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Former downtown Allentown commercial building, skate park get a green light to become apartments

Jason Addy
CDC Developers Inc. wants to convert the corner property at 546 Hamilton St. into 26 apartments, with some commercial space on the ground floor.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Two developers can move forward with projects to convert buildings into housing after earning Allentown Zoning Hearing Board's blessing Monday night.

The board unanimously approved a proposal to put more than two dozen apartments into a five-story building at 546 Hamilton St.

Joseph Clark Jr. of CDC Developers detailed his company’s plans, which show 18 one-bedroom units and eight units with two bedrooms in the 130-year-old building.

Much of the zoning board’s discussion Monday night focused on Clark’s request to put two apartments in the back of the ground floor, which is zoned for commercial uses.

The apartments would be ADA-accessible, with an interior ramp just inside an entrance from Type Street in the rear of the complex, Clark said.

The front of the first floor, along Hamilton Street, will remain as commercial space, according to the plan approved Monday.

"They’re going to start charging him for the spaces from tomorrow.”
Attorney Ron Corkery, on Allentown Parking Authority

Clark told zoning officials he’s struggled to rent out that space and likely would find no interest in commercial space at the back of the building.

Though there’s still “a significant amount to be done” to obtain all necessary approvals, attorney Ron Corkery said, the developer must immediately start paying rent on more than a dozen parking spaces.

“If this is approved tonight, he has to start paying rent on the spaces that are being held,” Corkery said. "They’re going to start charging him for the spaces from tomorrow.”

Clark confirmed he has an agreement with Allentown Parking Authority to lease spaces in a nearby garage.

Skatepark to housing

Zoners also signed off on a proposal to convert a former indoor skatepark into housing, despite one member’s concerns about the board’s authority to approve it.

Developer Gus Elias wants to reconfigure a mostly vacant warehouse at 301 S. Carlisle St. into 24 one-story apartments and a dozen units with two floors.

All 36 apartments will be “oversized” — at least 1,200 square feet — and feature two bedrooms, project engineer Stephen Pany said.

The 35,000-square-foot building has “severe limitations” for industrial uses, including its lack of loading docks and low clearings, Pany said.

“It's just not conducive for industrial purposes anymore," he said.

“It’s possible, but it’s not practical” for tractor-trailers to reach the property, he said, highlighting the difficulties large trucks have turning onto Carlisle Street from Hanover Avenue.

“Tractor-trailer traffic in this area just doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

"The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas does not agree with that math.”
Scott Unger, Allentown Zoning Hearing Board

The project also includes paving a lot across Fairview Street from the apartment complex.

Pany asked officials to consider that property’s area in their calculations for zoning relief, but board member Scott Unger said “the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas does not agree with that math.”

He reminded his colleagues, Robert Knauer and Alan Salinger, that the court remanded a previous case in which their approval relied on a similar calculation to meet zoning requirements.

The building housed Penn Skate Park for about 15 years, from 2008 until January. The skatepark claimed to be the largest and oldest indoor skatepark in Pennsylvania.