ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Plans to create a new cottage neighborhood in south Allentown took another step forward Wednesday night, when City Council unanimously approved a zoning change to allow the project.
Council also unanimously approved a $60,000 upgrade of the driving range at the city's Municipal Golf Course.
And it scheduled a committee meeting next week to discuss the planned removal of two dams in Lehigh Parkway.
It formally approved a grant removing the Jordan Creek dam in Jordan Park, although that dam already is gone.
And it made changes to its ordinance regulating street and sidewalk vendors operating anywhere in the city, with no objections from any vendors.
Up to 49 cottage homes are proposed on nearly six acres at South Sixth and West Cumberland streets, where both streets end at the hilltop site of the former Montex textile mill, which was destroyed in a fire.
It will be the first residential development of its kind in the Lehigh Valley, according to the developers.
The average size of the homes will be 1,200 to 1,500 square feet and they will attract "first-time home buyers and empty nesters," said Richard Kontir, one of the principals of Cottage Communities LP, the developer.
Kontir told council "the very affordable" homes will sell from the low $100,000-to-low- $200,000 price range. They will have no more than three bedrooms, but those third bedrooms will be very small and marketed as home office space.
Atty. Jack Gross, who represented the developers, told council neighbors strongly support the project.
Only one member of the public spoke at a public hearing on the zoning changes just before council's regular meeting began.
Edward Roth, who lives next to the development site in the 1100 block of S. 7th St., told council: "I'm delighted with what's being proposed here. I think it's a great idea."
Council unanimously amended the zoning ordinance to change zoning on that site from Business/Light Industrial and Medium High Density Residential to Medium Density Residential.
Council also incorporated a definition for a "pocket neighborhood development" into the zoning ordinance.
The next step will be for the city planning commission to review and ultimately approval a land development plan for the homes, said Kontir.
He could not predict when the project will go before the planning commission.
But he hopes to have all approvals by early 2014 so construction can begin next spring.
He said at least some of the homes should be completed, sold and occupied next year. But he added it's not yet been determined if the homes will be built in phases.
Golf driving range
The city's golf driving range will remain open while the $60,000 worth of improvements are made, said Rick Holtzman, the city's parks superintendent. He predicted that work will be completed by October.
Now the "tee line" of that range has individual tee-off mats, which are about 6 feet wide and set on top of loose screened stone, said Holtzman. "It's pretty dirty. It works. But it's not the greatest thing in the world."
Those mats are like "an outdoor carpet that has seen its day." Holtzman said they must be replaced every two or three years.
The worn mats will be replaced with heavy-duty artificial turf that is more than one inch thick and dense enough to hold a golf tee.
"It's probably the best turf on the market for this application," said Holtzman.
That turf will be laid in a strip 12 feet wide and 240 feet long. It will be glued to the top of a new concrete slab that will replace the stone.
Holtzman expects the new artificial turf will last eight to 10 years.
Council member Ray O'Connell joked that the turf still won't improve Council President Julio Guridy's golf game.
"It's not a miracle product," added council member Jeff Glazier.
A 6-foot-wide concrete pavement will run along the back of the upgraded tee-off area and the improved driving range will be handicapped accessible.
The range is used year-round, said John Mikowychok, the city's parks and recreation director. It is large enough for 20 golfers to practice their swings.
Revenue from the driving range has increased dramatically in the last three years, reported Mikowychok. It generated $116,287 in 2010 and $151,139 in 2012. "The expected revenue by the end of this year will be $160,000."
Mikowychok predicted the improvements will increase annual revenue from the driving range to $180,000 by the end of 2014.
Holtzman said the city is considering putting roofs over part of the driving range tee-line so people can use the range even in bad weather, which would increase revenue even more.
Dams in city parks
Members of council's parks and recreation committee anticipate a lively public discussion about plans to remove two dams on Lehigh Creek in the Parkway when their committee meets at 6 p.m. Aug. 28.
Based on phone calls he's already received about the issue, O'Connell, who serves on that committee, expects the discussion will continue for more than an hour.
One dam is in the Robin Hood section of the Parkway, the other is farther upstream, just off Fish Hatchery Road near the trout nursery.
The Wildlands Conservancy plans to remove those dams, with the city's approval, as well as a third dam near Keystone Road at the western edge of the Parkway.
Some residents are especially opposed to removing the dam just below the Robin Hood bridge. At least one man claims flood waters may take out that bridge if the dam is removed.
Council's resolution to remove the dam in Jordan Park was titled "restoring nature to an inner city park."
Removal of that dam began last month. While the dam is gone, work still is being done in that section of the park.
"This is removing a serious safety hazard from a city park," said Mikowychok
He explained corrugated metal pipes and concrete culverts of different diameters that carried water through that dam were an attractive nuisance for children who would "shoot through those tubes."
If children miscalculated and went through a tube that was too narrow, they also could have become trapped.
Council member Cynthia Mota said she is glad the dam has been removed because she saw a child almost drown there last summer.
Holtzman said several dogs swimming in the creek above the dam got trapped in those pipes and drowned.
Mikowychok said the stream bed at the dam site also is being narrowed, "from 91 to 64 feet wide." He said banks are being stabilized and trees and shrubs will be planted in fall.
"We've gotten several calls from people who have commented on how nice it is looking," he said. "These were people who couldn't imagine what the stream would look like without the dam."
Last year council received a $40,100 state grant to pay the city's share of removing the dam.
Council's action was called housekeeping, because it involved authorizing the mayor to sign the grant agreement.
The updated vendor ordinance requires that vendors working anywhere in the city must be licensed.
They are required to pay $50 when they apply for a license and another $250 if their license is approved. The revised ordinance also establishes a committee to consider appeals if a vendor's license is revoked.
The purpose of the changes is to ensure proper oversight and a level playing field for mobile vendors all over the city, according to Allentown officials. They report existing ordinances are fragmented and only focus on limited areas of regulation and enforcement.
The city anticipates increased interest in mobile vending operations when the hockey arena is completed. Fees for mobile vending operations have been increased to create "greater equity" with brick-and-mortar operations.