Thursday, April 20, 2006

Area's growth off the charts

Population predictions miss the mark. What experts thought would take decade achieved in five.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
The Express-Times

The Lehigh Valley is growing faster than expected, experts say, a fact that has led to changes in health care and transportation and, of course, new homes.

Ashley Development Corp. of Bethlehem built 172 condominiums at the Lehigh Riverport in the city, is a partner in plans for 945 homes at the Martin Tower and proposes 292 condos at the former Dixie Cup plant in Wilson Borough.

Peter Koehler is heading the 30-condominium Eastonian project at the former Hotel Easton. And Michael Perrucci, a partner in the BethWorks Now mixed-use proposal in South Bethlehem, is planning the 449-townhouse River View at Delaware Station in Phillipsburg.

Those are just some of the plans of three developers.

Statistics show enough people are coming to make their efforts worthwhile.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission projected 32,395 more residents would move to the Lehigh Valley than leave the area from 2000 to 2010. A Pennsylvania State Data Center study released last month shows a 33,116 net population gain into the area in half that time.

Commission Executive Director Michael Kaiser said a big segment of the surge is out-of-state residents selling their higher-priced homes and moving in search of lower taxes and living costs. The tradeoff is longer commutes, he said, as new homes spring up within driving distance of major metropolitan areas.

Alan Jennings, executive director of the Bethlehem-based Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said he is seeing a trend of local developers lagging behind the influx.

"The demand outstrips the supply and pulls prices up with it," he said.

The result is more and more working families finding homes out of their price range, Jennings said.

"If you're at the low end of the economic totem pole, you're in big trouble," he said.

The increase in population is one factor in St. Luke's Hospital's plans for the Riverside Outpatient Complex, a 2-million-square-foot center on 180 acres at Route 33 and Freemansburg Avenue in Bethlehem Township, Pa., hospital spokeswoman Susan Schantz said.

"There's also an increase in the infamous baby boomers," she said. "And the older you are it's a documented fact that the more health care services you need."

The land's proximity to Route 22 and Interstate 78, accessed by the 4-year-old Route 33 extension, is a third cause for the hospital's expansion, Schantz said.

Maintaining the region's highway network is also proving to be a costly and difficult proposition. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is at the beginning of an eight- to 10-year effort to revamp Route 22 from Airport Road to 15th Street at a projected cost of $180 million and $250 million.

The final design and construction phases could extend through 2014, with other sections of the highway projected to be under construction until at least 2030

Article courtsey of The Express Times

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