Allentown
70° F
Clear
Clear

Community hears local plans garnered by Envision Lehigh Valley

By Tom De Martini, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 24 2014 09:03:57 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 25 2014 08:14:34 AM CDT
Envision Lehigh valley event
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The next Comprehensive Plan emanating from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, due out in 2015-16, could include everything from new manufacturing projects in Allentown, an Eastern Greenway in Bethlehem, a 13th Street corridor in Easton and new bus routes from LANTA.

A panel of planners from throughout the Lehigh Valley participated in a discussion held by Envision Lehigh Valley Monday at the Veterans Sanctuary in Allentown, and laid the groundwork for several projects that will be folded into the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's Comprehensive Plan.

Envision Lehigh Valley was funded in 2012 by a $3.4 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. The working plan was to utilize ideas from a consortium to create a sustainable Lehigh Valley.

"Some of the development in the Lehigh Valley makes my heart heavy," said Joyce Marin, executive director of Renew Lehigh Valley. "We need to look at the development that occurs and how it impacts the people that were here first. We have to have vibrant economics that provide jobs with sustainable wages, but do it with positive outcomes for children and maintain the beautiful vistas we have. It's a tightrope."

Many of the projects discussed were painting with broad strokes and are still in the planning stages, but piqued the interest of the approximately 100 people in attendance.

Allentown Director of Zoning and Planning, Michael Hefele, spoke of reusing brownfields and existing buildings to enhance manufacturing in the city.

Hefele said the city is eyeing reusing the 17-acre site of the former Allentown Metal Works on S. 10th Street for a redevelopment strategy.

Hefele also talked of citywide re-industrialization strategy and a Little Lehigh Creek neighborhood development plan.

Bethlehem Director of Planning Darlene Heller said the city's South Side will benefit from a new Eastern Gateway project.

"All the signage coming into town points you into SteelStacks and the Sands Casino. We want to make sure the neighborhoods are not left behind," Heller said. "We want to re-create the scenario where residents can walk to work."

Heller said that while the completion of the reconstruction of Route 412 leading into the South Side will provide "a new front door" that parcels along the highway could be re-used to help create a visual gateway into the city.

Heller added that restrooms, concessions, walkways and benches could be added to the Bethlehem Skate Park to attract residents who aren't skateboarders.

Easton planner, Michael Handzo, said the creation of a 13th Street Corridor with needed improvements to several intersections, would allow automobile, bicycle and pedestrians better connectivity to a western gateway to the city, including planning the Simon Silk Mill complex and College Hill.

Handzo said Penonni Associates of Bethlehem is working on the design that will be ready for inspection by fall.

"We'll be having several meetings on it," he said.

Meanwhile, LANTA executive director, Armand Greco, said two new bus routes that "mirror a light rail system without the rails" is part of its long-term planning.

One route would start at the Whitehall Mall and proceed through Allentown and Bethlehem into that city's South Side. Another would begin at Muhlenberg College, traverse down Hamilton Street in Allentown, proceed through South Side Bethlehem and continue into Easton.

"These routes would be faster, better operated and a better alternative to our competitor, the car," Greco said.

He also outlined preliminary engineering plans for so-called "queue jumps" which would allow LANTA buses to pass standing traffic in high-volume areas and the construction of bus lanes on 6th Street in Allentown.

All of these plans, Greco said, are at least three years away and possibly longer.

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director, Becky Bradley, said the Envision Lehigh Valley project allowed the planning commission to get new information and bring additional partners to the table.

Bradley said the LVPC's Regional Housing Plan will be unveiled on May 15 at Allentown Symphony Hall from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The report is a "solid look at the housing market" from 2008-2012, she said.

"It shows where you can afford to live in the Lehigh Valley at all income strata, where there's a shortage of homes and what homes are available in certain school districts," Bradley said.

Following the presentation, panel members and Envision Lehigh Valley staff sat with members of the community to garner feedback and comments.