Proposed senior affordable housing next door poses ‘existential threat,’ Allentown nonprofit says – The Morning Call

The director of Allentown’s Community Music School said plans for a senior affordable housing apartment complex next door pose an “existential threat” to the nonprofit.

At an Allentown planning commission meeting Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for HDC MidAtlantic, a Lancaster housing nonprofit, presented plans for an affordable 49-unit, four-story apartment complex with an underground parking garage for adults above 55, including 18 units for adults with disabilities.

HDC received a $1.2 million grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to fund the development and is working with Trexlertown nonprofit Eastern Pennsylvania Down Syndrome Center on the project.

“Housing options for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities is very limited in the Lehigh Valley,” said Bill Meltzer, one of the center’s board members, in a news release. “Housing like this is a stepping stone for residents to reach their full potential and transform society’s misconception of the capabilities of people with [disabilities].”

The complex is planned for 1528 Hamilton St., a parking lot leased to the Community Music School, a nonprofit offering private music lessons and classes to Allentown children.

Jeffrey Reed, executive director of the school, said at Tuesday’s meeting the development poses an “existential threat” to the school because of the parking spaces it would take away from staff and students.

Reed said the school relocated in 2018 from the second floor of Miller Symphony Hall in downtown Allentown because parking became too difficult after the Strata II apartment complex finished construction in late 2017. He said the school needs at least 40-50 parking spaces.

Plans for the development would create 101 parking spaces — 33 for the new building’s tenants and 66 parking spots for the building the school is in, which has eight other tenants, including Allentown Transportation and Espinal Taxi Service.

“The proposed site plan is of great concern to us because we feel it is an existential threat to the ability for us to exercise and fulfill our mission,” Reed said. “In sum, this is the right project for the city, but it’s in the wrong location.”

Developers said their plan has the appropriate number of parking spaces for the existing building and new building according to zoning requirements.

Rendering of a proposed affordable housing complex for seniors at 1528 Hamilton St.

Rendering of a proposed affordable housing complex for seniors at 1528 Hamilton St. (Courtesy of Architectural Concepts,)

Jason Ulrich, an attorney for the Community Music School, said the school has the right of first refusal in its lease contract for the parking lot, which would give the school the right to buy the parcel of land before a third party could. Erich Schock, an attorney representing the developers, said the right of first refusal issue is a “private matter” that is not under the planning commission’s purview.

Reed declined to say whether the school had taken legal action on the right of first refusal.

Planning commission Chairperson Christian Brown said he was “surprised” the community music school was not in support of the project.

“I do think it’s a good project,” Brown said. “I am a little surprised to find out that community music school wasn’t supportive, I assumed the first time I saw this it would have been some sort of joint relationship.”

The commission voted to table the application. Commission member Kelli Holzman recused herself from the vote because of a conflict of interest.

Developers will next need to apply to the zoning hearing board for relief on some zoning requirements before they receive final approval.

Morning Call reporter Lindsay Weber can be reached at 610-820-6681 and liweber@mcall.com.