Lehigh Valley

Allentown planners back industrial re-zoning requests

ACIDA looking to rezone former incinerator site

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown Planning Commission is supporting two proposed zoning changes aimed at luring manufacturing to a pair of vacant properties in the city.

Planning commissioners on Tuesday voiced their support for a request to rezone the roughly 20-acre former incinerator site at Basin Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Commissioners also formally recommended city council rezone a nearly 10-acre parcel near the Home Depot off Lehigh Street.

Scott Unger is executive director of the Allentown Economic Development Incorporation. The AEDC works in conjunction with the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority on redevelopment projects throughout the city.

The development authority proposes re-zoning the former incinerator site from business/light industrial to general industrial.

Unger said the property, which has been off the tax rolls for decades, offers about 10 acres for development. The rest is encumbered by flood plains and utility easements.

When and if the site is developed for some type of industrial use, the remainder would be conveyed to Allentown’s recreation department for links in the city’s trail system. In 2016, Allentown received a state grant for a master park plan that includes several acres at the former incinerator site.

Unger told planning commissioners that he’s recommending rezoning the property to general industrial or what is known as the I-3 zoning district to allow for rail service. He said the AEDC is currently talking with two “prospects” that are interested in rail service.

Only four manufacturers in Allentown are currently served by rail, and the city lost about 22 acres that could be accessed by rail with the rezoning of land along the Lehigh River for the Waterfront project, according to Unger.

If rail service is restored to this property, it would serve as an incremental step to getting rail service back to the South 10th Street Allentown Metal Works site, which is currently being rehabbed and remediated by AEDC, Unger said.

He told commissioners that rail service would be the easier traffic issue to solve. Engineers have inspected an existing rail bridge and report it’s in “good shape” and in need of minimal work, Unger said.
The challenge will be vehicular access to the property. Unger told the board he suspects it will take creating a four-way intersection at South Fourth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with a privately maintained bridge over the Little Lehigh Creek to access the site.

The Lehigh Valley has seen only a 3 to 5 percent vacancy rate in industrial space over the last six to eight years, according to Unger. And offering such space in Allentown offers city residents an opportunity for higher paying manufacturing jobs they can’t easily access in industrial parks outside the city, he said.

Along with allowing rail service, the zoning change will eliminate other general business uses that dilute the available industrial space in the city, Unger said after his presentation to commissioners. Any project is speculative at this point and the redevelopment of the site is in its very preliminary stages, he said.

The property has generated very little interest from the private sector because of the difficulty in developing it, Unger said. Some environmental testing has been done, and he expects additional sampling will be required.

Redeveloping the site will require a lower standard of remediation because it’s an industrial site, according to Unger. And the AEDC, he said, has experience with three similar remediation projects.

As for the Glenwood Street property, owner MFB Allentown LP has tried to market the 9.8-acre parcel for about 16 years, according to attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick. It’s in the shadow of Interstate 78 and zoned for retail and other consumer uses, he said.

But it’s location at the end of Glenwood Street and proximity to a Red Roof Inn, an adult bookstore, a storage facility and a bath and kitchen fitter haven’t made it desirable for retailers, Fitzpatrick said.
“It’s unlikely Nordstrom is going to give this a sniff,” he told planning commissioners.

The zoning change from Shopping Center Business District to limited industrial is not spot zoning as the adjacent Queen City Airport falls under the same zoning district, Fitzpatrick said.

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