Allentown master plan review draws questions from Upper Freehold mayor


Municipal officials in the neighboring communities of Allentown and Upper Freehold Township have opened a dialogue as Allentown has undertaken a review of its master plan.

A master plan is the document that guides the growth and development of a municipality. In general, a town’s officials review and update their community’s master plan every eight to 10 years.

Upper Freehold Mayor Stephen J. Alexander wrote to Josette Kratz, Allentown’s land use administrator, on May 31. His letter led to an Aug. 6 response from Lynne Meara, the chairwoman of the Allentown Planning Board, and Allentown Mayor Greg Westfall.

Alexander said Upper Freehold’s representatives reviewed the 2018 Allentown master plan document and he offered several comments for consideration. He said it appears a portion of the Towne Mews apartment complex site is referenced in the borough’s Historic District Plan and in the Housing Plan Element.

“Specifically, the portion of this property fronting on Route 524 is shown to be added (or has recently been added) to the listing of historic properties. Upper Freehold Township is interested in the historical significance of this property and would request information supporting adding a portion of the property to the listing of historic sites.

“In addition, the Housing Plan Element lists this property as a potential site for affordable housing. Upper Freehold Township would like to inquire as to any current plans for the development of affordable housing on this site,” Alexander wrote.

In response, Westfall and Meara wrote, “The Towne Mews apartment complex site is referenced in the Housing Plan Element. The undeveloped portion of the site is designated in the master plan for single-family housing to provide a scenic buffer fronting on Route 524 (Allentown-Yardville Road) and a transition as one enters (Allentown’s) Historic District.

“This buffer is intended to reinforce the standards … within the Historic District, to protect the district from intrusive impacts and to provide guidelines for encouraging or discouraging development within that area,” they wrote.

In regard to affordable housing, Meara and Westfall said Allentown “has an affordable housing obligation. As such, in 2017 the Borough Council approved an affordable housing ordinance requiring that 20 percent of any new multi-family development be developed for affordable housing.

“This is part of a mixed strategy (which includes new development, group homes and rehabilitation of existing vacant/abandoned properties) for addressing the affordable housing need here. While no new development has been formally proposed for the remainder of the Towne Mews property, it is one of the few remaining vacant properties in the borough,” they wrote.

Alexander said the Allentown master plan’s Conservation Plan Element and Circulation Plan Element “focus on the elimination of all non-terminating traffic from (Allentown) and specifically on non-terminating trucks. The master plan references historical traffic issues (dating back to 1930) as well as increases in traffic volume, property damage, reduced pedestrian safety, damaged utility infrastructure, high residential property turnover, pedestrian safety and overall loss of quality of life as issues caused or greatly impacted by traffic.

“Upper Freehold Township would respectfully request data to support the claims established in the master plan regarding these issues. In addition, the master plan does not appear to provide reasonable alternatives for addressing these issues.

“As part of the regional traffic study currently being conducted, Upper Freehold Township would request that (Allentown) consider all feasible alternatives to address some of the concerns noted in the master plan, and not only the limited options of restricting traffic or redistributing traffic outside of the borough,” Alexander wrote.

In response, Westfall and Meara wrote that “it is correct that both the Conservation Plan and Circulation Plan elements focus on the elimination of all non-terminating traffic from (Allentown) and specifically on non-terminating trucks. The Circulation Plan Element specifically describes the impacts of increased traffic volume on property damages, pedestrian safety, utility infrastructures, etc.

“If Upper Freehold Township has options for relieving these negative impacts, we welcome a presentation to the Planning Board. The borough and the commuting public cannot continue to pay the heavy price for the vehicular traffic that daily passes through the borough,” the Allentown representatives wrote.

In his letter, Alexander offered that “Upper Freehold Township and Allentown are interested in continued recreational opportunities for our residents. Upper Freehold Township would be open the further discussions regarding opportunities to develop and maintain recreational opportunities within both communities.”

In response, Westfall and Meara wrote, “If Upper Freehold Township would like to make a proposal for joint recreational opportunities available to residents in both municipalities, the Planning Board will entertain the proposal for the master plan. One specific venue may be our commonly shared school district facilities and fields. Approval by the Borough Council will be necessary for this undertaking.”

Finally, Alexander wrote that “Upper Freehold Township would suggest that both communities consider other opportunities to share resources and services which would result in a benefit for the residents of both communities,” to which Meara and Westfall responded by asking Alexander to contact the Allentown municipal clerk to present his proposal.