What Does Alan Jennings Have Against the 33-Story Allentown Tower?

Alan Jennings is someone whose experience and opinions on urban policy and land use issues I respect and usually agree with, but this sounds to me like he is just trying to force his own personal design preferences on Allentown:

But the ANIZDA board will look at more than the feasibility and a business plan when members make a decision on Loch’s proposal, said Alan Jennings, executive director of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley and an ANIZDA member. Loch’s proposal would also change Allentown’s skyline.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to support that radical of a change,” Jennings said. “Two 15-story buildings, three 11-story buildings, but one 33-story building is a dramatic change. There’s so much opportunity in the NIZ that I just don’t see why we would go straight up rather than a little more laterally.”

Loch acknowledged that other cities have dealt with the same issue, but the tower wouldn’t be Allentown’s first high-rise, he said. The PPL Tower was the tallest building outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for more than 40 years.

The nice thing about a 33-story skyscraper is that all the floors are stacked on top of each other, so adding a ton of square footage on this one piece of land will not prevent anyone else from building other buildings on other land parcels.

The sky is literally the limit when it comes to how much square footage can be built inside the Neighborhood Improvement Zone. If you look at the zoning map, you’ll see that there is no statutory height limit in Allentown’s CBD. You’re allowed to build as tall a building as you want.

So since there’s clearly nothing illegal about building a 33-story skyscraper on this lot, I’d be very interested to hear more about what Alan’s criteria will be for making this decision. I think it would be awful if the ANIZDA Board arbitrarily curtailed the building’s height, even though the city zoning code clearly states there’s no height limit.

If anything, I think ANIZDA should adopt their own minimum height requirement (10 stories? 15?) for approving NIZ subsidies. This land is very valuable since it is eligible for very generous open-ended state subsidies. It shouldn’t be squandered on any short buildings. The unofficial game plan should be to lock in the greatest amount of state subsidies possible over the next 30 years, or until state lawmakers start to balk and turn off the money faucet. This is no time for modesty.

(via Emily Opilo)


  1. Alan seems to be stuck on sentimental arguments from people who don’t want change. The goal within the NIZ is to put as much as possible, so there’s really no reason to deny a high-rise building. Besides that, if you want to use sentimentality in a useful manner, it looks more serious to potential businesses when they start seeing what looks like a serious city there.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I couldn’t believe that woman said people might be too conservative to take elevators.

      • That makes two of us.

      • The man is sincere, but this is the problem with the “community advocate” when he’s given the ability to speak authoritatively about things he knows nothing about.

        Might also be an issue with creating a “board” that doesn’t seem to have anything other than best practices and principles to live by.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Have you ever met Alan? His knowledge and experience with land use and development policy is impressive, which is why I’m so stunned at the knee-jerk reaction to the building height.

  2. Here’s the problem–the NIZ creates a board with little regulatory guidance or restriction and you have members who lack the same guidance. Jennings may be knowledgeable but he considers himself a “defender”–so in the absence of a real law-based charter or mandate, you’re going to get whatever he happens to feel on a certain day. I think you are going to be seeing a lot more of this.

    Good government needs good people and good structure.

  3. Rich Fegley says:

    I also say build it as tall as possible. Leads to less offices and homes built on farmland. I’ve heard you mention that cities should take advantage of the DENSITY that is zoned there. Developers should be thinking TALL in the NIZ. No more business parks built on farms.

  4. Yes, the taller the nicer, the nicer the happier we are…happy people worrk hard and bring lots of money to allentown. Break Ground SOON

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