About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Proposed Palmer Points Panned at Public Hearing

Is Value Place cutting edge architecture?
Will Palmer Township approve controversial plans for a mega-apartment complex smack dab next to St. Jane Frances de Chantal's new digs? Beats me. Supervisors were supposed to make a decision last night, but re-opened the record to allow additional testimony. After two and a half hours, Chairman Dave Colver pulled the plug and put the matter off for another day. Testimony, arguments and a possible decision will come on March 29.

Developer Lou Pektor has proposed converting the abandoned 28-acre ITT facility, located next to St. Jane's along Hartley Avenue, into 312 apartments spread out among 13 buildings  He calls his project Palmer Points, and hopes to collect between $1,200 and $1,600 per month for one and two bedroom apartments. They is within spitting distance of Route 22, so he's sweetening the deal with a clubhouse and a swimming pool. The ITT building would be razed. But he's got a problem. This area is zoned light industrial, and he needs Palmer Township's blessing to change the zoning to residential. Not just that, he also wants Supervisors to give him a density bonus for excellent architectural design. Based on poor testimony last night in a meeting room packed with about 50 objectors, he did a poor job of demonstrating that he's entitled to any bonus.

High density apartments are usually quite unpopular. In the Lehigh Valley, deconversion of single-family homes into multi-family apartment buildings is thought by many to be the single biggest reason why cities like Allentown, and to a lesser extent, Bethlehem and Easton, are in such trouble. The following arguments are often made:
• Multifamily apartments lower the value of single-family homes in the neighborhood.
• People who live in apartments are less desirable neighbors and more likely to engage in
crime or other anti-social behavior.
• Apartments overburden schools, produce less revenue for local governments, and require more infrastructure support.
• Higher-density housing creates traffic congestion and parking problems.
Those arguments against Palmer Points have been made. Resident Joe Gagliano has made them, and has presented Supervisors with a petition signed by 83 homeowners opposed to re-zoning. Whether those arguments are factually supported is another question. According to one Harvard study, the data fail to show that multi-family apartments lead to lower property values, cause more crime or create more traffic. A similar conclusion has been reached by the Urban Land Institute, which adds that high density apartments are far less destructive of the environment.

The reality is that apartments are hot. People are no longer interested in purchasing homes because of the uncertainty in the job market and difficulty in obtaining financing. Home ownership has declined more than 6 percentage points in the last decade - from nearly 70% to a little over 63%. That translates into 10 million more family units who rent rather than own.

The type of apartments Pektor is proposing are for what we call "volunteer renters" - that is, folks with the means to buy a home but who have chosen to rent an apartment. $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom, or, $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom is hardly Section 8 territory.

But there's no denying the perception that high-density housing will cause problems.

Jeff Acopian, who has hired hired prominent Easton Attorney Gary Asteak in this dispute, does provide a factual analogy. In an email to Supervisors, he makes the following comparison to Forks Township.
Look at Forks township. Palmer isn’t as congested as they are- YET. But this kind of project will get us to the Forks level of congestion. Years ago, those in favor of this kind of development in Forks used the argument that this kind of project is good for the tax base. But look at what Forks has now! Besides a very congested community, they've also had to raise their taxes a total of almost 25% in the past 3 years alone. It's a false economy to say this type of project will keep the taxes of Palmer residents low. That's just not true.
Acopian believes more effort should have been invested into luring a light industry into the site, mentioning a trend toward "Made in the USA" industries. But distinguished Zoning Attorney Jim Preston, who represents Pektor, told the Board that Pektor has tried. "If we could sell the property tomorrow, we would not be here."

Jessica McAndrew told Supervisors that this project is very similar to the Madison Farms apartment complex in Bethlehem Township. According to her, people who live in surrounding neighborhoods are now experiencing more vandalism, thefts and scams from "out of state people." She claims things are so bad that a Neighborhood Block Watch has been formed. McAndrew also complained about crowded classrooms at Palmer Elementary, where 30 students to a class is the norm, becoming even more crowded.

I don't know if McAndrew is accurate about Madison Farms. I believe a block watch is being formed, but it's a reaction to the apartments at Northampton Community College, not Madison Farms

Some have hinted that allowing this site to remain light industrial would make it more difficult for Charlie Chrin to lure businesses to his 1,000-acre industrial park in northern Palmer Township, which is supposed to create 5,000 jobs. Converting the zoning here to residential would certainly remove some of the possible competition to Chrin.

After the record was closed in January, Pektor decided that he needed zoning approval for 48' high buildings, and not the 36' in his application. So he presented testimony to the Planning Commission two weeks ago, and Easton architect Jeff Martinson spoke on the subject last night. The higher buildings and density bonus would be permitted if it could be established that there is "excellence in architectural design."

Martison showed two pictures of the proposed buildings and claimed that the rooftops, manufactured stone and chimneys provided that excellence.

Gary Asteak tore poor Jeff apart. He admitted he himself was not the architect who designed these buildings, and is unaware of any awards given to the actual designer. When pressed, he called the design "prototypical" and then later called it part of the "vernacular architecture" in this region. In other words, common. He refused to use the word "common" or "typical" once he realized where Gary was headed, but had already screwed himself.

Amazingly, this architect had no idea what the height of these proposed buildings actually is, and never bothered looking at the Zoning Ordinance, which defines these things. Eventually, Chairman Dave Colver had to read the definition himself.

Martinson did no favors to his cause when he produced pictures of the proposed buildings, which look exactly like the Value Place Extended Stay Hotel in Bethlehem.

"You're trying to turn this town into extended stay hotels!" joked resident Alex Karapetian.

It was at this point that Colver decided he had heard enough for one night. Though he kept tight control on outbursts, he made sure that everyone who wanted to speak got a chance. Some residents were allowed to speak several times. He mentioned there's a five-minute rule on comment, but added he has never imposed it.

One woman - her name is Karen Wasielewski - made comments when she was supposed to be asking questions and asked questions when she was supposed to making her arguments. That's common at zoning and planning hearings. Palmer Township Solicitor Chuck Bruno gently teased her on her mistake, and she joked, "That's because I'm married to a dumb Polack."

Updated 9:30 am: In an earlier version of this story, I got Lou Pektor and Lew Ronca mixed up. Now both of them are going to sue me.          


Anonymous said...

Pave the Valley.
Extended-Stay Hotels for everyone.

Anonymous said...

The "home run" of rental unit buildings are those that are age-restricted. Less impact on school enrollment. This proposal appears to be all-age. The quoted rental prices seem high, but if required to accept government subsidized renters with children, the burden to actually live there is smaller.

No multi-family building contributes a commensurate amount of funding for public education when two buildings of the same footprint contain 2 or more units with children. This growing tendency (rental living) DOES create a school tax issue. It's a component of the property tax reform movement, an effort I support.

I find the reference here to architectural design excellence amusing. Looking at structures going up in downtown Allentown, I'd say generic, junk building design is a real possibility here, too!

Fred Windish

Anonymous said...

"Jessica McAndrew told Supervisors that this project is very similar to the Madison Farms apartment complex in Bethlehem Township. According to her, people who live in surrounding neighborhoods are now experiencing more vandalism, thefts and scams from "out of state people." She claims things are so bad that a Neighborhood Block Watch has been formed."

What a baseless position to take. Claiming that Madison Farms apartments is some type of crime, filth ridden apartment complex is complete joke. Did she actually look at those units? Doe she know what the rents are? The tired suburban neighborhood from where she comes from probably has just as much crime and is is probably in the need for a crime watch too.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the statement in ET that the supervisors have Petkor"s permission to wait until April to reply.

Anonymous said...

These rentals are just more housing stock too add to the allreddy houses of illrepukeZ¿!)$ Looking out from my shithole and gazing upon the hidious white boxeZ built this manipulation Z creation just has one bad apple jumping from hovel to hovel in the hide and seek gameZ of the circus, claiming ignorance for incompatence, but than again it just could be another collusionary dillusionary trixZ of the carnival as a holeZ¿!)$
Hell, they could have said appraisor, team palumpa and said court jesters do an appraisal for vacnt parkland formally the AZZphalt plant now said foodbank defunct too¿!)$

Bernie, if you go there this evening you will be in the presence of the bearded fatlady formally of allentownZ original circus location¿!)$ Same old show with a couple faceliftZ needed and a nip and tuck¿!)$ Just like allentownZ Campaign Donors Democratical Dysfuncktional tools employeed¿!)$ They could send yet another yea or na voter to get liepoosuctionZ done in another country¿!)$
redd for Republican
patent pending

Bernie, I redd what I redd yesterday, or was it that I took my tinfoil cap off for a second while having coffee and they penatrated or was the deletion a figment of my imagination being manipulated too¿!)$

Dave said...

This is not unusual. I saw it in Atlanta years ago when some old AT&T industrial buildings that were closed and the land was bought by developers.

The buildings had no feasible re-use and they were torn down. The land was redeveloped into large housing estates, usually town homes or two or three story condos.

Welcome to the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

Under the Municipalities Planning Code, the municipality has to render a decision within so many days. Typically, in cases that involve a lot of testimony, the applicant will grant an extension of time from that date so that the Board has the ability to consider all of the evidence prior to rendering a decision. My assumption is that Mr. Pektor granted a waiver from that time so the Board can make a decision at a later date.

Anonymous said...

• Higher-density housing creates traffic congestion and parking problems.

Really? Under the zoning map, this property could be a warehouse. You could have Fedex trucks piling through these streets one after the other. They are complaining about traffic, yet no other type of traffic causes more congestion or damage to the roads as tractor trailer traffic.

•Jessica McAndrew told Supervisors that this project is very similar to the Madison Farms apartment complex in Bethlehem Township. According to her, people who live in surrounding neighborhoods are now experiencing more vandalism, thefts and scams from "out of state people."

What neighborhood is around Madison Farms? It's in the middle of a field next to Route 33 and south of an industrial park. This woman makes it sound like it was dropped in the middle of a residential neighborhood. "Those people"... That's what it's all about. "Those people".

Ron Beitler said...

This is the same trap Lower Macungie fell into with "Grandview" apartments. Where Commissioners at the time gave away density for nothing.

The only thing density bonuses should be given out for is Transferable Development Rights. It still might not satisfy neighborhood NIMBY's but you keep the net density of the township level. No more hand outs of density. Defintely not for any one time cash windfalls associated with traffic "improvements". That is the definition of short sighted.

Traffic isn't worsened because of some targeted density it's worsened by increasing the net unit count of a township. Negate that by transferring the density from elsewhere using TDR.

Anonymous said...

Careful, this is what you may get! The value place advertises on craigslist for monthly rentals, studio apartments.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Hor Ron, Could you please explain your last sentence? It went rihht over me, I confess.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe I indicated in the body of my post that I question the accuracy of McAndrew's observation.But i give her credit for exercising her right as a citizen, and her concerns about crime are often expressed in opposition to these kinds of development. I don't accept the crime argument, but those concerns should be addressed with solid testimony.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The Board has until the end of April to make a decision.

Bernie O'Hare said...

There is a residential community located near Madison Farms, and one of them sued over the zoning changes in BT. And it could be that McAndrew is right. But i attend most Commissioner meetings in BT, and have never heard from anyone that Madison Farms has become a hotbed of crime. I have heard that complaint directed at the new dorms built at Northampton Community College, but not at Madison Farms.

Anonymous said...

thank you for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

Wagner Farms residents have formed a neighborhood watch group.

Ron Beitler said...

Planned density along established corridors (in this case Rt. 22) is smart growth. One of the base tenants. ROI on investments already made. I just do not think that it should be given away. One mechanism to address that is a transfer of development rights program. With it a developer could purchase density from elsewhere in the township where the density is less appropriate. It's a free market preservation solution.

On global scale township wide you would not increase the total amount of units in the township. Instead with TDR you swap them from one place ideally less desirable to another where infrastructure already exists or you get more bang for your buck with future investments.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Thank you.

Ron Beitler said...

I think the same thing applies to seminary project in Lehigh Twp. Which I think is good design. But the LVPC has justifiable concerns with increased rural density. So the solution is swap it. Than your not increasing the net. Your just re-arranging what's already there. And ideally doing it around existing public investments.

Sprawl is lots of things. But at it's core it's expensive.