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Proposed convenience store in Old Allentown denied by zoners

Allentown City Hall
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Allentown Zoning Hearing Board members unanimously rejected a developer's proposal to open a convenience store in Old Allentown.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A New York developer will have to abandon plans to open a convenience store in Old Allentown after city zoning officials rejected his proposal.

David Gessler on Monday told the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board about his hopes for a convenience store to anchor the residential units he and a partner own at 401-403 N. 8th St.

  • Developer David Gessler was planning a convenience store for the first floor at 401 N. 8th St.
  • The Allentown Zoning Hearing Board unanimously rejected the proposal Monday
  • Zoning officials said they would be open to allowing some other commercial uses at the property

Gessler said he’s spent $15,000 renovating the 600-square-foot first-floor commercial space since buying the property about a year ago.
He told the board he soon will open two other convenience stores in the Lehigh Valley and thought a similar store made sense in Old Allentown.

Benefit to the community?

The proposed convenience store at 401 N. 8th St. would benefit area residents by offering another place to get toiletries, snacks and small appliances, Gessler said.

But several neighbors of the proposed store — and, ultimately, zoning officials — disagreed.

A convenience store would be a “drastic overuse” for the property.
Scott Unger, Allentown Zoning Hearing Board member

A group of residents who are members of the Old Allentown Preservation Association objected Monday to Gessler’s proposal.

Attorney Mark Van Horn cross-examined Gessler on behalf of the group, pointedly questioning him about current and potential issues with traffic and trash in the neighborhood.

Deborah Cox Van Horn said residents of the block are “forever sweeping and picking up the trash” in the neighborhood. She said a convenience store would only add to litter problems.

Gessler’s attorney, Jeff Fleischaker, suggested the convenience store would put out additional garbage cans and work to keep the area clean.

Gessler should not be “held responsible” for trash and traffic issues that are off his property and out of his control, Fleischaker said.

Zoning board members unanimously rejected Gessler’s proposal.

'Drastic overuse'

The first-floor space at 401 N. 8th St. was a “small luncheonette” for more than a half-century before it closed about 15 years ago, Deborah Cox Van Horn said. It’s been vacant for many years since.

Turning that space into a convenience store would generate a “tremendous” amount of foot traffic in the area, board member Scott Unger said, calling it “probably the most intensive use” for the 600-square-foot property.

Allentown zoning ordinances require the board to approve only the minimum amount of zoning relief that requires the least change to current regulations, Unger said.

A convenience store would be a “drastic overuse” for the property, he said.

“We don’t think this is the right use for this location,” Unger told Gessler on Monday.

The board is open to allowing some “reasonable” commercial uses, such as an office, at 401 N. 8th St., Unger said.