A major mixed-use project could reshape the residential and commercial landscape of central Lehigh County.
Rick Koze, president of Kay Builders Inc. in Lower Macungie Township, plans to build Ridge Farm, a 760-unit development on 192 acres in South Whitehall Township.
While the proposal is at its early stages and still needs to gain township approvals, it would add a significant number of new residential units to the market over the next decade, with plans for retail and office space, as well.
The 760 units would include 350 apartments, 200 active adult units, 210 market rate homes (130 single-family homes and 80 twin homes) and 55,000 square feet of retail and small commercial space, Koze said. Construction could start in less than two years.
“This is close to highways, near a lot of commercial [uses] and amenities, so it made sense,” he said.
With an eight to 10-year build-out for the project, Koze estimated the construction cost would be about $250 million. The project would go up on vacant land along Cedar Crest Boulevard between Walbert Avenue and Huckleberry Road.
Since a significant portion of the property lies within a traditional neighborhood development overlay district, it allows for more flexibility in creating an environment that includes a mix of residential, retail and open space, Koze said.
This type of district is considered a permitted use for the land, essentially allowing a developer to pull many different types of elements onto the property, said George Kinney, director of community development for South Whitehall Township.
The township has four or five areas near Allentown that allow for that type of traditional neighborhood development overlay district, he added.
According to the proposal, the intent of this district is to promote smart growth, create walkable neighborhoods and develop a compact cluster development design, among other goals.
The development would span 60 acres on the west side of Cedar Crest Boulevard and the remainder on the east side where the overlay district can apply, Koze said.
ONE REZONING REQUIRED
The project is in the preliminary land-development process, with no set public meeting for the next presentation of its plan, Kinney said.
While the township has zoned the land for that type of use, there is one exception on the northwest corner of the property where the developer wants to build a medical office building as part of the development. The township would have to rezone that parcel, Kinney said.
The proposal for Ridge Farm is a lot less dense compared to some other projects the township has going on, Kinney said. From a density perspective, Ridge Farm is aligned with existing properties surrounding it, he added.
“It’s pretty consistent with what’s out there now,” Kinney said.
SMALL CAFES, RESTAURANTS
While Ridge Farm is similar to Madison Farms in Bethlehem Township, it would not be on the same scale, with no large retail tenant as an anchor.
Madison Farms, which covers 100 acres, is a mixed-use community that will have 837 residences and 153,000 square feet of retail space once all its construction phases are complete. Its major anchor tenant, ShopRite supermarket, is not a type of tenant that would be at Ridge Farm, Koze said.
Instead, he envisions having small cafes and restaurants for the retail space.
“It’s got a lot of its own amenities,” he said. “It provides for a lot of open space.”
Koze envisions Ridge Farm as a walkable community where residents could access much of their needs within the retail sites on the property, plus walk, or drive a short distance to nearby existing commercial developments.
According to the proposal, Ridge Farm would include a village Main Street lined with shops and a sidewalk café area, as well as a public plaza and village green for festivals and a farmers market.
Some apartments will be above the retail space, Koze added.
These luxury apartments have rents from $1,600 to $2,200 per month, and units would include hardwood floors, upscale kitchens, spa baths, masonry facades and covered parking from a nearby carport.
According to the proposal, the traditional single- and twin-family homes would have street-front facades, front porches, access to a rear alley garage and include age-restricted homes.
“It’s going to be the quaint development that a lot of areas have developed,” Koze said. “There’s less traffic; people will have amenities there.”
Koze said Kay Builders has been seeking input from township staff and completing sketches to present the project at meetings.
The company is involved in its third traffic study and has another meeting with the township planning commission to present its plan.
The next step is to go before the planning commission to pursue conditional use approval and at that point, it would get into the heavy engineering, design and storm water management phase, Koze said.
If approved by the township, the project would not start construction until late next year, Koze said.
He said he thinks demand for housing is strong in this section of South Whitehall Township. He described the area as a “pretty high wealth area and a good area for housing.”