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Do you work in a cool office space? LVB wants to hear about it!

Lehigh Valley Business is now taking nominations for the Coolest Offices in the Lehigh Valley.

For the third consecutive year, we are asking readers to tell us about a business with an office that has been transformed into something extraordinary.

Whether your office is ultra-modern, recalls a simpler time or offers perks that just can’t be found in a standard workspace, we want to hear about it.

Photos of offices deemed the coolest by Lehigh Valley Business will appear in our Sept. 24 edition.

Please send photos that show why an office is cool, along with a description and contact information to [email protected]

Nominations must be submitted by 5 p.m. Aug. 23 to be considered.

Proposed legislation would assist consumers, but builders worry it will saddle them with rising costs

Legislation introduced by state lawmakers earlier this year could increase costs for homebuilders by adding fees in an effort to boost protections for buyers of new homes.

The bill, H.B. 879, was introduced by state Rep. John Galloway (D-Bucks) with support from four other state legislators. If it becomes law, it would increase accountability of builders for defects in new homes.

A house under construction for Scenic View, a Kay Builders project in Bushkill Township near Nazareth. A proposed bill could impact builders of new homes by increasing costs in an effort to protect consumers from defects in materials. (Submitted) –

State lawmakers referred the bill to the Consumer Affairs Committee on March 25. It has not moved forward for a vote since then.

The legislation was inspired by numerous Bucks County residents who have complained their homes have deteriorated to the point of becoming structurally unstable even with normal amounts of rain and snow, according to a press release from Galloway.

Efforts to reach the lawmaker were unsuccessful. Consumer advocates have praised the proposed law.

“We have handled hundreds of construction-defect cases that this proposed legislation attempts to address,” Jennifer Horn, founder and managing partner at the law firm Horn Williamson of Philadelphia, said in a statement. “While the legislation is imperfect, it provides new, much-needed consumer protections to homeowners hurt by fraudulent business practices and residential construction that does not comply with building codes.”

For example, the bill explicitly requires all new homes to comply with the International Residential Code and the Uniform Construction Code, she said. Current law does not expressly require that new homes must be built in accordance with building codes.

While the legislation’s aim is to protect consumers, some feel it could saddle builders with rising costs.

“You might as well kiss the new home business goodbye,” said Rick Koze, president of Kay Builders in Lower Macungie Township. “I think you are making the cost of home ownership unattainable.”

Koze said he is already paying fees for home inspectors and believes they should see any problems before a home is completed.

“What am I paying that for if people aren’t checking the quality of construction?” Koze said.

Koze said permitting and inspections comprise 15 percent of the cost of building a home. That figure used to be 5 percent. Homebuilders must follow the national residential building code, which the federal government updates every three years, he said.

“Between the codes and the inspections and the cost of other regulatory permits, nobody’s going to build homes,” Koze said.

Homebuilders are already constrained, particularly when it comes to finding skilled workers in areas like plumbing and electrical work, he said.

“The supply/demand imbalance means we have to pay more for these services which means higher home prices,” Koze said. “To add more regulatory costs such as the proposed bill further decreases affordability.”

One solution could be to add an exterior inspection to replace one of the numerous inspections of a new home’s interior, he said. That could catch exterior defects earlier.

“The interior inspections are overkill,” he said. “Maybe they should take one or two of those and put them outside.”

‘Growing pains’

The proposed legislation would regulate home construction contracts and provide for the registration of certain homebuilders. In addition, it would add penalties; establish a guarantee fund that builders would pay into and provide for notification of defective or faulty building materials or products.

“Any time we can give added protections to consumers, it’s worth it,” said Rebecca Price, an attorney with Norris McLaughlin in Allentown. She represents both consumers and contractors.

The bill would put more onus on contractors to make the consumer aware of defects in products, even if contractors are not responsible, and bring additional reporting requirements for builders, Price said.

It establishes a 30-year period for when the contractor would be responsible for notifying the consumer of a defect. There is no requirement in current law for builders to warn, or notify homeowners of defects.

“For example, we have seen hundreds of homes that have defective windows that fail no matter how they have been installed,” Horn said. “The builder, who is the sole installer of these defective windows, and the window manufacturer, are both aware of this serious defect. Neither entity has notified homeowners who have these defective windows installed in their homes, that every time it rains, these windows are causing water damage. H.B. 879 would change that.”

Additionally, builders would have to keep track of what homes they built and of the products or materials they used, including dates, over a 30-year period, Price said. From a record-keeping standpoint, that would create some logistical issues. If a homebuilder goes out of business during that period or if the property sells within that 30-year period, it would create issues that legislators would have to address, she added.

The bill also establishes a fund into which builders would pay fees associated with complying with the law.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be a substantial increase to the cost of homes,” Price added. But, she said of the proposed bill: “I think there will be some growing pains for contractors if it passes.”

 

 

Taco Bell slated for Lower Macungie Township

By next summer, a new Taco Bell will join the retailers near Hamilton Crossings shopping center in Lower Macungie Township.

Scott Horner, vice president of Colliers International’s office in Upper Macungie Township, brokered the deal, according to a news release.

This site plan shows where a Taco Bell and an office building will be constructed. (Submitted) –

Situated on a 2.5-acre lot at 5374 and 5392 Hamilton Blvd., the eatery will feature a 2,753-square-foot-restaurant with a drive-thru in the front of the property.

Construction is set to begin at the site in the coming months with a potential opening in summer 2020.

In addition to Taco Bell, construction workers will build a 9,600-square-foot, two-story, commercial retail building in the rear of the property. The proposed building includes parking, stormwater facilities and landscaping and is available for sale or lease.

Group of student housing properties sells for $21.3M

A New York City-based family office bought a group of student housing properties near Lehigh University in South Bethlehem for $21.3 million.

These properties at 208 East Fourth St. in South Bethlehem are among those single-family homes in a portfolio that sold for $21.3 million. (Submitted) –

The portfolio includes 44 properties totaling 219 bedrooms.

Ken Wellar, managing partner at Rittenhouse Realty Advisors of Philadelphia, said the buyer, whom he declined to name, bought the properties from Fifth Street Properties.

Northampton County property records show the new owner as SPG Lehigh Equities and Armstrong Teasdale LLP.

The high-net-worth buyer from New York City is new to the student housing market, Wellar said. He and Luke DeLuca, senior associate at Rittenhouse Realty, represented both the buyer and the seller in the transaction.

“The attraction [for the buyer] is really the strength of the university and the rent growth and also the demand for student housing in these locations,” Wellar said.

The properties, under the portfolio name Fifth Street Properties at Lehigh University, have modern, updated finishes. They include properties on East Fifth Street, East Packer Avenue and Carlton Avenue.

Another attraction for the buyer is Lehigh’s major expansion plans for the next decade, which include increasing enrollment and opening a College of Health.

Over the next decade, the university plans to increase its undergraduate population by 1,000 students, or roughly 20 percent, while increasing its graduate student population by 500. The expansion will also bring 100 new faculty members to the campus.

Trend of low inventory, higher prices continues to impact housing market

Low inventory of homes for sale led to higher prices amid signs of a strong, yet slowing economy, contributing to a seller’s market, according to a report by the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors reported on the residential real estate market for June.

The report said that new listings decreased 13.2 percent to 1,068, compared to June 2018. Pending sales were up 7.9 percent to 906 compared to June 2018 and inventory levels shrank 16.4 percent to 1,718 units compared to June 2018.

Sellers seemed more optimistic in the second quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors Housing Opportunities and Market Experience survey, as 46 percent of consumers said now is a good time to sell, up from 37 percent the first quarter.

But the Lehigh Valley is still searching for those sellers as the drop in inventory levels contributed to a 17.2 percent decline in the supply of inventory, which is down to 2.4 months.

Low inventory levels remains a challenge for the housing industry, though it has brought higher prices, with a median sales price increase of 5.6 percent to $216,500 and homes selling on average in 32 days, compared to $205,000 and 34 days in June 2018.

The median sales price of $216,500 was the highest on record for GLVR, said Justin Porembo, GLVR CEO.

“That really stands out that we really have a strong seller’s market,” Porembo said. “We see a really strong economy moving forward. I think we see a lot of consumer confidence going forward.”

To be sure, the report noted, there are signs nationwide that the economy is slowing. As an example, the Federal Reserve considers 2 percent a healthy inflation rate but the U.S. should remain below that this year, according to the report. The possibility of a rate reduction is in play following a string of increases over the last several years.

While the increase in home prices can affect affordability, Porembo said GLVR is keeping an eye on the housing affordability index and so far has not heard any pushback on the affordability issue.

“We definitely need to continue to beat the drum that with good interest rates and with people feeling good about their job prospects, there should be no fear about jumping into the market,” Porembo said. “We are hoping to see this continue into the fall. We see a strong housing market in our entire footprint.”

Another factor that shows the strong seller’s market is the list prices.

Carbon County sellers are getting 94 percent of list price, while Lehigh and Northampton counties are getting 98.6 percent, he added.

Construction starts on Steel City Trade Center

Developers Trammell Crow Co. and Clarion Partners have started construction on two distribution buildings near Exit 67 off Interstate 78.

Construction started this month on two distribution buildings near Exit 67 off Interstate 78 in Bethlehem. (Submitted) –

The buildings should be complete in the first quarter of 2020, said Vincent Ranalli, senior vice president at CBRE Inc. in Radnor. His firm is marketing the buildings.

The buildings are going up at 1198 Feather Way and 2020 Feather Way in Bethlehem, for a project called Steel City Trade Center, he said. The site is in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII near Curtiss-Wright’s manufacturing and warehouse facility.

“The interest to date has been very strong,” Ranalli said. “We continue to see new companies that want to locate in Lehigh Valley.”

One building will be 189,738 square feet and the other will be 294,240 square feet.

The estimated construction cost is about $24 million, said Matt Nunn, vice president of Trammell Crow in the firm’s Conshohocken office. This is the firm’s second project in the Bethlehem area. In 2014, the firm completed a distribution center it leased to Primark, he added.

 

 

Performance gym slated for space in Bethlehem Township

A performance gym is slated to open in Bethlehem Township off Linden Street in August. Owner Michael Gaugler is renovating the space for an August opening. (Submitted) –

A performance gym specializing in powerlifting, Olympic lifting and athletic training is slated to open in August at 3817 Nazareth Pike in Bethlehem Township.

Cindy Miller and Amy Hawley of SVN Imperial Realty in South Whitehall Township served as the brokers representing the property owner and the tenant in the transaction.

Miller said Optimum Performance Center, owned and operated by Michael Gaugler of Gaugler Training, will occupy the space. Gaugler is renovating the interior of the space, which is a 5,400-square-foot unit in suite 201 in the Bethlehem Commerce Plaza off Linden Street.

The renovations include adding AstroTurf for activities such as flipping tires and pushing or pulling sleds, as well as speed and agility training.

The gym will include specialized training equipment such as Rogue power racks, Rogue deadlift platforms and safety squat bars. In addition, the gym will have two reverse hyper machines that provide traction and strengthen the spine at the same time, and a belt squat machine designed to take the load off the spine while squatting and help users build lower body power without stressing their backs. The gym will also have an inverse curl machine to develop the hamstrings. In addition, the gym will have jump stretch bands and lifting chains for accommodating resistance to help users with increased speed and power output.

Gaugler said people would not find this type of equipment in commercial gyms, noting that the equipment is designed to reduce injuries and get people functionally strong.

“I train anybody like an athlete, whether you are an average person or an athlete,” said Gaugler, who worked as the strength and conditioning coach for Coordinated Health for almost 13 years.

He decided to branch out onto his own after a suggestion from a client.

His training methods focus on teaching people how to be explosive in all planes of movement. In addition, he will use technology that will evaluate each member’s mobility and flexibility, and he will use that data to create customized exercise programs.

He admitted that opening his own center is both nerve wracking and exciting.

His wife, Michelle, is handling the business side and he plans to conduct all the training himself and possibly add a trainer in three months.

The gym will offer several levels of membership, including adult training and fitness classes, youth training for sports and athletic performance, and general membership and personal training.

For general membership the cost is $70 per month, for unlimited classes and general membership, the cost is $120 per month and for unlimited classes and six personal training sessions, the cost is $140 per month.

 

Net zero construction nets attention

Interest in renewable energy is growing, particularly among nonprofits such as universities and colleges that are looking to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions.

A rendering of the net zero building under construction for Sustainable Energy Fund in North Whitehall Township. (Submitted) –

That interest could fuel more construction of net zero buildings, so called because they produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.

With reports on the global impact of climate change gaining more attention, some say these types of buildings will become more common. Aside from environmental concerns, proponents also cite the benefits of better productivity and a shorter payback time on the investments made by building owners in green technology.

“The number of net zero buildings in the United States is growing dramatically,” said John Costlow, president of Sustainable Energy Fund, a nonprofit in the Schnecksville section of North Whitehall Township.

The fund is developing what many believe to be the first commercial net zero energy building in the Lehigh Valley. It is under construction in North Whitehall Township.

“I believe a building like ours will spur additional buildings in the Lehigh Valley,” Costlow said.

The fund, a nonprofit that formed 20 years ago as part of Pennsylvania’s energy deregulation, is erecting the building on land it bought at 4250 Independence Drive. The nonprofit, known as SEF, plans to occupy part of the 15,000-square-foot office building and lease the remaining offices to local businesses and nonprofits. Construction is expected to wrap up in December.

Costlow said the organization’s goal is to create a net positive building, meaning the building will produce more energy through solar and thermal panels on its roof than it consumes. The excess energy would go back into the power grid.

Costlow said the average daily energy produced by the building should be around 130 percent of what it uses. On a good, sunny day, it could go as high as 200 percent.

The nonprofit invested about $5 million in the project and plans on using the building to host educational sessions about net zero technology, as well as additional sessions on general sustainability.

Among the structure’s features are solar panels designed to maximize energy production, as well as insulation that minimizes air leakage.

The building will also be a research tool.

“We have all kinds of sensors that are slated to be in the space so we know how much energy is being used right down to the individual office,” Costlow said.

‘A teaching tool’

Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem, meanwhile, recently designed a net zero building for Millersville University in Lancaster County.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center was completed in 2018 and is the first building in Pennsylvania to earn net zero energy certification from the International Living Future Institute, a Seattle-based organization that promotes sustainable construction. According to the institute’s website, it also has certified studios, offices labs and retail centers.

The Lombardo center serves as a model for how a net zero building could work, according to members of Spillman Farmer. For example, the building produced 75 percent more energy than it consumed in 2018, more than anticipated, said Russell Pacala, principal at Spillman Farmer Architects.

The project includes $829,000 worth of sustainable features, such as solar panels on the roof, a ground-mounted solar array and 20 geothermal wells outside on the lawn.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center also included costs related to furniture, information technology and audiovisual items, moving costs, permit and approval fees, architectural and engineering fees and other costs.

The building also sports dashboards inside so users can see how the building is performing.

“The whole building is a teaching tool,” Pacala said.

In addition, the architects interviewed the building’s prospective users to determine how they might be comfortable in the space, but also to help educate them on how much energy they were using, said Heather Rizzetto Schmidt, project designer and manager for Spillman Farmer Architects.

By talking to them about what they could do to avoid impacting the energy performance of the building, such as avoiding plugging in space heaters, the architects were able to create a more sustainable building while encouraging end users to adjust their behavior to enhance the energy performance of the building. A more energy efficient building that’s comfortable for employees also enhances productivity, added Rizzetto Schmidt.

Part planning, part technology

In designing a net zero building, several factors come to the forefront.

Designers have to understand who will be working in the building, what technology they need, and when they arrive at work, said Christie Jephson Nicas, director of marketing for Spillman Farmer.

“That initial planning process is so important,” Jephson Nicas said.

But so is technology.

Larry Eighmy, principal at The Stone House Group, a facilities management firm in Bethlehem, said property owners who focus on energy-saving features can make a dramatic impact on their energy costs.

Today, sensors can control the amount of air that escapes; windows can collect solar energy and make it into electricity and new heat pumps help make buildings more efficient.

And those tools can make a difference even in old buildings like South Bethlehem’s Flatiron Building, originally designed in 1910. Stone House Group has been a tenant there for 14 years. Though it’s not a net zero building, it does have some energy-efficient features.

These include smart window blinds the company manipulates as needed, as well as a concentrated solar collector on the roof, and two new high-efficiency natural gas condensing boilers.

“Even with our relatively old building, we’ve been able to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 percent compared to our base year,” Eighmy said.

It makes sense for nonprofits to become early adopters of net zero buildings, particularly as colleges and universities seek to achieve a carbon neutral status and appeal to eco-minded students, he said.

Though net zero buildings could be tougher to erect for manufacturers, hospitals and other large energy users, they are possible.

“Everything is doable, it’s just how much energy you have available,” Rizzetto Schmidt said.

For those property owners concerned about increases in energy costs, a net zero building could be an effective hedge, said Andrew Schuster, principal at Ashley McGraw Architects of Syracuse, New York, the firm that designed the net zero building for SEF.

“Net zero is pretty straightforward, you make more energy than you use,” Schuster said. “A net zero building allows you to reduce your operating expenses by investing it up front in the building costs. Your savings is what you would be spending on utility costs.”

The payback period for those savings to make up for the extra costs is about 10 to 15 years. But the window has been getting shorter.

SEF is expecting a payback in less than 10 years, Schuster said.

Santander to shutter Moravian branch

Santander, the Boston-based bank, said it would close its branch at 65 E. Elizabeth Ave. in Bethlehem on Sept. 20. The bank is on the first floor of a mixed-use building across from Moravian College.

Santander Bank is on the first floor of the [email protected] building in Bethlehem. (Photo by Christopher Holland) –

The bank will consolidate its services with a Santander branch one mile away at 924 Eaton Ave. in Bethlehem, Nancy Orlando, spokesperson for Santander, said in a statement.

The move would ensure the bank continues to meet the banking needs of its Bethlehem area customers.

“We routinely review our branch network to make sure we are optimizing our resources and this consolidation makes good sense for both our customers and our business,” Orlando said. “Customers were notified of the closure 90 days in advance and all of our team members from the closed branch will remain employed with us.”

Lehigh Valley Business is also a tenant in the building.

Plan to redevelop historic inn shows progress

The developer of a vacant property that includes an iconic destination has begun to pave the way for new construction at the site.

For several years, developer Atul Patel has been seeking to redevelop the property that includes the historic King George Inn and sits along a heavily traveled corridor:

Plans are moving forward on finally redeveloping the King George Inn in South Whitehall Township. (Photo by Stacy Wescoe) –

Hamilton Boulevard in South Whitehall Township.

The developer recently tore down two nearby buildings, a former Burger King and Carvel, and pulled off a wooden addition to the inn.  His plans call for building a hotel, pharmacy and bank and renovating the former inn for use as office space. The total area covers a little more than five acres.

Patel, CEO of HMB Management in Upper Macungie Township, did not return requests for comment. He is developing the property under the aegis of Hotel Hamilton LLC

Gregg Adams, township planner, said the township granted preliminary approval for Patel to redevelop the property in early 2016.

But Patel has had problems but designing a stormwater management plan for the project, mainly because he could not get an agreement to connect a pipe to a neighboring property, Adams said.

Those problems have largely been resolved, according to Adams.

“Now the plans can move forward,” he said, noting that the township still needs to sign off on the final stormwater plan.

“I think it will be a big improvement to the area,” Adams said. “It floods a lot but I know they are working on a system to address that.”

In addition, the developer needs the township’s preliminary final approval to redevelop the property, Adams said.

At a meeting on Aug. 7, Adams said, the developer is expected to provide an update on what he accomplished at the site over the last six months.

 

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