Northampton Planning Commission Approves Plans For New Apartments In Old Schoolhouse

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At its meeting on Wednesday, June 14, the Northampton Planning Commission was presented the preliminary/final plans for 12 new apartments in the old Northampton schoolhouse at 1503 Main Street.

Arthur Swallow, of Arthur A. Swallow Associates Land Surveying & Development in Allentown, developed the plans for property owner Tom Kishbaugh. Swallow sat before the planning commission and answered their questions about plans for the 12-unit, two-bedroom apartment building and 22-space parking lot.

Borough Engineer David Lear only had minor comments in his letter to Swallow, recommending shrubbery along the back alley of the property to block headlights from nearby homes.

Planning Commissioner Robert McHale also suggested adding privacy measures to the parking lot to keep headlights out of the homes of neighbors.

“If I was adjacent [to the parking lot],” he said, “I would be concerned.”

He recommended adding some sort of barrier to a concrete wall that runs along the north side of the parking lot, such as small shrubbery or fencing.

Neighbors and business owners were also in attendance and voiced their questions and concerns.

Frank Keller, of Keller Enterprises on Main Street, said he worried about parking for his customers if tenants in the building park on the street instead of the lot (the lot only has 22 spaces, having received relief on the required 24).

“We are concerned about where our customers are going to park,” he said. “It is going to hurt our business.”

He explained that, while he thinks it is nice that something is being done to the vacant building, he would like something that limits the parking time on the street to prevent tenants from taking spots away from his customers.

The planning commission agreed with his concerns and said that the borough council can implement parking regulations, like a one-hour time limit.

Several other neighbors were concerned about traffic and the potential for accidents. As the plan stands now, residents will enter the parking lot on 15th Street and exit the parking lot on Main Street. Residents feared that cars leaving the parking lot would get into accidents when attempting to turn on to Main Street.

At first, the planning commission suggested tabling the plan for the evening and looking closer at these traffic concerns. However, Swallow was unhappy with this suggestion.

“That is a lot of work to do that,” he said. “That is not good. We came a long way with this plan.”

Changing the direction of traffic would be a “major change to the plan that has to be hashed out,” he said.

The commission turned to Lear to hear his take on the traffic flow.

Lear explained that the current traffic flow in and out of the parking lot was chosen because it would lead to fewer accidents. Entering the parking lot on 15th Street would eliminate the need for cars on Main Street to turn left to enter, which would have backed up traffic.

After hearing the engineer explain the traffic flow, Planning Commissioner Cynthia Carman motioned to approve the preliminary/final plan.

“I think if we had wanted to make a change to the layout, we should have done that in sketch plan review,” she explained.

Following Swallow’s presentation, Bob Dwyer of the Willow Brook Farm Trust presented revised preliminary plans for Willow Brook Farms on Howertown Road. When he had previously presented plans before the commission several months ago, the plans called for 67 single-family homes in Northampton Borough. This has since been changed to 11. Because the large property is stretched across four different municipalities, uncertainty in one can affect the entire plan.

“Allen Township,” Dwyer explained, “is still in a state of flux,” which has impacted the plan. Decreasing the number of properties to 11 will allow work to begin earlier.

While so much development in the area is taking away farmland, Dwyer explained that development surrounding Willow Brook Farms is seeking to protect the farmland from encroaching industrialization. Homes surrounding the property will act as a transition zone, separating the Fed Ex warehouse and its effects from the centuries-old farm.

“Hopefully, if things go the way I anticipate, it will be a little village,” he explained. Farm buildings will be repurposed as antique shops, ice cream parlors, and bakeries, and a walking and bike path through Willow Brook will be open to the public so everyone can enjoy the piece of peaceful farmland away from the warehouses and their traffic.

“Losing the property will be difficult to swallow,” he said.

Finally, the meeting was closed with a presentation by borough resident David E. Dlugose.

“We have an awesome history that needs to be displayed,” he said.

He presented his conceptual plans for community development in the borough and suggested the formation of a Community Development Board.

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