Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Allentown looks to change zoning to spurr redevelopment

Allentown is a city trying to reshape its image, and officials believe one way to do it is to reconsider how business districts and neighborhoods fit together.

Starting this week, a task force of eight people appointed by the mayor will begin studying how to revise the city's zoning code, the laws that dictate what is allowed to be built where and how it should look.

The goal, according to Mayor Ed Pawlowski and some task force members, is not to gut the current laws, but to adjust them so they are more consistent and predictable and meet the city's changing needs.

''Some of the development that people want to see happen, since land is such a premium now, they're picking the more difficult sites to develop, and some of the sites really aren't zoned appropriately,'' said task force member Fred Banuelos, president of Alliance for Building Communities.

Pawlowski said the committee could examine boundaries where residential and commercial districts meet, to better protect residents and allow for commercial growth.

''Are our zones appropriate for what a modern city needs to be?'' he questioned.

The task force will examine development densities and standards and try to encourage flexibility and quality in design, Pawlowski said.

''The West End Theater District is a perfect example of an area where we want to encourage commercial redevelopment and reuse while protecting the traditional heritage and residential nature of the neighborhood,'' Pawlowski said.

Karen Pooley, task force co-chairwoman and an urban planner, said the group probably will focus on the entrances to the city and on major commercial and neighborhood streets.

Pooley said there are situations where the current rules, written in 2000, are not helping neighborhoods or gateways as the city envisions.

She believes a proposal last year to build an AutoZone auto parts store at 19th and Tilghman streets in part sparked the need to review the zoning laws.

''I know that caught a lot of people's attention,'' she said.

Many residents protested that plan. They feared a store with a large parking lot would not fit in with the compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

City officials approved the project, but AutoZone opted not to build the store.

Pawlowski has asked the task force to report its recommendations within six months. The task force will hold public meetings, the first of which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday at Alliance for Building Communities, 830 Hamilton St.

1 comment:

Michael Drabenstott said...

Zoning is one of the least sexy but most important functions of municipal government. We in the West End welcome the mayor's commission. We hope it has the vision and fortitude to recommend zoning configurations that foster smart neighborhood growth -- not just development for its own sake. We're seeking pedestrian-scale, walkable communities where our daily and weekly needs can be met without driving to a strip mall. The potential exists in Allentown. Improved zoning can make it a reality.