After hearing from residents who stated their staunch opposition to it, the members of Hellertown Borough Council voted Tuesday night to reject a request to rewrite the borough’s zoning ordinance in order to pave the way for the proposed development of an apartment complex on the site of the former Neighbors Homes & Garden Center.
The rezoning would have created an overlay district around the 5.5 acre property at 38 Main Street, which is located in the borough’s Shopping Center zoning district.
“I am concerned that if council allows this tonight or…at any future date when this is up for decision, in essence the council is allowing developers to rewrite our zoning and various regulations such as parking to fit their own needs,” said borough resident and planning commission member Liz Thompson. “Additionally I am concerned about the stress on our public works department, emergency services, congestion on 412 and our schools.”
“There was a lot of thought that went into Hellertown zoning, and there was a rationale for having this parcel of land fit within the Commercial zoning district, not Mixed Use,” Thompson told council.
“Allowing this overlay, allowing the variance…where does this stop?” she asked. “What stops the council from then allowing other properties within residential zoning–R1 districts–to make R2? It is not for developers to make these decisions, but instead it is for the council and zoning officer. We are establishing a precedent if this is granted.”
Another borough resident, Bill Broun, appealed to council to consider the impact of more multifamily housing in the borough in a letter he submitted before the meeting:
New multifamily housing in Hellertown is wrong for Hellertown and tips the balance the wrong way. What we actually need is more business and cultural development. The loss of the garden center has been keenly felt, for instance. It was a great fit for that area on Main! Whatever does go there should be development that strengthens not weakens the bonds of community.
Developer Greystone Capital Inc. attempted to appeal to council by highlighting changes they made to their proposal based on feedback from the community, which has largely been negative since the plans were first discussed in September 2021.
The original plans called for the construction of 142 apartment units between Main Street and the Saucon Creek, but as of Tuesday they had been scaled back to include 112 units.
Greystone Capital Inc. is owned by prominent local developer Lou Pektor, who also owns a company that is suing some of the opponents of a controversial industrial development project he has proposed in Upper Mount Bethlel Township, Northampton County.
During discussion about the proposed overlay district rezoning, council members sounded united in their opposition to what could change the character of that part of the borough forever.
“I consider myself a pretty open-minded person,” said councilman Andrew Hughes to the developers. “Convince me why this is such a great deal for Hellertown borough. I haven’t heard that argument. So at this point I’m not in support of this.”
Mayor David Heintzelman, who would have only voted on the matter in the case of a tie, said he was impressed by the changes the developers made to their proposal over the last five months and thought that the apartments might be a better fit for the property than “many other choices.”
Heintzelman also noted that apartment buildings are being constructed in an overlay district at the north end of the borough, along streets that are so narrow “that we’re lucky if we can get a fire truck down (to them).”
“Change is very difficult in this community,” Heintzelman said.
Council did not take a vote on the rejection of the proposal Tuesday, but voted to place it on their next meeting agenda for formal denial; a decision which was countered by representatives for the developers telling council that a significant amount of money had been spent on the plans that were presented.
The next Hellertown Borough Council meeting will be held Monday, March 7 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 685 Main St., Hellertown, and online via the borough’s Facebook page and on Zoom.