306 S. New: my stomach hurts (16)

(16th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Thank you, Gadfly, for the long and thoughtful narrative and finally, the analysis. My stomach hurts. The developer is a master of dissembling, dodging and disrespecting. I feel ill every time I come across the bridge, drive down W. 3rd (yes, you can see the offending illegal structure from there), or contemplate what the developer will do next. This is exactly what might MAKE people into CAVE-ers, Mr. C. When our HCC tries to do the right thing (and COMPROMISES) this is what they get. Do you wonder that there is little trust, or appreciation for impending changes among those of us who live here and work here…. Every. Day…??

ssider

BPA is MIA (77)

(77th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly was hoping to give an update on things related to the Parking Authority today, but they canceled their February meeting.

As they did their January meeting.

What’s up with that?

They postponed their December meeting twice, and Gadfly was not able to make the third time, so the BPA has been a news desert for Gadfly for some time.

A proposed Polk St. Garage is a pretty hot issue.

Gadfly thought for sure there would be a meeting today because he remembers the Mayor expecting the BPA to report to City Council on funding for the Polk Garage within the first quarter of this year (which means March). And the plan was to have the discussion of the parking fine increase at the same time. (Gadfly followers don’t get fines, so you might not have noticed that the meter rate and violation fines are out of balance. The rates went up January 1, but the fines didn’t.) He assumed that there would have to be discussions of these matters if they were going to meet a March deadline.

Here’s the pertinent section from the Mayor’s presentation at the Nov 7 Council meeting: “Bethlehem Parking Authority is exploring all areas of financing future capital projects, including borrowing with or without City guarantee. Once they have completed their analysis and I have reviewed the options, I will ask the Bethlehem Parking Authority to seek the fine increase and to brief City Council on the recommended method of financing at that time. It is important that the Authority research all the possible options including eliminating risk to the taxpayers of the City of Bethlehem. I expect this to occur early 2019.”

Also, Gadfly was interested to hear about BPA progress on several things the Mayor asked the BPA to do when he approved the parking rate increase, like investigating neat-sounding ideas like variable rate parking. See the mayor’s letter to BPA: Mayor Parking Meter Rate Increase.

O, well.

But let me tell you about a few other interesting things relating to the BPA while you’re here.

Followers know that this is the 77th post in the series because of wild times parking-wise in the final quarter of 2018. And that the BPA and I were not on very good terms.

I found the BPA culture off-putting.

I don’t really understand “Authorities” anyway. How they fit. How they run.

So I asked (Right to Know request) for the executive director’s contract. I wanted to see who hired him, who paid him, whom he reported to, whom he answered to. I don’t get this independent status. What was the chain of command? And I assumed I could tell that from the contract.

I didn’t expect to get the contract, assuming it would be personal, but I did think I might get a redacted copy. Much to my surprise, though, I was told “No employment contracts exist” for the executive director.

Now that’s odd, isn’t it? Did the current exec move here from Massachusetts five years ago on a handshake?

Same rationale, I asked for performance reviews. Who’s evaluating if the exec does a good job or not? The answer, “To the extent that any such documents exist, this information has been withheld as performance evaluations are exempt.” Makes it sound as if there may be no performance reviews either.

I’ve also often wondered if there is any “training” for some of the volunteer boards. Like Planning and Zoning are really pretty technical at times. So I asked if there were handbooks or orientation materials for new BPA Board members – Human Resources kind of stuff – that might guide people as to what their job and responsibilities are. The answer was no, nothing of the sort.

I’d already been balked from getting direct emails of the BPA Board members, thwarting any direct contact, which was my purpose.

I can’t seem to get to first base with this outfit!

Zest: the final chapter (15)

(15th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

As Gadfly wraps up this mini-series, he asks you to remember what he’s been trying to do.

There are people who think about, wonder about, worry about, complain about City dealings involving developers.

There are other people who scoff at the first group as obstructers, as exaggerators, maybe even as liars.

It’s an important issue of public trust.

What Gadfly is trying to do here is lay out in detail his personal perspective on one specific case to support the position that there is a solid foundation for that worrying and complaining.

The 306 S. New case simply wouldn’t “settle” in his mind.

It just felt all wrong.

He has given you 18 troubling observations about the case in general.

Now he ends with a close look at the behavior of the developer.

Up to you to judge. Reactions and counter-views welcome.

  • At Council the developer introduces himself and the restaurateur in this manner: “I’m here tonight in a representative capacity to Grille 3502, it’s an LLC. With me tonight is ______. He’s the owner of that restaurant. I can tell you that _______ is not skilled in development work or building work” (5). The developer poses as a “representative” not as a person directly involved. He portrays himself as – as he is in real life – a lawyer representing a client, as if he has no personal responsibility for the violation that has occurred nor personal stake in how it is adjudicated. The developer seeks to shift focus to the restaurateur, whom he portrays as an innocent, inexperienced, hapless victim of sudden, unforeseen, and dire circumstance poised to ruin him. Surely this is not the true state of affairs. Which PVW immediately senses. And angrily denounces. The developer is without question a central figure here. He as well as the restaurateur will be in quite a gnarl if Council supports HCC and denies the COA. Can a lessee/tenant make a (I assume) permanent structural change to the building he leases without the full prior knowledge of and permission of the owner? If I am renting a house, can I knock out a wall and build an extension without informing the landlord? I don’t think so. So the developer has craftily attempted to stage the interaction with Council so that the focus is not on him but on an innocent person hard to “punish.”
  • But how does the developer portray himself? At Council the developer makes it sound as if he was not aware of the HCC recess stipulation (5,8). This is virtually impossible to believe. The building had three solid rounds of discussion before the HCC: 4/27/15, 12/21/15, and 8/15/16. Newspaper and City records show that the height of the building was a major subject of discussion at each meeting. HCC minutes show that both the architect and developer were present at the first two meetings; no records survive for the third. In the 4/27/15 minutes, we find: “The height of the building is the most incompatible feature of the new building in relation to its immediate surroundings. Most of the surrounding buildings are three story. However, the design has incorporated several features to reduce the impact of its height. As previously stated the upper 2 levels are set back to reduce their impact on the streetscape.” In the 12/21/15 minutes, we find: “The design still incorporates an upper level setback that helps to reduce the impact of the height on the streetscape.” Thus, the developer was present at important meetings in which this “most incompatible feature” of the proposed building was discussed/debated, and his architect was responding to the HCC concerns. City files show pertinent letters from the City Clerk to the developer after both those meetings.
  • Not only does the developer feign ignorance of the HCC stipulation itself, at Council the developer feigns ignorance of the reason for it when he became aware (5). After all, he says, it happened “way back” (two years before). But, to the contrary, incredibly, during this same formative design period – from March 2014 to May 2015, ending virtually at the same time as the 4/27/15 HCC meeting – the developer was involved in a very similar and very public dispute over the height of another building at 4th and Vine, a dispute that ended in a law suit. For instance, the newspaper reported one “very contentious, standing-room-only meeting that lasted more than five hours.” In March 2014 a member of the HCC felt “there has to be some approach to mitigating the feeling of some monolith sitting on the corner of Vine and Fourth,” and the suggestion offered was “setting the top floor back from the rest of the building.” The developer said that “while he will consider the suggestions and apply them where possible, he doesn’t think the building will look as big as it sounds.” The developer said the exact same thing about similar recess suggestions a month later, and then in November 2014 he produced a new design with a “tapered top floor” and “a rooftop garden to create an airy effect in an attempt to downplay the height.” Thus, the developer was not only well aware of HCC height concerns and the way to address them but publicly commenting on them and then implementing answers to them in a revised design. AW recognized the developer role of playing dumb here and pushed back against this guise of ignorance (8).
  • After clouding his awareness both of the HCC stipulation and a reason for it, at Council the developer not only disputes the rationale for the HCC decision but says that what the City did was not an error but good judgment! “There is only one place that you can even see this piece of construction and that’s coming over the bridge and when you come over the bridge you see the entirety of the 6th . . . When this is completed, and when the tarps are off, it’s going to look like it’s been there forever. And you don’t see dimension when you look at it from the north coming to the south. It looks like it’s been designed right along with the building. . . . I think [the City] was right in doing what they did [in approving the plans]” (5). Unbelievable. The approved 6-story height of the building was a compromise by the HCC to begin with, but that does not stop the developer from disputing the judgment of the group duly appointed to make such judgments. An argument he could not engage, much less win, with the HCC, so he did not even bother to go to the November 19 meeting, but an argument that could sway elected officials who were in a difficult-impossible-terrible position and who march to a different drum. Think of it – the real error here according to the developer was the HCC’s!
  • By two weeks after Council, a total of $3000 from the developer and members of his company appears in the coffers of one of the Council persons. Legal. One would hope innocent and/or coincidental. But, at the very least, optically lethal.

“ya just had to be there”

The writer, known to Gadfly, prefers to remain anonymous. This post refers to comments on the zoning of 134 E. Broad in “Development doin’s.”

Gadfly:

I was at that ZHB meeting that evening, and I am so glad I went, it was more entertaining than a movie could have been . . . and for free.

I’ll keep it brief now, but, in general, I would agree that there is the appearance that the ZHB is being, as you allude to, as seemingly voting in favor of developers against the zoning ordinance [ZO].  But then I thought, what you can never know statistically is, how well the ZO is really working, because you can never know how many times a potential development idea is shut down by developers and others, doing their diligence, before it even gets to the point of making an application for relief to the ZHB.  So by the sheer nature of the ZHB, they are there to hear the “marginal” cases that rose to the top.  To draw a similarity to similar systems, you only need to look at our legal system, which gives those found guilty, the right to “appeal” a case.

To the 134 case, I was initially moved to conclude that this was developer overreach, but after the case was argued, I was won over, and agreed with the ZHB. There are so many details left out typically in print, ya just had to be there.

But it wasn’t the 134 case that compelled me to write to you, it was the case that followed, which is what got me there in the first place.  That was having to do with a developer, Dominic Villani.  What was interesting in that case, argued by Bethlehem Attorney Jim Holzinger, was that in the audience, was none other than Mister X. Turns out, the parcel Villani was wanting to develop, was right next door to where Mister X lives, and because Mister X is a “renter,” he did not have standing at this hearing.  Holzinger was quick to point that out to the ZHB but agreed to hear Mister X out when he made his argument AGAINST the project.  There were other numerous folks who spoke against the project. But after all was said and done, it became abundantly clear that Villani’s plan, and intent, was a very viable request, so much so, that Mister X got up again, and told the ZHB that after all the testimony, he had changed his mind, and would be OK if the ZHB found in Villani’s favor, which they did.

Again, being there was quite compelling, and all around, the professionalism shown by all people in that room that evening made me proud.

Billboard news with the backstory I’ve been fearing

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 

Gadfly:

As you probably remember, my big concern with the billboard is the cost to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the value it would have had when it’s removed for the renovation/replacement of the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. We’ve discussed this in the past, and there is no way that a new billboard on the east side of the bridge can remain during a multi-year construction project. So we’ll have the visual pollution quite quickly, followed in a few years by PennDOT writing a big check to Adams for their loss of use because of construction.

I took a couple of photos of the approach to the bridge from Cathedral Church of the Nativity on my way home today. You’ll see that the only way they can build either a temporary bridge or a second span is to the east of the existing bridge. They can’t mess with either the Sayre Mansion or the Wilbur Mansion properties on the west.

I’m also concerned about the triangle of Petrucci property above the Perkins now designated as a habitat. That’s got to be part of the new bridge approach as well. This is no time to give away the store only to have to buy it back in a couple of years at inflated prices.

The solution is to get PennDOT’s engineering team (supposedly the same team who did the Fahy reconstruction and who took office space in Allentown and who have been part of the $11 million already expended on engineering plans) to tell us what the heck is going on.

Why does this matter so much to me? I’m in the Conestoga Court Condominiums on the north side of the river where the two spans are going to have to tie back into one another. Is our parking lot safe? Is our building safe? Will I be negotiating my own eminent domain agreement with the state before construction starts?

Please check the Transportation Improvement Program for the Lehigh Valley to review the terms (“rehabilitation/replacement”) and dollar amounts I’ve cited. I’ve been stonewalled by the city and have not received Right to Know responses from PennDOT. Senator Boscola’s office was able to get nothing for me either.

I do have (and anyone can get from Lehigh’s digital archives) a handsome PDF of the original Hill-to-Hill Bridge dedication brochure from 1924 if there’s interest.

I think you see what I mean. The natural direction takes us to east of current span, not west.

John

After being denied locally, Adams Outdoor Advertising is suing for the right to construct a digital sign on the east side of the Hill-to-Hill bridge.

Bethlehem’s H.D.: intense feminist commitment (5)

(5th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event is TOMORROW: “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, Tuesday, February 26, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

In this 5th slice of Prof Seth Moglen’s January 30 “How I Fell in Love with H.D.” lecture at the BAPL in the FINDING H.D. series let’s stick with the poetry.

In this brief excerpt, Seth talks about and reads H.D.’s “Helen” (1924). Yes, that would be “the” Helen, “the face that launched a thousand ships” in the Trojan War.

“Helen”

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees, unmoved,
God’s daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

Almost all of H.D.’s corpus is animated by an intense feminist commitment to the empowerment of women and to women claiming their voices in patriarchal cultures which over centuries and millennia had silenced women. . . . H.D. was able to understand that male dominance in Western society had been hundreds or thousands of years in the making but could still be transformed. . . . [H.D.’s poetry is ] an effort to think the long history of male dominance and question what it would take to shape or challenge it. (Seth Moglen)

“Helen” takes as its subject the woman who has been the literary and mythic symbol of sexual beauty and illicit love in western culture. Much has been written about her, but H.D. 2H.D.’s poem does something new: it implicitly attacks the traditional imagery of Helen and implies that such perspectives have silenced Helen’s own voice. (Susan Stanford Friedman)

H.D. implies that the beautiful woman is always hated by the culture which pretends to adore her beauty and that the only good beauty, so far as patriarchal culture is concerned, is a dead one. . . .  the poet now announces that Helen of Troy, our culture’s archetypal woman-as-erotic object, was actually a male-generated illusion, a “phantom,” and that “the Greeks and the Trojans alike fought for an illusion.” (Alicia Suskin Ostriker)

H.D. presents the title-character in the poem “Helen” as a suffering madonna victimized by the Greeks. (Thomas Burnett Swann)

[Helen] is seen as a woman who suffers for her beauty and is forced to endure the hostile glances of those who blame her for causing the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. (William Pratt)

This is your promised reminder! The next event in the year-long series is “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, TOMORROW, Tuesday, February 26, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

A candidate album as of Feb. 25 (11)

(11th in a series of posts on candidates for election)

As of this moment, Grace Crampsie Smith and Will Carpenter are running for the one two-year seat on City Council, and J. William Reynolds, Michael Colon, Paige Van Wirt, Carol Chamberlain Ritter, and David Saltzer are running for the four four-year seats. I think.

In the near future, we will be encouraging the candidates to favor the Gadfly blog with more detailed position and platform statements to help us make informed choices, but, in the meantime, are you getting to recognize them at least?

Can you identify the seven candidates?

A coupla weeks left. The field could enlarge. It’s great to have choice. Will encourage candidates to define themselves well.