New plan to spare historic Allentown house

Proposal for the Malsbury & Armenante law office property to go to planning/zoning board.

By: Mark Moffa
   ALLENTOWN — Borough Councilwoman Margaret Armenante said she submitted plans recently for the Malsbury & Armenante law office property at 12 N. Main St. that do not involve demolishing the building.
   The new plans were given to the borough’s planning/zoning board one month after the Armenantes were chastised before the Historic Preservation Review Commission for a proposal to demolish the mid-1800s building and construct a house. A new office was to be built behind the house.
   All but one member rejected the plan, stating the structure was too important to the borough’s historic district to be torn down.
   Ms. Armenante said she and her husband, Frank, continued to explore other options after the Historic Preservation Review Commission meeting, but that the commission’s opinion did not sway their decision.
   "We never stopped talking about where we were going with this," Ms. Armenante said. "Where you start and where you wind up is often quite different."
   The new plan, which will appear before the planning/zoning board May 6, calls for a minor subdivision of the existing business district lot. The entire property to the north of borough hall is about 1 acre in size.
   Approximately 130 feet of the lot fronts on North Main Street. Ms. Armenante wants to shrink the frontage for the law building to 70 feet, making it a commercial lot. She said zoning ordinances allow a minimum of 40 feet. The remaining 50 feet will be used for a residential property that will wrap around the commercial law office lot. A new house — similar to the one originally proposed to replace the office building — would be built about 195 feet from the street.
   "People are going to look at this and say, ‘They caved,’ " Ms. Armenante said. But she insists that is not the case. Ms. Armenante said if the original plan made more sense to her and her husband, they still would seek to have the office demolished.
   It would cost more to renovate the office building than to demolish it. Ms. Armenante said she received offers as low as $18,000 to take down the structure, whereas it would cost more than $250,000 to renovate it.
   "The problem is, money is the bottom line," she said. "It just gets cost prohibitive."
   As for what will happen to the deteriorating building now, she is unsure.
   "Right now, we’re going to leave this as is," she said. "Eventually, we’ll have to do something with it."
   Historic Preservation Review Commissioner John Fabiano, a critic of the demolition, had not seen the new plans by Monday, and, therefore, did not comment.
   Ms. Armenante said the decision to submit new plans had nothing to do with her running for re-election to Borough Council, although she realized her opponents likely will think otherwise. Ms. Armenante and Michael Schumacher, both GOP incumbent Borough Council members, will have Democratic opposition this fall in the general election.
   She said this new solution, by which the office could be saved and a house also could be built, was not obvious to her at first.
   The new plan most likely will require the demolition of their current house, Ms. Armenante said. Since selling their house at 6 N. Main St., on the south side of borough hall, the Armenantes have been living in the office building’s old garage, which has been converted into a three-bedroom cottage.
   Ms. Armenante said she would not object to the garage remaining as well, but she said — with the construction of a new house — the structure would appear to be in violation of local zoning ordinances.
   It is not clear if the new plans will have to go before the Historic Preservation Review Commission. Ms. Armenante said plans for the new house may have to be reviewed by the commission.