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Zoning 'framework' for Allentown State Hospital redevelopment gets green light from council committee

A picture of the postcard for the Northridge community open house.
Stephanie Sigafoos
City Center is planning to transform the former Allentown State Hospital site with more than 1,000 housing units and many other facilities.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The finish line is finally in sight for a developer in its push for new zoning regulations that would allow an ambitious redevelopment project on the former Allentown State Hospital site.

More than three months after Allentown City Council introduced an ordinance to establish a “mixed-use overlay district” on the property and referred the measure to a committee, that committee unanimously supported it Wednesday night — signaling its likely passage next month.

The new zoning overlay district would let Allentown-based developer City Center build housing, retail and more on the site that spans almost 200 acres on the East Side.

That land is zoned as an institutional and governmental district, which only allows "hospitals, related medical offices and colleges," according to the city's zoning ordinance.

Robert DiLorenzo, director of planning and construction for City Center, has said the overlay district is the “framework” for the entire redevelopment, to be known as Northridge.

City Center acquired the property in September 2022 for about $5.5 million after then-state Sen. Pat Browne helped push the deal through.

The Allentown State Hospital was demolished in December 2020. It was built in the early 1900s and served as a psychiatric hospital until 2010.

‘A great addition to the city’

Since August, City Center has repeatedly detailed its plans to various boards.

DiLorenzo said Wednesday that the project will bring more than 1,000 housing units to the property, as well as stores, health care and educational facilities, and other buildings throughout the property.

Plans show a wide range of housing, from garden apartments to single-family homes to a senior living facility.

“The Lehigh Valley is growing, and this … helps so much."
Daryl Hendricks, Allentown City Council president

Northridge could one day support a new school and “micro-hospital,” DiLorenzo said Wednesday.

Four council members lauded the project’s potential Wednesday.

“The East Side really needed this — no doubt about that,” said Cynthia Mota, who chairs the community and economic development committee.

Member Candida Affa said she thought the project was a “win-win” for city residents and the developer, while council president Daryl Hendricks, who does not sit on the committee, also voiced his support for the redevelopment project.

“The Lehigh Valley is growing, and this … helps so much,” Hendricks said to DiLorenzo. “I appreciate the fact you want to get this right, as we do. … Hopefully we will, and this will be a great addition to the city.”

Member Santo Napoli suggested the addition of more than 1,000 housing units could free up homes throughout the rest of the city and add more “supply” to the real estate market for residents looking to buy.

Community needs assessment?

But council member Ce-Ce Gerlach said she wasn’t sure Allentown residents would benefit, as many homes that hit the market in her neighborhood are quickly purchased by “out-of-towners” who flip them into rental units.

“From what I’m seeing, it’s pretty damn hard for an Allentown resident to get their hold on a home because these out-of-state folks come and they buy them with cash.”

Amid her colleagues’ optimism, she urged City Center to “formalize the process of public input” and collect “quantifiable data” about East Side residents’ needs and wishes to help guide the project, which will likely take many years to complete.

She called for a community needs assessment that “would allow you all as developers to really make sure that the needs are being addressed.”

Vicky Kistler, Allentown’s community and economic development chief, said the developer plans to use the results of a community health needs assessment and a housing study, which are both ongoing.

Allentown City Council is set to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 to solicit residents’ input on the new zoning overlay district. Members are likely to approve it at their meeting that starts after the hearing.