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Welcome to the Bethlehem Gadfly!

Definition of gadfly
1: any of various flies that annoy livestock

2: a person who stimulates other people especially by persistent criticism
3: someone who challenges people in positions of power

The main goal of the Gadfly blog is to provide a space for healthy public dialogue about issues of concern to Bethlehem, Pa., residents. All sides, all perspectives welcome.

For good examples of in-depth coverage of continuing serious issues, see the threads onGadfly 54 candidates for election, Martin Tower, Parking, and on 2 W. Market St.

As context for and balance to the serious issues, we also have some fun stuff relating to Bethlehem as well.

Please use your contact list to pass the word about “The Bethlehem Gadfly” to others and, most importantly, click the button on the sidebar to follow us.

And follow the Gadfly on Facebook @TheBethlehemGadfly

The Gadfly — Ed Gallagher — would like to hear from you!

City Council meeting tomorrow Tuesday August 20

Our next City Council meeting, the “face” of Bethlehem City government, occurs Tuesday, August 20, Town Hall. at 7PM.

This meeting is video-recorded and can be viewed LIVE or at your convenience on the City’s website after the meeting at http://www.bethlehem-pa.gov > Quick Links > City Council Meeting Agendas and Documents.

Gadfly urges attending, one way or the other.

You can find the meeting agenda here: https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/citycouncil/meetings/archive/2019/Background/20190820/00%20Agenda%2008202019.pdf

Of interest:

  • looks like appt of Grace Crampsie Smith to fill the vacancy on City Council
  • two Zoning Board members are up for appt, and you know how important these positions are (Gadfly will be posting on one of the appts tomorrow).
  • It’s possible the Parking Authority will be present for Polk Street Garage discussion  and the fine structure decision.

Be involved, quoth the Gadfly.

Other residents testifying against Bethlehem Manor

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Manor and Neighborhoods)

In addition to Brian Nicas, three other residents testified against the Bethlehem Manor proposal.

They represent an interesting range of approaches.

022Elaine Torres — whose house is in the Manor’s “backyard” — carrying the dog of her deceased mother — not in the best of health — brought an emotional storm to the proceedings, chastising the Bethlehem Manor team for unresolved operational issues — like mosquitoes from the “rain gardens” that made it hard to work in her yard — literally, vigorously calling out the architect. She had to be soft-gaveled back to decorum twice or thrice by the chair. Gadfly would not recommend a heavy diet of such resident testimony at proceedings such as this, but, on the other hand, he must admit that this spectacle of raw anger and anxiety — so different from the conduct of the other proposal critics — starkly reminded him that these proceedings were not just a paper exercise performed by slickly dressed lawyers.

Bill Scheirer — better known as Gadfly #2 — spoke with his 029
signature compelling softness, and spoke directly to the Board, making a meaningful distinction aimed at the wonks on the Board. Adaptive reuse of a surplus school is one thing, said this cool customer, but the Bethlehem Manor proposal is entirely different. It is expansion not adaptive re-use. Leave it to Gadfly-deuce to make sure the argument was framed properly.

It was Anne Lendzinski whom Gadfly thought asked the two most pertinent and incisive questions of the night:

  • “You were already the Administrator at Saucon Valley and at Whitehall, so I don’t understand how can you not project the need for private rooms if you were already building on your other building for private room demand.”
  • “This is a huge expanse. There are already engineering issues that have not been resolved, so why this expansion when those existing issues are not fixed yet?”

010In her first question, Anne struck deep at the heart of a damning inconsistency. How could an accomplished and experienced personal care home Administrator not have been thinking about the move to private rooms from the get-go? The question undercut the narrative — the origin myth, if you will — that Bethlehem Manor was positing.

To her credit, the Administrator had a good come-back — she was working, she said, from the pervasive model in this Rosemont neighborhood exemplified, for instance in Holy Family Manor — but for Gadfly the question itself was telling in his own decision-making.

The second question — tapping the network of troublesome details of the Bethlehem Manor operation — just seemed to call attention to the fact that Bethlehem Manor was not the squeaky clean good neighbor it proclaimed itself to be and thus had not earned this vote of confidence from the neighborhood.

Gadfly looks back on the short Anne-Administrator dialogue here as a turning point for him.

Bethlehem Manor’s position: the elderly deserve the honor and privilege of living their last years in a nice neighborhood

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Manor and Neighborhoods)

In Gadville there are always two (or more) sides to an issue.

So let’s look at how the Bethlehem Manor argued for acceptance of their proposal.

The BM administrator stated that in the course of marketing the facility she determined a new demand for/discovered a market for a type of room that she didn’t anticipate and can’t currently satisfy: “a private room with a private bathroom.”

Now if someone wants a private room, she offers space in her other locations in Whitehall and Hellertown, but often location (they do serve families in the immediate Rosemont neighborhood) is key, and families want to stay in this area: “location is a huge factor.”

The Administrator spoke of the economies involved in adding a building to this location rather than opening another facility at a separate location and further stated that the proposed addition was necessary for her business to stay competitive.

Not very dramatic video, but you can begin to judge the character of the Administrator (and through her Bethlehem Manor) in her opening testimony on these subjects and several other subjects here:

Testimony from neighbors raised a series of problems running from cigarette butts to mosquitoes to traffic, and in her rebuttal the Administrator made a rather remarkable  impassioned defense of her specific mission and the cause of the elderly in general.

Don’t skip this audio:

  • “I know the neighborhood has not been impacted negatively, and it won’t be, giving us the honor of adding 54 more beds.”
  • “We’re just asking for our residents to have a good quality of life too without hurting any of the neighbors or the neighborhood.”
  • “They just want to have a good quality of life, hopefully they have 20-30 years, but some have 2 or 3, and they deserve that as well.”
  • “They are equally as important. Just because they’re older and they’re in a personal care home does not diminish the fact that once they were home owners, once they were people more contributing to the community, but that should take away their desire and our need to give them a good quality of life.”
  • “We want to be good neighbors, but, also, yes, we want to satisfy the market, which means satisfying the elderly.”
  • “It’s not about just making the money.”
  • “But it is hard if you’ve ever cared for someone elderly.”
  • “54 residents in their rooms, in their building are not going to change anything for the neighborhood.”
  • “I only request and ask that you give the other 54 residents . . . the honor and privilege of living their last years in a neighborhood that is very nice and they should deserve that.”

Were you expecting all that?

The Bethlehem Manor Administrator turns “quality of life” on its head. The personal care residents deserve good quality of life too!

Gadfly found the Administrator’s statement powerful. She defended her position with emotional vigor.

So the Zoning Board decision was not an obvious one to Gadfly.

Let’s go on to look at a few more aspects of the hearing.

Zoning Hearing Boards and Planning Commissions are in place to protect the quality of life not to be rubber stamps

(Latest post on neighborhoods and city government)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

It is critical that residents be made aware of potential “quality of life” issues in their immediate area, because at some time or another nearly every neighborhood is impacted. Even more important is that members of both the ZHB and Planning Commission listen intently to the concerns being expressed. City officials, both elected and appointed, also need to keep their ears to the ground. First and foremost, zoning is meant to protect and limit, yet the folks who are seeking the kinds of variances sought seem to think the zoning laws are only suggested protections. Individually these variances often don’t seem harmful, and they are granted almost pro forma. For example, a request to allow a setback for a backyard shed to be reduced by 2 feet seems pretty harmless. However, when one begins to take a look at the cumulative affect of variances granted, particularly use variances, you can see that the overall quality of life of a community can be impacted negatively. For those who reside in a municipality over longer periods of time, that cumulative effect is obvious. ZHBs and Planning Commissions are in place to protect this quality of life, yet many times they come across as rubber stamps because they seldom look at the bigger picture, or put themselves in the place of those who oppose. That is when they fail the community they are supposed to be protecting.

Dana

Bethlehem Manor neighbors present a petition to the Zoning Hearing Board

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Manor and Neighborhoods)

Gadfly assumes that you (well, most of you ) are like him and have never had the opportunity to look “inside” a zoning hearing, the place and the process where so much important to the quality of life in our neighborhoods is decided.

Thus, over a few posts, he’d like to talk about the Bethlehem Manor (815 Pennsylvania Avenue) proposal to expand the number of beds 70% in their assisted living/personal care facility via a new addition to the original building.

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After approval by the Planning Commission on July 11, the proposal was denied by the Zoning Hearing Board August 14. Bethlehem Manor will appeal that decision to Northampton County Court.

This is an interesting case for us to look at.

Bethlehem Manor is located in the old Rosemont School. After some controversy, Bethlehem Manor’s proposal to re-purpose the school as an assisted living/personal care facility was granted in 2016, and the facility opened in May 2017, just over two years ago.

Re-purposing an unused school building, we might all generally agree, is a good thing.

Personal care facilities, we might all generally agree, are good things.

What is rather surprising in this instance, what is immediately attention-getting is the — would you disagree? — huge percent of the proposed increase in beds and, perhaps as well, the short time since the original request was proposed.

Surely, this is a case in which Bethlehem Manor must be called upon to make a very strong supporting case.

But who will “force” them to do so? Who will provide the necessary friction to make sure the proposed change is good for the Rosemont neighborhood?

Perhaps like me, some of you will say “the City.” You will say the City looks out for “us.” Well, not so fast.

Take a look at this detailed letter from the City responding to the Bethlehem Manor proposal.

Lots there.

But looks like the City can only be depended upon to hold Bethlehem Manor’s feet to the fire in terms of technical requirements. There is nothing in the City response relative to what we might call “quality of life” aspects.

So, no, “people” issues are up to us. Though, as far as Gadfly knows, the City is mandated to help public awareness by — at least seven days prior — posting notices of hearings in the newspaper, providing notices (regular mail) to adjoining property owners, providing notices to property owners within 300 feet. Also, proposers must likewise post notices of hearings in conspicuous spots on their properties at least one week ahead.

Now Gadfly has more than once heard residents complain they were not “aware” of issues and hearings. Gadfly is realist enough to know that many people simply don’t pay attention and that the City can not always be blamed for their ignorance, but — especially since better ways to communicate with residents is being studied right now — there might be improvements in this system in this new technological age in which people are accessing information in different ways.

So, it’s up to “us” to be aware of what concerns us and to take active measures.

And so, in this case, neighborhood resident Brian Nicas took the initiative to circulate a petition eventually signed by 25 other residents that he presented to the Zoning Hearing Board August 14.

Bethlehem Manor resident petition.jpeg

Gadfly is pleased to offer Brian’s complete presentation on audio and a portion of it on video as an example of the kind of productive citizen participation that he loves to highlight and which stimulated two other neighbors to speak out at the meeting as well (we’ll “hear” from them in later posts).

 

Bottom line — the residents were successful in this instance. Their involvement and their participation paid off. But in the next few posts let’s look a little deeper at the dynamics of the meeting and understand how the process played out.

O Little Town of Bethlehem Popping Up All Over the Big Big World

(The Gadfly invites your “local color” reflections of this sort***)

Michael Colón is a lifelong Bethlehem resident and enthusiast. He also moonlights as a City Councilman. 

Dear Gadfly,

Now that we’ve closed out another Musikfest that brought people from near and far to our fine city, I wanted to share recent experiences that truly highlight how coincidental life is. Both involve trips out of state; both involve our two colleges.

The first happenstance was last month while I was on a trip out west. One arid, Arizona evening some of my extended family took me out to Sedona to see a desert sunset. Whilst hiking up a large rock, we noticed a young man perched way ahead atop the crag. His father was in earshot of our comments and shared he unfortunately didn’t have his phone to capture this great photo opportunity. My aunt volunteered to text it to him, while asking for his number. “717” he started before we interrupted him. Turns out the family is from Lancaster meeting up with their son while he’s on a one-man road show in a used RV for the summer because he just earned his master’s degree from our very own Lehigh University.  The young man negotiated with his employer, located in Bethlehem Township, to start after Labor Day, allowing him this chance to see the country all summer in his hopefully reliable used RV. As he descended, we had a chance to speak to the young man named Justin. My family and I shared we’re Bethlehem folk too. We wished him well in his travels and career, then continued on as strangers passing on a rock, 2500 miles from home, known to each other only because of the need for a cell phone camera. If his father would’ve had his phone, would we even know that we’ve all come from one tiny area of earth all this way to share this view of AZ together on an even smaller patch of earth?  Likely not.

The second event occurred a couple weeks ago. On a hot Saturday with nothing on the schedule for either of us, my girlfriend and I decided to hit the beach (or go down the shore). We chose Point Pleasant for no reason other than my youngest brother talks about it. We walked up the boardwalk, choosing a beach entrance at random. As we paid to get onto the sand, we were instructed to wait for “one of the guys” who would give us a beach umbrella. Our “guy” working on the beach was a teenager who after telling us to follow him turned around displaying a Moravian College drawstring bag on his back. We immediately shared with the young beach-hand that we’re from Bethlehem. “Is that near Moravian?” he asked. Turns out this 16-year-old Jersey Shore local is the son of someone in a management position at the college. He knew Moravian is a college where his dad worked and that it isn’t close to home. He learned locals from Bethlehem like to tell him about it. After kindly helping us plant our umbrella, he returned to work; my girlfriend tuned out my drumming about how coincidental this was, and I got sunburn on my foot. Out of all the beach towns we chose that one, out of all the beach entrances we chose that one, and out of all the employees helping out we got that one. What are the chances?

I share these stories because I’m fascinated by luck, fate, coincidence, or whatever other word you want to attach to it. We’ll never truly know how many close encounters pass us by, but when we do become aware of the stranger on the desert rock or the kid at the beach, it is a unique experience. Admittedly I’ll always be partial to the ones about our not so little town of Bethlehem.

Thanks for reading, and if you feel so inclined, please share your stories of Bethlehem turning up in unexpected places outside the Valley.

Michael

*** From the Gadfly About page: “Local Color: original creative work with recognizably local Bethlehem subjects or connections — art, poems, mini-essays, vignettes, photographs, songs — that help us see or think about our town and townspeople in interesting ways.” Please do follow Michael’s lead and take him up on his invitation.

Sharing your reading: “hiding” the Polk Street Garage

(109th in a series of posts on parking)
(also 6th in a series about sharing your reading)
(and also relating to walkability too)

Jeff Speck: “Hide the parking structures. Exposed parking structures
do not belong next to sidewalks.”

(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

Jeff Speck: “Design parking structures for eventual conversion to human use.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

You have seen Gadfly gradually resigning himself to the fact of a $16.8m Polk Street Garage though there seem to be significant unanswered questions.

$16.8m.

And turning his attention to its design.

And whining, If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

And wondering if the PSG is being designed in accord with goals other than simply warehousing cars, goals like walkability and Climate Action.

On the latter point, remember the recent letter of the Environmental Advisory Council to the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

Which brings him to Speck again.

Speck speaks of the now common practice of addressing walkability (street life) through  a parking structure with a ground floor of retail.

Note, for instance, that the new New Street Garage has a Police substation and a Southside Arts District office on ground level. Steps in the direction of providing a bit of street life there.

Note, too, widespread talk of the need to liven up in some similar fashion the long stretch of Walnut St. along the Walnut Street Garage when it is repaired or rebuilt.

This is all good, and Gadfly believes the BPA is planning for ground-floor retail with the PSG and is already soliciting tenants.

But Speck suggests that “many cities and developers have moved on to a better solution, which is to set the parking lot back slightly and hide it from view.” In Dallas, for instance, “a ring of apartments hides a large parking lot.”  It is “fully reasonable for cities to require hidden parking, and to stop allowing buildings to place parking up against would-be walkable streets.”

Interesting. Intriguing.

And let’s remember Councilman Reynolds’ good question discussed in the previous post on parking about the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous cars on the need for parking garages in the future. Reynolds — a young man — is kind of wondering if 20-30-40 years from now he and others will be wondering what to do with this damn underused building and why we built it in the first place!

Speck is on the same page with the Councilman:

The other mandate for the twenty-first century is to make parking lots convertible. If ride-hailing services — and eventually AVs — end up drastically reducing the need for parking, as predicted, we will wish that we had built all those parking structures with flat floors, removable ramps, and frames that can support human uses. Smart developers are doing it now.

As usual, all this is above Gadfly’s pay grade. He’s just trying to stir the pot. He’s concerned the PSG will be designed without sufficient public conversation and in isolation from wider community goals relating to the quality of life and long-term issues.

The follower Gadfly mentioned in the previous post has him thinking about bargaining chips. Perhaps a chip toward approval of the fine increase proposal might be assurance that the BPA will provide extensive public conversation over the PSG design and satisfaction that the design meets even non-technical city goals.

If you aren’t reading, you may not be growing. What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.