The Allentown School District Board of Directors approved a resolution that will allow a developer to make payments in lieu of taxes contingent upon the old Adelaide Silk Mill receiving designation as a Keystone Opportunity Zone by a 6-2 vote Thursday night.
Directors Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman dissented. Director Joanne Jackson was absent.
Almost from the start the approval proved contentious as directors Armstrong and Zimmerman grilled Todd Collins, business development manager for the City of Allentown, about the zoning of the property and its proposed use.
"It represents an important development opportunity for the city for some time now," Collins noted in his opening remarks. "Its current condition continues to deteriorate and is not being used at its highest and best use."
He added the property is also in a 100-year flood plain, also proving challenging to any potential residential developer.
Situated at the corner of Linden Street and American Parkway, the proposed $20-$25 million residential development would consistent primarily of about 150 loft-style apartments, half of which would be one-bedroom. The other half would be split between two-bedroom units and studio apartments.
The mill will be totally renovated and provide higher-end amenities, according to documents filed with the district. The target market for the apartments will include young professionals, empty nesters, local medical workers, couples and renters by choice.
In addition a commercial component at the ground floor would be leased to retail and office tenants and would target a fresh food market, child and adult day care centers, a coffee shop, dry cleaner and other small and local type of businesses and neighborhood organizations.
In an effort to entice approval, developer Borko Milosev agreed to pay 110 percent of the real property taxes payable to the district during Thursday night's meeting.
One man who was not impressed was Armstrong, who didn't so much question Collins as interrogate him.
"This structure not only is in a flood plain, it's also in a high crime area isn't it?" Armstrong asked.
"I personally don't know the crime statistics," Collins responded.
"There's no parking there either," Armstrong said. "It's really not a desirable location for the affluent to live. It's right on the American Parkway. It's in an industrial area. It isn't zoned residential. We're taking property that is zoned business industrial and turning it over to residential."
Armstrong said the city is running out of land for business use, not residential use.
Zimmerman raised concerns about parking and an overabundance of residential property development in the city.
"Where are the people going to come from who are going to move into these apartments?" he asked.
He then spoke directly to Milosev.
"I admire what you're doing," Zimmerman said. "I would love to see it happen. That's not my concern. I'm not a developer. I'm a school board director. I'm concerned about the financial strength of the Allentown School District. And everybody who talks about these residential units always seems to minimize there will only be a few families, if any, with children. Knowing Allentown as I do I know there is a lot of children and I would expect that trend to continue."
In other business Thursday night the board voted 8-0 to name Scott Fisher interim principal of William Allen High School effective July 29th. Fisher currently serves as assistant principal at the school. He replaces Shannon Mayfield, who resigned last month, less than one year on the job.
Mayo added that the administration "is in the process of beginning the search" to find the full-time replacement, and "hopes to bring to the board a recommendation at the end of September."
In addition, Mayo reported the exact numbers of layoffs from the finalized 2013-2014 budget the board approved earlier this month.
A total of 15 administrators were relieved of their duties, up three from the original recommendation by the administration.
A total of 102 teachers were let go, of which 70 were furloughed and 32 were achieved by retirements. That number was done from the original recommendation of 150 layoffs made initially in the budget process by Mayo's administration.
In addition, Mayo said 10 custodial staff and two clerical positions were also eliminated.