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.

Michael Colon is in! (10)

(10th in a series of posts on candidates for election)

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Bethlehem City Councilman Michael G. Colón

Today I’d like to officially announce in the May primary I will be seeking reelection to my seat on Bethlehem City Council. Serving the citizens of Bethlehem has been a rewarding and humbling honor since I took office in 2016. An honor I value as one of the highest forms of service to the community. The next three months I’ll continue to be out in the community, in our neighborhoods answering what questions I can for the citizens of Bethlehem while asking for another four years as their representative on Council.

Bethlehem is currently in the middle of major transition as we merge our own existing 911 center with the Northampton County 911 center. As chair of the city council public Colon 2safety committee, a former county 911 dispatcher, current county employee, and citizen of Bethlehem I find myself in a unique position to provide oversight and feedback during the transition. Moving ahead I also look forward to using the public safety committee to continue following how Bethlehem is handling the on-going opioid epidemic which sadly no community is immune from. During the summer of 2018 we were able to bring representatives from state, county, and city levels of government to a committee meeting for a comprehensive outlook on how we’re addressing this problem. In the face of local and regional competition I will work to grow Bethlehem’s economy as we continue to bring in new jobs, support small business, and revitalize our city. Lastly, I will continue to stay involved in our community listening to the feedback from all corners of Bethlehem. My community involvement includes volunteering with Marvine Elementary School, Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley, and the Downtown Bethlehem Association in various roles to support their mission of building a better Bethlehem.

In my next term I will continue to work with all members of council to continue moving Bethlehem in a positive direction. In recent years Bethlehem has seen a steady decrease in serious crimes, three recent bond rating increases, and numerous initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life for our residents. I love calling Bethlehem my hometown and want to continue making it an ideal place for families and business for years to come.

A reminder that the new candidates for Council thus far are Grace Crampsie Smith, Will Carpenter, Carol Chamberlain Ritter, and David Saltzer. Other incumbents running are J. William Reynolds and Paige Van Wirt. Incumbent Shawn Martell is not running.

Crampsie Smith blasts off (9)

(9th in a series of posts on candidates for election)

Grace Crampsie Smith launched her campaign at Roosevelt’s this afternoon.

Bloggers are not always well liked.

But, understanding her family’s allegiance to the “Fighting Irish,” Gadfly wore his ND hat (PhD ’70), exchanged the secret handshake, and was welcomed by the candidate with great warmth.

Listen in!

You’ll learn her dominant family gene is Publicum Officium.

And that the major points on her platform are:

  • insuring the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens
  • economic efficacy
  • socially responsible economic development

A reminder that the other new candidates for Council thus far are Will Carpenter, Carol Chamberlain Ritter and David Saltzer. Incumbents running are J. William Reynolds, Michael Colon, and Paige Van Wirt. Incumbent Shawn Martell is not running. There are three four-year seats and one two-year seat on the ballot this year. As far as Gadfly knows, Crampsie Smith and Carpenter are running for the two-year seat, Ritter and Saltzer for the four.

The Zest case: some observations (14)

(14th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Gadfly began this miniseries on 306 S. New St. in post 10.

The long prologue is finally over.

Let’s see if he can demonstrate what’s kept this case fresh in his mind.

Gadfly followers will recognize that he has been troubled by the tension and contention surrounding developers and development for a long time.

In post 10, he formulated it this way: “The reason Gadfly can’t let this ‘case’ go is that it highlights so well the recurring tension between development and history in the City, and a sense that many have that developers are shady, that developers get their way, that Council tends to buckle under to developers (and worse things are intimated), that historical ordinances aren’t worth the paper they were printed on and the breath with which they were conceived, that what the ‘people’ want doesn’t matter. So this is an important case.”

Gadfly’s dis-ease goes way back to a post on the 2 W. Market case in which he ruminated over the “Great Divide” between CM Callahan and CW Negron’s visions of the Southside.

Especially to CM Callahan’s typifying critics of development as “CAVE people”: “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.”

That’s a harsh view, an indictment of the entire race of Gadflies, and deserves some defense.

Here and especially in the next post, Gadfly will try to see 306 S. New through Gadfly eyes.

Here is a list of observations that, Gadfly feels, can help explain why some people have good reason to feel troubled by the way the case was handled.

The numbers in parentheses refer to the excerpts from the audio recording of the Dec. 4 meeting compiled in post 12.

  1. The compromise idea to meet HCC’s concern about the height of the 306 building by recessing the 6th fl. came from the building architect (1). That very same architect did the plans for the restaurant that violate the agreement with HCC. That architect should have known the restaurant plans were in violation. That architect should be called out.
  2. The developer professes lack of knowledge of the HCC stipulation and a complete laissez-faire posture about lease negotiations and arrangements with the restaurant (5,8). This seems quite disingenuous and will be the sole subject of the next post. There was no doubt in the mind of Council and the HCC that height was an issue and recess a condition (1,2,7,8,11).
  3. Approval of design plans by the City green-lighting construction occurred two weeks before the violation was discovered. But we do not know exactly when construction of the restaurant began. And we do not know exactly when work on the exterior portion began. So it’s hard to judge how far construction had progressed before the violation was discovered.
  4. Image 4, one of 2 images presented to Council for deliberation at the Dec. 4 meeting, indicates that the roof was done before the violation was discovered. It is not clear if construction on the visible exterior of the building (probably even visible from City Hall) could have gotten that far without discovery of the violation.
  5. A “stop work” order was not issued when the violation was discovered. Why? So it is not clear exactly when work stopped. Apparently, work in other areas of the restaurant never stopped. It is not clear whether a “stop work” order, if issued, would have covered the whole project, not just this portion.
  6. Quadratus Construction filed the application to HCC for Certificate of Approval (COA) after the violation was discovered. What standing does the contractor have to do this? Shouldn’t it have been the developer? The line of true responsibility for the design that produced the violation is not clear.
  7. Quadratus attended the HCC meeting and not the developer. The developer attended the Council meeting and not Quadratus. Both should have been present at both meetings so that a full range of questions could be answered and a full range of possible solutions considered. All key parties were not “at the table.” The absence of Quadratus at Council suggests that the developer was not even considering a construction compromise or construction reversal when he went to Council.
  8. The exact state and nature of the work performed before the violation was discovered is not clear. AW says the work was more than half-done (3), but that’s a judgment better made by the contractor. Before Council minds were made up, it should have been authoritatively determined exactly what had been done and what was left to do.
  9. Though the HCC chair said that “going backward” would be “difficult” (4), the possibility of reversing the work in violation was not explored fully. AW got close but backed away (10). It was his feeling that deconstructing at this point was not something anybody on Council would ask.
  10. The strong implication/impression was that the work in violation was somehow now irreversible, had progressed beyond the point of no return (4,9). But there is nothing concrete to demonstrate definitively that was so. And, on the surface, without explanation, it does not make good sense. Going backward may have been difficult, but that’s not to say it was impossible.
  11. Quadratus could weigh in significantly on the last several points but has not responded to three attempts for an interview by this inquirer.
  12. The City accepted responsibility for a mistake but provided no guidance about a solution. One wonders how the City handles cases (there must be some) in which a developer/homeowner violates a building permit, even to the point of completing the project in unauthorized fashion. More to the point, one wonders how the City handled projects (it must have happened!) in which it mistakenly issued a permit and the project was in process or even complete. In other words, what previous experience or precedent relevant to this specific situation could the City offer to Council?
  13. The restaurateur was not directly asked an obvious key question. He was not asked what he would do if Council backed HCC and denied the COA. If he had to operate without that extension, would the impact of the extra expense to deconstruct be destructive? But no even ballpark estimate of “repair” cost was given. So, ok, what if the City paid the expense for its mistake – would that be ok with him? Or would he then argue the irreparable loss be indoor seating in his business plan (Gadfly figures roughly 30 seats in that area)? Or is the problem timing – he aimed at opening in the holiday season, and he would miss the opening surge of business that would bring? The restaurateur says he would be pretty much “ruined” if Council didn’t approve (6). Why? In what way?
  14. The idea that the City might pay to correct its mistake was not considered.
  15. This claim of imminent ruin is connected with an odd piece of dialogue between AW and the restaurateur in which “catastrophic” is used to describe the impact of a denial on the restaurateur. AW gives the restaurateur this powerful word to describe his own situation – puts it in his mouth (10). CM Waldron: “Ok, that’s fair, but it would be easy to say that to take that area out would be catastrophic.” Restaurateur: “That’s a very exact, perfect statement.” CM Waldron: “There you go.” Maybe this inquirer watches too much Perry Mason (dating himself), but this feels like “leading the witness.” Without more specific explanation, “catastrophic” seems melodramatic.
  16. ON does not make a motion but she does make a suggestion that would escape the horns of the either/or dilemma formulated by AW and JWR (12). It’s been assumed all along that there will be service on the terrace. Is it agreeable – even keeping the new roof perhaps – having outdoor service there with heaters as with restaurants elsewhere in the City as ON suggests? Could more conversation with HCC effect such a compromise?
  17. There seemed to be a need Dec. 4 to rush to judgment. The planned restaurant opening is imminent, etc., etc. But it was 3 weeks from discovery of the violation to the HCC meeting and then another 2 weeks to the Council meeting. Is there no provision in various guidelines to permit a compression of time to meet the need for an urgent decision? There was a lot of dead time that might have been used to take the heat off Dec. 4. On Dec. 4 a feeling of “too late” to do anything else but approve was in the air.
  18. Several Council members were quite perturbed by the City mistake that put them in such a “difficult, impossible, terrible” position. And certainly a segment of residents were/are quite angry at how the historical district guidelines and decision played out. The City promised to amend its procedures to eliminate a repeat of the situation. The City evaluation and procedural revisions should be publicly shared with Council and residents as an act of good faith that steps have been taken to ensure that this kind of error does not happen again.

But it’s the developer on which we must focus most attention. Next post.

Some Zesty pics (13)

(13th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Oops, Gadfly wanted to bring back these images as well as the text excerpts.

Zest 3
Image 1: Completed 306 before Zest
Zest 3-2
Image 2: 306 as it is now with Zest
306 Council 1
Image 3: Pre-Zest image submitted to Council for Dec 4 meeting\
306 Council 2
Image 4: Work stopped image submitted to Council for the Dec. 4 meeting

Now let’s really get to the real thing–

Some Zesty dialog (12)

(12th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

So here are key excerpts from the audio recording with time stamp for further reference if you want.

In later posts, Gadfy will try to keep long quoting to a minimum but refer just to the excerpt number here.

Long foreplay by Gadfly — but the real thing begins next post.

Excerpt 1 – 0:20

HCC chair: “The denial for the porch addition [by HCC on Nov. 19] . . . . I think that our historic officer Jeff Long summed it up best by saying in his minutes that HCC members specifically recall the approval of a 6th floor of the already tall structure was predicated on a condition that the top floor be recessed 12 feet along West 3rd St and have a thin projecting roof to diminish its visibility from street level. When the building was originally designed the owner/developer came to us at least 4 times, 3-4 times. During that 4 times, we took a lot of information and distilled it down to the building that’s there today. I think one of the provisions we were looking for was a building that didn’t look as tall as a 6-story building. So what the architect came back with was, he would take the 6th floor, set it back 12 feet, and when you look at the building you would see the first 5 floors and the 6th floor would look almost maybe like a penthouse or a tall parapet in the background. And that’s what we achieved. That’s what everybody agreed upon. And . . . hence the denial.

Excerpt 2 – 3:25

CM Waldron: “I remember when this was originally approved and the COA came to us that was a real sticking point, recessing the 6th floor so to try to diminish the height of the building in its appearance.”

Excerpt 3 – 4:40

CM Waldron: “Clearly there was a miscommunication, because I don’t know what percentage done, but I would say more than half-way done with this construction “. . . HCC chair: “the construction did begin well before we asked them to bring it before the Board.”

Excerpt 4 – 8:30

CM Reynolds: “Was there a conversation [between the HCC and the contractor] about how there was supposed to be a remedy here?” HCC chair: “There wasn’t. Other than to stop any additional work outside. And my comment, actually prior to that, when I first asked the contractor to come in to have it reviewed, I understood that the building was open to weather, which is a term we use in the construction industry when you take a roof off a building or you open up a wall that you either have to close it in quickly because the weather’s going to come into the building or you leave it open and risk more damage to the building. I said at least get it weatherproofed, and that’s what they did?” . . . HCC chair: “Going backwards at that point because of all the structural steel involved would be very difficult.”

Excerpt 5 – 18:00

Developer: “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. . . . It’s not like ______ just went out and did something wily-nily. . . . When I read the correspondence from HCC to City Council or whoever it was, I’m not exactly sure what the reason was. I suspect that a component of it was that way back in the day when this was built or approved as a 6 story building, one of the reasons that [HCC chair] suggested has to be set back was to make it appear like it was not 6 stories, but there is only 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 floor . . . 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].

Excerpt 6 – 21:00

Restaurateur: “We’re this close to opening up in about a month, and I’m asking you guys to approve this because again I have $2.5m in it and I’ll pretty much be ruined if it doesn’t happen. . . . There was no ill intent. We didn’t try to sneak anything by. I don’t know the difference between a fit-out or [garbled], we just wanted to build a restaurant with that enclosure, and I ask you guys to approve it, please.

Excerpt 7 – 22:35

CM Waldron: “Obviously it wasn’t known to you . . . that that 6th floor had a 12ft. set-back.” Restaurateur: “The only thing I knew was that that terrace up there was extremely attractive. . . . I just found out about this recently when the Historical Board told us . . . in the past few weeks.” CM Waldron: Unless you really know the rules of the HCC, it wouldn’t necessarily be on you, but it would be on the City and building owner to know what the HCC requires . . . . It was very clear that the HCC did not want this to protrude out to the edge. . . . This is a pretty difficult situation that Council’s been put in because multiple people missed the opportunity to get it right the first time.

Excerpt 8 – 25:00

Developer: “When ______ and my company entered a lease, the restaurant wasn’t even designed so we didn’t know.” CM Waldron: “The HCC would make the argument that you should have known that the 6th fl. couldn’t be expanded out because that was the point of contention. Several of us were on Council at the time when that came forward and they made that explicitly clear that . . . they wanted that set-back. . . . I would respectfully say that I understand the HCC’s perspective. . . . I would probably be in favor of supporting this addition. . . . It is a small impact. . . . My perspective is that we respectfully reverse the HCC.”

Excerpt 9 – 28:30

CM Reynolds: “If HCC denies something and not to have anybody offer a possible solution until it gets to this point between the Administration and the HCC puts City Council in an almost impossible position at which we are up here trying to decide what we think should be done with something that HCC voted no on but didn’t necessarily give any guidance about how it gets remediated. That’s an impossible position. I don’t think that we are in a position here from a practical point of view to uphold this after the work’s been done and no other solution has been provided. . . . I don’t think that there’s another choice, because what’s our other choice?

Excerpt 10 – 29:45

CM Waldron: “The other choice would be to tell them to tear it down, which obviously is not a small ask. And I don’t think anybody here would want that or ask that to do. The big question that hasn’t even been asked, ______, is what is the cost of this fit-out, this additional area that’s been constructed. . . . It wouldn’t be easy to cut that out and say this little area here cost x number of dollars.” Restaurateur: “I have no idea.” CM Waldron: “Ok, that’s fair, but it would be easy to say that to take that area out would be catastrophic.” Restaurateur: “That’s a very exact, perfect statement.” CM Waldron: “There you go.”

Excerpt 11 – 30:57

CW Van Wirt: “We’re in this terrible position . . . The setback on the 6th floor was done intentionally and with great thought and intent and to understand that there was a negotiation between you two that didn’t squarely cover what was allowed and what was not allowed, I have such a hard time with that. . . . I don’t understand how two good, strong, smart businessman can neglect to discuss the square footage of a big restaurant like this. Developer: “Well, I didn’t even negotiate it, my marketing people did.” CW Van Wirt: “Whoever is responsible.” Restaurateur: When I talked about it with the leasing agent, I said I definitely wanted to do that. The architect drew it up, put in for the building permit . . . CW Van Wirt: “I think the building owner has a role in overseeing . . . within the confines of the HCC.”

Excerpt 12 – 33:10

CW Negron: “There should have been a conversation . . . and I think there’s still an opportunity to have that conversation . . . and I think that it should still happen . . . they can still have a space in there with tables and chairs like many other restaurants in downtown Bethlehem, even Southside, have tables and chairs outside and when it snows or is cold or is raining . . . they put a heater, we can sit down . . . just have the tables and chairs and not that roof.”

Zest, the play: the dramatis personae (11)

(11th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Zest was a hard case. Council members called their position “difficult,” “impossible,” “terrible.” And they weren’t exaggerating.

Gadfly agrees. And he has said that, in his opinion, realistically and pragmatically, the decision to deny the HCC ruling was the only possible conclusion at that time, though you will find a strong dissenting view in the series of posts.

But, especially now that the case is decently in the rear-view mirror, there may be still something we can learn. And Gadfly would like to make some observations and conclusions. And thus, in typical Gadfly fashion, he is being careful to lay the groundwork in plodding way so that you can make your own observations and conclusions.

Thus, here again, is the audio recording of the 306 S. New section of the December 4 Council meeting (50 mins.), but with it this time (coming in the next post) is a series of excerpts that will be pertinent to his observations and conclusions (you will find that last time Gadfly provided helpful summaries of each CP’s position).

Listen to the recording. It is really very interesting.

Gadfly wants you to know your elected officials. Some are running for re-election right now. Some, no doubt, have their eyes on higher office. We need to be informed about them to cast the best possible vote we can. It’s the only way we get the best city government we can.

Perhaps you can identify the pictures of each Council person. Now let’s associate a voice and a style of thinking with each. Since Council meetings are now on television, all this “recognition” will be easier if you take advantage. But the Zest case presents them all on display in a valuably compressed way. This “hard case” brings some essential qualities to the fore.

After listening to the recording, how would you characterize each Council member here? Objectively as much as possible. Not slanted. Not critical. Join me. Let’s compare notes.

I’ll start. CM Waldron acts as the investigator, as befits a Council president, drawing out information. He pushes back against the developer and a fellow Council person even, couching his vote as a respectful reversal of HCC. CM Reynolds is slow, and careful, and you can see him in logical fashion trying to make sure he understands everything in order to frame the situation, structure it, in as clean a way as possible to facilitate his decision. You can almost “see” him outlining the problem in the air. CW Van Wirt is fiery, passionate, worked up – she’s got a burr under her saddle – she’s full of “piss and vinegar” as they say. Illogic and lack of commonsense bother her greatly. CM Callahan champions a side that he seems personally involved in and sees this case as part of a bigger picture. His vote is an easy one. There is no hesitation. CM Colon, never one to talk overmuch, asks clear, respectful incisive questions and comes to a clear, untroubled conclusion. CW Negron is exasperated, “history” weighs on her. She speaks on the soft side, you lean in to hear her as you would to a person in a sick bed. She’s in pain. She speaks from the heart, a heart that’s been stabbed many times before.

Gadfly looks on 306 with almost a director’s eye. There’s a rich diversity of characters here. They show important sides of themselves. We know a lot about them from how they respond to this “hard case.”

Gadfly invites you to share your notes on the “characters” in this “play.”

And then to move on to consider the series of excerpts on which he’d like us to focus.

“H.D. wrote in a state of more or less constant terror” (4)

(4th 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 “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, Tuesday, February 26, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Here now is the fourth 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.

Followers of this thread will now know a little bit of H.D.’s life, her relation to Bethlehem, the nature of her poetry, and its personal impact on Moglen, the Gadfly Foundation Visiting Professor of Bethlehem Studies.

But H.D. is a poet – isn’t it time that we read some of her poetry?

Hold on – I know that for some of you poetry may be like garlic to a vampire.

Gadfly confesses that the only “C” in his PhD program was in “Modern Poetry.” That was one long hot summer in South Bend, let me tell you. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a snap. T.S. Eliot . . . Ezra Pound . . . etal – Oiii.

But let’s listen to Seth wrap meaning and music around two poems from H.D.’s Trilogy volume.

“18 years ago a bunch of men, a small group of men committed a criminal act, high-jacked a plane, 3000 people died. It was a catastrophic moment, and what we did as a society in our fear and our rage was launch two wars which 18 years later we’re still fighting. In those wars almost 7000 US soldiers have now died. 58,000 men and women H.D.have suffered severe life-changing injuries. A soldier, a veteran, kills himself or herself every 65 minutes. H.D. would not have been surprised by any of this. This was the story she was trying to tell in Trilogy. . . . which is to say, why is it in the face of violence our response is to perpetuate the cycle? And what would it involve for us to do something different?”

Trilogy . . . which H.D. wrote . . . in 1944-1945, she was living in London, the bombs were falling night after night after night . . . absolutely systematic civilian bombing. H.D. wrote in a state of more or less constant terror. . . . H.D. knew that the munitions produced in the Bethlehem Steel plant which had been sold at the start of the war to the Germans as well as to the U.S. Army were part of what threatened her life and were inflicting this terror. And she wrote Trilogy as an attempt to respond to this sense of a war that would not end.”

“This [poem #1] is not abstract for H.D. Every single night for 140 consecutive nights German war planes were dropping bombs randomly on civilians in London. And every night H.D. was in fear for her life. . . . Emotionally how do we respond to this experience of terror?  . . . How do you respond to leave your apartment and you go out in the morning and you see that many of your neighbors are dead?”

from H.D.’s “The Flowering of the Rod”

I

O the beautiful garment,
the beautiful raiment —

do not think of His face
or even His hands,

do not think how we will stand
before Him;

remember the snow
on Hermon;

do not look below
where the blue gentian

reflects geometric pattern
in the ice-floe;

do not be beguiled
by the geometry of perfection

for even now,                                         START HERE
the terrible banner

darkens the bridge-head;
we have shown

that we could stand;
we have withstood

the anger, frustration,
bitter fire of destruction;

leave the smoldering cities below
(we have done all we could),

we have given until we have no more to give;
alas, it was pity, rather than love, we gave;

now having given all, let us leave all;
above all, let us leave pity

and mount higher
to love — resurrection.

“[In poem #2,] H.D. is tackling an enormously challenging problem that I think everybody in our society has to contend with one way or another. And that is when you live in a nation at war, when you live in a time of war, when you feel a sense of hopelessness about your own capacity to love, what difference does my love make, what do I do with my love, with my desire to live in peace with people in a world in which the cycle of war just goes on and on? . . . What do you do with that part of yourself that believes in humane connection to love? . . . H.D. is thinking of the Bethlehem Steel plant, obsessing — what she’s thinking about is . . . what does it mean to live in a world where we are preparing all the time to kill? We are producing massive instruments of destruction. . . . How do you nurture your capacity to love? “

II

I go where I love and where I am loved,
into the snow;

I go to the things I love
with no thought of duty or pity;

I go where I belong, inexorably,
as the rain that has lain long

in the furrow; I have given
or would have given

life to the grain;
but if it will not grow or ripen

with the rain of beauty,
the rain will return to the cloud;

the harvester sharpens his steel on the stone;
but this is not or field,

we have not sown this;
pitiless, pitiless, let us leave

The-place-of-a-skull
to those who have fashioned it.

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

Gadfly will remind you.

Reynolds Raps (8)

(8th in a series of posts on candidates for election)

JWilliamReynolds.org

Gadfly needs to get out more. 78 years on this earth and never been to a campaign kickoff.

Follow him to Fegley’s Bethlehem Brew Works.

And down the steps.

It’s only right that political shenanigans happen in cellars.

To the Steelgaarden.

Melt into the boisterous crowd.

You have to pass through John Morganelli and Steve Samuelson at the gate.

Scylla and Charybdis.

And then cross the spiked Shoals of Pettishuns

To hear Willie’s siren call.

reynolds 2

Emotionally spent, follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to Gadfly’s quiet nest.

Politically virginal no more.

More Zest (11)

(11th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

In the last post in this thread Gadfly described himself as a “slow methodical thinker.”

Some might say plodding.

For he likes a timeline.

And the timeline in this case is important.

It will help us learn some things.

So let’s review the timeline, a timeline leaner but broader than the version in post 3.

(Information gathered from review of Morning Call files, City documents online, and City documents obtained via Right-to-Know law.)

  • 2013: a building at 306 is a gleam in the developer’s eye
  • Nov. 18, 2013: City Council approves sale of community garden adjacent to 306 to developer
  • Dec. 30, 2013: 306 is approved in the new CRIZ program, an incentive for development
  • March 17, 2014: HCC approves a 7-story building at 4th and Vine by the same developer
  • April 1, 2014: City Council approves the 4th and Vine plan
  • Nov. 5, 2014: City Council approves a revised plan for a 9-story building at 4th and Vine
  • April 13, 2015: the developer submits application to HCC for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for demolition of existing buildings and erection of a 7-story building at 306
  • April 27, 2015: HCC discusses the 306 COA without decision
  • May 26, 2015: a Judge dismisses a suit over the 9-story height at 4th and Vine
  • Dec. 21, 2015: a now 6-story building at 306 with recessed 6th fl. is approved by the HCC
  • Jan. 19, 2016: City Council approves the 306 COA
  • Aug. 15, 2016: 3rd version of plans for 306 approved by HCC
  • Sept. 6, 2016: City Council approves this final 306 COA
  • 2017-2018: in this period construction occurs, and the building is completed at 306
  • Jan. 2018: Zest signs lease for the 6th fl. at 306
  • Aug. 20, 2018: Zest architect submits design plans to the City
  • Oct. 15, 2018 (Monday): City approves design plan, construction of Zest can begin
  • Oct. 29, 2018 (Monday): City advises contractor that exterior changes in progress at Zest require HCC approval
  • Oct. 29-Dec. 4: somewhere in this period CMs Waldron and Callahan separately view the Zest site
  • Nov. 12, 2018, and Nov. 19, 2018, weeks of: crane known to be in operation from 3rd street to the 6th fl. (might have been before and after as well)
  • Nov. 19, 2018: HCC hears the appeal to approve the exterior work and denies it 8-0
  • Dec. 4, 2018: City Council reverses the denial 5-2, with assurance that City will review and correct its authorization procedures
  • Dec. 20, 2018: Zest has soft opening

Some important points to note for elaboration later:

  • 306 had 3 discussion/approvals by HCC/City Council — building height a discussion point each time
  • the same developer had a property at 4th and Vine go to court precisely over the issue of height during the same time period
  • The error at 306 was discovered two weeks to the day from the first day construction could have begun (though when construction actually began is not known)
  • 3 weeks elapsed between discovery of the error and the HCC meeting; 5 weeks elapsed between the discovery of the error and the City Council meeting
  • 2 weeks elapsed between City Council approval and the soft opening
  • No work should have been done on the exterior between Oct. 29 and Dec. 5, though no “stop work” order was issued by the City, and cranes, perhaps but not certainly indicating outside work, blocked a travel lane on 3rd St. at least the weeks of Nov. 12 and Nov. 19, if not longer.

Ha! Is this set-up plodding enough for you?

Plod on to the next post!

Zest is on Gadfly’s plate again (10)

(10th in a series of posts on 306 S. New St.)

Glenn Koehler, “Restaurant review: Zest delivers mouth-watering menu and eye-popping views.” Morning Call, February 12, 2019.

So Zest, the new restaurant atop 306 S. New St. that opened around Christmas/New Year’s is, for some, settling in to the Bethlehem scene.

For others it might never settle in.

The Call reporter says the food is “mouth-watering.”

For some the way the restaurant was built might forever leave a bad taste.

Do you remember the almost perfect storm that occurred on the verge of the restaurant opening? Gadfly covered it in some detail. There are 9 posts in the 306 S. New thread. You might want to refresh your memory. Gadfly will only provide a bare-bones account here.

306 S. New is in the southside historical district. The Historical Conservation Commission (HCC), concerned about the height of new buildings in the district, approved a 6-story building but with a recessed 6th floor to diminish the sense of height. City Council approved HCC approval. Later, Zest, the 6th floor tenant engaged by the building owner, submitted plans to the City encroaching on that recess. The plans should have been rejected, but the City mistakenly gave approval. Construction started and was somewhere in progress when the error was discovered, kicking the issue back to HCC. HCC denied the extension unanimously without any further recommendation of what to do or how to proceed. City Council then heard the case again. The owner/developer claimed ignorance of the recess provision, the restaurateur claimed ignorance as well as his large financial outlay and the planned upcoming opening, the City admitted its mistake. The Council was called upon to decide what to do – a decision framed as either support HCC’s denial or give permission for the originally unapproved design. Council voted 5-2 against the HCC decision and thus to allow construction to continue.

Now this was a hard case. If you will go back in the thread, you will see that Gadfly believed that, all things considered, realistically and pragmatically, there was nothing else Council could have done at that point. But you will find a strong counter-view there as well.

Move on, Gadfly, you’ll say. It’s water under the bridge. Zest is open, the food is mouth-watering, the view eye-popping, pitchers and catchers are heading to Florida, Spring is coming, the birds will be chirping. Move on.

The reason Gadfly can’t let this “case” go is that it highlights so well the recurring tension between development and history in the City, and a sense that many have that developers are shady, that developers get their way, that Council tends to buckle under to developers (and worse things are intimated), that historical ordinances aren’t worth the paper they were printed on and the breath with which they were conceived, that what the “people” want doesn’t matter.

So this is an important case.

Candidates for City Council take note.

And another reason Gadfly hasn’t been able to let this case go is that several aspects of it just don’t seem right, just won’t be smoothed over.

The only way Gadfly knows to seek closure, to let a problem go, is to write it out.

So please bear with him for a couple posts. He’s a slow methodical thinker.

Maybe there something important to be learned in this review.

Welcome candidate for City Council Will Carpenter

(7th in a series of posts on candidates for election)

Will Carpenter Announces Candidacy for Bethlehem City Council

Bethlehem: Longtime Bethlehem resident Will Carpenter is happy to announce his candidacy for the two-year term on the Bethlehem City Council. “I spent my career at the intersection of business and government, finding solutions that benefit the city, its citizens and the private sector.“ Will spent more than 20 years of his career managing Will Caropenter corporate real estate and development for a global retail company, and looks forward to bringing his business and municipal experience to Council.

Before making Bethlehem his home in 1999, Will spent the majority of his time living and working on the East Coast. After college Will became a district supervisor for fast-paced retail stores and excelled in management and operations. Ultimately promoted to Director of Real Estate, Will spent the next 20 years working with cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia. Throughout his career, Will spent many hours with council members, mayors and city staff negotiating agreements including zoning changes, improvements to public infrastructure, traffic studies and performance guarantees.

Bethlehem has defied the odds of most cities in the North East and continues to be in a strong position for responsible growth. “I am running for Council because I believe we must build on our strong foundation with a vision that puts our community needs and values front and center. I look forward to bringing my experience to help Bethlehem find the right balance in continued growth and sustainability with responsible government oversight. Transparency, inclusion and high ethical standards are key ingredients to keep Bethlehem strong for generations to come.”

Will was raised in upstate New York and is a graduate of Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Business Management. Will and his wife, Renell, are raising two daughters who both attend Liberty High School and grew up using the wonderful Bethlehem Public Library, playing youth sports, and enjoying Main Street and the many festivals in our great city. Will is active in the community and has held leadership positions in both business and community organizations.

A reminder that the other new candidates for Council thus far are Grace Crampsie Smith, Carol Chamberlain Ritter, and David Saltzer. Incumbents running are J. William Reynolds, Michael Colon, and Paige Van Wirt. Incumbent Shawn Martell is not running. There are three four-year seats and one two-year seat on the ballot this year. As far as Gadfly knows, Smith and Carpenter are running for the two-year seat, Ritter and Saltzer for the four. Reynolds’ kickoff is Thursday, Feb. 24, 6:30, BrewWorks. Smith’s is Sunday, Feb. 24, 2-4, Roosevelt’s.

Development doin’s

Gadfly is big on citizen participation. You might have noticed.

Now he knows that there will not always be the kind of drama or electricity at City Council meetings to compete with Hardball and Entertainment Tonight.

That’s why you see Gadfly making “modest proposals” designed to generate viewer and spectator interest.

But even in meetings that look like they have no hot issues or big business agenda items, important things can happen.

Such was the public commentary by Stephen Antalics and Bruce Haines last meeting, February 5.

Zoning.

Gadfly never expected so much time and intensity around issues associated with Zoning and the Historical Districts when he started hanging around City meetings last year.

Gadfly has more than once marveled at the unexpected and puzzling  “fluidity” of ordinances in these areas, finding himself, in self-defense, self-defining more and more as a strict constructionist.

So he was very much interested in the 1-2 punch of residents Antalics and Haines peppering an otherwise pretty sleepy meeting on February 5.

Take a look.

Video of the February 5 City Council meeting

Stephen Antalics  min. 23:00

Bethlehem has two historic district review commissions. North of the Lehigh River, the Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) reviews all exterior changes proposed to buildings in the Bethlehem Historic District. The Historic Commission (HC or HCC) is a separate historic review board that reviews modifications to the exterior of buildings in both the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation District and the Mount Airy Neighborhood District on the West Side.

The historic review boards are recommending bodies. They forward a recommendation to City Council and Council either issues or denies a Certificate of Appropriateness for the proposed revisions. Once a Certificate of Appropriateness is approved, a building permit can be issued for a construction project provided that all other conditions are met.

SA points to a division between how historic ordinances/guidelines are applied in the North and South sides. HARB is powerful in the North. You can’t change a storm door there without their approval. But things are looser in the Southside, and he uses three examples such as the Parking Garage and the new building attached to it at 3rd and New. In each case, significant variations were sought and approved.

SA: “The point I’m making is this, in your mind, looking at this logically, do you believe that the best interests of the Southside follow the best interests of the community in terms of its preservation – or the developer, who won out in these three cases, clear violations of an ordinance which in North Bethlehem wouldn’t have happened. So why did it happen in the Southside? So that might help you people behind that table to get more insight into whose interests are best served – the City against the will of the people behind me who argued against it supported by the ordinance of people who studied the issue.  But they are totally ignored. So, ask yourself, whose interests were best served on the Southside in terms of preservation, the developer or the City or the citizens?”

Bruce Haines   min. 27:50

SA was followed by BH who consoled SA that the situation in the North is no better than the South: “Ordinances anywhere in the City are far some sacred.”

BH’s specific point of reference was recent approval of apartments at 134 E. Broad, a request for a variance to allow no commercial in a building in the commercial district – the exact reverse of the 2 W. Market case that you will recognize Gadfly followed for so long at the end of 2018.

Here’s the owner’s appeal application. Take a look. You might never have seen one.

See exhibit A.  The developer says he cannot fulfill the requirement for a commercial operation on the first floor because of the setback. Thus, he is proposing all apartments.

134 E. Broad

What do you make of that argument? Make good sense? Gadfly is not sure that the claim that the setback makes the property unusable or unrentable for commercial purposes was challenged at all — minutes of Zoning hearings are not readily available.

BH:  “It’s bizarre, we don’t have a zoning ordinance here in this City that is being complied to at all, and you [City Council] are facilitating that.“ Haines charged that we have a Zoning Board with predetermined disposition to take care of developers in this City. “We have a Zoning Hearing Board that’s out of control.” “You guys need to get a handle on this stuff, you are appointing people who are rubber stamps on these boards.”

Now tension over development has been a steady theme in the year Gadfly has been following City business.

Gadfly must admit to a default disposition to distrust developers. Not that he would deal with them with a whip and a chair.

He wonders what the statistics show — what percentage does the Zoning Board turn down? What percentage approve? And that happens to the numbers when you compare appeals by developers to appeals by private citizens?

And there might be another tricky situation on the horizon. Take a look at proposed plans for the Boyd Theater coming down the line.

Boyd

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem’s Boyd Theatre may face its final curtain call.” Morning Call, February 12, 2019.

“The long-shuttered Boyd Theatre, once a beloved vaudeville and movie house in Center City Bethlehem, will be demolished to make way for a $22 million apartment and retail project under a proposal owner Charles Jefferson plans to submit to the city.”

“He said Tuesday that the 120-apartment project would bring residents to a sleepy block just around the corner from historic Main Street, injecting more vibrancy into a downtown that grew up around the city’s original Moravian settlement. The first-floor retail would augment a stretch known as Restaurant Row.”

“Mayor Robert Donchez said he’s pleased redevelopment of the Boyd property, which has been shuttered for eight years, is showing signs of moving forward. That key block, the mayor said, holds a lot of potential and has been underused far too long. ‘It would have been nice had the Boyd been renovated, but sometimes the cost outweighs the benefit,’ he said.”

“The Boyd is just outside the city’s historic district and not listed on the city’s preservation plan. The proposal for the Boyd is the latest project to bring more apartments near the historic downtown. Last year City Council approved a rezoning critical to the development of a five-story apartment building, Skyline West, overlooking the Colonial Industrial Quarter.”

There’s a good argument to be made for more people living close to Downtown even though this is a commercial district, and the Boyd has hung on the City’s hands for a good while. And at least one can say that this plan follows the ordinance by having commercial on the first floor in the commercial district.

But 120 apartments in that space? Whew! I can’t wait to see that plan.

Watch City Council “live” tonight!

City Council meets the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 7pm in the Town Hall rotunda.

Going is best.

But the meetings are now streamed “live” and are stored for later viewing on the City web site.

Go to the City web site >>> Quick links (bottom left) >>> City Council Meeting Agendas and Documents >>> “View Live Stream City Council Meeting” at the top of the page.

On that same page you can find the agenda for the meeting, any pertinent documents for the meeting – and, for later reference, the print version of the minutes plus audio and video recordings of the meeting.

This is a new opportunity.

Let’s make sure to use it!

Bethlehem Moment 6: “Whites Only” service on 4th St.

Bethlehem Moment 6
City Council
February 19, 2019

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: November 13, 1967

Twilight Zone theme

History is time travel. But this particular Bethlehem Moment seems less a journey in time than a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone. For on November 13, 1967, a Bethlehem black man had to argue that he was a human being with equal rights with whites. The Warner 3 Bethlehem black man was Malloy Warner, son of the first black trash hauler in the city, founder and president of the Colored Voters Association, president of the Bethlehem Trash Collectors Association, and member of the historic St. John’s AME Zion Church. In a bar on 4th St. in which I spent many a Friday Happy-Hour around the same period, Warner was several times charged double the white price for a bottle of beer. Bethlehem was not Mississippi or Alabama. Or so I thought. And it was 1967 not ’57 or ’27 or ’97. Or so I thought. Yet the message was clearly “Whites only.” Tension flared. The husband of the bar owner reported a death threat. “Some elements” in the black community were eager to “wreck the place.” But Warner neither turned tail nor turned tiger. He chose the “wiser course” of filing suit with the State Human Relations Commission. It was “humiliating,” Warner said, for a “human being” to be treated in this manner. “I’m not interested in financial reimbursement,” he said, “but I am concerned with the principle involved.” And again: “I personally felt that the injustice had to be brought before a court of law and handled through legal rather than violent means.” Justice was done. The Bethlehem Globe-Times called it a “community victory.” But for this researcher 4th St. will never look quite the same after learning of this uniquely brazen example of racism during this trip to the Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone theme

“Trashman Wins Right to Fair-Priced Beer,” Bethlehem Globe-Times, November 13, 1967.

“Owner of Bethlehem Taproom Ordered Not to Discriminate,” Morning Call, November 14, 1967.

“A Community Victory,” Bethlehem Globe-Times, November 15, 1967.

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Additional notes:

Six months earlier, in his role as president of the Bethlehem Trash Collectors Association (made up of 27 haulers), Warner argued before City Council for private enterprise against a city plan to institute municipal trash collection, in what was described as “the most impassioned debate to happen in the 5 ½ year span of mayor-council form of government,” and for which the citizen-gallery “literally surrounded the council table, reached down the stairway, stood on tables and sat on the floor.”

Warner 2

Warner had a successful hauling company, with such clients as Food Fair, Bethlehem Steel, Dixie Cup, and Air Products. After leaving the business, he owned a bar in Easton.

Some of the language in the news stories is of interest: Warner, for example is described as a “well-spoken Negro,” and the bar owner is described as “blonde.”

“Install Officers,” Morning Call, May 10, 1949.

“Trash Collectors Appeal to Bethlehem Residents,” Morning Call, April 4, 1967.

“Crowd Protests Bethlehem Garbage Collection,” Morning Call, April 5, 1967.

Denise Reaman, “Father was first black refuse collector in city.” Morning Call, February 26, 1995.

Sinkhole risk for LVA – why not Southside? (13)

(13th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

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:

Putting aside the merits of charter schools for a moment, I’m concerned about the proposed Jaindl Boulevard location for Lehigh Valley Academy. It’s not a question of neighborhoods, it’s one of geology. More specifically, it’s about the risk of sinkholes on the 31 acres under consideration.

Pick any excavating contractor out of the phone directory or Google and ask how often they are called to either of the Hanovers, Bethlehem, Palmer, or Forks townships to remediate sinkholes. The geological formation under the rich topsoil is karst — porous limestone. When disturbed, and more importantly, saturated with water, it dissolves and collapses. Buildings built atop them or near them follow. A property I’m associated with on Bath Pike (less than a mile from the school’s site) just spent nearly $15,000 to obtain a site study and fill in a hole. *

Former farmlands and meadows in the Lehigh Valley are at their highest and best use when left more or less alone. Developing them poses risks of creating sinkholes, and the risks for the charter school end up being borne by the taxpayers in the Bethlehem Area School District, either for sinkhole insurance or for remediation of new holes.

The Morning Call covered Parkland’s problems with a sinkhole at a middle school right before the beginning of this academic year. It is costly. We have brownfield properties available on the South Side ready for a school, if the new owners cooperate. Why not ask them?

The state has a great interactive map of sinkhole locations on its Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website (http://www.gis.dcnr.state.pa.us/mobilemaps/index.aspx)

John

* I can show you the paperwork from the excavators with our estimates. The geology is very well known. Somebody is going to make a lot of money on the land deal, and you and I apparently will be footing the bill.

Lehigh Valley Academy Charter looks to build (12)

(12th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

“Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph Roy, a vocal critic of charter schools, said he doesn’t see the need for the charter school to build a new school with taxpayer money.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA.”

BASD is trying to hold the line on a tax increase, though charter school tuition is increasing $1m. Of the 12 charter schools that approximately 2100 BASD students attend at a taxpayer cost of approximately $30m, 50% attend Lehigh Valley Academy Charter. LVA is “eyeing” a possibly $45m building of its own and increasing enrollment. LVA needs BASD permission, but, if denied, can appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.

Gadfly is still looking through the web sites of the 12 charter schools listed in our last post on this charter school topic.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Bethlehem Area School District looking at no tax increase.” Morning Call, February 12, 2019.

“Facing one of its lowest deficits in recent years, the Bethlehem Area School District is aiming to hold the line on taxes for property owners in the 2019-20 budget. . . . Because of the low deficit, board President Michael Faccinetto said he’d like to see what the budget would look like without a tax increase. ‘I’m not saying it’s a done deal, but we’re in the position where we can at least entertain it,’ he said.”

“As has been the case in recent years for school districts, charter schools and employee pension payments are top cost drivers. Bethlehem Area is looking at an almost $1 million increase in charter school tuition that would bring the district to paying almost $31 million.”

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter plans a $45 million school building.” Morning Call, February 14, 2019.

“Wanting to get out of the business of paying rent, the Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School is looking to build a 200,000-square-foot building at a cost of $45 million.”

LVA
LVA current rented space, 1560 Valley Center Pkwy

“At its Jan. 16 meeting, the board approved a $10 million sales agreement that could be for land. . . .  ‘The LVA Board of Trustees recognizes that owning our own facility is significantly more cost effective, fiscally responsible, and sustainable in the long term,’ the news release states. The charter school needs the permission of both the Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school boards to change locations because it is a regional charter school.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA. The news release says the new building would be for 1,950 students, suggesting LVA is looking to expand enrollment.”

“The charter school opened in 2002 and follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a globally focused program that requires students to take a series of demanding tests to receive an optional IB diploma.”

“LVA enrolls a diverse population; more than 30 percent of its students are Hispanic, 36 percent are white and 12 percent are black. Almost 50 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The charter school has a 95 percent graduation rate, almost 10 percentage points above the state average.”

Jacqueline Palochko and Jon Harris, “Lehigh Valley Academy eyes Jaindl land for new charter school building.” Morning Call, February 15, 2019.

“Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School is eyeing 31 acres of Jaindl-owned land in Northampton County for its proposed 200,000-square-foot school. The charter school would pay $10.9 million for the land at 5300 Jaindl Blvd. in Hanover Township, according to the seller’s agreement between the charter school and the estate of Frederick J. Jaindl. The land is near Route 512.”

LVA 2
LVA possible new building, 5300 Jaindl Blvd

“Smith, the charter school’s board of trustees president, said LVA wants to own its own building because it’s more fiscally responsible than renting. The charter school pays more than $3 million annually in rent, he said. LVA plans to take out a loan for the new school, Smith said.”

“The charter school needs the permission of both the Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school boards to change locations because it is a regional charter school. It serves grades kindergarten through 12th. LVA has not yet filed a formal request with Bethlehem Area for a move. Saucon Valley Superintendent Craig Butler declined to comment. If either school district does not approve the location change, the charter school can appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA.” [Plans are to increase enrollment to 1,950 students.]