Feb 10, 2016

The Re-use of Allentown's Factories

A few years ago, Allentown changed its zoning to allow the adaptive re-use of its factories for apartments, with less variances required. One gentleman converted a number of former industrial buildings along the Jordan Creek. Of course, all these specific proposals used words like loft and upscale to help persuade city planning and zoning. For the most part, those new units are not high end, nor do they attract a different clientele than the thousands of other intercity apartments. I have mixed feelings about the conversions. One on end, I tend to be a property rights guy, who supports the owner's decision regarding best use of his property. On the other side, I realize that these units are adding to the density issues in Allentown, and problems facing the school district.

Planners are concerned about the lack of available parking for a current proposal to convert the building at 10th and Turner (shown above) into apartments. Ironically, to help facilitate the NIZ, Allentown Parking Authority was willing to sell off many its surface lots to connected developers. Nothing is applied very evenly in Allentown, if it's parking, zoning or any other right.


Anonymous said...


In truth if no commercial use for this building can be found and the owners want to use the property for residential use they should be told to tear the building down and build modern townhouses. There is nothing architecturally significant here or is it in the city's, and the residents best interests to approve another multi-story high density residential building in this location.
Of course no one likes to hear this sort of reasoning in Allentown.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

I support the expert in affordable housing,
Alan Jennings. He insists we need more affordable housing, he knows his stuff.
Until he says something different I'm going to trust him.

George Ruth said...

What good are zoning laws if they can be changed at the whim of any government regime in power at any given time. If this was an industrial building then keep the current zoning. If moved to residential then I agree with Scott. The last thing the city needs is 50 more 'families' filling our schools and using other social services sure to come. How can cramming more low-income folks into a city trying to rebuild itself be 'smart growth"?

Anonymous said...

Joe Clark? I don't see a Reilly or Jaindl in that name. Perhaps it's a middle name?

Sorry, this project just isn't right for Allentown.

Besides, Ed will screw with Clark until the bitter end.

The last thing this city needs is more apartments.

michael molovinsky said...

scott@7:56, allentown could have a density tradeoff program, where new units require that existing units must first be reconverted.

anon@8:01, jennings made it clear to me that he favors deficient affordable units being repaired, but not more units being added.

george@12:29, changing the zoning was a long process; at the time i wrote about the adaptive reuse change, and its consequences.

anon 12:43, i did omit that controversial joe clark was the applicant for this project. new units are new, even if constructed by clark. i believe that he has the same rights to develop as anybody else.

Anonymous said...

Affordable housing yields democrat votes. Increasing the population density (with democrat voters) cultivates dependency upon government programs that buy democrat votes. Of course it's all sold to us in the name of compassion and fighting for the little guy.

Self-reliance and responsibility is the bane of the poverty pimps who are destroying Allentown.

Julian Kern said...

I agree with Scott. We don't need more apartments in Allentown. We need more home owned properties. Adding more apartments is just going to increase density as mentioned and add more rental units for the understaffed code enforcement to inspect. Code enforcement can't even handle the amount of rental units the city currently has which is 37,509 rental units.

I would like to point out that the building is owned by CDC Developers/Joseph Clark Jr not his dad Joe Clark Sr. Joe Clark Jr seems to take more pride in his work then his dad.

Regardless of who owns the building I agree more apartments is just going to hurt the city then do any good.

michael molovinsky said...

julian@11:29, there were 20k plus units in 1998. as a student of allentown deed transfers, i can tell you that thousands of single family homes were purchased by investors, and are now classified as rentals. i can also tell you that programs to make the under-qualified home owners don't work, and result in those properties needing redo's at the taxpayer expense, over and over. this quagmire is a result of allentown's poverty level, and is seen in urban areas across the country. you cannot hire enough code enforcers, or do enough inspections, to make that reality disappear.

Anonymous said...

By the public records, the building/property in question is known as: 146 N. 10th Street. It is a 25' wide x 100' deep lot. It has about 10,000 SF in 4 stories and a full basement In other words, the building footprint occupies the entire site.

The cost to raze this structure--fill in the basement and grade and possibly have to finish the neighbor's common exterior wall, which appears to be attached--likely exceeds $100,000. The resultant leveled site would very likely be worth less.

This illustrates the problem. When razing costs exceed the underlying value of the land/site----improved properties remain vacant and do not get razed except by a government program. The only alternative is to "reuse" the property in some way.

"Reuse" works in some cases and doesn't in others. Parking is the issue in this example, but sometimes the cost to "reuse" exceeds the rent/value of the reuse upon completion. Again---an uneconomic proposition.

Much (not all) of the "redevelopment" money that has been spent since the 1960's in Allentown and cities throughout the country has been directed to rehabilitation of the existing improvements. It has worked---sometimes---the homes along the 100 block of S. 6th Street are an example of a program that has worked. Why? Good management.

But in retrospect, it would have been better to have used more of those taxpayer's monies to raze many inefficient buildings that have long outlived their utility.

Cities are built on the proposition that density is efficient. But as with anything, "one-size doesn't fit all". There is such a thing as "right-sizing".

As a society, we can not continue to "save" every building in the name of "historic" or "architectural" character. Choices have to made. It is best when the market makes those choices. And it is best that when those choices are made by government--that they make GOOD choices.

In retrospect, would it not have been nice for government to have bought this particular building at the tax/judicial sale, and razed it? Expensive? Yes, but is it really expensive in light of how many examples there are of the same house bought by government, fixed, sold, left to fall to disrepair again, bought by government again, fixed, and resold in a seemingly endless loop without overall improvement to the City?

I don't know. Just asking?

michael molovinsky said...

in 2005 pawlowski held a news conference at a house fixed up by the alliance for building communities, which they put for sale. the morning call covered the event, hyping pawlowski. i followed up with a news conference at the same property, and documented that it was four times by different organizations, always indirectly at taxpayer expense. although the morning call attended the news conference, the reporter repressed the story and it never appeared in the paper. no space for an independent telling it like it was.

Anonymous said...

There are "many" such examples. The 1st and 6th Ward in particular where some of these programs stretch back to the 1970's are rife with examples.

I sometimes wonder if the mood to "fix" these many small and inefficient houses was not spurred in Allentown, by the early seeming "mistake" of tearing down the nicest brownstones along South 4th Street in the 1960's?