Lehigh Valley

Allentown residents pan proposed apartment complex

Developer proposes 130 apartments off Appel Street

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The developer proposing a mix of apartments and single-family homes a stone’s throw from I-78 along South Mountain dramatically altered plans in hopes of winning over future neighbors.

But the changes did little to assuage the concerns and questions from residents in the relatively bucolic little corner of Allentown.

Developer Larken Associates presented the Allentown Planning Commission Tuesday with a revised sketch plan for Appel Street Apartments. The developer proposes five buildings housing 130 apartments on a roughly 13.5-acre property at Appel Street and Barnes Lane off Emaus Avenue.

City-owned land borders the property to one side and Interstate 78 is situated to the north. The project address is listed as 2701 Barnes Lane.

When the developer initially proposed the project, it included a mix of 216 apartments and single-family homes. Planning commissioners felt that density was too great for the property, so the developer revised plans to trim the amount of homes and expand the open space.

Planning commissioners were far more receptive to the newest sketch plan that clusters the apartments toward the center of the property. The project, which will have two entrances onto Appel Street, still includes a swimming pool and clubhouse, but leaves about 65 percent of the property as open space.

Project engineer Mark Bahnick said land that goes undeveloped will remain in its current state, whether that’s a meadow or a wooded area. He told planners that the amount of open space for a project like this is highly unusual; it’s normally in the 10 to 15 percent range.

The new plan does come with a caveat. Erich Schock, the attorney’s developer, said the design will require a zoning change.

The property currently spans two zoning districts. The portion of the land along Appel Street allows for a much greater zoning density, Schock said. His client will need to rezone the rest of the property to allow for a design that clusters the apartments much more closely together, he said.

Schock presented planners and the audience with sketch plans for what is currently allowed by law and what the developer hopes to build, if city council would approve a zoning change.

By law, anyone could build homes right up to the homes on Appel Street, and the initial sketch plan showed no open space, Schock said. The new plan shows a roughly 112-foot buffer between Appel Street and the closest apartment building, according to Bahnick.

The planning commission took no action on the proposal as the developer has yet to submit a land development plan. Schock said after the meeting there’s no timetable for bringing formal plans before the commission because design and engineering won’t begin until it’s clear city council would agree to a zoning change.

The developer has the property under agreement.

Many in the audience had questions about issues such as traffic and storm water that couldn’t yet be answered until detailed designing has begun. One thing that was clear, however, is that the residents living in the somewhat secluded part of the city are not happy with what the developer is proposing.

Appel Street resident Carol Wagner said she lives near the intersection of Appel and Randall streets and sees maybe six cars a day at the intersection. The number of vehicles she sees coming down Appel Street on any given day jumps all the way to maybe 20, she said.

“Looking at your numbers, it’s an extraordinary increase,” Wagner said.

Several other people raised the same concerns about moving traffic for 130 apartments along the neighborhood’s narrow streets, where school buses already have difficulty negotiating. Planning Commissioner Damien Brown said its likely everyone would eventually access the project at Appel and Randall streets, so he suggested the developer find a third access point to diffuse some of the potential traffic.

Traffic engineer Rob Hoffman said a full traffic study that looks at the impact on the existing intersections will be necessary.

Other residents raised concerns about the impact on wildlife, water runoff and the effect on the watershed that feeds the city.

Commission Chairman Oldrich Foucek repeatedly reminded the audience that Tuesday’s presentation was simply to offer the developer some feedback before an extensive plan review.

A developer has the right to build and no one has the right to no traffic, Foucek said. The developer still needs to convince city council to approve a zoning change, and it will be up to city staff and the planning commission, for instance, to decide how to mitigate traffic concerns once the picture becomes clearer, he said.

“This has been a neighborhood tucked away for many years, and I think everyone is used to a quiet bucolic lifestyle,” Foucek said. “The planning commission’s role here is to work out what’s best for everyone concerned.”

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