Will the Planning Committee reconsider the Lehigh Northside issue? (20)

(20th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

from the Planning Commission meeting 2/21/19

The gadflies of the insect world are nasty, pesky critters. Your Bethlehem Gadfly of the homo sapiens world is surely earning his sobriquet (good SAT word) with this thread on Lehigh University.

And you may be tired of it.

What’s your beef, Gadfly Gallagher?

There are two elements to this “case” bound to engage a gadfly:

1) what seems like conscious and willful inconsistency between Lehigh’s statements and the actuality

2) what may be (not sure) potential unfairness to the “little guy”

In relative briefness, let me lay it out once again:

Lehigh is constructing three major buildings on existing parking lots and, in total, by its own published figures is thereby losing 518 existing parking spaces on campus, almost the equivalent of the new New St. Garage. Lehigh’s July 18, 2018, parking study, approved by the City, indicates that Lehigh meets all zoning requirements and that all lost parking space will be absorbed on campus. That claim of absorbing all lost parking spaces on campus was affirmed by Lehigh before the Planning Commission, even when questioned by Gadfly at a meeting.

However, when Lehigh rolled out its new parking plan in a September 10, 2018, memo to employees and in perhaps a score of large and small group meetings with employees in the Fall, there was in the plan an off-campus Northside Commuter Lot at 123 W. Lehigh St., ¾’s of a mile and a good 15-minute walk from Farrington Square at the very bottom of main campus – a lot not mentioned in the July study submitted to the City. In the documentation circulated on campus to employees, bus service from that Northside lot to Farrington Square, where employees can connect with other buses to their work location, is described.

It seems clear from Lehigh documentation that all parking demand cannot be satisfied on campus and that the Northside lot is part of several elements to resolve that shortfall. In addition, the new Lehigh parking plan involves an annual fee of $500 for most spaces close to work locations. Some people might choose to park in the Northside lot because it is free. But it’s possible that others – among them Bethlehem residents and taxpayers – will be forced into that lot because they can’t afford the fee.

The fundamental problem, though, is that neither Lehigh or the City has recognized the inclusion of the off-campus lot in testimony before the Planning Commission, despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it is part of the Lehigh plan. Gadfly would like to see the existence of the off-campus lot recognized before the Planning Commission at which time any potential unfairness to Bethlehem residents and taxpayers can be addressed. There may be no unfairness, but we won’t know that without focused discussion.

Well, that wasn’t so brief, was it?

So here’s audio of the public comment section of the 2/21 Planning Commission meeting:

  • in the beginning “with-it” PC members do ask about parking
  • Gadfly makes his soulful pitch for the underdog (min. 1:20)
  • the Lehigh lawyer responds (min. 6:55)
  • there is a brief interchange between the lawyer and Gadfly (min.8:20)
  • astute PC members question again, and City official Ms. Heller resolves the discussion for the PC (9:20)
  • an astute concerned PC member, though, suggests an addition to the main motion before the vote, indicating still some uncertainty about parking (min. 12:25)
  • also comically (to Gadfly anyway) interesting is the Lehigh lawyer implying bike parking as part of the solution to the specific question about the specific kinds of people Gadfly is concerned about (min 13:50)

Lehigh plans to begin parking allocation around April 1 (3 weeks) for a July start to the new plan.

The Planning Commission meets next this Thursday March 14.

If anything is to be done, the time is now.

As you might note from his last letter to Lehigh, the City, and the PC, Gadfly has asked that the authorization given at the 2/21 meeting be revoked till the issue of the Northside lot and potential unfairness to City residents and taxpayers is thoroughly aired.

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