Kutztown Borough Planning Commission remains at standstill on overlay district proposal; puts Silk Mill proposal at standstill

This proposed redevelopment map from College Town Communities gives an overview of the new town center that Chief Development Officer Matt Genesio believes will revitalize downtown Kutztown and the Silk Mill District area.

The Planning Commission’s latest meeting boiled down to a single, predominant question: do you want an overlay district?

The answer has yet to be determined.

Although it was the major topic of discussion at the Kutztown Borough Planning Commission’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 11, no action was taken regarding an overlay district in the industrial section of downtown Kutztown.

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Without a decision regarding an overlay, College Town Communities’ proposal to revamp the Silk Mill District remained at a standstill as well.

“I would hate to think that we didn’t have the capacity as a Planning Commission and as a borough to take action on something like this,” Commission member Andy Arnold said during the meeting.

According to College Town Communities’ Chief Development Officer Matt Genesio, it has been around eight months since talk first began regarding renovating the Silk Mill District property. After holding several private meetings, Genesio and his team approached the Kutztown Borough and presented their original proposal to the Planning Commission in April.

The Planning Commission could ultimately decide to recommend to the borough council to set up a public hearing for an overlay district without recommending College Town Communities’ proposal. However, it was decided that the commission would review and discuss a revised version of the company’s proposal because it provides a foundation.

“I could see the proposal as a base for it [the overlay district],” Arnold said. “It gives us somewhere to start.”

The major concern regarding the company’s proposal came from Planning Commission member Lisa Ladd-Kidder, who voiced a concern that was prevalent at a joint meeting between the commission and borough council on July 23 – student housing.

A major part of College Town Communities’ proposal is to create residential apartment complexes to attract young professionals and their families to Kutztown. Ladd-Kidder voiced her concern with Kutztown University students overpopulating the apartments.

According to Ladd-Kidder, there are currently 407-licensed rental properties in the borough. Students occupied 284 of these rentals this past year, amounting to 70 percent of the licensed rental properties.

Genesio and his business partner, Chief Operating Officer Timothy Sipe, assured the commission that their goal was not to market the housing to students. In an interview with The Patriot, Genesio said that their proposal is aimed at rejuvenating downtown Kutztown by creating a new town center, something that he believes has been lost in the discussion of all the details.

“There’s only one Kutztown. I don’t want it to go downhill,” Genesio said. “We’ve been landlords in the borough for almost 10 years, and we’ve been looking for something like this pretty much the entire time.”

Genesio believes an overlay district is the first step towards reversing the borough’s decrease in permanent residency, and that the proposal from College Town Communities would entice more families to reside in Kutztown.

“The way we’re viewing an overlay district is to give the borough flexibility,” Sipe said.

In order to enact an overlay district, the current zoning ordinances would have to be amended, so parameters would have to be established. Zoning Officer Dan Eslinger, who is also the borough’s director of Community Development, stated that specific language would need to be created for an amendment to take place.

Genesio was asked to resubmit his revised version of the original proposal that was given to the Planning Commission back in April for them to review before their next meeting. According to the chief development officer, if progress on the overlay district or their proposal is not made soon, College Town Communities may be forced to discontinue their pursuit of redeveloping the Silk Mill District property in downtown Kutztown.