Lehigh Valley

Allentown planners contemplate riverfront expansion

Offices, restaurants, apartments, shops -- and industries?

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown Planning Commission heard arguments Tuesday for a zoning amendment that would allow developers to build wholesale manufacturing and industrial complexes in the city's 25.7-acre riverfront district.

Commission members quickly expressed concerns that the introduction of industrial buildings would go against the "live, work, play" mantra adopted by the city for the former Lehigh Structural Steel redevelopment site.

"I think it's taking a step backwards of the whole intent of this riverfront," said planner Christian Brown. "I'm picturing the renderings and I'm seeing a truck backing into a dock. It doesn't seem appropriate to me."

Developers responded by saying that is not their intent.

"It would not be industrial wholesale use. It would be commercial wholesale use," said Waterfront Redevelopment Partners representative Steven Boell. "We believe there is a symbiotic relationship between wholesale use and retail use.

"I think a good definition of wholesale [use] is you buy goods and then you resell them to a third party," Boell explained, adding that type of development doesn't place as much of a burden on traffic and nearby residents.

"Our client really wants to have a first-class development."

He  added that wholesale manufacturing currently is allowed in every other commercial district within the region and that his group believed these developments would bring increased employment opportunities to the property, located on the Riverfront Redevelopment Overlay district.

Planning commission chairman Oldrich Foucek proposed that the Waterfront developers redraft the amendment to remove industrial use from the proposal and also allow the planning commission to review projects before they proceed to City Council.

"I'd be happy to excise industrial from this," he said. "I think what's more important is the notion that whatever the use is it comes back to us [for approval]."

Allentown planning director Michael Hefele said they likely would not be able to make the needed adjustments before City Council's next meeting on June 18, and that they should instead look to have the changes prepared by next month.

"We will work with you to get it on the July agenda," he said.

The Waterfront project spans 25.7 acres along the Lehigh River. The developers seek to bring in numerous complexes that will include restaurants, office buildings, retail spaces, open spaces, trails and even homes.

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