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Proposed Allentown skyscraper draws concern of Lehigh Valley Planning Commission

Peregrine Tower Proposed Location
Public Document
/
LehighValleyNews.com
The proposed location for Peregrine Tower in Allentown.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Lehigh Valley Planning Commission on Tuesday took a look at an early plan for a project set to change Allentown's skyline — and many are worried about it.

The applicant proposes a 37-story building with 206 residential units, 2,651 square feet of retail, and 9,953 square feet of office space called Peregrine Tower at 90 S. 9th St.

It would be the tallest building in the state outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The proposal lists retail space on the first and fourth floors, office space on the second, third and fourth floors, and residential space from floors six and up, and a restaurant on the top floor.

A report from the LVPC by regional planner Joseph Dotta and Executive Director Becky Bradley to the city says the proposal could signal a shift in the Lehigh Valley's development future.

"This proposal is a bellwether of the direction of development in the Lehigh Valley and is one of the most significant development proposals in the City and region’s history."
Report from the LVPC by regional planner Joseph Dotta and Executive Director Becky Bradley to the city

"Essentially, this signals a substantial change in density and dynamic of the City, region and even Commonwealth," it says.

"This proposal is a bellwether of the direction of development in the Lehigh Valley and is one of the most significant development proposals in the City and region’s history.

"With this understood, this proposal is worthy of intense examination for its potential effect on Allentown and on the region."

The planning commission lists the property as currently "underdeveloped." It's near Allentown Parking Authority's Maple Street Parking Garage.

The building would be a permitted use, based on current zoning regulations. But LVPC states there are a conflicting number of stories listed in the plan set, and clarification of intent is needed according.

Allentown Planning officials first approved Peregrine Tower — which then was called The Landmark Tower — almost a decade ago in 2015.

LVPC will further review the project at a full commission meeting at 7 p.m. June 27.

LVPC members, residents voice concern

Allentown City Councilwoman Ce-Ce Gerlach said a skyscraper proposal in her neighborhood was not something she and many of her neighbors could support.

She said the developer has not tried to contact local residents, despite the magnitude of the change it would bring.

"It just seems way out of scale for the area, and this project is literally giving the finger to Allentown. It's just way out of scale."
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission member John Gallagher

"We are against having a skyscraper in our residential neighborhood, regardless of how it's zoned," Gerlach said.

"If you've been on Walnut Street, particularly the 900 or 800 block of Walnut, it's residential, it's homes, that that's what's there.

"You've got row homes, you've got the new apartments, that's what's on Walnut where this is proposed. Even on South Ninth Street, that's residential."

A top-down view of the proposed Peregrine Tower location
Public Document
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Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
A top-down view of the proposed Peregrine Tower location in Allentown.

She said it would take away one of the few areas of green space they have in the neighborhood, and continue what she said was a segregating of the neighborhood between new and established residents.

"With all of the new development that has happened in the neighborhood, there has been zero placemaking," Gerlach said.

"You've got the new folks who have moved into City Center buildings, and everything occurs within those buildings. And then you've got the established residents and we don't have any place to meet each other because there's no place for us to gather.

"That corner would be an excellent place for us to gather, but not for a skyscraper."

Gerlach also listed other needs of the community, such as the lack of an accessible grocery store and the lack of greenery.

Commission member John Gallagher was not happy about a site footprint smaller than the PPL tower, despite being a taller mixed-use building leaving limited usable space.

"It just seems way out of scale for the area, and this project is literally giving the finger to Allentown," Gallagher said.

"It's just way out of scale."

Other members, such as Stephen Melnick, voiced concern about the capability of the Allentown Fire Department to reach upper stories of the building, and sought clearer language related to emergency management services related to the project.

LVPC comments focus on height, shadows

During the LVPC Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting Tuesday, officials requested clarifications to the proposed height of the building, and shadow diagrams to determine how light and shade will impact nearby developments.

The reason is that the building's proposed number of stories "greatly surpasses" the surrounding properties, including the 22-story PPL Tower.

"Because the height of the building would exceed anything in the city and region, careful consideration should be given to the interplay between density and the surrounding community."
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission report

"Because the height of the building would exceed anything in the city and region, careful consideration should be given to the interplay between density and the surrounding community," the planning commission report states.

The report states there is concern that a building that tall would not be wholly compatible with the adjourning neighborhood, which is a traditional neighborhood development overlay district.

The LVPC says that according to Allentown zoning laws, new construction is urged to be similar heights to adjacent existing structures.

Allentown Planning Director Jennifer Gomez said there are some zoning-related comments that the city will make related to the project to provide feedback for a project revision.

Another concern listed was lighting impacts to the city because of the potential shadow cast by the proposed building.

"All-in-all, with the increasing number of taller buildings in the City of Allentown, it is imperative that impact analysis, especially related to height, façade design and setbacks be required for developments at the scale of the current proposal," the report states.

It also lists affordability of housing as a concern if developers don't take the needs of the nearby community into account.

Median income in the area is listed at $32,507 and median rent $993 before utilities, leading to many renter households in the neighborhood being cost-burdened, or paying at least 30% of their monthly income on housing costs.

Plans also propose improvements such as crosswalk marking and street sign replacements at Ninth and Walnut.

A series of delays

Allentown Planning Commission in 2015 approved a 33-story building at 90 S. 9th St. by Ascot Circle Realty, which originally planned to fill about 80% of the tower with offices.

The building’s bottom two floors were to serve as retail space, while the top five floors would feature apartments, according to those early plans.

Planning officials granted the developer various extensions before it was acquired by Umran Global Investment.

The planning commission rejected a further request for extension because new plans call for 37 floors, which Chairman Christian Brown called “substantially different” than the original project.

The property’s new owners hope to postpone their presentation to the planning commission until October, officials said this month.