At the Airbnb hearing a couple weeks ago, the Judge found the City guilty of a “fatal error” on one count. Striking term. I looked it up.
A fatal error in legal proceeding is one of such substantial nature that it justifies a reversal in judgment or a new trial. A fatal error in law means “you lose.” For now anyway.
I’ll bet all of us have experienced a “fatal error” in front of our computers (like the dreaded blue screen!): “an error that causes a program to abort and may therefore return the user to the operating system. When this happens, data that the program was processing is lost.” A fatal error in computing means “you lose.”
In my estimation the Bethlehem Parking Authority committed a fatal error in what I will call the “feedback issue” that I described briefly in Exhibit 7: The Coup de Grace (47) and more extensively in the Fatal error timeline.
What, to me – and perhaps only in my estimation and not yours – what to me the BPA lost is my trust, my respect. (Do I hear people saying “Big Whoop”?)
I am mystified by the series of events. Somehow a molehill became a mountain to me. I don’t get it.
I asked BPA for a document. Was told informally it didn’t exist. Was told formally (RTK) it didn’t exist. Was as much as told personally in a public meeting that it didn’t exist (the interchange is on the above video). Find out that it does exist. And have received no explanation. Even when willing to accept blame.
What to make of this? At one end BPA behavior seems deliberately deceiving and unprofessional while at the other it just seems silly and foolish.
I can’t figure it out.
But what I can figure out is that the “feedback issue” is the coup de grace, the fatal error.
I have no trust in, no respect for the BPA.
And I have not arrived at that conclusion lightly, as several dozen posts behind this one show.
Daryl was a contract reporter for the Morning Call, and many of us knew him from City Council meetings. Gadfly followers might think of this as a remembrance page and send short notes through the “Contact” page or as comments.
“His workspace was legendary. One editor described Daryl’s desk at the Call’s Bethlehem Bureau this way: ‘To his left was his pyramid of empty diet soda cans that was at least 3-feet tall. To his right was his desk covered with a mountain of documents and reporter’s notebooks and embedded in that mess were about a half-dozen ties – already knotted and ready to wear. If Daryl had to go to City Hall, he would slip a tie over his head, cinch up and head out – a nod to convention for a rebel at heart.'”
“He was a true original; there wasn’t a wishy-washy bone in his body.”
Daryl welcomed me as a rookie attendee at Council from his left-field bleacher seat at Town Hall, often leaning over and filling me in — inside politics, just like inside baseball. — Gadfly
Baseball season officially ended Sunday night with Boston’s World Series victory. Sadly, I learned the next morning that my good friend, former Morning Call colleague and IronPigs season ticket-sharer Daryl Nerl, had died over the weekend. Daryl was a person of many areas of expertise, one of which certainly was baseball. He was a diehard Mets fan, for which I’ve long since forgiven him, and one of the joys of summer evenings at Coca-Cola Park was our discussions, lists and occasional arguments about professional sports.On this, as with everything else, he had strong opinions. We’ve been sitting together at those games since the inaugural IronPigs season, always keeping score and sharing some wonderful memories. I’m having a hard time imagining next summer in Section 110 without him. He was a great friend, a great writer and a great, great baseball fan. Deepest condolences to his mom and dad. — Bill White
So many days you passed me by See the tears standin’ in my eyes You didn’t stop to make me feel better By leavin’ me a card or a letter Mister Postman (Mister Postman look and see) Oh yeah (If there’s a letter in your bag for me)
Attentive Gadfly readers will recognize that “No one gets to interrogate The Board”
was directed at Gadfly during Courtesy of the Floor at the September meeting of the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board by the Solicitor, whom I have whimsically dubbed the Board body guard.
Apparently that means you can’t get an email response from the BPA either:
I have not gotten a response from the Solicitor about the potentially serious matter of a possible Right to Know violation.
I have not gotten a response to three emails to the Executive Director about that same potentially serious matter of a possible Right to Know violation as well as other things.
I have not gotten a response to three emails to the 5-member Board about being able to communicate with them individually rather than the group boardofdirectors address.
I have not gotten a response asking for the email of Tim Tracy the Desman rep so that I can ask him a pertinent question about his study.
I have not gotten response to two emails to the Board Chairman about getting together on phone or in person to clarify one misty point in the calculations of the revenue raised by increases in the fines.
I will not receive a response for perhaps 30 days, instead of 5, to 10 Right to Know requests because of staff limitations (first reason) and need for legal review (second, additional reason given after a request for clarification). These are 10 separate requests not one request with 10 parts. At least two requests seem simple to fill individually within the 5-day period.
Not negative responses to questions or requests. No responses.
All Gadfly emails, he believes, have been pleasant, cordial.
Why has Gadfly had no success?
maybe everybody is busy, and they are setting necessary priorities
maybe they teach you in law school to ignore a possible petition
maybe there’s a legitimate reason not to talk with someone who may have caught you at something
maybe there’s a legitimate reason not to give out personal Board member emails
maybe there’s a legitimate reason not to give a consultant’s email info
maybe the Board members aren’t getting the emails through that group address
maybe I’m a Nobody
space reserved for your possibility
At least some of Gadfly’s emails could have been answered as cordially as they were written.
But let’s end here with the bigger question.
Who in hell cares if the Bethlehem Parking Authority has a bad attitude toward the public if it is doing a good job of maintaining parking in the City?
If BPA is doing its job, what does it matter if they are nice guys or not?
They don’t have to be liked.
Nobody likes the Patriots.
Maybe we shouldn’t care about attitude. Maybe it matters naught. Zero.
Gadfly will leave you to think about that.
But one thing I gotta say. It does not pay to mess with the BPA. When I went to pay for my car in the North Street garage after the Oct 24 meeting, the ticket machine ate my credit card. Yes it did. Yessir. It was the 5 o’clockish quitting time. There was a line 12 deep behind me at the machine. I thought there was going to be a riot.
I swear, I couldn’t make this up.
Please, please, Mr. Postman (Why’s it takin’ such a long time) Why don’t you check it and see one more time for me You gotta wait a minute, wait a minute Wait a minute, wait a minute Mr. Postman Ooh Mr. Postman (Mr. Postman look and see)
Gadfly loves to present the full picture on issues. All sides.
Thank you to Stephen Repasch of the LVPC for illumination in the previous post of that body’s role in this multi-step bureaucratic process.
The issue of the zoning petition on 2 W. Market that we’ve been following now comes to the Bethlehem Planning Commission 4PM, Nov. 8, Town Hall.
And Gadfly realizes he doesn’t have the full picture.
There was that marathon hearing at the Bethlehem Zoning Board in 2016. What took so long before the decision in favor of Mr. Rij was made? It must have been a tough one to have taken so long. Must have been a close call. Gadfly understands the “resident” side, but what was the Zoning Board side? No minutes or transcript is readily available. The newspaper article makes it sound like the “pro” side was practicality (the building will be saved) and support from a nearby local business. I’m not sure I can see that decision taking all that time for those reasons. So, what was the Zoning Board side?
So the residents sued. Gadfly supposes that, in effect, the suit against the City was against that Zoning Board decision. Is there a way to get any detailed Court documents that might help us understand how the case played out in Court? The residents won — Gadfly realizes that this is past “history” now, but is there any kind of narrative decision by the Court that would help us see how the opposing positions were weighed? Anything that lawyer Tim would share if one of the resident group asked?
Now there seems a claim that after the residents won, the City was not pro-active in enforcement. If true, then once again we are missing the City side. If true, can anyone shed light on that?
Now, again, I guess this is all past history. This is a new petition and seems to be on different grounds.
But it was clear to see from resident commentary at the Oct 2 City Council meeting that the residents see this new petition bundled with that past history.
So if anyone can provide authoritative help filling in the missing pieces, there would be abundant Gadfly gratitude.
This thing about lack of a record of Zoning meetings without paying big cash for a transcript is awkward. Well, more than awkward. Could someone take minutes? Could there be an audio to which to refer (see how I avoided ending with a preposition)?
Stephen Repasch is Chairman of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
Dear The Bethlehem Gadfly:
I’d like to take a moment to explain the two roles of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. In one, the LVPC is the federally designated metropolitan planning organization, which includes the job of planning and allocating most of the transportation money spent on our roads, bridges, transit, and trails, including $534 million to be invested over the next four years.
In the second, the LVPC serves as the official planning commission of Lehigh and Northampton counties. In that role, the organization drafts dozens of regional plans, including the comprehensive plan, which provide a roadmap for regional land use. We set the tone of how the Lehigh Valley should grow as a region.
Among the many land development tasks under our purview, municipal zoning amendments are reviewed by the LVPC, to determine whether the amendment is consistent with the The Comprehensive Plan – The Lehigh Valley …2030.
If the amendment is deemed to have a regional impact, or as we say “addresses matters of regional concern,” our professional planners determine whether the amendment is consistent with the comprehensive plan — as well as the impact if it is not — while making recommendations of what should be done to make it more consistent, as appropriate. We routinely makes those recommendations and find that most municipalities are receptive to our input.
However, if the proposed amendment addresses a matter of local concern, it is left for the governing body in the municipality to address, as they have the legal authority to do so under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Code. The Comprehensive Plan – The Lehigh Valley …2030 looks at the best interests of the Lehigh Valley regionally. It simply does not involve the level of detail that would be needed to do block by block reviews of local plans. It is the municipality’s role to administer its own zoning code.
Last week, when a zoning amendment was proposed in Bethlehem, much like three other amendment requests on the agenda that night, it was a matter that addresses local concern, acknowledging that the decision rests with the municipality.
That has always been our job, and we will continue to do it impartially and professionally, in the best interest of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the Lehigh Valley.
Chairman of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
Gadfly is still processing his visit to the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board meeting October 24.
And still can’t believe that the hurdle that City Council asked the BPA to jump over before considering the proposal for fine increases wasn’t discussed at the meeting, though “it’s being taken care of.”
To Gadfly that’s like the president failing to mention and discuss the attempted assassination attempts on 14 major public figures at a Cabinet meeting two days after they occurred. Bit of an exaggeration. But I think you catch my drift. Seems unbelievable.
Why, a future historian of the BPA would have no idea from the minutes there was even a ripple of concern about BPA handling of the increase proposals. And Gadfly bets there is an interesting history to be written – sure of it, in fact, the Morning Call files he’s been browsing reveal significant drama.
What Gadfly really wants to talk about now (again) is the Authority’s attitude toward the public, using as example yours truly, His Gadness.
During Courtesy of the Floor at the previous September meeting of the BPA Board, the Solicitor body guard told Gadfly peremptorily, “No one gets to interrogate The Board.” And then after the end of the October meeting same said Solicitor body guard told same said Gadfly the Board didn’t need to answer questions then either.
No answers during, no answers after. Nice.
But here’s Gadfly’s current case-in-point about BPA attitude toward the public.
In the minutes of the September meeting, we find: “Mr. Ed Gallagher arrived late for Courtesy of the Floor and wanted to discuss the parking fees.” The meeting started at 4; Gadfly arrived at 4:29.
Gadfly knows the reference to being late is not a big thing. But he still has a box of blue-ribboned medals for perfect attendance and promptness stamped with the likeness of the Virgin Mary from St. Philomena’s school.
And he admits that he was a bit miffed at going answerless at that Sept. meeting.
And the “late” reference felt like rubbing it in.
Especially since the lateness could reasonably be ascribed to the fault of BPA.
So Gadfly emailed the Board using the group email provided by the Exec Dir thusly: “I wonder if someone tomorrow would request an addition to the Sept. minutes about my lateness: ‘Mr. Gallagher was late for the meeting because the time given on the City website is 4:30. Mr. Gallagher has requested that Kevin Livingston and Louise Kelchner look in to fixing that so others wishing to attend the meeting do not run into the same error.’” [They have fixed it.]
Gadfly expected that a Board member would make such a motion before approval of the minutes that takes place at the top of the meeting before Courtesy of the Floor.
Well, not the end of the world but surprising. What happened next was even more surprising.
After the meeting was over, Gadfly asked if members had received my email. The question was met with the equivalent of toe scrutinizing, and the BC [those of you paying attention last time will recognize this as Board Chairman] shrugged and physically dismissed my evident pique as inconsequential.
I was, as they say, blown off.
Gadfly could have been told “No.”
Gadfly could have been told “we didn’t think it important enough.”
Instead, Gadfly was treated as if he were a Nobody.
Now this is not Gadfly’s first rodeo, as Dr. Phil always says. And he wears his Big Boy pants religiously.
It’s not about me.
But about a BPA pattern of dismissiveness to the public – perhaps unconscious – that he has documented in past posts.
More about this attitude in following posts.
How dreary to be somebody! How public like a frog To tell one’s name the livelong day To an admiring bog!
Gadfly has been buzzing only for about six weeks now, but one of the topics drawing his interest almost right away is Bethlehem’s neighborhoods.
He said recently that he’s aware that when he thinks of “Bethlehem,” he tends to think of downtown, especially the Northside downtown.
Not fair. Not right.
Lots going on out on the frontier.
Northside 2027. Streetscaping on the Southside. Now Gadfly would like to add the West Side and specifically the Rose Garden to the line-up here.
Back in his first post in the Neighborhood series (Oct. 18), Gadfly lays out the cluster of bullet points that he realized added up to his own awareness of the neighborhood pulses and his own almost subconscious yearnings for a greater feeling of “neighborhoodliness.”
Let me add to that cluster Senator Ben Sasse’s new book Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. I didn’t really know Sasse except as an occasional bright, articulate talking head on tv news. Turns out he’s a PhD from Yale. (Ha! Big whoop, some of you will say!) Anyway, he was on the morning news shows pitching the book. And talked about neighborhoods, which piqued my interest, especially with all going on in our town. I’m not far into the book yet, but here’s a few early bullet points:
loneliness is killing us
there’s a loneliness epidemic
people yearn to belong, and when healthy forms of belonging vanish, people will turn to more troubling forms of tribalism (and you all know what he’s talking about!)
lots of us miss the “hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night” feeling
Enter the Rose Garden as a space for healthy forms of belonging.
Gadfly is very self-conscious about his worldview. Truthfully, not many people are.
Gadfly loves the classic movies.
And taught them for years. (Has he suggested you look at the wonderful Reel American History project he and his students put together? Shameless promotion.)
Gadfly is self-conscious that the lens (or one of them, anyway) through which he looks at the world is through classic movies like Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Everybody remembers Mr. Smith’s famous speech, right? — enjoy a few minutes!)
In the movie, though, Jimmy Stewart’s almost child-like character Jefferson Smith, head of the Boy Rangers [Boy Scouts] back home, achieves eventual stunning success in the nation’s capital against the selfishness and greed of the pernicious power brokers.
Well, Gadfly certainly left you with the exact opposite feeling, a sense of failure, in the last post of this series about his going to the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board meeting last Wednesday October 24.
But the trip was not all for naught. Gadfly did learn something to help his understanding of what he is starting to think of for himself as the “Polk Street caper.”
But it wasn’t a promising beginning, let me tell you.
Gadfly entered the Courtesy of the Floor period clutching to his bosom the question that has been consuming him lately, “Has the decision to build the Polk Street Garage been made?”
The Board Solicitor body guard immediately interjected that the Board does not have to answer questions during the Courtesy time.
Which is true.
But the Board can answer questions during the Courtesy period.
There is nothing stopping the Board from answering questions during the Courtesy period.
And, in fact, as I’m sure the minutes will show, the Board did answer questions of another Courtesy speaker. Hmmm, smacks of a bit of selective non-answering, no?
Can the public ask questions during the comment period?
Yes. Although members of the agency are not required to provide an answer, it is certainly a good practice to do so whenever possible. Answering questions can demonstrate a commitment to helping constituents and, in many cases, answering questions informally at a public meeting can reduce future requests under the Right-to-Know Law, which saves time and money for both the agency and the commenter / requester.
(Gadflies-in-training should again note the link to the Sunshine Act on the Gadfly sidebar.)
So the Board is choosing not to answer some questions.
So Gadfly got nowhere with his burning question during Courtesy of the Floor.
But after the meeting the Board Chairman did stay graciously for several good minutes of conversation with the interested meeting attendees.
Parenthetically, the Board Chairman is an interesting guy: handsome, likeable, with an imposing athletic frame (he was a sports intern at the Morning Call years ago, and he certainly looks like he played sports), a rapid-fire persuasive talker, who runs a meeting with crisp authority. It’s easy to like him.
So the BC made for me what was an important distinction. In response to a question about the work that the BPA has already been doing in relation to the PSG, BC distinguished between buying the land and building the garage (Wow! I almost said “casino”!). If I understand correctly (and Gadfly is always ready for the whack upside the head), the BPA is engaged in buying the land (about 2mill, I understand) where a garage might go, but a decision has not been made about building the casino, er, garage. At least publicly. The BPA cannot decide to build the garage but, in buying land, is waiting for (and preparing for) the go-ahead. The BC said the BPA is not strained financially now (doesn’t need extra money now to buy land), and if the garage is not built, then the BPA can just simply sell the property that it just bought. All good, says the BC.
Now that was helpful. Made some sense.
The BC counseled paternally that everybody should calm down, that everything’s ok, that things will become clear in due course. He even said leases in the PSG would be at market rate (unlike you know where!)
Gadfly doesn’t think too well on his feet in situations like this (like Jimmy Stewart!), but he did ask BC from whom the decision on building a garage would come (most of you would have written that last part to end with a preposition). BC’s answer – sphinx-like – was that Gadfly should be able to figure that out.
Who could that be but the Mayor? And is it true that the BPA has not been given “authority” to build yet?
In his October 1 memo to BPA approving the meter rate increase, the Mayor says the additional revenue should be used, among other things, “to plan for the future construction of the Polk Street Garage.” Doesn’t say “plan for potential future use.” Ambiguous.
And the August 9 BPA memo to President Waldron alerting him to rate increase proposals coming soon to Council says the funds will be, in part, used “to allow the Parking Authority to construct a new parking garage at Third and Polk Streets.” Sounds declarative not tentative.
So though Gadfly feels he got some new awareness at the BPA meeting, he still feels in a Hall of Mirrors.
But what’s the big deal? Why don’t you just calm down like BC advises, Gadfly? Why are you so obsessive? Go watch some football. Stop acting like a squirrel hunting nuts in springtime that he buried in the fall.
It’s just that the amount of money definitely needed is related to the amount of the proposed increases in revenue definitely sought. No PSG > less money needed > lower rate increases.
Just your average citizen trying to follow the dots.
Bruce Haines is a Lehigh graduate who returned to Bethlehem after a 35-year career at USSteel. He put together a 12-member Partnership to rescue the Hotel Bethlehem from bankruptcy in 1998 and lives in the historic district.
Gadfly: The LVPC is a useless organization & the recommendation put forth in the minutes of the Comprehensive Planning Commission for vote read as follows: “While the proposed amendment addresses a matter of local concern, The LVPC recommends that the city ensure that such amendment would have broad enough applicability & be suitable throughout the two districts to justify its adoption.”
So considering that this amendment only applies to virtually one property in the entire city of Bethlehem on 2 West Market St., it clearly doesn’t meet this test. Suddenly once the LVCP staff realized that several members of the community were at the meeting to speak out against this ordinance requesting LVPC to reject this amendment, a staffer stood up to modify the recommendation to eliminate reference to broad applicability & to simply wimp out & say this was a local issue. Darlene Heller [Bethlehem Director of Planning and Zoning] failed to appear at the meeting to weigh in against this amendment as any good planner would. However, the blatant scurrying & texting by Bradley presumes that her input was nevertheless provided with the last minute scurry by the LVPC staffer that read the change.
This organization is a puppet of the city planners & should be defunded by the counties as a total waste of taxpayer money. This is bureaucracy in its worst form, & I have witnessed Bradley’s routine too many times. Who provides their funding????
As you can tell, Gadfly’s been thinking about neighborhoods.
Sometimes at Town Hall meetings or even reading the Call, you get the idea that Main St. “is” Bethlehem. Look at our official (and even unofficial) iconography. Hotel Bethlehem. Central Moravian Church. And such.
To wit: much of what Gadfly has “covered” in the first month of life has to do with the Northside historical district (Airbnb, 2 W. Market, parking stuff, etc.).
What’s life like out on the frontier?
Councilman Reynolds talking of the importance of William Penn and Thomas Jefferson schools to the Northside 2027 neighborhood really caught my attention.
Gadfly was a teacher. And at some level of consciousness – especially as you are older and wonder “what it all means” and “where all the time went” – teachers wonder if they had impact, if they will be even remembered.
Think of how many teachers you had in your life – and how many you remember, can name.
Probably not many. Sigh.
Was it all worth it, teachers ask, in those dark nights of soul?
The Gadfly’s have six children – all boys – who went to William Penn, some even before it was “open concept.” Gadfly was even PTA president for two years a hundred years ago. Years in which the “Ladies Auxiliary” did everything. That’s the way it was. Gadfly wonders when the first female PTA president was chosen.
As far as Gadfly can tell, we don’t even have one picture of a William Penn teacher from those days. He’s rummaged through all the shoe box collections. But there is one picture of the championship basketball team son Chris the UPS driver was on — Greg Zebrowski, the coach, a teacher, but I don’t believe Greg was assigned full-time at William Penn.
So I asked “the boys” whom they remembered.
The memories were vivid.
Mrs. Tachaguchi, the librarian, who always had a tissue in her sleeve.
English teacher Mrs. Lutton getting angry and threatening to “shake the liver out of you.”
Mr. Antry, “the very, very cool” science teacher, who got the boys fake addresses in Bath so they could play on his basketball teams.
“Everyday Mr Dolak Ate Soap,” Math teacher Mr. Dolak’s mnemonic for learning the mathematical order of operations (exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract).
The “imposing” head lunch aide Mrs. Avate keeping order – the sound of her name makes them shiver still.
The crossing guard at Main Street, Mr. Chuck (“we called him Mr. Chunk, RIP”), who was missing half of a finger. (Boys will be boys.)
Toss in the fiery red-head principal Jack Burke, who knew everybody’s name and patrolled from dawn to dismissal and beyond.
Gadfly loves these little walks down Memory Lane.
We don’t want a lot of random, fragmentary mentions more appropriate to one of the Bethlehem Facebook groups, but I wonder if someone would do a paragraph or so sketch of a teacher or an anecdote from school — especially but not limited to William Penn or Thomas Jefferson — as a “local color” piece for the blog. Gadfly would surely help put it together if desired.
Peter Crownfield is officially retired, but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.
When speaking about effects on low-paid employees, I think it also is important to discuss why a significant number of people who work at Lehigh (and many other colleges & universities) are paid less than living wages. Most are in jobs such as building, landscape, & dining services that are outsourced to private companies. Why?
Do the institutions lack the management competence to manage these operations themselves? Does outsourcing allow the university to distance itself from substandard wages & benefits? Are jobs outsourced to avoid having to provide free tuition to those employees or their children?
(Incidentally, when people from SEIU were in the Lehigh Valley about 10 years ago to organize Sodexo workers, Lehigh tried unsuccessfully to ban them from the campus, giving tacit support to the underpayment of workers by Sodexo.)
“Lehigh University launched what it is calling its most ambitious public fundraising campaign ever Thursday with a goal of bringing in more than $1 billion to support hundreds of initiatives including construction, increasing the student population and diversity through financial aid, and the establishment of a new college.”
At the beginning of this thread 7 posts ago, Gadfly described the Lehigh “Path to Prominence” plan as breathtaking.
It is two breathtakings. Or twenty.
Look at this! Lehigh plans to raise a billion dollars.
And former gadfly student Kevin Clayton (from a whole family of Lehigh benefactors) is dropping $20mill in the bucket to get things started.
Not to be a wet blanket,
but Gadfly looks at the “GO Campaign,” which “has already raised $550 million toward its goal,” from ground-level.
And hopes that the kleig lights on the Lehigh tote board don’t cast low and minimum wage workers into shadow.
There is/will be plenty of money, yes?
Let’s just make sure that City residents and taxpayers, low and minimum wage workers from wherever, are treated fairly on the “Path to Prominence.”
Let’s ask Lehigh to publicly discuss in much more detail how their parking and traffic plans affect workers at the low end of the pay scale before any other further approvals are given.
On the face of it, a university with all of that money and all of that space would seem able to do right by everybody. Yes?
There may be no problem. Gadfly just thinks we all need more info from Lehigh.
One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.
We left Gadfly last post thunderstruck in his seat at the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board meeting on Wednesday October 24.
Well, Gadfly didn’t stay thunderstruck long. As soon as “meeting adjourned” was sounded, Gadfly leapt into the dissolving crowd to ask if no one was surprised that the response to the Council letter was not discussed. (That would have been interesting, not the Wayfaring decision. That’s why I paid big money for the ringside seats.) Nobody seemed to be.
(Well, “leapt” might not be quite the exact verb – companion Breena might have a more accurate suggestion. All I can say is that it felt like a leap from inside Gadfly’s senior frame.)
The Solicitor jumped (verbally leapt!) right in with a stop sign to say we don’t have to talk about that, you had your time during Courtesy of the Floor. Nice.
(Dana: you pointed out that the Solicitor is not a member of the Board. Yes. But I guess I would say that from the two meetings I have attended, he sure is an active presence. I don’t think I have seen Council Solicitor Spirk speak unless spoken to in all the months I’ve attended Council.)
But the Board chairperson did say, “it’s being taken care of.”
Ahhh, but by whom? and when? and where? There’s the price of admission again.
Gadfly is always trying to find out who’s responsible for things. How can you tell who to pat on the back or who to kick in the pants unless you know that?
But Gadfly is destined not to find out.
No doubt such internal discussion is considered “administrative action” under Sunshine Law (by the Solicitor) and thus not subject to the law’s visibility requirements.
(There’s a link to Sunshine Law/Right to Know on the Gadfly sidebar. Gadflies-in-training take note.)
Sigh. So sad. Thank god, the Zoning meeting that followed in Town Hall was interesting. Saved the day. Mrs. Gadfly always likes to hear something worthwhile when I get home. She calls what I do “gadflitting.”
So if the Council response is “being taken care of,” Gadfly wonders by whom – the Executive Director? the Exec and Solicitor? the Exec, Solicitor, and the Board Chair? what role will Desman play? a sub-committee of the Board? the full Board?
It’s about responsibility.
Gadfly would like to feel that resident appointees on the Board are fully, fully, and critically, critically involved.
And that resident appointees will have full knowledge of and input into the response to Council.
And was hoping for evidence that will be the case.
Gadfly loves when he can say “Breaking News.” Makes the unofficial official feel official.
Several Bethlehem residents attended and spoke at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission last night. The Commission voted to send the 2 W. Market matter back to Bethlehem because it is a local matter. The next step is a meeting of the Bethlehem Planning Commission on November 8th in Town Hall at 4 pm. Then full City Council 7PM Nov. 20. Notably, last night Becky Bradley, the head of the LVPC said — and this might not be quoted exactly, will need to wait for the minutes — “I want you to know that this zoning amendment petition came from one citizen. This is extremely unusual and we almost never receive zoning amendment requests from a single citizen.”
“I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia, by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.” Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
Gadfly was thunderstruck just like the narrator in Melville’s classic story while sitting on the perimeter of the regular monthly meeting of the Bethlehem Parking Authority Board two days ago, Wednesday, October 24.
There was not one mention of the 14-question list from City Council President Adam Waldron that, for the moment anyway, poked a finger in the eye of BPA’s request for an increase in parking violation fines, collateral with the increase in meter rates already approved by the Mayor.
Not a mention.
The Board (Cantelmi, Cunningham, Hoffmeier, Kounoupis, Morganelli, Broughal) settled a knotty issue of a Wayfaring publication (Hmm, who likes the yellow?) in maybe 120 seconds, and the room emptied out faster than your morning shower water.
Bill Scheier: “if there was ever spot zoning, 2 W. Market would be it.”
Attorney Tim Stevens: “we are asking City Council to reject any movement forward of the petition to rezone that particular block on the corner of New Street and Market Street. If the petition to rezone is advanced he would expect the individuals behind him will launch a very forceful legal challenge on numerous grounds. The first being spot zoning. The second that it is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan that is supposed to promote neighborhoods, not erode them and a variety of other claims.”
Spot zoning was defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development as “a singling out of one lot or small area for different treatment from that accorded to similar surrounding land from which it is indistinguishable in character for the economic benefit (or detriment) of the property owners.” Another key element of spot zoning is that it is usually at odds with a community’s comprehensive plan. Spot zoning may be ruled invalid as an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable treatment” of a limited parcel of land by a local zoning ordinance.
In their decision for Township of Plymouth v. County of Montgomery (1987), the Court stated the following regarding spot zoning:
“The key point when a municipal governing body puts on blinders and confines its vision to just one isolated place or problem within the community, disregarding a community-wide perspective, that body is not engaged in lawful zoning, which necessarily requires that the picture of the whole community be kept in mind while dividing it into compatibly related zones by ordinance enactments. In other words, legislation as to a spot is the antithesis of zoning, which necessarily functions within a community-wide framework. Zoning, to be valid, must be in accordance with a rational and well-considered approach to promote safety, health and morals and a coordinated development of the whole municipality.”
(Now Gadfly says it’s not going to hurt any of us to learn a little technical vocabulary to throw around at cocktail parties.)
Beall Fowler is a retired professor and long-time resident of Bethlehem.
To City Council, October 2, 2018
Six years ago, before most of you were members of Council, Bethlehem adopted an extensive update to its zoning code. One of the new items was section 1304.04, entitled Reuse of Certain Corner Commercial Uses Allowed in the RT and RG Districts.
What was the motivation for this new item? It came about because the City and members of Council recognized that when many residential neighborhoods were constructed early in the last century, they contained “corner stores” that primarily served those neighborhoods in a variety of ways. Most of these stores were characterized by a corner entrance; one of these still exists right here at the corner of New and Church Streets.
As time went by most of these stores went out of business and their spaces were converted to residential. Zoning came along and entire blocks became zoned residential, including these former corner store properties. But because of the corner entrances and large retail spaces, these conversions were not ideal. As the new zoning code was being developed, it seemed reasonable, then, under very strict and limited conditions, to provide the opportunity for such properties to revert to commercial uses. This, and this alone, was the reason for the existence of section 1304.04. It was very carefully crafted to make this motivation clear and to avoid unintended interpretations. This initiative was in fact described in presentations as “Reuse of Corner Stores” accompanied by illustrations of such corner properties.
Let me read you some of the text of that ordinance: “The lot shall be at the corner of 2 streets. The primary building shall have an existing storefront character. This shall include such features as large first floor commercial window(s) and a main entrance at the corner or along one of the street facades abutting the commercial windows. At least a portion of the proposed business space shall have been occupied at one time by a principal lawful business use. The business use shall be limited to within the existing building.”
Why am I telling you all this? Because you have received a petition on behalf of Morning Star Partners, LLC for a spot zoning amendment that is presented as a revision of 1304.04 and thereby is intended to convince you that their request is just a little tweak of the existing ordinance. Note item 16 in their petition: “The proposed amendment closely follows the existing text of Z. O. 1304.04, thereby incorporating the rationale of the existing 1304.04. That statement is clearly false: 1304.04 had a very limited rationale, and in no way can their petition to rezone 2 W. Market St. fall within that rationale.
There are many good reasons to reject the petition, but be aware that attaching it to 1304.04 is simply an attempt to falsely convince you that it is a simple modification of existing law.
Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.
To City Council, October 2, 2018
I am speaking as I have in the past in defense of my neighborhood but not just my neighborhood. Across the city, neighborhoods are under assault from commercial incursion – most recently by short term rentals. When you passed the STR ordinance, I heard all of you speak in support of protecting Bethlehem’s neighborhoods from the fate of so many cities that did not act in a timely way. I hope you will do so again this evening.
On the agenda tonight is the request by Morning Star Partners to amend the city’s zoning ordinance so that Mr. Rij can operate his business in the historic district. What Mr. Rij seeks to do presents the same threat to our neighborhood as Mr. Brew’s Airbnbs – commercial incursion into a residential neighborhood [see the Gadfly thread on Airbnb]. When you think of “neighborhood” what comes to mind? It is a place where people live, families raise their children, where they develop friendships with neighbors and childhood memories are formed, where a sense of community within a broader community is formed. This is true whether people live in single family homes, apartments or condos.
Think of your own neighborhoods. Would you like your neighbor to be a financial services business, how about an Airbnb? When homes become businesses people are deprived of those benefits of living in a neighborhood. When homes become businesses, neighboring properties are devalued, customers/transients replace neighbors, opportunities for community are reduced, homes become vacant, dark and empty and become threats to peace & security, housing stock that could become homes is reduced, not to mention the cascade effect of people fleeing that makes it more likely that more housing will turn commercial.
What also unites these two situations is that in both cases individuals seek to exploit the beauty of the historic district for their private gain over the objections by residents and in defiance of the city’s regulations and the recent Commonwealth Court decision. 2 West Market St has always been family homes and so have the Airbnbs on Market and Church Streets. There is no reason why they can’t be homes for people now.
I hope that you will forcefully protect Bethlehem’s neighborhoods, support the residents who do not want to see commercial slices carved out of their streets and shouldn’t have to suffer the negative impacts of these operations.
Mr. Rij and Mr. Brew [see the Airbnb thread] made calculated decisions to invest in properties that they knew were not zoned for a business hoping through legal and other maneuvers to prevail. It is not the city’s job to prevent their loss on investment. I also think it is important to send a message that individuals can’t establish businesses in residential zones and then expect to be rezoned or grandfathered in through legal maneuvers.
I hope that you will dismiss the application to rezone 2 W Market St.
Gadfly likes to think of himself, modestly, as a man of words. A literature prof. With a feel for good language, forceful language.
Gadfly has mentioned how immediately impressed he was at the quality of public comment at the City Council meetings. Not what he expected really. And that he sees one of the functions of the Gadfly blog as archiving those comments, giving them extended life, the chance for more power of influence, rather than just evaporating in the cobwebbed Town Hall attic.
The October 2 City Council meeting was a good example of what I’m talking about. It was a busy meeting – the kissin’ cousins Airbnb and 2 W. Market dominating comment.
Here are some slices about 2 W. Market from the good City Council minutes recently available. But Gadfly always encourages that he be slipped the original text so he can publish the “real thing.”
(Gadfly will capture the public comments in the minutes from October 2 on Airbnb in a future post.)
Steve Diamond, 425 Center Street, stated that what he has to say also is about 2 West Market Street. He mentioned we should think a little bit outside the box for the historic area. He noted that Ms. Diamond and Mr. Boyer presented an overview of how this affects every community in Bethlehem, but he will focus more on the downtown area. Why not take the businesses that are in the historic district and bring them back to residential status when they are up for sale? So he is thinking in another way. For example, he and his wife bought their house in an assisted living property on Center Street and put out funds to bring it back to an early residential charm. Doing that is not unusual and others have also done that to stately old homes. When he mentions that to people who are not from Bethlehem but know of Bethlehem and he tells them where he lives, they will say it is a lovely downtown area that you have, that they love the historic section. Mr. Diamond noted he has never heard them say, it is great because that is where the Attorneys and Financial Advisors are. He believes that we should be focused on fixing up Broad Street and making it conducive for commercial people to move in there. He explained that 2 West Market Street is only one-half block from your commercial district. Mr. Diamond believes that eventually by making more and more business available to downtown, by allowing commercial creep to occur, you will eventually strangle the downtown. He expressed go to cities that have allowed their downtown to be predominately business and in the evening they are ghost towns. Mr. Diamond and his wife have decided to spend their later years here in Bethlehem because of the wonderful neighbors, the community that they have. The comradery downtown is exemplary with neighbors helping neighbors. Who is there in the evening when your neighbor is a business? It will be nobody; streets will become dark and empty. Please do not allow the historic section to bleed to death by losing one residential property at a time.
Mr. Bruce Haines also wanted to talk about the Market Street situation and refresh people’s memories that six years ago when we went through the Zoning Ordinance revision in the City it was a really lengthy process with many meetings. What was done on Market Street was recognized that at that time it was a very vulnerable area. The corner of Market and New was defined as the most vulnerable, but since Market Street backs up to Commercial all the way on the north side what was done to protect the residential was the east side of New Street was changed from Commercial to Residential from Market Street to Walnut Street. This was in order to encourage more residential and to get more people living downtown and force the businesses up to Broad Street. The Dodson Building, for example, on the corner of Walnut and New Street was an office building and subsequently was made into apartments, so it is now all residential. The old Bethlehem Club, the Glemser building, was Commercial, but now it is residential on the top floors and a business on the bottom floor. So that block even on the other side of the property in question is moving to residential and that was done by design in the Zoning Ordinance. Mr. Haines wanted to remind everyone of that because it was a long process to make that happen. He appreciates the support from Council of preserving our residential character of our neighborhoods. He believes that Council believes in that too and hopes that City Council, as the watchdogs to the City, would make sure that what you have approved gets done.
When last we met on the 2 W. Market issue, Herman Rij, as of June 2016, had won the right from the Bethlehem Zoning Commission to use this house as an office .
Although Gadfly hasn’t been able to find any details, the neighbors sued and “the state’s Commonwealth Court reversed the [Bethlehem Zoning] decision” in May or June or July 2017.
All was quiet in the legal realm, but, as one resident at the October 2, 2018, City Council meeting put it, “the investor [Herman Rij] continued the illegal operation of the non-permitted use in an RT-Residential District.”
Again, Gadfly has no details. Perhaps those in the know can fill in here. But I gather heat continued to be generated between the neighbors and Mr. Rij. And perhaps, Gadfly doesn’t know for sure, the neighbors were upset with the City for not enforcing action against Rij. Again, perhaps others can fill in here.
But in August 2018, after the appeals window to the Commonwealth Court closed, Rij/Morning Star Partners filed a petition to rezone the property from RT (high density residential) to CB (central business).
“A protracted fight over the future of one corner in Bethlehem’s historic district resumed in the form of more than four hours of testimony, questioning and impassioned pleas in front of the city’s Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday night. At issue is whether a private asset management firm [Herman Riz/Quadrant Wealth] can relocate its office in a historic property at the northwest corner of North New and West Market streets.”
Wow! Gadfly is sorry he missed this one! 4 hours of testimony, then the Board deliberated 5 hours more!
The argument against Rij was the usual fear of a precedent to allow more commercial property on a residential block.
Interesting to Gadfly, those in favor of the plan saw Rij investing $725,000 in rehabilitating and restoring the property “in a way that reflects its historic significance.”
Therefore, the argument for the value of history on both sides!
The neighborhood fear is apartments, of which 7 would be allowed on the property: “We do not want to see this property become apartments,” one witness said.
The situation is muddied and complicated by the fact that the parcel has 2 commercial buildings on the New St. side. (not well shown in the picture above)
“Herman Rij and his partners at Quadrant Private Wealth may now begin executing a plan — more than two years in the making — to invest more than $700,000 in the property at 2 W. Market St. and 511 N. New St. and make it the company’s new home office.”
“Though the property carries two addresses and exists on a single deed for less than 8,300 square feet, it includes three buildings: the historic home at 2 W. Market, a carriage house and a commercial building — a pair of green storefronts at 511 N. New, which was originally built in 1820 as a brass foundry where instruments, including the famous Moravian trombones had once been manufactured.”
“Under the terms of the board’s approval, Quadrant must ‘maintain a character and nature of a residence’ during renovations of 2 W. Market. The entire property must also be maintained as a professional office for a ‘single entity,’ with a limited number of employees.”
“At an April hearing that lasted nearly five hours, [Charles] Lyman said Quadrant’s plan to renovate and restore the home, which was built in 1849, was the city’s best opportunity to preserve and protect the streetscape on that corner. It seemed unlikely, according to hearing testimony, that any prospective residential owner would be able to pour the required resources in a restoration of a 167-year-old building that had seen better days.”
“The first round of citations involving Bethlehem’s new home-sharing law were upheld Friday. District Judge Roy Manwaring found that a trio of stately homes in a historic neighborhood violated the ordinance which requires inspections and a license to rent rooms or the whole home to overnight guests.”
“In making his decision, Manwaring said the city ‘narrowly satisfied’ its burden for the convictions and suspected that the defendants will appeal the case to Northampton County Court.”
“Leo DeVito, the defendant’s attorney, declined to comment after the two-hour hearing.”
Though DeVito declined to comment to the Call, Gadfly picked up these points from his concluding statement:
The City failed to cite the proper party
There was no evidence that the people in the properties were there for less than 30 days (a provision in the ordinance)
a citation without an address was a “fatal defect” (he won that point from the Judge)
So that’s where we stand now. The City/neighbors won in local court, but there seems to be expectation they will lose in County Court.
Here’s a reminder what the stakes are in this issue:
the homeowner’s right to run a business
the neighbors’ rights to good quality of life
the city’s right to protect residents
the city’s right to collect taxes
the hotels’ rights to be spared unfair competition
It’s a knotty issue.
And Gadfly’s interest in the resolution of this issue over who has power in a neighborhood is especially spurred by our developing thread on neighborhoods, for instance, Northside 2027 and the West Side Rose Garden.
Old news. Just filling out the record. Gadfly likes a full record.
In post #1 in this series on the Airbnb Controversy, Gadfly gave you a timeline. He now wants to bring you up to date before moving on to another neighborhood issue at 2 W. Market St.
In that timeline Gadfly said that there were hearings before Northampton County Court and before local judge Manwaring. The issue is renting three properties owned by Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams – 258 E. Market, 265 E. Market, and 4 W. Church St. — in the Northside Historical District through Airbnb.
Here’s info on the Northampton County Court front.
On October 3, “The couple renting out a trio of stately, historic Bethlehem homes on the Airbnb home-sharing platform scored their first legal victory over the city. Northampton County Judge Craig Dally ruled against the city’s initial arguments to toss the challenge of its new home-sharing ordinance and is allowing the case to proceed.”
“Leo DeVito, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued in court papers that the restrictions should have been addressed through a zoning ordinance, and that the city didn’t go that route because it would mean those existing rentals in the historic district would have been ‘grandfathered in.’”
“The city argued that the ordinance affects properties citywide to protect the health and welfare of its residents. The city has the power to regulate that outside the zoning code”.
“In his nine-page ruling against the city’s preliminary objections, Dally said the city hadn’t met its legal burden yet to dismiss the case at this time.”
“’While it may be true, as Defendant contends, that the [short-term lodging ordinance] contains provisions at least nominally directed at health and safety of Bethlehem residents, this does not obscure the fact that the overall impact of the [ordinance] indicates that it is effectively an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, intended to classify and restrict a new use previously unaddressed,’ Dally writes.”
“The judge also pointed out that the city initially tried to cite the owners under the current zoning ordinance before creating the new ordinance.”
“If the plaintiff’s claims are true, Dally said, there is enough legal basis on which the plaintiffs could establish their right to relief.”
“The lawsuit is asking a judge to rule the ordinance invalid, allow the short-term residential rental business to continue and stop the city from prosecuting them under the ordinance.”
Score one for homeowners Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams against their neighbors and the City of Bethlehem.
Let’s be sure to keep Northside 2027 on our radar. As a first tangible move, Mayor Donchez plunked down $100,000 for renovating Friendship Park, “the square-block pocket park framed by East Garrison, East North and Penn streets.”
I know that some of you will recognize the location better if I say (hem, hem) that it’s kinda behind Mach’s Gute.
Daryl’s story outlines the projected improvements:
“The city will buy new play equipment for young children to slide, swing and climb on; install a spongy ground surface around them; add benches, trees and other landscaping; and reduce the amount of macadam.”
Daryl’s story also outlines better than Gadfly could last time some of the motivating reasons behind the Northside 2027 project as a whole:
“The neighborhood includes both Thomas Jefferson and William Penn elementary schools, which have both seen an increase in recent years of transient students and more pupils who qualify for free and reduced lunches, school district officials say.
The rate of unemployment in the neighborhood is higher than the city average and there has also been an uptick in the number of homes that have gone up for sheriff’s sale for tax delinquency, city officials said. Housing stock in the neighborhood is also generally older and has a lower sale value than other homes in the city.
Fifty-five percent of the houses in the neighborhood contain rental units, 37 percent are owner-occupied and 8 percent are vacant, according to statistics provided by WRT, an urban design and planning firm that is leading an analysis of the neighborhood.”
The Gadfly visited the park on a recent unfortunately pretty dismal afternoon weather-wise. His first impression was how unexpectedly huge the park is as it opened up on the left as he pulled down the narrowish Garrison St.
Who named the park “Friendship” and why? Anybody know? Can you hear kids saying, “I’ll meet you at Friendship”? Nice. (Gadfly hopes that great tree survives reconstruction!)
The Friendship Park has found a “friend” in Mayor Donchez, Councilman Reynolds, and other City officials.
Felt like a “Twilight Zone” episode on the dismal day Gadfly visited. Where are the kids? I hope not immobilized by their mobile devices. Gadfly hopes the park is not too late to save their souls from tech-rot.
Huge! Look at that space! Gadfly can just hear a kid cocking a football and yelling, “Go deep!” Macadam? They were tough in the old days.
Every playground in America has a net like this. Gadfly couldn’t resist. Grabbed the bb from the back of the car. Wanted to see if the jump shot (now a hop shot) still worked.
“Tanks” to an unnamed writer at the Bethlehem Press (see the link above), we know that the park has a history. It was once “Tank Park.” And its roots go back to Bethlehem’s origin! On the site of an original Bethlehem water reservoir, a huge tank – holding 800,000 gallons of water – was erected in 1872, and tanks resided thereon till 1965. (Eeerie. What is going on here? Looks like the apes around the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)
Great start to a great project. Gadfly looks forward to following the progress.