O Little Town of Bethlehem Popping Up All Over the Big Big World

(The Gadfly invites your “local color” reflections of this sort***)

Michael Colón is a lifelong Bethlehem resident and enthusiast. He also moonlights as a City Councilman. 

Dear Gadfly,

Now that we’ve closed out another Musikfest that brought people from near and far to our fine city, I wanted to share recent experiences that truly highlight how coincidental life is. Both involve trips out of state; both involve our two colleges.

The first happenstance was last month while I was on a trip out west. One arid, Arizona evening some of my extended family took me out to Sedona to see a desert sunset. Whilst hiking up a large rock, we noticed a young man perched way ahead atop the crag. His father was in earshot of our comments and shared he unfortunately didn’t have his phone to capture this great photo opportunity. My aunt volunteered to text it to him, while asking for his number. “717” he started before we interrupted him. Turns out the family is from Lancaster meeting up with their son while he’s on a one-man road show in a used RV for the summer because he just earned his master’s degree from our very own Lehigh University.  The young man negotiated with his employer, located in Bethlehem Township, to start after Labor Day, allowing him this chance to see the country all summer in his hopefully reliable used RV. As he descended, we had a chance to speak to the young man named Justin. My family and I shared we’re Bethlehem folk too. We wished him well in his travels and career, then continued on as strangers passing on a rock, 2500 miles from home, known to each other only because of the need for a cell phone camera. If his father would’ve had his phone, would we even know that we’ve all come from one tiny area of earth all this way to share this view of AZ together on an even smaller patch of earth?  Likely not.

The second event occurred a couple weeks ago. On a hot Saturday with nothing on the schedule for either of us, my girlfriend and I decided to hit the beach (or go down the shore). We chose Point Pleasant for no reason other than my youngest brother talks about it. We walked up the boardwalk, choosing a beach entrance at random. As we paid to get onto the sand, we were instructed to wait for “one of the guys” who would give us a beach umbrella. Our “guy” working on the beach was a teenager who after telling us to follow him turned around displaying a Moravian College drawstring bag on his back. We immediately shared with the young beach-hand that we’re from Bethlehem. “Is that near Moravian?” he asked. Turns out this 16-year-old Jersey Shore local is the son of someone in a management position at the college. He knew Moravian is a college where his dad worked and that it isn’t close to home. He learned locals from Bethlehem like to tell him about it. After kindly helping us plant our umbrella, he returned to work; my girlfriend tuned out my drumming about how coincidental this was, and I got sunburn on my foot. Out of all the beach towns we chose that one, out of all the beach entrances we chose that one, and out of all the employees helping out we got that one. What are the chances?

I share these stories because I’m fascinated by luck, fate, coincidence, or whatever other word you want to attach to it. We’ll never truly know how many close encounters pass us by, but when we do become aware of the stranger on the desert rock or the kid at the beach, it is a unique experience. Admittedly I’ll always be partial to the ones about our not so little town of Bethlehem.

Thanks for reading, and if you feel so inclined, please share your stories of Bethlehem turning up in unexpected places outside the Valley.

Michael

*** From the Gadfly About page: “Local Color: original creative work with recognizably local Bethlehem subjects or connections — art, poems, mini-essays, vignettes, photographs, songs — that help us see or think about our town and townspeople in interesting ways.” Please do follow Michael’s lead and take him up on his invitation.

Sharing your reading: “hiding” the Polk Street Garage

(109th in a series of posts on parking)
(also 6th in a series about sharing your reading)
(and also relating to walkability too)

Jeff Speck: “Hide the parking structures. Exposed parking structures
do not belong next to sidewalks.”

(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

Jeff Speck: “Design parking structures for eventual conversion to human use.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

You have seen Gadfly gradually resigning himself to the fact of a $16.8m Polk Street Garage though there seem to be significant unanswered questions.

$16.8m.

And turning his attention to its design.

And whining, If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

And wondering if the PSG is being designed in accord with goals other than simply warehousing cars, goals like walkability and Climate Action.

On the latter point, remember the recent letter of the Environmental Advisory Council to the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

Which brings him to Speck again.

Speck speaks of the now common practice of addressing walkability (street life) through  a parking structure with a ground floor of retail.

Note, for instance, that the new New Street Garage has a Police substation and a Southside Arts District office on ground level. Steps in the direction of providing a bit of street life there.

Note, too, widespread talk of the need to liven up in some similar fashion the long stretch of Walnut St. along the Walnut Street Garage when it is repaired or rebuilt.

This is all good, and Gadfly believes the BPA is planning for ground-floor retail with the PSG and is already soliciting tenants.

But Speck suggests that “many cities and developers have moved on to a better solution, which is to set the parking lot back slightly and hide it from view.” In Dallas, for instance, “a ring of apartments hides a large parking lot.”  It is “fully reasonable for cities to require hidden parking, and to stop allowing buildings to place parking up against would-be walkable streets.”

Interesting. Intriguing.

And let’s remember Councilman Reynolds’ good question discussed in the previous post on parking about the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous cars on the need for parking garages in the future. Reynolds — a young man — is kind of wondering if 20-30-40 years from now he and others will be wondering what to do with this damn underused building and why we built it in the first place!

Speck is on the same page with the Councilman:

The other mandate for the twenty-first century is to make parking lots convertible. If ride-hailing services — and eventually AVs — end up drastically reducing the need for parking, as predicted, we will wish that we had built all those parking structures with flat floors, removable ramps, and frames that can support human uses. Smart developers are doing it now.

As usual, all this is above Gadfly’s pay grade. He’s just trying to stir the pot. He’s concerned the PSG will be designed without sufficient public conversation and in isolation from wider community goals relating to the quality of life and long-term issues.

The follower Gadfly mentioned in the previous post has him thinking about bargaining chips. Perhaps a chip toward approval of the fine increase proposal might be assurance that the BPA will provide extensive public conversation over the PSG design and satisfaction that the design meets even non-technical city goals.

If you aren’t reading, you may not be growing. What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.

Pennsylvania Avenue Bethlehem Manor expansion denied at Zoning

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Manor and Neighborhoods)

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After being approved by the Planning Commission a month ago, a major expansion of the Bethlehem Manor assisted-living facility in the old Rosemont school on Pennsylvania Avenue was denied by the Zoning Board Wednesday night.

It’s an understatement to call the proposal a “major expansion” — it’s a 70% increase in the number of beds in this residential area setting.

The substantial size of the expansion, coupled with memory of resident agitation over the original approval of the Manor in the school building, jumped out at Gadfly when he stumbled across the notice on the Planning Commission agenda. The proposal had not received any public notice or press as far as Gadfly could tell.

In his last post on this proposal, Gadfly expressed surprise “that such a large increase in this residential area is going down so far so smoothly.”

Several Bethlehem residents with negative views spoke forcefully against the project Wednesday, however, and now Gadfly expresses surprise at the denial by Zoning, which in his experience (admittedly, on the short side) does not seem all that common.

Always anxious to profile citizen participation, Gadfly will provide a more detailed report of this interesting meeting shortly.

In the meantime, please note these two previous posts on the subject to come up to speed.

“Neighborhood Watch: Rosemont Area Alert!”
“Large Bethlehem Manor addition approved by Planning Commission”

Charles Malinchak, “City denies Bethlehem Manor’s plan for expansion.” Morning Call, August 15, 2019.

A plan to build a 54-unit addition to a Bethlehem elder care facility was shot down Wednesday night by the city zoning hearing board. The board’s 3-2 vote denied variances that would have allowed developer Abe Atiyeh’s Bethlehem Manor to build a 2½-story addition to the facility on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bethlehem Manor was created by converting what was once Rosemont Elementary School after obtaining a variance from the zoning board in 2016 to operate a personal care facility in a residential zone.

Nimita Kapoor Atiyeh, who manages the Bethlehem, Whitehall and Saucon Valley Manors, said after the hearing that the company would appeal the decision. “I am gung ho to keep moving ahead,” she said. “I am passionate about the elderly and I want what’s right for them.”

Kapoor Atiyeh, who is the wife of Abe Atiyeh, testified that there has been increased demand for private rooms, which is why it was decided to move ahead with an expansion.

Fifty-four residents in their rooms will not change the neighborhood,” she said. “I want to give these people the honor and privilege of living out their last years in dignity.”

Several residents spoke out against the project, citing issues of noise from ambulances, its unsuitability to the neighborhood, traffic and the possibility that an expansion would lead to further expansion.

Brian Nicas, who resides in the neighborhood on Tioga Street, presented the board a petition signed by more than 25 residents, all opposed to the addition. “I’m not against health care facilities, I just don’t think it is appropriate for this site,” he said.

Anne Lendzinski, who lives near the facility on Kenmore Avenue, said, “Your facilities work well in Hellertown and Whitehall because they are in mixed-use areas. In our neighborhood it does not work well. Don’t build another building.”

The banning of the ban of single-use plastic bags

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

Here is interesting commentary on the (temporarily anyway) banning of the banning of single-use plastic bags, an ordinance proposed by our Environmental Advisory Council and point person Beth Behrend that Gadfly reported on a few weeks ago.

Wait till next year, Beth!

Greg Vitali, “Your View: How a state senator blocked Pennsylvania bans on plastic bags.” Morning Call, August 14, 2019.

In the final days of budget negotiations, a powerful state senator quietly inserted language in a budget related bill that would prevent Pennsylvania from regulating single use plastic bags.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) inserted a provision in the fiscal code that would prohibit the commonwealth and its municipalities from regulating single-use plastic bags and other containers for one year — ostensibly to allow more time to study the issue.

Sen. Corman’s district includes a single-use plastic bag manufacturing plant — Hilex Poly in Milesburg, Centre County. This plant is owned by Novolex, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of single-use plastic bags. Novolex has lobbied against plastic bag regulation in other states.

Given the backdrop of these national, state and municipal plastic bag programs, Corman’s assertion that another year of study is needed before Pennsylvania or its municipalities should consider enacting plastic bag regulations lacks plausibility. To the contrary, Corman’s actions are consistent with a continuing, parochial effort to protect the Novolex plastic bag manufacturing plant in his district.

Legislation to prevent plastic bag regulation has been opposed by most Pennsylvania municipal associations, including the Pennsylvania Municipal League, The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs. Local governments want the tools of plastic-bag fees and bans to help them deal with local problems such as litter, the clogging of storm drains and sewers, and the stressing of landfills.

Much-needed plastic bag regulations will be prevented or delayed because our elected officials in Harrisburg have allowed the actions of one powerful senator to carry the day.

Grading the Parking Authority responses

(108th in a series of posts on parking)

You can never take the prof out of the Gadfly.

Thinking forward to the probable re-appearance of the Bethlehem Parking Authority at the August 20 City Council meeting to finalize the Polk Street Garage financial matters ($16.8m . . . $16.8m . . . $16.8m) and to propose increases in the fine structure, Gadfly is thinking back to their first appearance at the July 2 meeting.

And he would like to say something about BPA responses to questions from Council members, something that will help explain his personal unease with the BPA and at the same time also help give you an idea of your Council members at work (which is one of the Gadfly project missions).

First, the questions from Councilwoman Van Wirt. Listen in:

PVW here is concerned about contract parking rates in the garages. PVW — the scientist (among other things, of course) — tends to ask clear, crisp, direct questions. In this clip she asks just such a question: “Can someone tell me why we aren’t pricing these spots according to the market?”

BPA does not answer directly. This is the kind of thing that drives Gadfly crazy. Gadfly would teach his students that the proper format response to this question is “We aren’t pricing these spots according to the market because __________________.” A direct question begets a direct answer before any contextual or explanatory information. Instead BPA muddles the answer. Gadfly calls this gobbledygook when he reported on the meeting a month ago.

Another indirect question in this clip — “I would assume that the demand in Bethlehem is commensurate with other cities our size” — receives the same off-center response. Is or is our demand not commensurate? Gadfly is not sure he knows after the BPA response.

Another example, which Gadfly finds humorous:

PVW asks another clear, crisp, direct question: “If something catastrophic happens . . . and you can’t pay [each of the three loans] . . . which one would you pay first?” The very next words from BPA — as Gadfly would counsel his students — should be “The one we would pay first would be ________________. ” And then any contextual or explanatory information. Instead what we have is gobbledygook again. Gobbledygook so bad, in fact, that PVW has to ask “Can you put that in simpler terms for me?” Now that’s funny. Though not to the quite serious, quite focused PVW.

This kind of lack of clarity is one of the things that has bothered Gadfly throughout his observations of BPA. It does not inspire a sense of trust. It makes Gadfly’s head spin sometimes. BPA is often hard to pin down. There’s a haze that hovers over much of their communication.

Second, the questions from Councilman Reynolds.

When Gadfly reported on this interchange earlier, he said that “JWR raised some interesting long-term, wonkish, ‘10,000 feet up’ questions quite characteristic of his wide-ranging approach to gathering information.”

One had to do with the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles on parking demand.

Gadfly found that a very interesting and important question — after all, think of that $16.8m and a garage 1/3 filled 20 years from now — and, surprisingly, found BPA’s answer very focused. Perhaps because the question goes to the very heart of parking industry existence.

A good question, indeed.

And BPA was prepared with a focused answer.

One that justified the $16.8m expenditure.

Interesting.

But perhaps JWR would have done well to be more skeptical in his acceptance of BPA’s answer, though he made a credible point about our population growth.

Jeff Speck (2018) — whom you know Gadfly has been reading and whom Gadfly now considers a member of the family — writes, “Whether a city should build any new downtown parking structures is a good question. . . . Given the onset of ride-sharing services and, eventually, autonomous vehicles, the answer is most cases is probably no.”

The parking industry representative had a stock justification of his existence and of a $16.8m outlay at the ready.

Other experts might not agree.

Gadfly is not sure you would want to base your faith in the future of parking garages solely on the opinion of a guy whose job it is to build them.

Another idea relating to the Parking Authority proposal to increase the fine structure

(107th in a series of posts on parking)

Back to the thread on the Bethlehem Parking Authority and the Polk Street Garage.

Remember that the BPA will probably attend City Council next Tuesday August 20 to present their final financial statement on the Polk Street Garage and to propose a schema for increasing the parking fine schedule.

If — as certainly supposed — the BPA still proposes to fund a $16.8m Polk Street Garage by a private loan rather than a city-backed (us) bond, then City Council has no say and the financial statement will be presented for information only. There was some static from Councilwoman Van Wirt earlier when the draft financial statement was presented, and Gadfly has some unanswered questions potentially undermining the fundamental validity of the project, but, as Gadfly understands it, the BPA can basically go its own way here.

Remember, the garage is $16.8m.

We have to keep saying that.

$16.8m. $16.8m. $16.8m.

And the BPA can go it alone.

It may be alright, but Gadfly would sure like to be surer.

But Council does has power over the parking fines. The Mayor has already approved meter rate increases that went into effect January 1.

By the way, have you noticed that meter increase — from $1hr., for instance, to $1.50/hr.?

Just so happens that my barber yesterday was “hot” over the increase and said others were. Though I have heard no comments directly.

The BPA plans to propose again the fine rate schedule that they did late in 2018, in which, for instance, a current $10 fine would be raised to $15 — though — and this is the interesting element in the request — they do not immediately need the extra revenue to finance the new garage.

They will be asking for money that at the moment they don’t need.

But, again, here, when it comes to fines, Council does have the controlling power.

Gadfly examined the situation earlier and concluded that Council most likely will agree to the rate schedule proposed by the BPA. So that we will see fine increases that, 9 months belatedly, will rise symmetrically with the meter rates already in effect.

Dana Grubb, however, proposed a rollback plan. Gadfly was going to do some English-prof mathematics to see what that might look like but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Bad Gadfly.

But another Gadfly follower mentioned the possibility of approving increased fines if the BPA would institute variable rate parking, an idea suggested by residents last year, taken up by the Mayor, and for which the BPA has now hired a consultant. As the term suggests, parking meter rates would not be uniform across the city but could vary in different locations and at different times. Apparently the meters we now have can perform variable rate parking. We have the technology but have not used it yet.

Coincidentally, Jeff Speck (2018), the guru Gadfly followers will recognize he has been reading lately in regard to affordable housing, recommends variable rate parking:

When parking is too cheap, parking gets too crowded. . . . For a downtown to function rationally its parking must be priced rationally. This means that price must reflect value, with the most desirable spots getting the highest price. In many places, this price should vary around the clock to reflect changing demand.

This might mean, for one instance — if Gadfly understands correctly — that parking on a Friday night in Northside downtown would cost more than it would on, say, Tuesday morning because of the higher demand.

Gadfly is not sure whether going to VRP has a financial consequence or that its primary purpose would be fairness — for he remembers residents in outer fringe parts of meter territory (West Side?) complaining about why their meter rates had to be the same as downtown.

Gadfly thinks the follower who suggested this was thinking of using implementation of VRP as a bargaining chip with BPA for approval of their fine proposal.

Ahhh, Gadfly wishes he could think politically.

Southside sights

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside)

Gadfly is just catching up with this notice of a new eating establishment in the new 3rd and New building (is it still called Gateway at Greenway Park?).

Eat like an Egyptian
https://eategyptian.com/locations/

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Looks like it may fill the third retail space from the corner heading up (south) New toward 4th Street.

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Wonder what’s happening with the other spaces — especially the corner one, which you would assume is the flagship location.

Seem like a long time with no action here?

One also can not help but notice the trash storage area at the entrance to the Greenway. Uck. Would assume that something is in the works for dealing with this unsightliness better in the streetscape plans for this stretch of New St.

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