Lehigh Valley

Allentown committee discusses off-campus housing

Ordinance would expand area for overlay district

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown Community and Economic Development Committee held a meeting Wednesday night on a proposed ordinance that would increase the area around Muhlenberg College in Allentown’s West End where college students can live in off-campus housing.

The ordinance would expand the Student Residence Overlay District one block to the north and west. 

The district would expand north from Tilghman Street to Washington Street, and west from North 27th Street to North Broad Street.

The Allentown Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for the zone’s expansion at its Jan. 9 meeting.

The student overlay district limits the number of students living in a single-family home to two and requires that landlords register off-campus housing with the city codes office.

City regulations outside of the overlay district allow up to four unrelated people to live together in a house, which in effect means that student housing could theoretically be anywhere in the city.

Doug Stewart, the city’s director of planning and zoning, said at the meeting that landlords would need to re-register for a permit to rent to students every year. 

If they do not, then they would lose the ability to rent to students, Stewart said.

Stewart said that the ordinance did not provide for a mechanism to strip landlords of their permits if neighbors complain about student behaviors in the neighborhood, Stewart said.

Stewart said that the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission wrote in a letter that they had no opinion on the ordinance, as it considered the bill a local issue.

Allentown resident Chris Metzger asked if “those two” students could “have 22 come over” for a party.

Stewart said that nothing in the ordinance would prevent that.

Councilman Courtney Robinson urged residents to contact the Allentown Police Department if student parties cause a public nuisance.

Muhlenberg College has been “cracking down” on such behavior lately, Robinson said.

Councilman Candida Affa said the point of the ordinance was to limit the number of students living in one house from the usual four to two, which would “alleviate problems” associated with multiple students living in one house.

The commission voted 3-0 to forward the bill to council.

A brief public hearing was held after the committee’s meeting, but no member of the public offered any comments.

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