Lehigh Valley

Developer pitches townhouse project on Allentown's south side

Project would include 53 3-story townhouses

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The developer hoping to build a townhouse development on a series of tight-fitting properties on Allentown’s south side will need to address parking and sidewalk issues and figure out who will maintain a series of storm water basins.

New York-based developer Leewood Pennsylvania LLC presented sketch plans Tuesday for Southside Living, a 53-townhouse project nestled into about 5 acres in between Basin Street and the Little Lehigh Creek. The developer proposes consolidating seven separate lots on Market, West Wye and Barber streets for the project.

The Allentown Planning Commission took no action following Tuesday’s presentation, and it’s unclear when the developer will return with a revised sketch plan or formal land development plans. Developer Randy Lee declined to comment about the project following the planning commission review.

Sketch plans show connected three-story townhouses along both sides of Barber and Jordan streets and four storm water basins situated in the four corners of the project.

Lee told planning commissioners that the goal is to provide “good housing” at a lower cost to working families. The project will offer three-bedroom homes that feature two bathrooms, a garage and a yard priced between $185,000 and $189,000, he said.

The two biggest issues raised by the commission were plans to situate parking at the front of the houses and to only install sidewalks on one side of Barber and Jordan streets.

The project engineer said sidewalks were planned for only one side of the street to accommodate limited on-street parking on the other side of the street. Commissioners were wary of a tight residential development in which some homes would have sidewalks, while others don’t. The developer eventually indicated that plans could be revised to accommodate sidewalks throughout the project.

But the biggest issue was where to put parking.

The proposal meets city code by providing two parking spaces for each home – one in the garage and one in the driveway. Sketch plans also show limited on-street parking with single spots situated in between driveways.

Planning commissioners said they’d prefer to see parking behind the homes, where it creates less of a safety concern for pedestrians and simply creates a more visually appealing neighborhood by moving some of the parking out of sight.

Commissioner Damien Brown suggested the developer may even consider finding a way to provide parking behind only a portion of the homes.

Developer representative Marc Kaplin said requiring alleys would a “deal breaker” for the project. Requiring alleys would limit the size of yards and cut down on the number of homes, leaving the project financially unfeasible, he said.

“I don’t know how else to say this, but it’s not practical for us,” Kaplin said.

He argued the project meets city parking requirements and Barber Street ends in a cul-de-sac, which means people who don’t live there won’t be parking in the neighborhood.

But the issue is more about practicality, board Chairman Oldrich Foucek said. The homes will not be age restricted, which means you could have children who eventually turn into driving teens, he said.

“When Thanksgiving comes and Christmas comes and the grandparents visit, where … do you put them?” Foucek said.

While sidewalks may be a deal breaker for the board, planning Commissioner Christian Brown said there may be more room for compromise when it comes to parking. The city’s parking ordinance exists so a developer can’t drop a suburban-style development in the middle of the city, where parking in the front of houses will dramatically alter the appearance of a neighborhood, he said.

This proposed developed “is a bit on the periphery” and might be the one place where Christian Brown said he could live without rear parking.

Planning Commissioner Richard Button asked if there was any way to guarantee the homes wouldn’t be snatched up by absentee landlords and used as rentals.

Lee said there’s no way to prevent someone from buying one of the homes, but he doubted an out-of-town speculator could buy one of the houses at the proposed price, rent it out and make any money.

When it comes to the storm water basins, the question is who will be responsible for maintaining them. Lee said he’s hesitant to create a homeowner’s association to maintain the basins, citing concerns over having to raise the home prices to pay for the association.

The developer will need to discuss with city officials how to handle maintenance.

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