Berkshire Building in downtown Reading

The Berkshire Building at North Fifth and Washington streets in downtown Reading

READING, Pa. - The Reading Zoning Hearing Board heard two separate zoning-relief requests Wednesday for proposed reuses for the Medical Arts Building and the Berkshire Building.

Berkshire II Real Estate Holdings LLC, owner of the eight-story Berkshire Building at North Fifth and Washington streets, is asking for a special exception to convert the building into 56 residential and four commercial units.

Orlando Cuevas, senior project manager with iPM Assist Inc., Philadelphia, explained the residential units will actually be suites, which will be used by Alvernia University to house up to 70 international students from Saudi Arabia.

The adaptive reuse is meant to be part of Alvernia's CollegeTown initiative. Alvernia plans to locate a new campus in the former CNA building at at 401 Penn Street, which most recently housed the I-LEAD charter school.

A variance from parking requirements is also needed.

The building does not have any off-street parking, but Joan London, a Wyomissing attorney representing the owner, said students from overseas will not have vehicles. Alvernia plans to provide transportation between its main campus and its downtown location.

The plan is to use the fourth through eighth floors for the suites, while three bottom floors would be used for retail and commercial uses, as well as a common area for students.

But Cuevas said the latter would be a second phase of the project in order to accommodate the Hispanic Center, which currently leases space in the building.

In the case of the Medical Arts Building, city developer Alan Shuman said his plan is to develop 31 residential units at 230 North Fifth Street and four commercial units in new construction proposed at 226 North Fifth Street, the adjacent parking lot.

The building and lot are owned by William and Judith McMahon, Exeter Township.

Shuman said relief from parking requirements is required, even though he is able to provide sufficient off-street parking at a nearby parking garage. The garage, however, is located 450 feet from the building, and the city zoning ordinance requires off-street parking to be located less than 300 feet from a building.

Shuman said the adaptive reuse of the 12-story art deco building has been approved by the National Historic Park Service. Shuman further explained the park service will provide a tax credit for the new construction, as he is attempting to replicate the look of an original building that once stood in the current parking lot.

The project also needs dimensional variances, as it is an existing non-conforming building because of its size.

In a third case, the panel heard a request for a special exception and parking variance from Overlord Real Estate Holdings, LLC, for an adaptive reuse of a building at 916 North Ninth Street. The owner plans to locate 12 apartment units in the building, but can provide only 14 parking spaces underneath the building.

Several residents of North Ninth Street objected to the proposed use, citing a congested parking problem in the block.

The zoning board will render decisions on all three cases on Nov. 18.

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