Two 12-story apartment buildings will tower over a section of Allentown’s Lehigh Parkway, near the old humped bridge over Little Lehigh Creek at Martin Luther King Drive.
The McDonald's restaurant that stands between the Kmart and South 4th Street on the city’s south side will be demolished and replaced with a new McDonald's.
And the first buildings in the high-profile Waterfront development will rise along the Lehigh River, just south of the Tilghman Street Bridge.
All those projects are scheduled to begin next year.
And all were before the Allentown Planning Commission during its meeting in City Hall early Tuesday afternoon.
While McDonalds got final approval to proceed, the projects near the Lehigh River and Little Lehigh Creek won’t get final approval until at least November.
Developers of the Waterfront were hoping for final approval to prepare for their first phase of construction on the 26-acre former Lehigh Structural Steel site beneath the western half of the Tilghman Street Bridge.
Phase one will include three office buildings, an apartment building, a parking garage, two surface lots, on-street parking and the first phase of a River Walk along the Lehigh.
But issues involving ownership of that River Walk and public plazas along the Lehigh, as well as traffic impacts on some already-congested intersections in that part of town, still must be resolved before phase one gets a green light.
And the city parks department is being an opportunity to weigh in on the two apartment buildings planned just off Lehigh Parkway East, especially the developer’s proposal to have stormwater run-off cross a sliver of Lehigh Parkway.
The Waterfront project received tentative plan approval in July.
Michael Hefele, Allentown’s planning director, said all conditions of tentative plan approval must be met before final plan approval can be given. He explained that has not yet happened.
Mark Jaindl, one of the principal developers, told planners none of the outstanding issues are insurmountable.
Hefele said one unresolved issue involves who will own and maintain the River Walk and plazas in the new riverfront neighborhood the developers are planning. The other involves intersections on streets around that new neighborhood.
Hefele said the developers had asked the planning commission to modify a requirement in the city zoning ordinance that all affected intersections must operate at a service level of “D”, but the commission postponed a decision on that request.
“Some of the intersections are coming up short of that requirement, so we gave the developers additional time to address that.” He added that traffic issue is still “somewhat on the table.”
Hefele said the most notable intersection that will not completely comply with that requirement has not even been built yet: American Parkway and Front Street. He said overall that intersection will meet the “D” ranking but some movements of vehicles through it will not.
Hefele said another problem intersection will be Front and Allen streets. He said the intersection will function at an acceptable level if a turning lane is added so traffic going south on Front Street can turn left onto Allen, which will become one of the major streets to the Waterfront.
He said the intersection at Front and Allen streets works now, but parking spaces will be lost if a turning lane is added. But that turning lane will have to be several hundred feet long. “To accommodate that, we would have to move parking off one or both sides of Front Street, which is obviously a neighborhood issue.”
“I don’t want to remove parking at that intersection,” said Richard Young, the city’s public works director. “Parking is a premium down there.”
“You shouldn’t take out any parking down there,” said a woman in the audience. “It’s hard enough to find a parking space.”
Young said the developers are not proposing a left turn lane on southbound Front in that area. He said so many cars may want to turn left onto Allen that they will cause a back-up to the Front and Tilghman intersection, which is a block north. “I’d like to see if they can look at other alternatives to try to improve that condition.”
In May, Hefele told the planning commission several existing intersections in that part of the city already get failing grades for their ability to handle traffic and must be improved by the developers.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Zachary Jaindl, spokesman for the development team --Waterfront Redevelopment Partners LP—said its engineers have been working with the city to ensure all traffic concerns are analyzed and corrected to meet the city’s standards. He indicated that includes the Front and Allen street intersection, which he predicted will exceed the city’s standards.