“This decision leaves many questions unanswered”

(115th in a series of posts on parking)

Steve Melnick is a retired economic development executive and a 25-year resident of Bethlehem.

It strains my credulity to believe that one developer willingly overpaid by some $200,000 dollars and then asked to be included in the CRIZ to recoup some of the costs of the proiect and the other developer didn’t ask for the same benefit. This decision leaves many questions unanswered. One developer has national retail clients lined up and the other one doesn’t. One developer asks for financial incentives after agreeing to pay $200,000 more than the other and doesn’t bring as much experience to the project. It seems to me that after overpaying for their last project, the BPA took the extra cash simply to offset any deficits they may have. Long range benefits be damned.

Steve

Lack of discussion by the BPA before voting

(114th in a series of posts on parking)

Audio from the August 28 Bethlehem Parking Authority meeting:

City of Bethlehem ad hoc committee report: BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

Pertinent attendees:
The City ad hoc committee: Alicia Karner, Eric Evans, Paige Van Wirt
City Councilman: Bryan Callahan (liaison to BPA)
BPA Exec Director: Kevin Livingston
BPA Board: Joseph Hoffmeier, Dino Cantelmi, Billy Kounoupis, Lynn Cunningham, Eugene Gonzalez
The BPA financial guys
Nova representatives
Desman consultant
Reporters
Your Gadfly
Several others Gadfly didn’t know

The BPA Board was to decide between two proposals for retail/residential development associated with the Polk Street Garage: Nova and Peron.

Board members were sent the proposals and the City ad hoc committee report the previous week.

This section of the meeting was opened by an objective description of both proposals by the BPA consultant from Desman. He made no recommendation but refreshed people on the comparative proposals.

If you know anything about Gadfly, you know he values conversation: “Good conversation builds community.”

Gadfly expected discussion before a motion. Gadfly is not all that conversant (good SAT word) with parliamentary procedure, and he is used to more collegial decision-making, so he was surprised at the immediate motion supporting Peron.

Gadfly has attended many other “hot-button” City ABCs where after discussion by the Board, the floor is opened to the public.

Gadfly feels something like that should have happened here.

The City had been asked to participate, asked to make a recommendation, and three committee members were present prepared to discuss their report.

The City report gave several reasons for their conclusion and, perhaps anticipating that the Board might immediately favor the highest bidder, counseled that the finances were more complex than represented and would require more investigation and evaluation.

No investigation or evaluation of the financial matters had been performed.

And the City committee members were not invited to speak.

Nova was not invited to speak. (Gadfly is not sure if Peron representatives were there, but one of the newspaper articles seemed to imply that Peron’s Rob DeBeer was there.)

There was really no interaction among Board members either, no chance to determine how conversant (worked it in twice!) they were with the various documents and the issues.

There was no sense that the Board members weighed issues involved in the decision.

In fact, Gadfly has never seen substantive discussion in any Board meeting he attended nor seen such recorded in any past minutes he has consulted.

The usual procedure in Gadfly’s experience is exactly what happened here, a motion quickly followed by a unanimous voice vote.

Let’s come back and chew on the issues — was there nothing in the ad hoc report worth discussing? — but as far as process and procedure is concerned, Gadfly feels the BPA failed completely.

More info on the BPA meeting on Polk to chew on

(113th in a series of posts on parking)

There are some things regarding the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s choice of the retail/residential component of the Polk Street Garage development that we ought to be chewing on (damn prepositions: “on which we ought to be chewing” is what Gadfly meant to say).

Gadfly likes to lay out the primary sources for you to use to do your own thinking.

Here’s the Gadfly audio (10 mins.) of that section of yesterday’s BPA Board meeting (BPA has not agreed to move all their meetings to a later time nor move to Town Hall and have meetings live-streamed and archived, but they are now posting audio on their web site under News):

The Desman consultant to BPA read what he described as an objective analysis of both the Nova and Peron proposals, Board member Ms. Cunningham immediately moved to accept the Peron proposal based on the significant money difference, Board chair Hoffmeier agreed with a few comments, Board member Kounoupis colorfully agreed, and then the Board voted unanimously for Peron.

The left rendering is Nova, the right Peron:

Here’s the memo from the City ad hoc committee favoring Nova and stating that “While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA.” There was no indication of such evaluation, and the Board moved immediately to the Peron proposal because of the purchase price differential.

BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

This is the conclusion:

“Both proposals received were comprehensive, thorough and comparable in Proposal and Presentation Format, Planning and Zoning Consistency and Financial Viability. While both entities are experienced, capable and successful, Nova Development has a stronger track record of project completion in the City of Bethlehem and a more desirable building design. The Nova design would add a variety of building styles to the corridor and is inclusive of more desirable design elements. The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in with the building is located. Additionally, Nova Development’s proposed use of the building is more comprehensive, providing commercial opportunities beyond first floor retail and greater opportunity for use by the general public. The proposed roof use of the Nova design, as either an amenity or restaurant, is a significant strength in the proposal and is a large factor in the difference between the two proposals. It is important to note that there was significant discussion around the uniqueness of The Factory Retail and the value that tenant brings to the project. If The Factory Retail is exclusively associated with the Peron/Petrucci proposal, the loss of that opportunity would be considered the largest negative, if the Nova proposal is selected. While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA, including significant variances in contract parking spaces and some uncertainty around the potential for CRIZ increment generation.”

Without such financial evaluation, should the BPA have moved so quickly to accept the Peron proposal?

In any event, should the other positive aspects of the Nova proposal be overshadowed by the dollar signs?

Chew on!

“South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity”

(112th in a series of posts on parking)

Meet the Polk Street Garage that will be more than a garage. Gadfly has clips from the two media stories below, but he suggests that you read both articles fully. Note especially the opinion of the City ad hoc committee. More comment and analysis coming.

Polk St sketch 2

Polk St sketch 3

Polk St sketch 4
renderings from both lehighvalleylive and Morning Call

Nicole Radzievich, “Here’s a look at what will front a future south Bethlehem garage.” Morning Call, August 28, 2019.

A long-envisioned parking garage in south Bethlehem would be fronted by a five-story building of high-end apartments and a ground-floor retail store, under the proposal the Bethlehem Parking Authority selected Wednesday.

The 8,000 square feet of retail space is to be anchored by Factory Retail, a project of the nearby Factory that opened in a former Bethlehem Steel building by former FreshPet executive Richard Thompson. That’s an innovation campus or launching pad to raise relatively new food and beverage companies to the next level — a term known as “scale up.”

The residential portion of the $6.4 million project, proposed for Polk and Third streets, is to include 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The project was picked over one by Nova Development, a subsidiary of Allied Building Corp. of Bethlehem. The biggest difference was over how much each was willing to pay for the 12,000 square feet of land needed to build the project, authority members said.

The decision comes after a city ad hoc committee had reviewed the proposals, concluding both entities were “experienced, capable and successful” but that Nova “has a stronger track record of project completion in the city” and proposed “a more desirable building design,” including the rooftop which could feature a restaurant or other amenities. The committee also advised that there was much “uncertainty” around the CRIZ designation part of Peron’s proposal.

According to the memo, the committee expressed concerns around the capacity of Peron “to complete the project without delaying or sacrificing” other projects it has already undertaken in the city.

The ad hoc committee also noted the uniqueness of the Factory Retail portion, saying it would be a lost opportunity if it were exclusively associated wit the Peron/Petrucci proposal and not picked.

The Nova project said it had lined up a national retail tenant for the project.

Other big differences in the proposals had to do with how much parking each needed from the proposed garage. Nova anticipated at least 75 spaces and Peron/Petrucci 32, according to the proposals.

Also on Wednesday, the Parking Authority backed taking out a private loan to be taken out to pay for an estimated $16.8 million garage.

 

Sara Satullo, “‘A lot of ka-ching,’ unique tenant put this Polk Street proposal on top for Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com, August 29, 2019.

South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity.

In order to not waste prime real estate along one of South Bethlehem’s fastest changing corridors, the Bethlehem Parking Authority put out a call for proposals for a mixed use development fronting East Third and Polk streets with the garage to the rear. Proposals were received June 7 and then they were vetted by the authority, its Desman parking consultants and an independent committee of city officials.

On Wednesday night, the authority’s board selected a Peron Development and J.G. Petrucci Co. plan that proposes a five-story building with 32 luxury apartments on the upper four floors and a unique first floor retail user.

Peron beat out a proposal from Anthony Scarcia’s Nova Development and Allied Building Corporation that pitched a six-story, $7 million project with 7,700-square-feet of first-floor retail with commitments from two nationally-recognized tenants, 45 apartments and a rooftop space that could act as a building amenity or restaurant.

Peron’s offer of nearly $200,000 more in their purchase price for the land sealed the deal for the authority’s board members.

“It is a lot of ka-ching,” said Billy Kounoupis, member and owner of Billy’s Downtown Diner in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

The authority is planning a deck with at least 470 spaces and a 30-spot parking lot with bid alternatives that could grow the garage to 750 spaces with enough commitments. The board also authorized issuing bonds of up to $25 million for the project, which is estimated to cost $16.8 million.

Authority board members expressed excitement for Peron’s proposed retail tenant. The 8,000-square-foot ground floor is to be anchored by a unique type of retail run by The Factory — the glossy, high-tech innovation laboratory for entrepreneurs located steps away on Columbia Street in a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. building.

Customers will be able to learn about entrepreneurship and food production while sampling and shopping for products from a rotating lineup of retailers. The Factory partners with companies like Mikey’s and Honey Stinger looking to scale-up their business and innovate in their facilities.

The city committee formed to evaluate the proposals for the authority came to a different conclusion, backing the Nova Development project due to the company’s stronger track record of project completion and a better building design that adds to the variety of styles in the corridor.

“The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in (which) the building is located,” the committee’s memo states. In a memo, the committee said the difference in purchase price is not the only financial aspect to consider and pointed to the large gap in contracted parking spaces.

Parking Authority Chairman Joe Hoffmeier said he ultimately thinks the number of contracted parking spaces would end up being similar. The Factory already is committing to spots in Polk Street. “I’m not walking away from $200,000,” he said.

Shenanigans happen at Zoning Hearing Board meetings

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Al Bernotas is a 36-year resident of Bethlehem, somewhat of a law and order zoning wonk, with many years fighting a ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board, only to find out that they had discretion to do whatever they want to do. So said the Commonwealth Court, with the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania turning down a request to hear the case. Now he just spends much of his time mowing his lawn, while watching tractor-trailers mosey on down the residential street whereupon he lives, Johnston Drive. In his spare time he is a Medicare Advisor, Census Bureau Enumerator, and Landscape Specialist, and All-around Handyman. Or, some other folks would call him a know-it-all.

The Gadfly blog states, “The last Zoning Hearing Board meeting was livestreamed [sic] and is available on YouTube (not on a City archive yet).”

It would have been great if back on November 10, 2010, the Zoning Hearing Board meeting would have been live-streamed. Then we would not have had to worry about the lost or destroyed transcript. The story is below, in a detailed press release from the Zoning Hearing Board.

The nub of the story is that during the November 10, 2010, meeting the Zoning Officer put his foot in his mouth, to the point where the Zoning Board solicitor asked if he (the Zoning Officer) would like to stop the meeting so that he could obtain legal counsel. This version of the story cannot be proven, because the transcript was lost or destroyed.

But, I was there. It happened.

Shenanigans happen at Zoning Hearing Board meetings. Videotaping each session will go a long way to disinfecting the meetings. And so will public deliberations!

If you want to know the rest of the story, read the Press Release below.

Al

***

PRESS RELEASE – BETHLEHEM ZONING HEARING BOARD

On September 30, 2010, the Northampton County Court filed an Order affirming the prior decision of the Zoning Hearing Board of the City of Bethlehem regarding Elias Market located at 3131 Linden Street in the City of Bethlehem. However, the Court remanded the matter back to the Board to address a procedural defect by the City of Bethlehem Zoning Office in the initial appeal. On November 10 and November 29, 2010 the Board held hearings consistent with the Court’s Order. The Board unanimously granted the Elias’ Market request for Special Exception at the conclusion of the Hearing. On January 13, 2011 the Board filed its Formal Decision.

On February 10, 2011, Al Bernotas, Walter Ward and Guishu Fang filed an appeal in Northampton County. As is standard procedure, the Board was served with a writ to produce the record from the proceedings that includes the original decision, all exhibits, and the transcript from both hearings. Numerous attempts were made to obtain the transcript from the stenographer. The Board was informed that there was a computer diskette error with the November 10, 2010 transcript. The stenographer informed the Board that it would take two weeks to go back through the “paper tape” produced by the stenographic machine and prepare the transcript. The Board authorized the stenographer to prepare the transcript. Several additional attempts were made to obtain the transcript in the subsequent weeks and the answer was always that “it will take a couple of weeks.”

The matter was scheduled for Argument Court in April and May, 2011. Both dates were continued by the Appellants because the original transcript from the November 10, 2010 hearing had not been produced. Following the June 22, 2011 meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board, the stenographer advised that he lost the paper tape, could not retrieve data from the diskette used at that hearing and could not locate an audio tape from the November 10, 2010 hearing. As a result, he could not complete the transcript. The Board then directed the stenographer to produce either a completed transcript or turn over all records and information pertaining to the November 10, 2010. The Board obtained the
computer diskette on June 27, 2011 and no data, retrievable or otherwise, was found within the diskette. No other notes, tapes or audio records were turned over to the Board.

Section 908(7) of the Municipalities Planning Code requires “*T+he board or the hearing officer, as the case may be, shall keep a stenographic record of the proceedings…” Case law reiterates that failure to comply with this section “is fatal” and such cases must be remanded back to the board for a new hearing (Penn Tp. Bd. of Supervisors v. DeRose, 339 A.2d 859, 18 Pa.Cmwlth. 626, Cmwlth. 1975, Howarth v. Trumbauersville Borough Zoning Hearing Bd., 20 Bucks 609 (1971).

As such, the Board will reconvene for the purpose of re-litigating the November 10, 2010 hearing. The Board directed its solicitor to contact the attorneys representing their respective clients, including the solicitor for the Bethlehem City Council. It is our understanding that the parties are in agreement that a rehearing of only the November 10, 2010 meeting is required. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board will review the prior transcript from November 29, 2010 and will then vote upon the matter in an effort to preserve the record for the ongoing litigation in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.

Ultimately, it is the Board’s responsibility to preserve the record. We are deeply embarrassed and have taken affirmative measures, along with the City of Bethlehem, to make certain that this situation never happens again. This includes hiring a new stenographer with modernized recording devices and multiple levels of redundancy. We sincerely regret the inconvenience that this has caused to all of the parties involved and will do everything humanly possible to expedite this matter.

Gus Loupos, Chairman
William Fitzpatrick, Member
Kenneth Kraft, Member
Ronald Lutes, Alternate Member

“Member rant ends meeting”

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Gadfly thought he was done with this thread on the August 20 City Council meeting.

The purpose of which thread is to give us important information about our city officials when we come time to vote.

Today’s Bethlehem Press article doesn’t mince words.

The front-page headline is “Member rant ends meeting.”

We now have three reporter perspectives and Gadfly’s mini-series.

Douglas Graves, “Member rant ends meeting; Zoning issue questioned.” Bethlehem Press, August 28, 2019.

The Bethlehem City Council meeting went off the rails Aug. 23 [20].

Councilman Bryan Callahan started out challenging some comments that he alleged were made by another councilperson to one of Mayor Robert Donchez’s nominees for the Zoning Hearing Board.

At the heart of Callahan’s indignation was the idea that campaign contributions would somehow influence a politician’s vote and thus call into question the civil servant’s integrity.

For more than half an hour, Callahan expressed his grievances to council, while frequently lapsing into charges and complaints leveled directly to individuals on the city council, a violation of council rules.

Callahan repeatedly claimed that his only goal was to introduce open debate on issues as opposed to deciding issues via phone calls and back-room deals.