Union Square Townhome Development Announced

 In News

A few years back, we began shouting from our mountain tops the need for newer, market rate, higher-density housing that especially targets younger professionals. We need to attract talent. And that talent needs a place to live. Not all want to buy a new home or renovate something old. Many are searching for walkable adaptive reuse and infill projects within our smaller urban centers. Since then our private sector partners have responded.

In recent months we celebrated the opening of the Elizabeth Apartments and the Dunmire Building Condo restoration. Additional projects like the Puritan Building and other key downtown market-rate housing development sites are in the planning stages. Let’s add one more to that growing and important list. The Durbin family has announced their new housing project called Union Square Townhomes. Click here to view the floorplans for Union Square, and below is the full story below as it appeared in the June 29, 2019 Altoona Mirror.

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by Bill Kibler

The Durbin family is planning to build a 27-unit rental complex with townhomes and duplexes — along with apartments over garages — across Seventh Avenue from the Grande Palazzo senior housing development under construction at the former site of Bon Secours Hospital.

The Durbin family, whose complex will occupy three-fourths of the 2500 block of Seventh Avenue and half the short block across the alley behind, will offer low-maintenance housing for young professionals coming to the region for a short time and middle-aged residents with winter homes who aren’t ready for senior living, according to Brian Durbin and his brother, Scott.

The project will complement — not compete with — the Grande Palazzo, and also complement the Silk Mill, a business-residential development in a former factory located a couple of blocks away, Brian Durbin said.

Residents of the Durbins’ proposed development will be able to walk easily to restaurants, a coffee shop and a beauty shop, due to the neighborhood’s upcoming “transformation,” according to Scott Durbin.

“It will be a big-city type feel,” he said.

The Durbins have obtained setback variances from the city Zoning Hearing Board so they can build against or near the sidewalks of Seventh Avenue, 26th Street and Sixth Avenue, in keeping with the traditional urban style encouraged by the city over the past several years.

Because the city’s revised zoning ordinance calls for front setbacks matching the existing ones on each block, the family shouldn’t have needed the variances — but all the houses that used to be on those blocks have been demolished, including the last remaining one on the Sixth Avenue side.

Still, the intent is to meet the spirit of the setback provisions, argued the Durbins’ engineer, John Sepp of PennTerra Engineering of State College.

Because the design is compact — the ground amounts to only an acre — obtaining the variances was critical for including all the units, Sepp and the Durbins said.

“It’s a unique situation,” Sepp told the board.

The 12 townhouses on Seventh Avenue — comprising two building segments — will face the part of the Grande Palazzo that used to include the main entrance to Bon Secours. Each of the townhouses will have two master bedrooms, so that unrelated people can share comfortably, according to Brian Durbin.

A row of garages for townhouse-dweller vehicles will face the alley behind the townhomes, with the second floors of those garages comprising four one-bedroom and a pair of two-bedroom apartments, each one with access to decks.

Between the row of townhouses and the row of garages will be a parking lot for the vehicles of the apartment dwellers.

For security, the entrance to the parking lot through the alley off of 26th Street will be gated, while the space between the townhouse segments — which will serve as a mini-courtyard with a picnic table — will be fenced.

The gates and garage doors will open with trans­ponders that residents can keep on their auto visors, Brian Durbin indicated.

The six duplexes — in segments of four and two — will face 26th Street, just around the corner from the townhomes. The garages behind those, for vehicles owned by the duplex dwellers, will face inward, toward the parking lot behind the duplexes, in contrast to the garages behind the townhomes, which will face outward, toward the alley, according to Scott Durbin. Access to the parking lot behind the duplex is also from 26th Street, then through the alley.

A secure mailroom to which the postal service and package delivery firms will have electronic access will serve all the residents of the proposed development.

There will be just a bit of landscaping, and not much space for outdoor activities, as the target renters generally prefer to socialize at coffeehouses and such establishments, Brian Durbin said in answer to a question from a board member.

The buildings will be done in the “Craftsman” style. In its traditional form, that style emphasized horizontal lines, low-pitched roofs with wide eaves and rakes, exposed beams, spacious porches on the front, thick, tapered columns, painted wood siding and accents of stucco or stone, according to housebeautiful.com.

There will be stone cladding on the lower portions of the exterior walls of the Durbin houses, with vinyl siding higher up.

The buildings will blend in with the neighborhood, including the Grande Palazzo, Brian Durbin said.

“We’re trying to tie the old with the new,” he said.

Landscaping and trash and snow removal will be included.

“Simplified living,” Scott Durbin said.

There is plenty of demand for such compact, low-maintenance housing, said Brian Durbin, who declined to disclose the planned rental charges.

The project will require abandonment of the alley, which is actually not a public right-of-way, said Nic Ardizzone, property and program coordinator for the city’s Planning and Com­munity Development De­part­­ment.

The Zoning Hearing Board approved the variances unanimously.

The city’s Planning and Community Development Department supports the project, according to zoning officer Marilyn Morgan, speaking for department Director Lee Slusser.

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