Proposed Kutztown Silk Mill District redevelopment project sparks concerns

Photo by Joe Brown Tina Roseberry of SSM Group facilitated the joint meeting between the Kutztown Borough Council and Planning Commission on Wednesday, July 23 in which the prospect of an overlay district for the purposes of redevelopment in the Silk Mill District was discussed.

The proposed Kutztown downtown redevelopment project in the Silk Mill District has sparked concerns.

The Kutztown Borough Council and Planning Commission met for a joint meeting on Wednesday, July 23 to continue talks of downtown redevelopment focused around the Silk Mill District. Although the meeting was a workshop designed solely for discussion purposes, it highlighted a few key concerns that will need to be addressed before a decision can be reached.

Tina Roseberry of SSM Group, which serves as the municipality’s consultants, served as the meeting’s facilitator. The purpose of the gathering was to talk about the possibility of creating an overlay district for downtown Kutztown.

The idea for an overlay district stemmed from the land development proposals that were presented at a Council meeting on April 15 by College Town Communities, Muhlenberg Greene Architects and Bogia Engineering. The groups are targeting the Silk Mill District by Willow and West Main Street to build residential apartment complexes. Currently that area is designated as an industrial district, so an overlay district would need to be enacted before any residential development can take place.

The Council and Planning Commission created a list of pros and cons for the use of that land as part of their discussion. The two major concerns were in regards to student housing and maintaining economic diversity.

Planning Commission member Lisa Ladd-Kidder first addressed the student housing concern, which was later reiterated by several residents during the public forum. If residential buildings were approved for the Silk Mill District, there is no legal way to restrict who occupies them (unless the complexes were 55-and-older communities). This means that Kutztown University students could easily rent apartments, something that upset a number of residents present at the meeting.

“The benefit to the town is the issue, and not just now, but in 10 years,” Ladd-Kidder said during the meeting. “I still feel that the economic development of that area should be the driving [factor].”

This importance of promoting economic development clashed with the aforementioned residential proposals for the downtown area. Council member Derek Mace raised reservations about using the Silk Mill property strictly for residential purposes because of its potential harmful effect on the town’s economy diversity.

“I think Kutztown has lasted for 200 years with a fairly robust and diverse economy,” Mace said to The Patriot. “When we start to converge our economy towards development of rental housing, that’s problematic. It’s not sustainable.”

Mace and several other members taking part in the meeting stated that the development could be used to attract local business owners to create a sustainable economy. Both boards made it clear that they wanted to avoid an influx of big-box retails, however, which Mace said would not be as inclined to give back and participate in the community.

In addition to the concerns raised by the public and respective boards, there are a number of details that must be considered before a decision can be reached about redevelopment. These include design considerations, streetscape and green amenities, public spaces, parking and screening between residential and existing industrial.

No decision regarding the redevelopment of downtown Kutztown and the Silk Mill District was made at this time.