306 S. New St: fault-finding (5)

(5th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Fault-finding.

The blame game.

Who’s at fault here? Who’s to blame?

The Zesters? or the City?

As Prez Waldron said, “Somewhere along the way, somebody dropped the ball.”

Who? the City?

  • The city official threw herself on her sword. She appreciated suggestions by CW Van Wirt and CM Colon that there was shared blame. But she did not duck. She accepted accountability. The “mistake is on us.” She felt a “sense of responsibility.” It was a “highly unusual situation.” A half-dozen people missed it. The closest she came to an excuse was the quantity of work — 2500 or so such files to go through. Seems no doubt the city did mess up.
  • The city official pledged to review the process with the goal of improving it. I think Council is owed a detailed report on her evaluation and changes that have been instituted to prevent such a thing from happening again. And a public report – public perception of city fairness was wounded here and needs to be repaired. We need to be assured that concrete steps have been taken to avoid this kind of thing happening again.

Who? the developer?

  • At the very beginning of the meeting, the HCC chair, quoting minutes from the Nov. 19 HCC meeting, says that the approval of the 6th floor was “predicated” on the set-back. Predicated. No weak word. Meaning the foundation, the basis. The developer will go on to make light of the HCC stipulation, when, in fact, it is the essence of the HCC decision.
  • The developer makes it sound as if this is the first time he’s hearing of the HCC stipulation and that he must depend on the HCC chair’s explanation to understand it. He talks of reading the correspondence from HCC to whomever. As if he/his company were never directly notified of the HCC ruling and got a copy of it. And when he understands the stipulation through the HCC chair’s explanation, he doesn’t understand it. He questions HCC thinking. But could he not have been aware of this from the beginning? I was barely paying attention to city matters in 2015 and 2016, but even I knew the height of the building was a problem just from the newspaper coverage.
  • There were 4-5 meetings with the HCC apparently prior to approval in which the compromises and negotiations for final approval were worked out. Was the developer there at those meetings? Who was at those meetings? I won’t know unless minutes can be obtained. But even if he wasn’t, he’s the boss, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t receive a detailed report of everything, especially since changes had to be made to gain approval. So it’s very, very hard to accept his feigning ignorance, and it is not his place at this moment to question that original judgment of the HCC.
  • And the developer passes the buck to his leasing/management agent. Why weren’t all relevant details transmitted to his agent? Does Council have something like subpoena power? I’d like to have served one on the agent and heard his “sworn” story. Why wasn’t he at the meeting with Council to answer questions? But, in any event, the boss can’t pass the buck. If your “agent” made a mistake, you made a mistake.
  • It’s also hard to believe that somewhere, sometime the restaurateur didn’t talk to the developer about what would be a highlight of his business – that dining area with a fabulous view. It may just be “the” special place in the room. It had to come up.
  • So it seemed to me that the developer was playing Council. And I would like him to pay a price of some sort. To be held accountable. If only it is a kind of public reprimand that he should have known better, which, actually, Prez Waldron came close to giving him when answering his “we didn’t know” about the stipulation with HCC’s belief that he should have known. He should have known.

Council sends a bad message (4)

(4th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

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: I attended the November 2019 HCC meeting. Neither the owner of the building or restaurant owner attended. It was the contractor who was sent, who knew nothing about anything, other than that the work had started. Nobody representing the City attended either to speak to the City’s error in issuing a building permit. At least two HCC members commented to me prior to the meeting that they were not pleased at all with work advancing prior to HCC review.

Needless to say, members of the HCC were not happy about this at all, given the Certificate of Appropriateness conditions issued for the structure to be built, which included the terrace setback to minimize the impact of the approved 6 story height. In fact one member called for a “stop work” order to be issued by the City immediately, although that was not part of the motion to deny.

In my opinion, the building owner and possibly the restaurant owner had to know about the earlier conditions placed in the COA. The City certainly had to know as well. Oops, is not an acceptable response.

Council’s action made a travesty of the South Bethlehem Conservation District Ordinance, violated said ordinance, and undermined the citizen-filled Historic Conservation Commission, especially given the terrace setback condition of the original COA that had been worked out between the HCC and developer and that had been approved by City Council.

Even worse is the message that was sent, that of if you ignore City ordinances and processes to gain approval for a project, a majority of City Council has your back. That speaks to an aura of corruption at work when it comes to development projects in Bethlehem.

Historic District Ordinances in Bethlehem need to be applied equally to a homeowner, a small business, and a large developer, but they aren’t. If that isn’t corrupt, nothing is!

Dana

306 S. New St: deciding under less than ideal circumstances (3)

(3rd in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

So the process of building 306 S. New in the Southside Historical District, bumpy to begin with, ended in a wreck.

Check out Deja-vu: 306 S. New St. (1) again.

In short, the Historical Conservation Commission approved 306 S. New St with a 12’ terrace on the top floor (6th) to achieve a tapering effect, softening the feeling of height. That message never seemed to get to the tenant of the 6th floor, who designed a restaurant with a portion of the terrace covered, the plans for which were then mistakenly approved by the city. It was not until the work was about ½ done and the planned restaurant opening hovering on the near horizon that the mistake was discovered. The HCC stood by its ruling. And the imbroglio landed in City Council’s lap. What would you do? What should they do? What’s fair in a situation like this?

Let’s look at the timeline:

  • April 2015: newspaper story says the developer submitted plans for a 7-story building. The submission would probably have been to the Historical Conservation Commission (HCC), but no details have been found yet. The developer has said that original plans were for the building to be even taller, with apartments on the top, but they decided that was not a good idea and scaled it back themselves. The HCC was concerned about height in this historical district.
  • Dec. 21, 2015: a 6-story building was approved by the HCC. The HCC chair has said that the owner/developer met at least 4 times with HCC, but meetings do not appear elsewhere on any HCC agenda. I have requested the city to search records. The idea was a design that didn’t make the building look so tall. The architect “came back” with the design to recess the 6th floor to diminish the sense of height of the building. The newspaper report clearly speaks of a “set back” and a “garden” on the 6th floor: “The top floor of the building will have a mostly glass facade and will be set back from the other floors to allow for a rooftop garden. The garden will extend across the roof of a building bridge to the top floor of the new parking deck. The office building will actually connect to the parking deck on four levels. Commission members said the new plan submitted by developer Dennis Benner and his architect, Howard L. Kulp, was a significant improvement over an earlier plan they reviewed. The original plan called for a seven-story structure and included a residential component.” Height was a prominent, well known, well publicized issue. The newspaper cites an activist critic who “acknowledged that the new design was a ‘vast improvement’ over the original. He nonetheless complained that even one story shorter, the building will be ‘inappropriately tall’ for the neighborhood, with twice the number of stories and three times the height of the typical buildings around it.”
  • Jan. 19, 2016: City Council approved the Certificate of Appropriateness. There is nothing of significance relating to this issue in the minutes, but Prez Waldron specifically remembers the height issue as an issue at that time. Again, height was no hidden concern among all concerned.
  • 2016? 2017? into 2018: construction on the building begins and is completed per the HCC stipulation. The completed building looked like this. Except for the left-hand corner, the 6th floor is set back 12 feet per the stipulation by HCC.
  • Dec. 2017-Jan. 2018: the restaurant “Zest” enters into a lease agreement for a restaurant on the 6th floor. The developer/owner is not involved in lease negotiations, and, in any event, seems not to be aware of the set-back stipulation. The negotiation is handled by the owner/developer’s leasing agent/marketing company. According to those involved, the HCC stipulation is not mentioned at all in this negotiation. It is not clear if the leasing agent/marketing company knew about the stipulation. The restaurateur claimed to have no knowledge of the set-back stipulation at that time. There was no design for the restaurant at the time the lease was signed.
  • Early 2018, exact date uncertain: The restaurateur proceeds to engage his architect, tells him he wants a dining area on the terrace, the architect draws up the plans, the final design includes a dining area 45’ long on the east end of the terrace. Including the already constructed bump-out on the plan as shown in the picture above, the enclosed area would now be a little less than half of the terrace.
  • Later 2018, date uncertain: the restaurateur submits plans to the city for an “interior fit-out” including the covered area on the terrace. The city runs it through a half-dozen hands in its normal interior fit-out routine, approves the plan, issues permits. Nobody in the city process notices exterior component. Nobody notices the violation of the HCC stipulation.
  • Later still in 2018. date uncertain: construction begins to enclose that outside area. Construction proceeds till it is more than ½ done, when the HCC chair observes the violation. Since the area is open to weather, he asks that construction be stopped, the area weather-proofed, and an appeal be filed with HCC. This is the first time the restaurateur has heard of the setback stipulation. The owner/developer does not seem to have been aware either. They are caught by surprise at this late hour problem.
  • Nov. 19, 2018: HCC hears the appeal and denies it 8-0 based on the original set-back stipulation. No minutes are yet available. Apparently, no negotiation occurs during or after the hearing. No remedy for the problem is offered.
  • Dec. 4, 2018: City Council is presented with the case. The city accepts responsibility. The owner/developer/restaurateur deny responsibility. Time is short. A soft opening for the restaurant is planned for Dec. 20 and then a major opening at New Year’s. As one Councilman put it, there seemed but two options: scuttle the work done or approve it.

What would you do? What should Council do? This is truly, as the HCC chair and CM Reynolds agreed, deciding under “less than ideal circumstances.”

Climate change: science, yes; politics, no (11)

(11th in a series on Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan)

Are we feeling some momentum building?

“Meet the Press” devoted its full Sunday show yesterday to climate change.

If you missed it, watch “The Climate Crisis” here.

One of the tag lines:

“The science is settled, the politics is not.”

If journalist keep the heat on . . .

If the new Congress  . . .

If the new presidential candidates . . .

But, in the meantime, as CM Reynolds and others have said, let’s do what we can in our own backyards.

It’s Monday, December 31, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

A first step toward a map of Bethlehem neighborhoods

(the latest in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

A tip o’ the hat and a wave o’ the wings to Julia Maserjian for contacting Karen Pooley after Gadfly’s December 29 post Reminding myself about a neighborhood map.

Read on — doesn’t this sound exciting!

Karen,

Just read your comments on Gadfly and think your idea of a neighborhood map(s) is a good one.  When the Still Looking for You project was developed it was with the goal of residents being able to contribute “memories” about their city. With the exception of “The Lost Neighborhood,” this did not happen. People want something about place to latch onto, and the issue of urban renewal in a particular neighborhood was the thing.  Let’s talk more about how we can engage in a map-making project.

Julia

*******

Julia,

Thank you so much for reaching out.

What we’ve found in city after city is that people are most connected to their neighborhood and their block — and the bigger the geography you’re talking about (whether the “west side” or the city as a whole), the more likely people are to have negative impressions of it even when they love their immediate surroundings (because you’re talking about somewhere else that they don’t associate with their immediate surroundings). Geneva (NY) was a case in point of this — people were uniformly down on the city of Geneva but loved the block they lived on and the adjacent blocks. We actually helped them define 11 different neighborhoods (Geneva has roughly 13,500 residents — roughly the same as the South Side), and it completely transformed how people thought of their hometown.

Happy to work on a mapping project!  The market value analysis TRF recently completed for the city is likely a good place to start.

Karen

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 5: the favoritism factor (78)

(78th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

One more observation about the 2 W. Market proceedings before we move to 306 S. New.

One more observation that will, in fact, be a bridge to discussion of 306 S. New.

An observation about charges of

favoritism

rubber-stamping

pay-to-play

developer pockets

Heavy duty charges. We must be very careful about such charges. We must not throw them around lightly.

Gadfly has only had his wings three months. He has no history, no personal knowledge about such activity involving Mr. Rij or other investors/developers. He is a clean slate as far as stupid or unethical or criminal behavior of this type between elected officials and business people is concerned.

But you heard Mr. Clean Slate (or you can hear him for the first time by accessing the video in post #68) express worry December 18 over fairness, impartiality, and objectivity in the 2 W. Market decision – explicitly referencing CM Callahan’s very warm regards for Mr. Rij, very eager desire to please investors, and what felt like a chummy reference to petitioner attorney Preston’s boss “Jimmy” Broughal, who has been described to Gadfly as a power player in local politics..

Gadfly found such remarks perhaps innocently spontaneous but totally insensitive to a situation in which CM Callahan was acting as judge. The optics and the otics (good SAT word that I just learned) were bad even if there were no bad behavior.

In Gadfly’s opinion – Ha! speaking boldly as if he knew something about lawyering — Mr. Rij and the whole train of character testimony that followed him over the course of the three marathon meetings had absolutely no relevance to the core issue. If Jack the Ripper (retired) owned the property at 2 W. Market, the case should have been handled in exactly the same way! Justice is blind. To Gadfly, the character of the owner is irrelevant. If the opposition brings suit, I doubt the character of Mr. Rij will be considered at all in legal deliberations up the court chain of command.

CM Reynolds cut Mr. Rij out of his decision-making process – rightly so, Gadfly thought – and called for others to do so, but Mr. Rij-the-person factored in 3 of the 4 yes votes.

The optics and the otics (have you looked this word up yet?) were not good.

Let’s listen to the passionate voices of CW Van Wirt and CM Callahan December 18 on either side of this issue of favoritism. (Remember that you actually can and should listen to them in the flesh – there’s nothing like “being there” — by following the link at the top and the bottom of this page.)

CW Van Wirt:

I left the most previous City Council meeting feeling absolutely just sick in my heart, and it was because our Council meeting was capped off by a vote that allowed an illegal terrace on a restaurant in South Bethlehem [306 S. New: we’ll discuss this in the next post]. . . . There is a constant to decisions that have been made by this Council now and before my time, and it’s based on a woefully outdated concept that any development is good development. We have been told that the building at 3rd and New St. is better thanVan Wirt a vacant lot, as if that’s all the choice we have. . . . The rules in Bethlehem have become muddy. We give $800,000 grants to developers inappropriately. We let developers build an illegal terrace when they knew exactly what was allowed. We gave them 11 variances on the Armory project with no safeguards that the Armory would ever be protected and built. . . . So on this road where one or two developers get to blow out the red lights, we are in control, not the developers, and good community developers, people who want to invest in our city, stay away because the rules are ever changing, because the rules favor a few investors — be they developers, businesses, or home buyers, they want to know that the rules are clear, applied equally, and that their investment will be safe from changing rules. This Council and the administration has created an environment in which investors stay away due to exactly the thing we are talking about tonight, breaking the rules for a connected guy with the Benner terrace vote or the 2 W. Market vote. . . . This is our limited, parochial, swampy future we are creating here by eviscerating the rules that keep us on the road. We don’t have to accept just what the developers hand us; we can build our tax base by giving them straight rules to follow.

CM Callahan (combining selected parts from his two Dec. 18 comments):

The thing that’s upsetting me is that every time we have a debate or discussion there’s always people that have the opposite opinion and the thing that I find offending is that there’s accusations that we are rubber stamping, municipal ethics are being violated, that Mr. Rij is violating something, that he’s doing something illegal. . . . We got a letter from a resident saying it was pay-to-play. I barely know Mr. Rij, I’ve never taken a dimeBCallahan from him, nor would I, especially after this. But I’m making this decision based on what I see. . . . Nothing shady’s happened, there’s not this pay-to-play scheme that everybody’s trying to present. . . . There are some developers in the city. We are very fortunate that we have about six of them. I know Mr. Pektor, Mr. Ronca, Mr. Benner, Mr. Petrucci, Mr. Perucci – they’re two different people — and another developer with a property on Center and Dewberry [Atiyeh]. We don’t rubber-stamp like some people assume we do. Or accuse us of doing. We try to look at every single development on its own merits. And to accuse us of being in the pockets, or this was illegal. . . . We’ve tried to do our best with Mr. Rij’s property. . . . I think it’s a shame that developers are being attacked, Council people are being attacked, we’re on the take, there’s pay-to-play going on. . . . Stop it. It’s nonsense.

Claims of unethical or criminal behavior by elected officials may indeed be nonsense. And such claims, even innuendoes, should not be made capriciously.

But it is not nonsense – it is far from nonsense – to be wary of a vigorously stated position that could look or sound (optics and otics!) like it is willing to do just about anything to favor investment/development, using increased tax dollars as rationale.

It comes down to examination of behavior in specific cases.

Gadfly was ill-at-ease with the optics and otics (I’ve fallen in love with my new word) of the investor-friendly behavior in 2 W. Market.

Now let’s look at 306 S. New.

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go to the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

CAVE people do not oppose every issue (77)

(77th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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.

Gadfly:

When Council members refer to CAVE people, they don’t seem to have noticed that these people do not oppose every issue—only when the city or council proposes to do something that (1) violates its own ordinances, including the historic guidelines; (2) ignores the immense citizen investment in a reasonably sound comprehensive plan; (3) has no clue about the SouthSide—that neighborhood quality & community vibrancy is measured in people’s daily lives, not in ugly new buildings or more gentrification; (4) gives tax dollars to developers to boost their profits even if they ignore social & environmental responsibility in their projects; or (5) ignores the people’s arguments because they would require putting a damper on certain types of development.

Peter

little professionalism shown by some on Council (76)

(76th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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.

I would also like to add, that under Council Rules, personal attacks are not permitted. Councilman Callahan should have been gaveled by the Council President for these personal attacks on both a resident and City Council colleague. The fact that he wasn’t speaks volumes about the overall quality of the current Council.

In the meetings I’ve attended I’ve noticed a definite undertone in comments made by 2 or 3 male members of City Council toward both female members and anyone who happens to disagree with the status quo majority on Council.

I have attended City Council meetings since the 1960s, and in my opinion based on my observations there is little professionalism shown by some on Council. That is a very sad commentary on both their integrity and ability to respect all viewpoints.

Dana

 

Cave people? (75)

(75th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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:

“CAVE people?” How about people who actually care enough to show up and make suggestions for better proposals and don’t roll over and say yes to everything that gets shoved down their throats. How dismissive can an elected official be?

Steve Antalics was actually born on the Southside and lives there today. He has research privileges at Lehigh University. He fought to keep his church open when the Allentown Diocese closed several churches. Where was Mr. Callahan during that process? Councilwoman Negron owns a home on the Southside, raised a family there, serves/served on boards of agencies based on the Southside and has worked there.

What are Councilman Callahan’s connections to the fabric of the Southside community? His visits to his barber?

I’d say that residents like Steve and Olga have a lot more invested in that section of the Bethlehem community than Councilman Callahan. Haircuts, meals, drinks, and campaign contributions don’t invest you in a portion of the city, but living there and becoming part of the every day ebb and flow does.

Their thoughts and opinions have much more value to the community than someone who “spends time” on the Southside.

Dana

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 4: the Great Divide (74)

(74th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

To Gadfly, one of the most noticeable rifts between Council members centered on visions of the Southside.

Let’s remember that Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics – a perennial Southside warrior – introduced the powerful cancer analogy in his testimony against the 2 W. Market petition. He pointed to the cancer that attacked Southside neighborhoods several decades ago by a small zoning change to favor developers – a change in the definition of family to include five unrelated persons. He raised the specter of the same thing happening in the Northside Historical District through an analogous seemingly small, seemingly innocuous zoning change.

CW Negron linked her negative vote on the 2 W. Market text amendment petition directly ONegron-Dipinito the image Antalics raised, recounting the sad feeling she felt driving with her daughters through the neighborhood from Hayes St. toward Five Points.

In the second statement supporting his yes vote at the December 18 meeting, CM Callahan vigorously denounced the consistently negative image of the Southside promulgated by Negron and Antalics and perhaps others — as well as, Gadfly feels, the implication that the City has not done enough for the Southside.

The rift is stunning. The Great Divide is stunning. Where CW Negron sees the Southside through the prism of neighborhoods sadly changed into student housing, CM Callahan sees the new life of charter schools, shops, restaurants, and so forth breathed into the Southside by huge amounts of development dollars.

CW Negron looks to the past, what was once there, what’s been lost. CM Callahan looks to the present and the future.

Put CW Negron at the corner of 5th and Polk and CM Callahan at 3rd and Polk — .2/mile and a 5-minute walk apart – and they might as well be on the North and South Poles.

The vision chasm between Negron and Callahan on the issue of the soul of the Southside is stunning.

And complex.

Because it’s tied in to money and seeming favors given to people with big money.

So discussion of the Southside here in this post bleeds into Gadfly’s next post on 2 W. Market and then into discussion of the recent 306 S. New case.

But for now let’s try just to parse out CM Callahan’s agitation about negative views of theBCallahan Southside. He sees such criticism almost as a personal affront. You can see here how developers and development money are wrapped up in his bruised feelings. Use the link at the top or bottom of this page to listen to the full second comment on December 18, for you should hear his urgency in his own voice. But here is a selection focusing on his Southside feelings.

“I want to say something that’s been bothering me for a little bit. So last meeting we had people criticizing stuff going on in the Southside, and as Mr. Waldron said, every time there’s a controversial topic there’s a variety of people who come out and start listing all these variety of uncertainties. . . . We spent $65m in investment in the last year on the Southside, and we have a regular speaker [Antalics] here who every single meeting rips the Southside about how terrible it is. We got a Councilwoman last week who was doing [Negron] . . . I went over there, the mayor of the Southside, Joe D’Ambrosio, been in business 55 years, lived there this whole entire time . . . tell me [speaking to Joe] when this euphoric state of the Southside was? Was it better 10 years ago? No. Was it better 20 years ago? No. [etc.] . . . . I don’t know when this utopia Southside occurred. . . . I’ve never seen in my lifetime . . . 45 years . .  . I’ve never seen the Southside better. It’s thriving, it’s vibrant. And there’s been a lot of effort on many administrations and many different people on Council to try to better that area — 3rd and New St, people against it. 510 Flats, people against it [etc.]. . . . I would hate to see where we would be as a City with some of the same people criticizing 1 E. Broad. . . . Sands bring in $9.5m. . . . Sands brings in more money per year than the Bethlehem Steel in its heyday. There were naysayers against it. . . . This stuff doesn’t just happen because it’s a sure thing. It’s because people are doing their due diligence and trying to do their best for the city. Who’s paying the damn bills? . . . . 300 people, professionals, with disposable incomes down to that corner, people complained and bitched and moaned about it. Some people call them CAVE people, Citizens against Virtually Everything. No matter what you do, no matter what you say, it’s always, there always a group that comes out of the woodwork.”

A couple things jump out at Gadfly.

Like “Who’s paying the damn bills?” That line stopped Gadfly short. He does not think of money first. He is glad that somebody (somebodies) does. Gadfly recognizes that he does not know nearly enough about how the City raises (and spends, for that matter) money. And could use several good tutorials on that score. CM Callahan sees himself as a man with eyes firmly fixed on the bottom line.

Like the CAVE people. Ugh. The undisguised scorn, the cynicism, the lack of understanding in that characterization is very disturbing.

Does the Great Divide matter? Is there hope of bridging the divide? Should anybody care about bridging the divide? Does the divide have operational consequences? Can CW Negron and CM Callahan work together?

Gadfly thinks their views on and values of the Southside sure tell us a lot about who Council-folk Negron and Callahan are.

What do you see, think?

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go to the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

Addendum to Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 2: The motion to table (71)

(73rd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 2: The motion to table (71)

Gadfly obtained from the City a copy of the property info the City sent to CW Van Wirt and received by her and others on Council the morning of the December 18 meeting.

The cover memo: City memo 12-17-18

A color-coded map: City map 12-17-18

A spreadsheet (just one page here, total of 427 entries):
City spreadsheet 12-17-18

Gadfly thinks followers will agree that the info is not self-explanatory. In fact, generating even some provisional tentative useful conclusion from the data required further steps. CW Van Wirt needed a link to yet another map that she could blow up in order to count color-coded lots, and there were still uncertainties because of lack of clarity in the text amendment and inability to tell if all the color-coded lots were eligible.

Motion to table for further study in order?

Especially since no city official attended the meeting to answer questions and to help clarify.

Gadfly thinks so.

Easy call.

******************************

And here’s the text of the resident email that CW Van Wirt read during her December 18 statement leading up to the motion to table:

“One analogy that keeps coming back to me (as I think about this zoning case and the historic preservation case for the 3rd & New building) is the city’s haphazardly allowing a few people to run red lights.  Not in a systematic way (fire trucks with sirens get to run red lights) but just a few random unmarked cars. It doesn’t seem like a big deal; statistically, few people are likely to interact with those few cars at intersections.  But this means that everyone becomes less confident in green lights. As another driver, I’m now always going to check to see if some of those lucky few are about to blow a red light at any intersection I’m at — the whole set of rules (go at green, stop at red) suffers. While zoning isn’t life-or-death, most of the people investing in housing or neighborhoods like some reassurance that what they invest in is likely to stay the same or at least change in a way that they can foresee. (That’s one of the big points of zoning.)  Where there’s not that level of predictability, people become less likely to invest.”

Reminding myself about a neighborhood map

(the latest in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

Martha Larkin’s recent post on William Penn school and catching up on the Northside 2027 web site made Gadfly realize that he needs to keep some interesting past ideas on his radar.

In a comment to a post entitled “You’ve got me thinking about neighborhoods,” in which Gadfly talked about wishing for a census of neighborhoods and a map of neighborhoods, Karen Beck Pooley wrote:

I love the idea of a neighborhood map for Bethlehem! The “North Side” and even the “Northside 2027” subarea of it are both made up of multiple neighborhoods. And the same can be said of the “South Side” and “West Bethlehem” – and yet we often just talk about each of those areas as a single place. Our doing so actually makes community engagement, neighborhood organizing, and even tailoring neighborhood revitalization strategies harder…

A neighborhood map. A map of neighborhoods. Gadfly doesn’t want to lose that idea.

Integrally tied with such a map would be posts capturing the flavor of life in each neighborhood.

A month or so ago Gadfly tried to get some traction on this idea by focusing on schools. He keeps hearing in mind’s ear CM Reynolds talk about his “beloved” William Penn and Thomas Jefferson.

Schools are a way we map neighborhoods. That might be an easy place to start.

Gadfly searched around online for a map of Bethlehem by elementary school area. No luck. He went to the school district on Sycamore and asked — no luck. But a worker with good ears stationed at a distance overheard and volunteered that there might be one in a calendar. Sure enough. But still not quite what I wanted nor transferable online.

Bethlehem school folk Karen and Michael Faccinetto are Gadfly followers — if you know of such a map, pass on the info, wouldya?

So this is just a note to myself not to let this mapping idea slip away.

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 3: the faith factor (72)

(72nd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

Let’s have a discussion about whether a Council member “owes” the constituents in a controversy as well as the general public a rationale for voting in a particular way. Council president Waldron correctly affirmed that most votes on Council are easy, ending 7-0. So Gadfly is not in worriment on those kinds of situations.

He means the tough cases – like 2 W. Market.

2 W. Market has rumbled across the city committee terrain and through several courts for five years or so. Neighbors have faced themselves over microphones and back fences. Hatfields and McCoys in the Northside Historical District.

In such cases, does a CM, especially a Cprez, “owe” everybody a rationale for the defining, deciding, swing vote?

Gadfly says yes. Most definitely.

Especially as was the case in the first reading where the Cprez’s vote would break a 3-3 tie after a draining 3hr. or so meeting.

Gadfly wrote that such a rationale-less vote by Cprez Waldron climaxing the first reading AWaldronwas “unconscionable.” Tough talk by ol’ Gadfly.

Another member of Council disagreed with his criticism.

How about you?

Gadfly feels the reason behind a vote is as important as the vote itself.

Gadfly feels the public has a right to know. The public has the right to judge the judge.

So, assuming that most likely the votes wouldn’t change on second reading, and assuming that the same situation building to the final vote would obtain, Gadfly looked forward expectantly to the concluding vote by Cprez Waldron.

Only to be stunned again.

Cprez Waldron gave a rationale this time. He based his yes vote on “faith,” faith in Quadrant (though he had just heard of Mr. Rij’s threat to a fellow Council member), faith that only a few properties are affected by the change (though agreeing to table the motion and study the list of properties might have eliminated the need to rely on faith), faith in the Zoning Board (which has had decisions reversed by higher courts), faith in the whole process (when in the previous Council meeting immediately preceding this one he had just presided over a process at 306 S. New that went to hell in a handbasket).

Gadfly would like to believe like Cprez Waldron. In a perfect world. But he can’t.

Gadfly is not sure that Cprez Waldron means “faith” in a theological sense, but that’s where Gadfly goes with it.

We live in a fallen world. People do not always do good. That’s why we have law. That’s why we need law. That’s why we uphold law.

We expect legislators/judges to act on facts not faith.

It is very, very, very hard for Gadfly to accept that “faith in the better nature of all of us” is the operative principle in the decision-making faculty of the head of City Council.

The Cprez recognized that some would call him naïve. Yes.

Gadfly finds his vote disturbing.

As usual, Gadfly is willing to be persuaded otherwise or whacked upside the head.

What do you think?

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 2: The motion to table (71)

(71st in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

CW Van Wirt was on the losing end of the first-reading vote of 4-3 with CW Negron and CM Colon. How did she prepare for the second reading? How did she hope to influence at least one of her fellow councilpersons to change his vote?

  • Like CM Reynolds, CW Van Wirt did considerable homework.
  • She met with Mr. Rij, the patriarch of 2 W. Market.
  • She asked the city for considerably more information on properties potentially impacted by the petition.

CW Van Wirt is a pro-active and (by her own admission, Gadfly believes) a data-driven person.

In her supporting statement, CW Van Wirt said that the meeting with Mr. Rij that she Van Wirtthought was collegial culminated in a “threat” regarding the future fate of the property if the petition was denied by this man canonized by his supporters on and off Council and the kind of behavior explicitly denied several times by his character witnesses. One would think this rather dramatic revelation might give people who praised Mr. Rij some pause. It certainly did so for Gadfly.

The information requested from the city – apparently citing 64 properties (Gadfly has not seen the information) – was delivered the morning of the meeting, leaving little time for Council to study and discuss it. And the city official who prepared the information inexplicably did not come to the meeting to answer questions about it.

The general impact of this text amendment petition on the city at large that originated from one property owner for the benefit of that one property owner was a sticky point as far back as the Planning Commission hearing, where both PC members voting against the petition cited their concern about this significant information gap.

Subsequently, the petitioner provided a list of 7 properties that might be affected. There was obvious concern about using only data provided by the petitioner. Thus, this request by CW Van Wirt for comparable data from the city — an understandable request for data that would seem necessary in order to make a firmly founded decision.

On the basis that there was as yet no analysis of the city-prepared list and there was no city official to answer questions about it (Gadfly shared her “flabbergastment” at this official’s absence from the meeting), and thus that the impact of this petition on the city at large was unexamined, CW Van Wirt made what Gadfly thinks was a perfectly reasonable motion to table the petition pending that analysis. The motion – not discussable — failed 5-2, CW Negron joining her, CW Colon joining the affirmative side on this vote.

Though voices on Council appreciated the data from the city and thanked CW Van Wirt for taking the initiative to obtain it, there obviously was no felt need to delay a final vote by discussing it.

Gadfly felt very disturbed by Council action here in defeating the motion to table. The question of impact on the city at large was an open one, new information became available, that information was not considered, the city official responsible for the new information was not present to guide consideration at this crucial moment in a long and contentious process, there was no menacing deadline, a 5-6 year process could certainly bear another two weeks, and so forth.

It would seem that majority minds were made up, however, possibly that the new info wouldn’t matter or that safeguards in the system absolved them of considering these new “facts.”

Not good, feeleth Gadfly. Not good at all.

How about you?

There is another dimension to CW Van Wirt’s supporting statement that we will pick up later with the CM Callahan commentary we have left hanging.

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

Final observations on 2 W. Market — Part 1: Council re-thinking (70)

(70th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

Across the next several posts, Gadfly will share some observations about the resolution (for now, anyway) of the complex 2 W. Market case.

And, to repeat, one of Gadfly’s main goals in this project is to gain for himself and his followers a better sense of our elected officials by examining where we can and as closely as we can how they think, how they decide. Gadfly wants us all to know our Council members better.

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

From the standpoint of public participation, Gadfly rather likes the “two readings” system we experienced in the 2 W. Market. It gives the residents a chance to focus arguments directly on rationales expressed by Council on first reading before the crucial second reading. It also gives Council the opportunity to re-think positions based on receiving those focused arguments. In any event, what Gadfly hopes for at second-reading time is signs that Council members re-visited their positions between the two votes or did some new thinking. Gadfly looks for minds in motion, minds open not locked. That, he says, is what we want on Council.

Here are some examples of what he means.

  • CM Martell made the same argument as he did on first reading, but his argument Shawn M Martellwas clearer, stronger, and added a new element. Certainly there was re-thinking here. He enumerated his supporting evidence, and he offered a way to look at the disputed property lists in a positive way. His yes vote was more strongly based this time.
  • CM Callahan made two comments in the pre-vote period on 2 W. In his first comment, on which we’ll focus here, he really didn’t offer any new thinking on the substance of the issue, simply briefly repeating that the neighborhood is mixed-use and the property always commercial. Gadfly found that disappointing, for he had — rather rashly, actually — tagged CM Callahan as a zoning-denier, trying to get him to think about the ramifications of replacing city law with Callahan lawBCallahan – in effect, putting himself above the law. But CM Callahan didn’t seem to understand or think about that challenge to his position and the dangers therein. He stood pat. He was content with his stated first-reading position as extra-legal authority and did not even restate it vigorously this time. In truth, the thrust of his comment on second reading was what he was upset by and offended by in the process by those who saw the issue differently – and we’ll come back to that in a later post when we pick up his second comment.
  • CM Reynolds, in Gadfly’s opinion, is a model here for properly approaching a second vote. Remember that Gadfly chided CM Reynolds for his impatience with the controversy in the first reading and his strongly expressed, even intimidating desire to “move on.” He could have phoned in his second vote. Not only did CM Reynolds not move on, but it looks like he did considerable homework before the second reading – going backJWReynolds and reading in the records of discussions on the new zoning ordinance in 2012. Gadfly is a sucker for a guy who does his homework. In doing so, CM Reynolds advanced a new argument for his yes vote that made Gadfly stop and think. CM Reynolds gave “corners” a history in city zoning conversations and reminded us how distinct corners are, how positive corners are, how interesting corners are, how character-forming corners are. And on that basis he argued for flexibility in the zoning code. Gadfly might not have changed his vote on the basis of CM Reynolds’s rationale, but he was hooked. Well done.

These are three examples of yes votes on the petition. Remember that Gadfly was a nay. But even though he disagrees with their conclusions, in two of the three instances he can respect the quality of their arguments. Gadfly had significant trouble with the quality of CM Callahan’s argument after the first reading, and he continues to do so here.

Northside 2027 on the web!

(the latest in a series of posts on Northside 2027 and on Neighborhoods)

Gadfly never thought blogging would keep him so busy.

Trying to catch up.

Martha’s post on William Penn school reminded me that I missed a Northside 2027 meeting in November because I wasn’t on the mailing list.

Won’t happen again.

The project has a web site now with a place to sign on.

Why don’t you sign on, even if you are not living in the area.

See what ideas are developed there that might be applicable elsewhere in the city.

Click on Northside 2027!

 

Flying in the face of the HCC (2)

(2nd in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

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:

The 5 to 2 vote by Council to support this unauthorized change to the Certificate of Appropriateness originally issued for the construction of this building flew directly in the face of the Historic Conservation Commission’s original recommendations, which Council supported. Setback of the 6th floor was required to lessen the impact of a six story building being built in a National Register Historic District, where contributing resources are mostly 2 to 4 story structures.

Council’s action by overturning the HCC’s denial (I was in attendance at that HCC meeting) was akin to rewarding a misbehaving child instead of punishing them.

The hypocrisy of that vote was overwhelming, because some of the same Members of Council had supported the original Certificate of Appropriateness. It doesn’t speak well of their integrity and ethics at all.

Dana

Deja-vu: 306 S. New St. (1)

(1st in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Ryan Kneller, “ZEST, Grille 3501’s upcoming sister restaurant, to feature spectacular views of Bethlehem.” Morning Call, September 24, 2018.

We think of December 7th as the “day which will live in infamy.”

For some people in our town, it will be December 4th.

On December 4, 2018, there was a 3hr. City Council meeting on the 2 W. Market St. controversy, which the Gadfly, as you know, has covered in the range of 70 posts.

When Council finally voted 4-3, virtually all of the packed house swept up what little was left of their shredded emotions and headed for watering holes or wailing walls, depending.

Little did they know Council was playing a double-header that night. There was a whole other game to be played.

The drama moved from 2 W. Market St. to 306 S. New St. – from West to Zest (the new restaurant atop the new building). But the drama tasted like deja-vu. Council was again tasked with making a decision on a deal that was done.

One of the key factors in the 2 W. decision was that the property was already beautifully renovated – it was there, you could see it. For many the legal issue paled because of that.

Now, though not quite as definitively, a similar circumstance obtained at Zest, the restaurant on the 6th floor (top floor) of 306 S.

O, my. Lucky Council.

Take a look at these two photos (I believe the one on the left is a photo not an artistic rendition). Can you see the difference between the two on the 6th floor facing you. (Bigger photos at bottom.)

Then                                                                              Now

As always in Gadflyville, let’s lay it all out first then come back and discuss. Gadfly doesn’t like to influence opinion in the first inning. Let’s all think about what’s going on here. Who’s in charge of neighborhoods? Who makes decisions? How are those decisions being made?

You can listen to this entire portion of the City Council meeting here. Since there is back and forth dialog, it is not easy to cut the file into meaningful chunks as Gadfly often does.

Gadfly always suggests that you go to the source. So please listen if you can. Start to recognize the voices of your elected officials as well as the way they think. But here is a summary of the discussion. See if Gadfly got it right. Anything left out or misrepresented?

  • The controversy over 306 S. New goes way back before Gadfly got his wings, just like 2 W. Market did; in like manner, a heated history over the building precedes this episode that Gadfly is not privy to and not involved in.
  • The property is in the Southside Historical district and therefore had to first secure approvals from the advisory, all-volunteer citizen Historic Conservation Commission (HCC), and such approvals were ratified by City Council.
  • Among many other things, of course, the HCC is concerned with the height of new construction in this district and approved a 6-story building with the 6th floor set back 12ft proposed by the architect in order to soften the appearance of height.
  • That’s the “then” picture you see above; the 12ft setback is a patio; there is a covered area on the left (New St.) side.
  • The total closed area in the “now” picture not set back 12ft is, I would say, approximately 50% of the 3rd St. length of the building; the “new” at-issue area has sliding windows and will be open in good weather.
  • The Zesters submitted plans for an “interior fit-out,” which was reviewed per normal by the City, permits were issued, construction began.
  • At some point while construction was under way (dates not certain), it was noted by the HCC chair that the HCC guidelines for the 12ft setback were not being followed, and after consultation with the contractors, the chair asked for work to halt but that steps be taken to protect the area from the weather.
  • The issue went back to HCC which voted 8-0 to deny the Certificate of Approval because of this violation of the original terms and without discussion of a remedy or some option or solution to provide a path forward.
  • That brought the issue to Council December 4 after the lengthy discussion on 2 W. that we all weathered.
  • The city admitted dropping the ball: the interior fit-out review went through several hands without noting the impact on the exterior, the city – though admitting when pressed that the development community is “savvy” about procedural matters and shouldn’t be let off the hook entirely – feels responsible for permits issued inadvertently, and the city will review its internal process for the future, giving assurance that they will be evaluating the process, they do thousands of permits a year.
  • The owner pleaded not guilty, did not seem aware of the HCC decision (not clear), said the restaurant owner was not pulling a fast one, he has spent $2.5m, said the change could only be seen from the bridge (I guess saying he didn’t understand the HCC rationale), had followed proper procedure, the leasing agent did the negotiating not him, the architect drew up the plan.
  • The restaurant owner pleaded ignorance too: wife a long-time resident, he’s “this close” to opening, will be “ruined” if it doesn’t happen ($2.5m spent), is a finalist for an “Opening Night” tv show that will be good for everybody, had no bad intentions, was not doing anything sneakily.
  • What’s Council to do? Have the work already done taken down? Or approve the work, reversing the HCC, now that the work is (almost) done?
  • General consternation: “less than ideal circumstances” in which to decide, hard going back, no roadmap for going forward.
  • CM Callahan: not extruding, minimal change, developer went through process, mistake on city part, work already done, didn’t do anything improper, give thanks to owner for investing in city and spending $25m, lot empty for 10 years, only city income minimal taxes, unbelievable project, congratulate you, unbelievable how difficult we make it, there were so many meetings, owner was kind enough to move the plants that were there, there was a lot of compromise, has bent over backwards, the city will have internal discussions about the oversight, Council follows HCC 99% of the time, false to say that we are sliding past rules, “getting a little tired” of negative talk about Southside, Southside worse now than 25 yrs ago?, you have “no clue,” Southside is “alive” (arts, charter schools, restaurants), Hayes St. revitalized, negative stuff “beyond me.”
  • CM Colon: asked about responsibility, City?, was there something the applicant should have known?, people will be standing out there on the patio.
  • CW Van Wirt: ticked, has a “problem with the problem,” if the developer should have been aware, then the City is not totally to blame, should have been discussion between owner and restaurant guy on HCC guidelines, no conversation about what was allowed — hard to believe, the set back was intentional by HCC, tough to go against them.
  • CM Waldron: can’t see it from front of building, only from across the street, restaurant guy not responsible for knowing about HCC, building bumps out anyway (that section on the left in parallel with bump-out on other floors), problem results from miscommunication, lot to ask to tear it down, not easy to cut out the section at issue, change is de minimis, normal thing is to approve HCC, this is unusual case and Council must act responsibly.
  • CM Reynolds: HCC denial without further conversation an option makes this an impossible decision, nothing to do outside of scuttling the project, City needs to provide more help for the decision, no other decision to make but approve, not given alternatives.
  • CW Negron: against building from the beginning, now this, will it never end, very disappointed, but there is still an opportunity for conversation, just like 2 W. Market, who cares about Southside, why have the rules, HCC has an important role, this is so wrong.
  • Again: What’s Council to do? Have the work already done taken down? Or approve the work, reversing the HCC, now that the work is (almost) done?

This is the point where you pause, reflect, and give your answer!!!!!!!!! What would you do?

  • Vote 5-2 to “respectfully reverse” (CM Waldron) the HCC and to approve the Certificate of Approval (Van Wirt and Negron in the negative).

A perfect storm. Everybody throws up their hands. And throws the issue into Council’s lap. December 4 would have been a good day to call in sick.

We still need to have final discussion on 2 W. Market, but 306 S. New is so similar in content and in its demonstration of Council decision-making that I’d thought we’d lump them together.

Is 306 S. another category 5 or just a tempest in a teapot?

Zest 3

001

I love our William Penn neighborhood

(the latest in a series of posts on Northside 2027 and on Neighborhoods)

(see Gadfly’s “Memories of William Penn” — Oct. 27)

Martha A Larkin is a lifelong learner, linguist, caffeine connoisseur, and country road commuter. She has found her teaching home in a rural community in the northwest corner of the LV that we call Tiger Country. She attended and graduated from Bethlehem schools (K-M.Ed.). Bethlum is where she resides.

To the Gadfly:

I love our neighborhood. I live in the home that I came home to as an infant. The only one of my six siblings born in Bethlehem. I went away for awhile but my roots are here. They’re firmly planted in a neighborhood rich with things that I love: education, history, and trees. I’m not The Lorax; I don’t speak for the trees. I’m the Larkin; I speak of several trees in this neighborhood that I’ve grown with.

There’s a tree on the corner of Main and Fairview Streets at William Penn school that I helped to plant one year on Arbor Day. It always makes me smile. I enjoy pointing it out to friends. I often wonder who else helped to plant it and what year that was. It had to be between 1972 and 1977.

The foundation of my interest in education research began at William Penn. I was self-aware enough to realize that all the visitors to see our “pods” in one of the two open concept schools were observers and guests. We had peer:peer math and spelling. (I have a whole other story about my a self-diagnosed spelling disability as a result of “ita” and peer:peer spelling.) We were always fortunate to have student teachers from Moravian. I later learned about John Dewey lab schools, so my romanticized version of my elementary years puts William Penn in this category. My actual memories include a brightly decorated space with 70’s color carpet and NO gum chewing. We had wonderful teachers; many of the Gadfly’s sons’ teachers were mine too. There was also Mr. Gary Marsh. He’s the teacher I miss the most.

As a result of walking past Jon Amos Comenius everyday, THE father of education, when it was time for me to become a teacher, my roots brought me back to the neighborhood. The day I made the decision to quit my job, go back to school, and change careers, I made that decision while volunteering at William Penn school. One of my best memories of attending William Penn was seeing the Moravian college student teachers around the neighborhood, because we all lived and walk around here. There are amazing old trees in front of Comenius Hall where we used to play and climb. My roots were becoming branches.

I do not know whether I’m an alum or product, but I’ve done all right at schools in the neighborhood from William Penn to Northeast and then Liberty. I can do a 3-mile loop that I like to call the “Old School” walk from my house. I then went on to Moravian and Lehigh. I’m happy being a teacher today; everyday I learn something.

Martha

Speaking of Bethlehem traditions

See Dana’s comment on the “Helms and Haines” post earlier today.

Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics sent the following:

“The Globe Times [1925-1977] gave the city a paper dedicated to the city. The demise of the paper ended many of the local traditions. One interesting one was the celebration of the first-born in the new year.”

This page from December 31, 1949:

First Baby

Any other traditions we’ve lost and maybe forgotten about? Oldies but goodies?

Helms and Haines, this one’s for you!

Nicole Radzievich, “On Christmas Eve, turn your wondering eyes to Hotel Bethlehem’s rooftop.” Morning Call, December 20, 2018. 

“On Christmas Eve, all might be calm at the Hotel Bethlehem, but not everything will be bright. The word ‘hotel’ on the iconic rooftop sign will go dark so that only the word ‘Bethlehem’ is illuminated in neon red from dusk Monday until sunrise Wednesday. The display revives a 1970s tradition meant to pay homage to the city’s birth.”

“’I can’t think of a better way to remind our proud residents and visitors of the extraordinary history associated with this site and to honor our community heritage,’ said Bruce Haines, managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem. Haines said he was notified of the tradition to only light up the ‘Bethlehem’ portion of the sign by Debbie Helms, a hotel employee from 1972-1990. Helms, of Bethlehem, said the memory just popped into her head recently when she was walking to choir practice at the Central Moravian Church. ‘By turning off the ‘hotel’ part of the sign, we were transforming it from being an advertisement to showing the location: This is Bethlehem, a place to enjoy the holidays,’ she said. Bethlehem, she said, has so many beloved holiday sights — single candles in the windows and the Moravian Star. The sign, she said, was another special one that lost traction over the years. She said it likely started in the mid-1970s under Bethlehem Steel, which had taken control of the hotel in 1962 and sold it in 1984. She doesn’t remember the tradition continuing in the 1980s.”

Gadfly thinks this is absolutely wonderful! How about you?

So wonderful that he hustled to the archives (those he could find open) to try to determine when the tradition started.

According to the December 21, 1969, Morning Call picture below, the practice was older than Debbie even thought.

Hotel Bethlehem

A tradition worth re-newing!

If you see Debbie or Bruce over the holidays, give them a high-five.