emergency resulted in the meeting being canceled as there were not enough members to meet quorum.