Lehigh Valley

Allentown planners back expansion of off-campus housing district

Housing overlay limits 2 students per rental

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown Planning Commission is recommending that the city expand the area where Muhlenberg College students can live in off-campus housing.

Planners on Tuesday reviewed a proposal to expand the student overlay district surrounding the college in Allentown's West End. The proposal before city officials is to expand the district by one block to the north and west. Specifically, the student housing district will extend north from Tilghman Street to Washington Street and west from North 27th Street to North Broad Street.

The planning commission's recommendation will now go to Allentown City Council, which must vote to change the zoning map.

Douglas Stewart, the city's planning and zoning director, said the expansion of the overlay district was considered in response to residents' concerns about off-campus student housing. But he noted that saying the district is expanding is a bit of a misnomer.

The city received complaints in the early 2000's about off-campus student housing, particularly issues with parties and parking, according to Stewart. In response, the city created the student overlay district that 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.

Current city regulations allow up to four unrelated people to live together in a house, which means student housing in reality can be anywhere, Stewart said.

Stewart told planners that Mayor Ed Pawlowski held a pair of community meetings earlier this year to discuss the issue. More than 100 people attended the first meeting, which overwhelmingly included concerns about nuisance issues related to off-campus housing such as parties, he said.

The general consensus after the first meeting seemed favorable to expanding the overlay district, according to Stewart.

Officials spent about a month reviewing the proposed expansion. Stewart said. Planning officials settled on the new boundaries, in part, because there's no other student housing outside the new overlay, he said.

In response to a question from the planning commission, Stewart said planning staff settled on Washington Street because it was a "reasonable distance" from campus and represented a natural, logical boundary line. It's located in a neighborhood of single-family homes, he said.

No one in attendance spoke for or against the change before planners voted unanimously in support of the expansion.


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