(1st in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)
It’s deja-vu all over again, as someone said at last night’s Council meeting. Gadfly can hardly get a thread on one of these development situations finished before another one pops up. Use the news stories as a starting point for thinking about the Garrison St. matter.
a five-story, mixed-use building with 72 apts along the 700 block of N. New Street,
between North and Garrison
The residents of West Garrison Street have built a tight-knit community where kids are sent outside to play. They get homework help on neighbors’ porches and folks open their homes for dinner.
On Tuesday evening, the residents of the street implored Bethlehem City Council not to disrupt their way of life by rezoning two properties — 11 and 15 W. Garrison St. — from high-density residential to the central business district designation they held prior to a 2005 zoning change.
[Lauren Miller] asked city council what matters most to them: the community and people that reside in the city or economic development.
[Developer] Connell envisions commercial retail space fronting on North New Street along with the apartments and 74 parking spaces to the rear. While zoning does not require he provide parking, Connell said, he thinks it is crucial to market the project to tenants.
Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt said she’s concerned about the intrusion of development on a vibrant residential street.
“I really feel for these neighbors and I’m going to stand up for them,” [Bruce Haines] said. . . . This is all about integrity.”
[The properties] sit within the city’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, tax abatement zone as well as a qualified opportunity zone, a capital gains tax incentive, created in the 2017 tax reform law. It is meant to encourage investment and development in targeted economically distressed neighborhoods. With LERTA, taxes on a property’s higher assessment, resulting from improvements, are phased in over 10 years rather than all at once.
The picture painted was of a tight, friendly neighborhood that would be lost forever if two properties on a street in Bethlehem were rezoned to allow for construction of a five-story apartment and retail complex.
“I’m someone who cares deeply about this neighborhood. … Everyone knows everyone’s name. It is something special, something beautiful. Kids sit on my porch and color. Say ‘no’ to changing the zoning,” an emotional Lauren Miller, a West Garrison Street resident, told council.
Miller rents one of the West Garrison Street homes owned by Connell and praised the historic character of the home she has lived in for more than three years. She questioned why there’s such a need to “tear down the old for the new. I want to live here and be a part of building this community.” Others from the neighborhood echoed Miller’s sentiments. “I don’t want this. It will bring a lot more people and we won’t feel safe anymore. Our block is like a big family,” West Garrison Street resident Cindy Toledo said.
“This is commercial intrusion into a wonderful neighborhood. This is about integrity of our zoning codes, our neighborhoods and government,” Hotel Bethlehem managing owner Bruce Haines said.
Tension between development and history dominated Tuesday night’s Bethlehem City Council meeting.
The two properties are part of nine contiguous properties [Developer] Connell has acquired over several years on West North, North New and Garrison streets. The acquisitions are required to eventually implement his vision of an important urban redevelopment project.
During Tuesday night’s hearing, Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt said it should come at no surprise that she is “concerned about the loss of residential” properties. She directly asked Connell what would he do if the zoning was denied? Connell attempted to answer, pausing several times before eventually giving up. “I don’t think I could honestly answer that question,” given the situation, he said.
It was a question neighbors who attended the hearing Tuesday night hope becomes more than hypothetical. Speaker after speaker lamented the changes with various themes centering around how it would negatively transform a Bethlehem neighborhood. “This is a commercial intrusion into a neighborhood,” Bethlehem resident Bruce Haines said. “… Ultimately this decision is about integrity.”