|Becky Bradley addresses NorCo Council|
Friday, September 16, 2016
LVPC Concerned About 55+ Communities
Becky Bradley, Executive Director at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), informed Northampton County Council at their September 15 meeting that her agency reviewed 411 subdivision and land development plans in 2015. It's a seven per cent increase over 2014. Bradley believes it indicates a "slow recovery after the economic downturn." Northampton County had the most commercial development (277 acres), while Lehigh County led in residential development (448 acres).
Nearly half the plans submitted (181) were actually non-development plans for lot line adjustments and deed consolidations. Of the remaining plans, 87 were residential and 143 were for non-residential development.
Bethlehem submitted the most plans (34) followed by Allentown (28), Upper Macungie (27) and Lower Macungie (24). Nine municipalities submitted no plans at all, and all nine were boroughs (Chapman, Fountain Hill, Freemansburg, Glendon, North Catasauqua, Portland, Stockertown, Tatamy and West Easton).
For the second year in a row, apartments (570 units) are ahead of all other housing units, including single family homes (246 units). "This is really a tectonic shift in how housing is being developed in our region," says Bradley. For 60 years before 2014, the single family home was the preferred residential unit. Now it's the apartment. According to Bradley, the demand is across "all age groups and all income strata."
Bradley did express concerns about the number of active senior or 55+ communities. Those are age-restricted housing developments, usually for people aged 55 and older. Traditions of America, which touts itself as the "National 55+ Home Builder of the Year," owns two of the top largest approved residential projects in 2015. In fact, 58% of the residential units proposed last year are age restricted.
Bradley noted that there is definitely a demand for age restricted communities, and baby boomers do make up the largest generation.
But what happens when they're gone? According to Bradley, "We are concerned about the ability to fill those units in the next decade or two because the generation underneath is much, much smaller and has a higher debt to income ratio that won't allow them to afford the high price of many of those 55 and up developments." She notes that many of them are in the $400,000 range, and some sell as high as $700,000.
She indicated that the LVPC has begun monitoring these communities to determine their long-term consequences.
Most of the non-residential development was industrial (3,431,858 sf). The top three include Forks Logistics Center (1.36 million sf Forks), Greenfield Industrial Park (1.25 million sf Lower Nazareth) and Hanover Corporate Center 2 (290,000 sf Hanover).
Bradley noted that warehouses have actually declined over the past three years, but her office just received an application last week for a 1.9 million sf warehouse at Bethlehem Majestic Center. That may be the largest warehouse to date within the Lehigh Valley.
Bradley expects to see retail development decline because of the increases in online shopping. "That drives the warehouse logistics economy, but it doesn't drive storefront activity. We'll be having a conversation going forward on what to do with what they call 'greyfields.' That's a fancy term for strip malls that are no longer viable."