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Developer told to scale down proposed apartment complex in Allentown

Edison Lofts West Allentown
Taylor Architecture & Design
This rendering by Taylor Architecture & Design shows the current plans for Blackstone Structures' proposed 12-story Edison Lofts West development at the corner of Hamilton and 10th streets.

  • Blackstone Structures is proposing a 12-story mixed-use complex with 189 apartments and two stories of educational uses 
  • The proposal hit a speedbump as Allentown’s planning commission tabled it 
  • Planning officials want the developer to reconsider or redesign some aspects of the proposal

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A developer must look for ways to scale down the size of its proposed apartment complex in downtown Allentown.

The Allentown Planning Commission this week tabled Blackstone Structures’ plans to build a 12-story structure at 960-966 W. Hamilton St. due to concerns over how much bigger the building would be than its neighbors.

    Two new apartment complexes on the same block as Blackstone’s proposed Edison Lofts West project stand five stories tall, while several buildings across Hamilton Street stand six stories tall.

    The three properties, which Blackstone will look to consolidate into one lot, are located in the city’s Central Business District. That zoning designation allows structures of any height, but several downtown overlay districts have stricter regulations.

    The three-lot property at the southeast corner of Hamilton and 10th streets is also in the Historic Building Demolition Overlay district, the Hamilton Street Overlay district and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay district.

    ‘A little out of place’

    The TNDO’s No.1 goal is to “protect the character of Allentown’s traditional neighborhoods and promote development that is consistent with the physical form and characteristics of those neighborhoods,” according to a report by Allentown planning employees.

    City staff and at least one member of the planning commission believe that prohibits Blackstone’s proposal for a 12-story building.

    “It feels like 12 floors is really big. It doesn't feel compatible when you walk on Hamilton in that neighborhood.”
    Kelli Holzman, Allentown City Planning Commission member

    Allentown planning employees recommended Blackstone work “to minimize the size, scale and massing of the project.” Otherwise, it “would cause a disconnect” with the rest of the neighborhood, staff members said in their review of the proposal.

    Planning commission member Kelli Holzman said she thinks a building that stands over 100 feet tall would be “a little out of place” in that section of West Hamilton Street.

    “It feels like 12 floors is really big,” she said. “It doesn't feel compatible when you walk on Hamilton in that neighborhood.”

    But planning commission members Christian Brown and Jeff Glazier said they had no issues with the size of the building.

    “I’m OK with the height. If it’s good with zoning (officials), I’m good with it. If you want to add another story, knock yourself out.”
    Jeff Glazier, Allentown City Planning Commission member

    “I’m OK with the height,” Glazier said. “If it’s good with zoning (officials), I’m good with it. If you want to add another story, knock yourself out.”

    Brown said he thought any concerns about the building’s size could be addressed with several design changes proposed by planning employees.

    Their review of the Edison Lofts West proposal recommends Blackstone create stepbacks above the third or fifth floors “so that the lower roofline aligns more closely to adjacent buildings” or find some other way to modify the middle of the building.

    Adding more balconies to apartments facing Hamilton Street could also help differentiate the building’s large façade, “Instead of a sheer vertical face going the full 12 stories,” Brown suggested.

    Blackstone developer Gary Newman said the company “explored that” and other design alternatives, though they could mean fewer apartments in the building.

    “I’m open to anything,” Newman said. “This is not an exercise in maximizing density or fighting for the last two units.”

    Historic demolition?

    Blackstone’s current plans call for the first two floors of the building to be used for educational purposes. Almost 200 apartments would be spread across the next nine floors, architect Brian Taylor said Tuesday.

    Ninety of those units would be studios, with 63 one-bedroom apartments and 36 two-bedroom apartments, he said.

    Blackstone hopes to put a restaurant on the 12th floor, Taylor said.

    Three buildings must be demolished to make way for the complex that could boast about a quarter-million square feet of floor space.

    “Of course, it has to be the middle building that’s the one worth saving."
    Christian Brown, Allentown City Planning Commission chair

    City planning employees and commission members said they have no issues with Blackstone knocking down buildings at 960 and 966 W. Hamilton St.

    But Brown and Holzman lamented the potential loss of the structure at 962 W. Hamilton St., which officials say “holds high architectural significance as an example of a largely intact Italianate building.”

    “Of course, it has to be the middle building that’s the one worth saving,” Brown said.

    The Allentown Zoning Hearing Board is expected to consider Blackstone’s request to demolish those buildings at its Sept. 25 meeting.

    Blackstone is also working to redevelop the other corner of the even side of West Hamilton Street’s 900 block. The developer plans to build about 70 apartments across two buildings at 926-930 W. Hamilton St.

    That proposal would include the demolition of Allentown magnate Gen. Harry Trexler’s former home. Trexler lived in the building at 926 W. Hamilton St. for 30 years from 1884 to 1914.

    But city officials are backing the building’s demolition after agreeing it no longer holds any historical value because of “numerous insensitive alterations” to the structure.