As a city-based business owner of 30-plus years, chairwoman of the Blighted Property Review Board and someone who has been trained twice through the state regarding zoning practices, I'm familiar with many of the issues regarding city development.
The article about the city Planning Commission turning down the request to rezone the area from Seventh to Eighth streets between Chestnut and Lexington avenues was interesting and unfortunately appears to strongly affirm the numerous negative comments voiced over the years by others who have attempted to locate or expand a business within the city confines.
The concerns expressed at the meeting that this particular rezoning could allow the developer to put in a "strip joint" or storage units do not meet any type of logical assumption. These are the types of facilities that spring up in areas where nothing else is feasible.
It would appear highly unlikely that any group would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for land acquisition and then much more for site development only to build a "strip joint."
The downtown concept of requiring a building to be located on the edge of the sidewalk and several stories high is another area which is questionable.
Looking at inner-city Altoona, that inflexible planning model has been just about completely outdated for close to 40 years. The professional offices (attorneys, dentists, doctors, etc) and individually owned retail businesses have streamed from 11th and 12 avenues to locations where they could have parking, landscaping and friendly visibility.
Some in-town restaurant and store front operations had in the past petitioned the city for permission to create trendy, loft-type apartments in the upper floors of their location only to be told flatly it couldn't happen.
Where there were opportunities to bring in tenants who would enjoy the type of apartments you see in other communities, those in charge here wouldn't even consider it because the proposals didn't "fit into the downtown plan."
A new bridge was built over the railroad on Seventh Street a few years ago. It has a railroad theme celebrating the history of Altoona, and the city is making two small parks on the Seventh Avenue side.
As you drive over the bridge, on the left is a well-landscaped wide median area with grass, flowers and trees. It's quite nice.
Looking straight ahead, you see the Altoona Regional Health Center - the largest employer in the county and one of only five Level 2 Trauma Centers in the state - an attractive complex.
To the right is the Cricket Field plaza - built back from the sidewalk line, landscaped, parking in front providing an impression of easy access and openness.
Proceeding north on Chestnut toward Juniata, all of the businesses to Thompson's Pharmacy are built back from the sidewalk line. Some are new structures, some are older, but they are all appealing and upscale.
On the other end of downtown, between 17th and 18th streets are several one-story professional office units, not built according to the revered "downtown plan" but eye-catching with copper roofing and excellent landscaping.
There's been a lot of focus over the years on low-income housing. Those in charge at City Hall have welcomed just about every plan proposed with open arms even though the real estate involved was almost always tax exempt and the occupants usually consume more in city services than they provide back in taxes.
Instead of the constant "we've never done it that way" responses, wouldn't you think the city fathers would be overwhelmingly enthusiastic about an upscale, revenue-generating project?
This development request involves a very attractive retail business design, esthetically balancing the area's visual appearance and one which most importantly would put property, business privilege, earned income and resident income taxes in the city coffers in addition to providing badly needed jobs for our area.
Patricia Raugh lives in the Altoona area.