The Cookie-Cutter School of Architecture?

logo 12th in a series of posts about 548 N. New St. logo

The image on the left is the architect’s rendering of the recently approved building proposed after demolishing the buildings at 546-48 N. New St., which is just outside our historic district.

The image on the right is the (probably) same architect’s rendering of the building recently proposed inside Easton’s historic district.

The developers of the two sites are the same.

Gadfly — whose knowledge of 9 uses of the comma does not license him to make architectural judgments — senses a sameness in the two designs.

What’s bad for Bethlehem is bad for Easton.

 

Peter Blanchard, “‘That looks like a robot’: Neighbors, Easton historic district board not sold on proposal for 12-story building.” Morning Call, November 13, 2019.

“That looks like a robot,” says a neighbor of the Easton project on the right, “It doesn’t look historic.”

A follower who called this article to Gadfly’s attention and who might not want to be identified suggested delightfully that the Bethlehem project on the left looks like something from outer space.

Why — with a nod to follower Kim Carrell-Smith — can’t we get architecture that blends with its unique neighborhood?

It can be new but blend.

But this smells of the Cookie-Cutter School of Architecture.

More UnBound voices

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Gadfly is still culling the treasures in his Festival UnBound files. So much there.

One of the things he was especially pleased with and impressed by during the Festival was the participation of our elected officials and City administrators. He said so during public comment at a Council meeting.

Councilman Reynolds chaired a panel. Councilwoman Van Wirt appeared on one that we just recently highlighted here with a video of her segment.

Darlene Heller was part of the Sustainability Forum that, unfortunately, he couldn’t attend.

Here Gadfly would like to call attention to the participation by Alicia Miller Karner, our Director of Community and Economic Development and Councilwoman Olga Negron.

These very short clips are especially welcome. If we get to hear City administrators speak, it’s usually about “business.” Ugh. Here we get to hear Alicia “as a person.” And CW Negron, well, she’s not one to speak overmuch at Council. She’s not one of those elected officials that Gadfly calls “wind demons.” So it’s good to hear her warm voice more as well.

The participation of all of these people indicates not only their personal commitment to the future of Bethlehem — the ambitious purpose of the Festival — but how that participation was valued by the festival organizers.

A tip o’ the hat!

Be sure to give a listen.

———–

Alicia Miller Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development

  • “As a community we are continuing to rely on technology, on social media, on different ways of interacting . . . you have to put effort into coming out and interacting.”
  • “The best is still yet to come.”
  • “In my job, I spend a lot of time with those questions of how do we not leave them behind.”
  • “[Responding to the question by another panelist: What am I going to do with my anger?] Honoring the anger stuck with me more.”
  • “[Responding to a comment about lack of diversity in City Hall] Very male. Many times I am the only female in the room.”

Olga Negron, Bethlehem Councilwoman

  • We hear that she once made a living sewing for the theater and the return to that in the Prometheus play “grounded” her again.
  • “It’s up to us. It shouldn’t be up to the Mayor, it shouldn’t be up to the Administration, or even to us in City Council — it’s our community, and to me [the play is] a call to be involved, to be engaged.”
  • “I’m always looking forward to listen to my emails, my phone calls, conversations . . . we cannot just sit down and watch, we have to be participants.”
  • “We need to be more humble, learn to embrace, and, you know, encourage us to invite others that might not look like us or speak like us so that we can move forward in the community some of us might be wishing, dreaming of.”

Bravo!

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

Bethlehem Moment: Hiram Bradley, the First Known Black/Negro Man from Virginia arrives in Bethlehem

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Bethlehem Moment 15
City Council
November 19, 2019

Rayah Levy
1609 Stanford Rd.
Head of the Adult Services Department
Bethlehem Area Public Library

video
audio

Bethlehem Moment: 1860

While working on an oral history project titled “Voices from the African Diaspora: The Black Experience of Bethlehem Pa.,” it was essential that I embed myself in the community. Though a newcomer, I became part of the local African American community and gained two aunts. They shared many voices/stories. This essay is a taste of some of the takeaway that has enriched the village of Bethlehem 159 years since the arrival in 1860 of Hiram Bradley, who is said to be the first known Black/Negro man from Virginia.

The families that came during and after the Civil War built churches and organizations to keep themselves grounded. Those that left their footprints in the sands of time in Bethlehem are the Bradleys, Smiths, Grimes’s, Lees, Enixs’s, Tarboros, Butts’, Williams’s, Olivers, Hargroves, Roberts’s, Hemmons. They came from such places as Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Washington DC., New Jersey, and even though I discovered countless stories, I will highlight here just three: J. F. Goodwin, who started the well known Goodwin Scholarship Fund; Bert Tarboro, who started the first Black baseball team; and Vivian Butts, the first Black female police officer.

Black/African American communities coming out of slavery to freedom instilled in their members the importance of education. Bethlehem’s Black population was no exception.  Those who paved the way worked as domestic help, chauffeurs, or as laborers in the blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel. Therefore, instilling the importance of an excellent education was constant in their homes. The J. F. Goodwin Scholarship fund is a remembrance of this ideology and continues into the present day.

Levy 3

Dr. Goodwin founded the scholarship organization in 1936. Even though he resided in Reading most of his life, Bethlehem was his home. However, though he made numerous attempts, he was denied work as a doctor while living here, and he had to move to Reading to work in his profession. But these obstacles did not dampen Goodwin’s spirit. His experience of hardship trying to put himself through medical school and establish a practice instilled in him the need to start a scholarship fund for high school students heading off to colleges.

Another pillar in the African American community was Bert Tarboro. According to his daughter Vivian Hungerford, everyone in the neighborhood knew and respected her father. Their family home was always open to anyone, and everyone came and dined at Levy 1their table. Tarboro began working for Bethlehem Steel in 1926 as a laborer and retired forty-six years later. He was a Deacon and Trustee at St. Paul Baptist Church and Master of the Wyoming Lodge #135, which was chartered in 1927. Tarboro and his family were heavily involved in teaching the youth how to play baseball. In 1961, he formed the Bethlehem Giants of the Blue Mountain Baseball League. The team and their families had picnics and took trips together, and everyone was welcome whether they could afford to attend or not. During one of the Bethlehem Giants banquets, baseball stars Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe were guests of honor. Mrs. Hungerford notes that when the neighborhood, Blacks and Whites alike, found out that these African American heroes were both at Tarboro’s home, many came knocking at their door.

In 1964 Vivian Butts became the first Black female Police officer, working in the Juvenile Aid Division and retiring twenty-five years later as Sargent Butts. She was the wife of Raymond E. Butts and mother of two, Raymond Jr. and Sharon King. Mrs. Butts was very active in the community. She was involved in the NAACP, the J. F. Goodwin Scholarship, St. Paul Baptist Church, and other organizations. Her steadfast involvement in the city was widely recognized, and she was honored in 1987 for community service at an NAACP banquet at the Bethlehem Hotel.

Levy 2

The Bethlehem NAACP had formed under Theodore Dennis in 1946, one year after Civil Rights activist Roy Wilkins visited the Lehigh Valley. The Bethlehem NAACP invited another prominent activist Ralph Abernathy to their Freedom Banquet in 1975. In his speech to about 350 attendees, Abernathy stated that “God is colorless.” Seventy-four years later, the organization is still active under the direction of Mrs. Esther M. Lee.

The discoveries I made about this small but vibrant African American community of 3.63% of the Bethlehem population at the time of 2000 U.S. Census are gems that must be known to all. What I have shared about this small community is only a ripple. However, if you continue to look, the ripples will go on and on. The families that came during the 1800s came willingly, unlike their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1619. Even though they were few in numbers, their sense of family and community are rooted in the earth of Bethlehem like an old oak tree.

Well-informed commenters offer more relevant comments

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ssinsider is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

Gadfly:

Although I was not able to make the meeting to which Dr. Pooley refers, I would definitely second his requests for technological or even duplicate easel displays of the presentations that are made at each Planning Commission meeting, as well as his request to find some way to share as much as possible with the public before meetings occur. If public participation is, indeed, welcomed as part of the process and is taken into serious consideration by the PC, it would help to allow residents to think about their concerns and comments (both positive and negative) well before they might step up to the microphone. With more facts at hand, the comments would be more meaningful (and perhaps even more concise!). And with better information shared ahead of time, as well as greater knowledge gleaned from renderings, etc. that are made visible and shared at the PC meeting, well-informed commenters will inevitably be able to offer more significant, relevant comments to help the PC members with their decision-making . . . IF they are genuinely open to that kind of public engagement.

ssider

Councilman Callahan charges “unethical behavior” / Mayor Donchez charges “unwarranted personal attack”

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November 19 City Council meeting video

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez on Tuesday said he would consider changing the 57-year tradition of cabinet members attending City Council meetings if there’s another “unwarranted personal attack” on a member of his administration like the one Councilman Bryan Callahan made at a recent council meeting. Reading from a four-page speech before City Council, Donchez did not mention Callahan by name or the details of the comments he found objectionable. The mayor made a reference to the Nov. 6 meeting when Callahan called the actions of a top mayor’s aide “unethical” and last Thursday’s budget hearing where Callahan had sometimes testy exchanges with council members during discussion on the city’s golf course.
Nicole Radzievich, Morning Call, November 20, 2019

 Gadfly always, always, always says go to the primary sources.

So he attempts to provide you here with a chronological list of the key moments you need to understand the Mayor’s (in Gadfly’s time) rather unprecedented statement — an indictment of Councilman Callahan’s recent behavior.

In addition to engaging in disruptive argumentative skirmishes with other members of Council in recent weeks (see Gadfly’s links above), Councilman Callahan believes a member of the Donchez administration should be investigated for unethical behavior, making what is in effect a  charge of professional homicide against an unnamed but easily identified department head in public — but without any details. All innuendo.

Serious stuff.

Follow the bouncing ball through the links below to moments of the November 19 City Council meeting. It will take you a little time, but well worth it.

1) Eddie Rodriquez (1 min.):

Yours truly has heard Eddie’s name mentioned as a diligent Gadfly-of-the-past. He has started to attend Council meetings again, thus catching the recent bad behavior, and — coincidentally — forcefully calling for its end during public comment at the top of the meeting, that is, before we knew what was coming.

  • “I’d like to ask that the Board members here not debate amongst each other, not to be critical.”
  • “You are supposed to be the prime example for all of us.”
  • “I would like the chairman . . . you are the Sergeant of Arms . . . when you say that’s it, that’s it.”

2) Mayor Donchez (3 mins.):

The Mayor rarely speaks at Council. But here he is with fairly lengthy prepared statement, which Gadfly hopes to have a printed copy of to post soon. The Mayor cites insult to his administration, the Council’s loss of reputation, and the damage to the working relationship between the two. He dangles the possibility of a decidedly unwelcome next step if the behavior continues.

  • “I participated in debates over many controversial issues . . . Debate was intense, with strong opinions, but personal attacks were not part of the process.”
  • “I am more aware than anyone of the importance of the relationship between the administration and City Council.”
  • “Bethlehem City Council has always been known for its decorum, professionalism, and respect for different points of view.”
  • “We’ve been the model for many communities on how to conduct government business.”
  • “Over the past several months there has been a major regression from that standard.”
  • “I’m not talking about votes. I’m talking about provocative comments and personal attacks which seem to originate from a member of City Council.”
  • “The departures are having a disproportionate negative impact on working relationships and Council’s reputation.”
  • “Council members have been unfairly challenged to choose between engaging at the risk of escalation or to answer with silence.”
  • “The personal attack [at a member of my administration] was unprovoked, out of order, without cause,  completely out of line.”
  • “The members of my administration are professionals . . . I will not subject members of my administration of any more personal attacks.”
  • “Decorum suffered again when a Council member did not get the answer he wanted.”
  • “There are benefits [to the tradition of having the Mayor attend City Council meetings].”
  • “In the future, if there is another unwarranted personal attack . . . I will consider changing that tradition.”
  • “There have been some recent departures from decorum and professionalism that I feel obligated . . . to address.”

3) Councilman Callahan (5 mins.):

At last Thursday’s budget hearing, Councilman Callahan demonstrated the lack of decorum the Mayor spoke of, but here at the Council meeting he makes his golf course proposal in a calm, straightforward way, not one to distress decorum.

  • “All I’m asking for is a children’s rate [at the golf driving range] like we do on every other recreational fee.”
  • “The City of Bethlehem should be encouraging kids to stay outside an be active and stay off the streets.”
  • proposes change from adult rate of $10/bucket to $5
  • “This is a vote for kids.”
  • “I’m for kids first.”
  • “I’m fighting for kids to be active and off the streets.”

4) Response to and discussion of the Mayor’s statement (6 mins.):

Councilman Callahan states that it is his duty and right to point out administrative wrongdoing to the Mayor, that there was mutual blame to the decorum lapse at the November 6 meeting, and that he and the residents of the City like and want debate out in the open. (Note Councilwoman Negron leaving as Councilman Callahan speaks.)

The Mayor states the desire for and value of debate, but it’s the “tone” that is the problem.

President Waldron notes the positive difference in Councilman Callahan’s “approach” (tone) tonight over his behavior at the budget hearing.

Councilman Callahan wonders why he’s being judged on tone; it’s just the way he speaks; and he says look at the video: others made comments before he did.

Councilman Reynolds (2 mins.):

Councilman Reynolds thanks the Mayor for his “strong statement” about how business should be handled and indicates that he and Council don’t have information on the unethical behavior Councilman Callahan has raised and he looks forward to conversation about it.

Councilman Callahan’s concluding remarks (2 mins.):

Councilman Callahan makes clear that he is not charging the Mayor or his entire administration with wrongdoing but a department head and not just for one thing “but a couple things.” He offers to disclose his information — “of such a serious nature that everybody on Council needs to know about it” — right then and there — but the Mayor says that from his perspective it is a personnel matter (and thus confidential).  Councilman Callahan speaks of a “private letter that is “very disappointing” — a letter the nature of which he does not describe, though one guesses it is from the City about their investigation of the matter.

We may be heading for a car wreck here. Maybe time for Gadfly to pull together various observations of Councilman Callahan over the past year or two.

to be continued . . .

Decorum d’issue at City Council last night

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So Gadfly always tells you that you can’t tell a meeting from its agenda.

Look what happened last night at City Council.

The Mayor and Councilman Callahan kind of getting in to it.

Chew on the news stories.

Gadfly will go deeper next time.

Sara Satullo, “Bethlehem mayor clashes with councilman over ‘unwarranted personal attack’.” lehighvalleylive.com, November 20, 2019.

Bethlehem’s mayor on Tuesday urged his city council to return to the decorum it’s typically known for and threatened changes if members of his cabinet are again subjected to “an unwarranted personal attack.”

While Mayor Bob Donchez never addressed Councilman Bryan Callahan by name, his comments were prompted by recent heated exchanges between Callahan and fellow council members and the mayor’s top staff members. After the meeting, the mayor said he did not name Callahan because everyone knew who he was talking about.

“I am not talking about votes. I am talking (about) provocative comments and personal attacks, which seem to originate from a member of city council,” Donchez said reading from a four-page speech during Tuesday night’s council meeting. “While, for the most part, meetings proceed normally, the departures are having a disproportionate negative impact on working relationships and council’s reputation.”

Callahan argued he wants to debate city issues in the open, not in a backroom, and said he felt it was his duty as a councilman to alert the mayor to potential wrongdoing.

“I don’t think any of us want to stifle debate,” the mayor said. “It’s the tone.”

The mayor felt he had to speak up on the heels of a Nov. 6 council meeting where Callahan accused city Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner of “unethical” behavior. It came after months of council meetings devolving during the new business portion of meetings where Callahan laid out his concerns and council President Adam Waldron sought to rein him in and urged him to respect his colleagues.

“The personal attack was unprovoked, out of order, without cause and completely out of line,” Donchez said Tuesday during the meeting. Donchez spent 18 years on council and is in his sixth year as mayor. “The members of my administration are professionals. They work hard for the city and value the working relationship they have with city council.”

Callahan’s allegation stems from Karner’s role on a city committee tasked with evaluating requests-for-proposals from developers interested in getting in on the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s new Polk Street parking garage.

The city committee recommended the authority select Nova Development and Allied Building Corporation’s proposal. But the authority board opted to go with a Peron Development and J.G. Petrucci Co. plan that offered $200,000 more for the land. In a memo, the city committee said the difference in purchase price was not the only financial aspect to consider and pointed to the large gap in contracted parking spaces. Callahan questioned whether Karner inappropriately lobbied the authority to select the Nova/Allied proposal.

Councilman Callahan’s brother and former city Mayor John Callahan is director of business development for Peron, owned by developer Michael Perrucci.

Following the meeting, Donchez said there was no merit to the accusation following a review by Business Manager Eric Evans and city Solicitor William P. Leeson. The mayor noted he recused himself from the investigation because his son works for Perrucci’s law firm.

If there is another “unwarranted attack” the mayor threatened to end the city’s 58-year tradition of having the mayor’s cabinet members attend council meetings to explain items on the agenda, answer questions and try to resolve citizens’ issues.

“I will not subject members of my administration to any more personal attacks in the future,” the mayor vowed.

At council’s Nov. 13 budget hearing, things got tense between Callahan, a city officials and members of council as the councilman accused the city of “sticking it” to kids using the driving range when charging them for a full of bucket of balls. He was urging discounted pricing for the golf balls similar to the discounted youth golf rounds.

Callahan again raised the same concern Tuesday evening during a budget vote on the golf course fund, but took a much more collegial approach, urging his colleagues to support his suggestion that there be a discounted youth rate.

“I would recommend this vote for the kids,” Callahan said.

Waldron told Callahan he appreciated the way he laid out his thoughts Tuesday evening and noted that the councilman would need to bring forward a separate resolution to change the fee.

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez criticizes councilman for ‘unwarranted personal attack’.” Morning Call, November 20, 2019.

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez on Tuesday said he would consider changing the 57-year tradition of cabinet members attending City Council meetings if there’s another “unwarranted personal attack” on a member of his administration like the one Councilman Bryan Callahan made at a recent council meeting.

Reading from a four-page speech before City Council, Donchez did not mention Callahan by name or the details of the comments he found objectionable. The mayor made a reference to the Nov. 6 meeting when Callahan called the actions of a top mayor’s aide “unethical” and last Thursday’s budget hearing where Callahan had sometimes testy exchanges with council members during discussion on the city’s golf course.

Donchez said his comments were not prompted by differences in policy but the tone of “one member of council” whose attacks were “unprovoked, out of order, without cause and completely out of line.” “I will not subject members of my administration to any more personal attacks in the future,” he said.

Callahan said he would reserve his response to Donchez’s remarks and likely hold a news conference. He added that he has the right to point out a possible impropriety as he sees it and debate in the open rather than in back rooms.

“The fact that I like to debate in the open is a good thing,” Callahan said. “I think the residents want it.”

Donchez, mayor for six years and councilman for 18 years, said council has a reputation of preserving political decorum and professionalism even during the most heated debates, including over whether a casino should be built in Bethlehem, but there have been moments of departure in recent months.

“While, for the most part, the meetings proceed normally, the departures are having a disproportionate negative impact on working relationships and council’s reputation,” he said. “Council members have been unfairly challenged to choose between engaging at the risk of escalation or answer with silence.”

Councilman J. William Reynolds on Tuesday thanked the mayor for speaking up about what he agreed to be a breakdown in decorum at council meetings.

Over the last few months, Council President Adam Waldron has told Callahan he was being disrespectful to colleagues and called those moments at the meetings “cringe-worthy” and “embarrassing.” Council members Paige Van Wirt and Olga Negron have called points of order because Callahan was violating its rules on decorum, such as assigning motives to actions. Reynolds, a one-time political ally of Callahan’s and a possible rival in the next mayor election, has said Callahan has no working relationship with council members, a characterization Callahan objects to.

Callahan, a two-term councilman and chairman of council’s finance committee, has defended his behavior. He said his questions are legitimate, he has a right to air his opinions and other council members violate the rules of order and make snide remarks without being called on it.

Callahan tangled with Reynolds at an Aug. 20 meeting over a zoning hearing board appointment, accusing him of hypocritical behavior. On Nov. 6, he called actions of Alicia Miller Karner, city director of community and economic development, as “unethical” during a discussion that began with questions about a South Side planning study. After that comment, Waldron said he hoped Karner, who was sitting on the edge of her seat, would not “lower herself” to respond, and then she pushed back in her seat and did not respond.

Karner, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, said in an interview Wednesday that she has acted ethically in her 22 years of public service, but it was hard to address Callahan’s criticism without details. She said she would be happy to clear up any misunderstandings Callahan may have heard from others.

And last Thursday, during a lengthy discussion about the city’s golf course, Callahan, council members and a golf official sometimes talked over each other as Callahan questioned why the city was “sticking it” to kids by charging them the full price for a bucket of balls. The city offers discounted prices for youth golf rounds and season passes, he pointed out. Callahan said he would rather a kid drive balls on the course than be up to no good somewhere else. A city official said it was industry standard, and Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith noted the city offers free and discounted golf through youth programs including the First Tee.

When Van Wirt asked to be recognized to pose a “budget question,” Callahan said he wasn’t finished and to “take a seat for a second.” A few minutes later, he called her rude when she asked to be recognized again before he was done with his questions. Later during that budget hearing, Waldron admonished Callahan for interrupting him and “just about everybody in this room.”

“No, she interrupted me,” Callahan had said Feb. 13, pointing at Van Wirt.

The 2 W. Market case: “what am I missing?”

logo 89th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St  logo

Kate McVey is a concerned citizen, 30-year resident of Bethlehem, professional organizer, dog owner, mother of two children, been around, kosher cook . . . explorer.

So Gadfly,

I have never understood the hubbub about this property. It looks so much better than it did, and it does bring people in and out of the neighborhood unlike the Verizon building and the fortress that used to be a bank. To my knowledge, I guess we could count the dead people in the cemetery there as residential (?). But the school surrounds that property, there is a B and B across the street, and a lawyer’s office, and there was a small shop farther down Market. There is an old folks home next to the cemetery and only one residential property on the south side of Market street. And what about the one story building behind it on New St.? There is a business in there.

As stated in the other blogs, the zoning board changes the rules constantly to please new projects. At least the 2 Market St kept the old building and the character of the area. Going down New there is the Kemerer Museum and a shop on the other corner of Church and New.

The residents have even admitted that 2 Market people are good neighbors.

Historic Bethlehem needs to sometimes get over themselves. So what am I missing? Also further down on Market there are law offices, a boarding house. Come on, what am I missing?

Let’s focus on tearing down the Judd building and what the new development being proposed will do. Not to mention the Airbnb issue, what happened to that?

Kate

It’s not the Zoning Hearing Board’s responsibility to craft strategy on behalf of the residents of Bethlehem

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly:

Your header regarding ZHB decisions indicating a desire to change Bethlehem’s character is a very interesting one. However, it’s not the ZHB’s responsibility to craft any overall desire or strategy on behalf of the residents of Bethlehem. Rather it’s their responsibility to review and act upon each request on a case by case basis. A recent commenter on a post I placed on my Facebook page expressed it succinctly when she wrote, “a zoning board is supposed to uphold the “essential character of the neighborhood.”

Dana

Zoning Hearing Board decisions may indicate a desire to change Bethlehem’s character

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Gadfly #2 Bill Scheirer does the math (probably a 1000 new apartment units on line) and makes us wonder if there is a conscious policy to change the character of our town.

In the approaching Christmas season during which we all will be watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” again (and again), Bill makes Gadfly #00 think of Bethlehem as Bedford Falls and reminds him of the resident in public comment at Council a year or so ago who spoke of the “Capra-esque” quality of our town.

We do have that kind of charm.

Are we in danger of losing it?

  • “We have constructed or proposed or in various stages of approval 12 apartment projects in the City of Bethlehem, 5 on the Southside, 4 on the West Side, and 3 on the Northside.”
  • “Let’s say 30 variances were requested, 2 were rejected.”
  • “That’s a 90% approval rate when a developer appears before the Zoning Hearing Board.”
  • “It would seem that the Zoning Hearing Board has a desire to see Bethlehem change, change its character.”
  • “And it’s up to us to decide if that’s what we want Bethlehem to become.”
  • “Do we want it to become a more dynamic and more busy and more congested and more noisy and become like many other small cities with pretensions.”

Neighbor-produced-data relevant to 2 W. Market

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Fighting for one’s neighborhood. Always a good thing in Gadfly’s book.

Yesterday Gadfly focused on the forceful testimony of Paige Van Wirt before the Zoning Hearing Board on November 12 as a model of good citizenship.

Gadfly does the same today with the example of Martin Romeril.

The issue in the 2 W. Market case is the insertion of a business in a residential neighborhood.

Unbelievably, from the beginning of the recent chapter of this case, the nature of the neighborhood as “residential” has been questioned, despite what the zoning map says.

Go back to post 49 in this (so-far) journey of 89 posts with Gadfly, the post “CM Callahan on ‘the 2’.”

Here’s what Councilman Callahan had to say about a year ago: “I think what it comes down to is, the main question is this, where does the residential neighborhood begin and where does it end? And the bottom line is it doesn’t. It doesn’t. There’s nobody that can tell me where the residential community in that neighborhood on that block begins and ends.”

As Gadfly said back in December, “The zoning code says 2 W. Market is in an area zoned residential. [Callahan] says, in effect, there is no residential area there.”

That subjective suspension of the zoning code by a Councilman bowled the then innocent Gadfly over.

Now around the same time the City — which supported the owner of 2 W. Market and is now vigorously opposing the validity challenge — produced a map that also seemed to have the same effect, the downplaying of the residential nature of the West Market neighborhood and thus minimizing the impact of the inserted business.

Enter Romeril.

And his production of a color-coded map that shows the neighborhood 87.3% residential!

Romeril map

Here is Romeril testifying about his work at the November 12 Zoning Hearing Board meeting:

But Romeril’s investigative work didn’t end there.

When the City attorney posed this question — “Mr. Romeril, you expressed some concern about the impact of 1304.4b throughout the City, have you been able to identify other parcels where 1304.4b might apply?” —  he seemed surprised that Romeril’s “Yes” answer was embodied in a 3-page chart, done with the help of a friend, based on evidence offered by the 2 W. Market attorney:Romeril chartGadfly invites you to note the long silence at the end of the following clip with which the City attorney responded to Romeril’s work:

Romeril didn’t just accept the study done by the City.

Romeril didn’t just accept the research done by the 2 W. Marketers.

He challenged both and provided data that supported the neighbors’ position.

It is, of course, by no means clear that the neighbors will win this latest round before the Zoning Hearing Board in this marathon controversy (everyone seems to feel resolution in the courts will be necessary), but Gadfly is pleased to help disseminate these examples of active citizen involvement as models for us all when we need to struggle for the quality of our neighborhood life.

The Hearing Board meets again on this case December 11.

City Council meeting tomorrow night, Tuesday, December 3, 7PM, Town Hall

Our next City Council meeting — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — occurs tomorrow night Tuesday, November 19, Town Hall, at 7PM.

These meetings are video-recorded and can be viewed LIVE or later at your convenience on the City’s website after the meeting at https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Calendar.

The YouTube channel for live or archive viewing is “City of Bethlehem Council.”

Find the Council agenda and documents here: https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Calendar/Meetings/2019/CityCouncil/39

As always, as long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council live or virtually — one way or the other.

Be informed.

The 2 W. Market beat goes on

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Gadfly has lost count. But there was another 4hr meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board last week on the challenge to the validity of a text amendment to the “storefront”  ordinance originally intended to apply to properties like the one on the left but benefiting 2 W. Market on the right — an ordinance passed by a Council, in Gadfly’s opinion, not in its best hour.

This is the 88th post on the long history over the controversy of the zoning on 2 W. Market, and followers can refresh themselves on that history by clicking the link on the Gadfly sidebar.

Gadfly loves examples of citizen participation, of which there were several at this meeting, and he invites you here to both learn about the issues surrounding 2 W. Market and to enjoy a model of good citizenship through the testimony of Paige Van Wirt.

How does this zoning amendment impair or impede the residential character of the neighborhood? (3 mins.)

  • “There’s no families in this business to watch little kids on the street, there’s nobody to see that somebody fell down on the corner.”

What are your concerns given that this property is on the edge of a commercial district? (1 min.)

  • “Now this neighborhood is struggling to come back and have a full residential character to it. Any conversion . . . of a previously healthy residential home . . . is going to erode the fabric of my neighborhood.”

Do you have concerns about commercial creep? (1 min.)

  • “This does give a signal that our neighborhood’s zoning is not a wall.”

Will this amendment erode the reliability of the zoning ordinance? (1 min.)

  • “As a homeowner . . . I would be much less inclined to buy a property on this block if I felt there were going to be more commercial/residential flips.”

Describe the importance of drafting the memo to the City Planning Director asking for more data? (2 mins.)

  • “My concern was that there was no impact study done by the City. . . . that we were asked at City Council to adopt an ordinance where there had been no data and research done.”

Does the amendment support the general health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Bethlehem? (1 min.)

  • “I understand why this is in the best interests of Quadrant, I get it, they did a great job on the building, but it doesn’t pass the litmus test of being in the best interest of the City, and that’s fundamentally what City Council is here as a representative body of the citizens of Bethlehem to do.”

Interesting material came out as Van Wirt parried with one of the attorneys under cross-examination. (9 mins.)

  • “This is a border neighborhood. . . . You’re not going to go six blocks in to the middle of Wall St. to try to set up a business there.”

Are you familiar with uses of the properties on your block? (1 min.)

  • “If this amendment could be so broadly applied that it would affect my own home, it made me understand the potential impact this would have on the rest of the City.”

Why did you wait so long before requesting data from the City? (2 mins.)

  • “Call me naive, but I never thought it would get that far. Once it was apparent that there was enough people on Council considering voting for it, that’s when I said, O, my God, I’ve got to show them, I’ve got to prove to Council why this is not in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Bethlehem. . . . That’s my job”

The hearing board will convene again December 11 to continue consideration of this case.

Planning Committee needs to take public-trust-building steps

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Gadfly earlier this week reported the desire to have last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory moved from 4PM to a later time to accommodate the work schedules of more residents who wanted to attend. That didn’t happen, though residents were afforded the opportunity to make appointments to view planning documents in City Hall. At the meeting, moreover, residents were thwarted by and complained about inability to see the plans proposed, which were displayed on easels in front of the Head Table and visible only to the Commission members. Resident spectators could not see what the developer was showing the Commission. Beginning January the PC will move its meeting time to 5PM, which, though not perfect, is a step in the right direction. But, as Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley points out in the audio clip from the meeting and this email below, there are additional steps needed to make PC meetings resident friendly. Jeff describes that the effect if not the intent of PC practice is to “exclude” the neighbors, of creating a feeling of “not encouraging public comment.”

November 15, 2019

To: Darlene Heller, Director of Planning; Tracy Samuelson, Assistant Director of Planning; Rob Melosky, Planning Commission Chair

Dear Darlene, Tracy and Rob (if I may),

I am writing a quick follow up to the Planning Commission meeting last night—not about the substance, but about the public-input issues I raised in my comments. (I was one of the members of the public who spoke about the Armory application.)

Let me first say that I was, and remain, very grateful for your kind help, Tracy, when you showed me through the plans and answered my questions. Rob, I want to commend you for running a humane and fair meeting, with real empathy for residents and their concerns. It was noticed, and appreciated.

If I left with a bad taste in my mouth, it was entirely about the process up to and including the meeting—and that’s why I’m writing. (I am cc’ing Ed Gallagher, who I know shares some of these concerns.)

The news about the shift to 6pm meetings is genuinely thrilling, and answers one of my concerns. The City and Planning Commission could make additional, small moves in the same spirit—to encourage public input.

The first would be to post all application materials, including the City’s reply letter, as one or more PDF downloads on the City’s website.

The second would be to project those plans/PDF on the existing projection system during meetings, so the public is not shut out (as happened last night).

Every document in any application—even the large architectural renderings—now exists as a digital document. It would be a trivial matter to collect them into one or more PDFs for (1) download prior to a meeting and (2) digital display during the meeting. If materials are now delivered in paper form, the City could require digital copies too.

(Just to be clear, the PDF download that *was* posted prior to the meeting was a tiny, and completely uninformative, subset of the application that the public is entitled to. That is not what I am referring to.)

In the meantime—while a system like this is being implemented—my strong recommendation is that members of the public be permitted to take photographs, and or make copies (at a reasonable fee), of these public documents. I honestly wonder whether that restriction is even legal.

These seem, from the outside, like legitimacy- and public-trust-building steps that are nearly cost-fee. There’s certainly no justification, in 2019, for not sharing digital copies, nor for relying exclusively on unidirectional easels that, in effect, exclude the public.

I would love to work with you, and help in any way (including technical advice, given my day job 🙂 ), to make these small changes happen. I was pretty frustrated, and want to channel that feeling into helping to make a change—one that seems utterly feasible.

Thanks for reading.
Sincerely
Jeff
Needless to say, Jeff’s points apply to other City agencies as well using Town Hall. We need to keep pushing for the means for effective public participation in all areas of City government.

The cost to the quality of life from development could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

I have to chuckle at the “we’re communicating” comment. Communication suggests two way listening and achieving some sort of consensus and compromise as a result. That has certainly not been the case here and in a number of other areas of Bethlehem. It’s a lot easier for some to cry NIMBY, but the usual fact of the matter is that residents in established areas are open to development, but they want it to be compatible with the established environment, which it usually isn’t. I think it’s fantastic that people want to invest in Bethlehem, but it comes at a cost to the quality of life, which I believe could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration between those already here and those who are coming. Establishing that kind of landscape in any community takes leadership. I’ll leave my observation at that.

Dana

Gadfly imagines a defibrillator moment at the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory

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Armory 1

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So there was considerable kumbaya from the Head Table at the end of last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory, what is probably the last public meeting before construction begins.

Two of the Commission members really and no doubt sincerely applauded the value of the resident participation.

For example, just before the vote that perhaps once and for all green-lighted the developer, one member said, I “really appreciate the comments from the public today, some very good suggestions, some great dialog here today . . . we’re communicating.”

Whoa! Not so fast.

The residents spoke. But the best they have is hope that the developer was listening and will/might act on their recent ideas and suggestions.

What the neighbors were left with was hope.

Why couldn’t the Planning Commission add some conditions based on resident input?

For instance, the neighbors thought they had a “verbal agreement” with the developer to work together on the barrier fence between the new construction and the adjoining properties.

Likely, nobody mentioned that agreement to the architect. She said that the fence “probably will be that shadow-box type of fencing” that apparently the neighbors had previously talked about.

Probably.

It is not obvious that the developer remembers such an agreement. And Gadfly is no expert in voice tones, but the developer’s “I’m open to discussing it with the neighbors” doesn’t sound to him all that enthusiastic. Listen, see what you think.

And all the PC chair can say, while explicitly agreeing with the neighbors, is that kind of fence “would be something I would hope the developer would consider.”

Hope.

Why could it not have been a condition of approval that the developer and neighbors agree on the fence type?

Period.

Then no need for the neighbors to hope.

A second example.

The subject is tree removal.

Look at how in these words from the PC chair, hope — fragile hope — is the soft pivot (literally in the center of his statement) around which glittering encomiums (good SAT word) about the value of resident ideas orbit.

“The dialog that we’ve had here this evening is important. It’s so important to hear what the neighbors and the taxpayers and the citizens have to add. One thing that was mentioned . . . I hate those lantern flies. I hope the developer does something to remove those trees so that those things don’t come back. Little things like that, those are details, and I won’t even say like small details, those details are vital.”

Damnation, if what the neighbors had to say is so important, if the tree “little” detail is so “vital,” then why not make it a condition of approval that the developer do a certain action?

Period.

Instead of hoping that it will be done.

Does not the PC have that power?

A third example.

And the most significant.

Jeff Pooley describes the “suburban strip-mall type parking area” along Second Avenue in the proposed design and says the “Planning Commission has the opportunity to prevent what could be a kind of a self-inflicted wound,” for all authorities would agree that best practice is to move the building to the street and put parking behind. Even Gadfly knows that from his summer reading in Jeff Speck that he reported on in these pages multiple times.

But all Jeff can do is hope. “Putting suburban strip-mall parking along the street is a great mistake,” you heard in his conclusion, “and one we hope you would prevent.”

Hope.

Now this is a big point. A major revision of the design. And one determining the look and feel of a gateway to the West Side.

If ever there was an invitation to “great dialog,” there it was.

Wouldn’t it have been a great moment — for Gadfly a defibrillator moment —  if the PC chair had turned — politely — to the architect and asked for her professional response to Jeff’s comment?

Instead there was a polite “Thank you, Mr. Pooley,” and the chair moved on.

That kind of design comment/question might as well be spoken in another language in meetings like this.

Gadfly is reminded of his recent muddle over 548 N. New (see the sidebar to refresh on this pertinent series of posts). By the time that Bill Scheirer, Kim Carrell-Smith, and Jerry Vergilio questioned the design, it was too late in the process.

The process is then too far along for a proposal to be questioned much less for it to fail.

Something is wrong with such a process in which such significant and informed public commentary is not aired and addressed earlier.

Planning Commissioner backpatting was well meaning but a bit self-serving. Communication is two-way. The PC didn’t act when it could have. Didn’t speak when it should have.

Armistice on the Armory

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The neighbors might not be totally happy — and for sure a “still deeply demoralized” Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley fired a last shot, looking back at 2017 and 2018 when the Zoning Hearing Board approved variances seemingly “over the objections of the entire neighborhood” and making “a mockery of the zoning code” — but peace apparently has come to the dispute over development of the Armory.

Jeff Pooley:

Last Thursday the Planning Commission approved plans from Peron for the development of the Armory site on the West Side, ending about three years of discussion, some of which was quite tension-filled.

Former Mayor John Callahan, Director of Development for Peron, summarized the project, emphasizing that the plan is going forward under historical guidelines and has been presented to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission — which was music to Gadfly’s ears.

John Callahan:

At the meeting approximately a half-dozen residents asked questions, offered statements, and made constructive comments on such topics as parking, traffic, traffic visibility, bike parking, green space, appropriate trees, view blocking, environmental pollution, and walkability.

Concluding comments by the Commission members framed the project and the resident participation in positive terms, and Gadfly would especially call your attention to the comments by Mr. Malozi in the following clip, in which he finds “quite a lot of net positive for this type of project” (“urban infill,” “adaptive reuse of a historic structure,” “walkability,” desirable “density,” sufficient parking, safety, LANTA enhancements, traffic calming, possible boon to the downtown and feet on the street).

Planning Commission concluding statements:

It just might be that Thursday marked the last meeting on a long and sometimes bumpy road.

But Gadfly says look for at least one more post as he reflects on this meeting and the planning process related to the Armory and development in Bethlehem in general.

Nicole Radzievich, “Redevelopment of Historic Bethlehem armory approved 3 years after it was proposed.” Morning Call, November 14, 2019.

The historic Floyd Simons armory in west Bethlehem would be recast as an artist’s studio and living space surrounded by 70 apartments, under plans the Planning Commission approved Thursday.The 10,000-square-foot drill hall would include a studio and apartment for painter and sculptor Emil Lukas and his wife, who now live in Stockertown.

In addition, the basement of the armory, which once housed a rifle range, would be converted to a fitness center, meeting rooms and other amenities, according to owners Peron Development.

The project would also include 70 apartments built in and around other armory structures at 345 Second Ave. That would include 64 units in four-story building attached to the former armory, and six apartments converted from two garage additions at the existing armory.

A portion of the area of Second Avenue that widens would be narrowed and a landscaped median installed to slow down traffic. There would be 101 parking spots available, and grassy patches would replace some stretches of macadam, producing a smaller impervious-surface footprint than what is there now.

In justifying his support for the land development and subdivision approval, Planning Commission member Matthew Malozi said the project contains a lot of the themes the city has been pushing: historic redevelopment, walkability, and the density of housing near the downtown.

Jeff Pooley, who lives on Prospect Avenue near the armory, questioned, among other things, why the off-street parking is close to the street like a suburban strip mall. Modern urban design, he said call for buildings to be closer to the street and parking behind.

According to the Historic Register nominating form, the art deco-style building is a good example of the structures designed for military training before World War II, and the architectural details would be retained in its reuse.

“The Rose Garden is the centerpiece of West Bethlehem”

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Press Release from State Rep. Jeanne McNeill:

BETHLEHEM, Nov. 14 – State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Lehigh, has announced that a $210,000 state grant has been awarded to the Rose Garden Park in Bethlehem to renovate the facility.

The Rose Garden Park is an eclectic park that has a play area and has a replica of the first home in Bethlehem and a Civil War monument. The garden features more than 100 variety of flowers.

“The Rose Garden is the centerpiece of West Bethlehem,” McNeill said.  “The park will undergo some improvements that all can enjoy including walking and biking paths, a picnic area, and additional shade in front of the bandshell for concertgoers.  I was very happy to work with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to secure the funding for this treasured park in my district.”

The grant was awarded through DCNR’s Community Conservation and Partnerships Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to local governments, river and trail organizations, and trusts, and other nonprofits for planning, acquisition and development of park, recreation, conservation and greenway project.

——

An email from the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association spreading the good news contained this litany of thanks:

Lots of thanks are needed for this wonderful support for our Rose Garden Project.
Thank you, Jeanne for getting this through the State.
Thank you to Amy Zanelli and Phil Armstrong in Lehigh County.
Thank you to Mayor Donchez and our City Council members who voted unanimously to give us $!00 k in matching funds so this project could go forward.
Thank you to Darlene Heller (City planner), Cindy Smith (former City arborist), Chris (from public works) for putting the details in the plans. And I’m sure there are others .

AND THANK YOU CHRISTY ROYSDON FOR ROUNDING US ALL UP AND GETTING US TO WRITE OUR PARTS OF THE APPLICATION!

THANK YOU! THANK YOU, EVERYONE!

Emergency shelter for the homeless not permitted to open early

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A post on the Next Door Mauch Chunk blog urges residents to attend the November 19 City Council meeting to discuss this.

Sara Satullo, “Complaint forces Bethlehem cold-weather homeless shelter to ditch early opening amid frigid temps.” lehighvalleylive.com, November 15, 2019.

Bethlehem’s emergency shelter for the homeless hoped to open for the season early due to the Lehigh Valley’s deep freeze but a neighbor complaint thwarted the effort.

In 2017, the shelter at Christ Church United Church of Christ, 72. E. Market St., got zoning approval to operate from Dec. 1 to March 31 each year. On average, the church houses 65 men and women from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. each night.

Posts on the group’s Facebook page indicate the shelter hoped to open on Friday evening as the region’s been gripped by frigid air with temperatures dropping well-below freezing at night. Overnight temperatures Friday and Saturday are set to dip to lows of 26 and 25 degrees.

But it seems a neighbor complained, forcing the shelter to adhere to the schedule approved by the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board.

“All of us who support BES and our mission to serve our street neighbors are deeply disappointed in the situation that forced us to delay our opening until December 1. However, the board is requesting that people refrain from making any disparaging comments about those in the neighborhood or others who have voiced concerns about the shelter,” Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering board chair Rodney Conn said in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page. “We have and continue to work with the community to ensure that the Shelter operations provide security to our neighbors, the Church, our volunteers, and our guests. Thank you for your cooperation.”

The nonprofit group began hosting rotating shelters for men and women at area churches in 2009. It was a realization of a dream when in December 2017 the nonprofit opened a permanent co-ed shelter in the heart of the city’s Historic District.

The shelter and the city began requiring anyone staying at the shelter to first register at the nearby police station to obtain a voucher last year in response to neighbor complaints. Police run a criminal check to ensure a person does not have outstanding warrants or is a sex offender.

The church also hired professional security guards last year and installed surveillance cameras in response to neighbor complaints.

More wonderful Bethlehem women

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The Secret

The Secret begins one day, in late nineteenth century Bethlehem, when sixteen year-old, Helen Wolle, mother of H.D., entered a Moravian Seminary classroom to rehearse a song she looked forward to performing. Much to her shock and, in fact, trauma, she was roughly told to be quiet, to end “this dreadful noise” by her pastor grandfather, Papalie. And Helen, who loved to sing so much and so well, would never sing again in public. The focus of the panel will be on women in leadership. We will connect the panel to the play via a question that Mamalie (Hilda’s maternal grandmother) asks Hilda in the beginning of the play, and H.D. asks the audience at the end of the play: “Who will follow the music?” 

Gadfly is not done with showcasing the outstanding Bethlehem women who participated in the panel that followed a Festival Unbound performance of “The Secret,” the play about H. D.’s life. You will remember from our two previous installments here that moderator Jennie Gilrain gave the eight panelists about five minutes each to talk about their “dreams, hopes, works” and perhaps to recount a time when they were “encouraged or inspired or discouraged and oppressed from following your music.” Short biographies of these women can be found here.

Emily Santana, a woman from a modest household who dreamed of impossible things and, when accepted to college, was told by someone very, very close to her, “O, wow, I didn’t realize you would amount to something” — causing her to think about who decides your value, and about challenging expectations people have, not just of her, but any category of person, especially of our children.

Margaret Kavanagh –who has “a little job,” is “just a custodian” and doesn’t “know why I am here” — tells kids to be kind, help each other out, and if you can’t do random acts of kindness, “just don’t be a jerk.” Margaret  beats herself up sometimes but has an awesome therapist. Advice: be a positive influence on people around you.

to be continued . . .

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

Discussion of the golf course budget drifts off the fairway

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Before going any further, Gadfly invites you to spend a light few minutes with the public comment by Jack Hoy (Huy?) at the last City Council meeting.

82-year-old Mr. Hoy gave us all a few chuckles as, bringing several clubs as exhibits, he proclaimed his pride and appreciation in the Bethlehem Golf Course that signaled the dramatic, positive change there over the past year.

Hoy was such a great warm and sincere salesman for this major part of our recreational system that at Wednesday’s budget hearing Council members quipped that he was a plant by Business Manager Eric Evans to support the Golf budget statements.

You might remember that back in 2018 the golf course was a hot issue. It was losing money and deteriorating in quality. Should we sell it, lease it, dedicate a pot of money to it??  Tricky issue. And a high priority for many vocal residents.

There was a meeting in which Town Hall was filled with angry and concerned golfers, the like of which Gadfly hadn’t seen and won’t soon forget.

Business Manager Eric Evans seemed to take charge of the course’s fate, advocating for a viable future path. The decision was to make the course operate as a business and to be self-supporting, and Larry Kelchner — a retired businessman — was hired to manage the course.

Mr. Kelchner was impressive at the budget hearing Wednesday, and the performance of the course over the year has even changed Councilwoman Van Wirt’s mind about it — because last year she was skeptical about the course’s future.

So Mr. Kelchner pretty much simply received plaudits and engaged in congenial conversation till it was if someone stepped on a landmine unobtrusively planted in a fairway and for several minutes the meeting blew up.

Please go to the City video of Wednesday’s budget hearing #2, part 4 min. 21:20 to the end and part #5 up to min. 12:15.

You know that an important part of Gadfly’s mission is to help and encourage you to know your Councilpeople so that when it comes time to vote you are doing so as well informed as you can be.

This 15 mins. is well worth viewing in this respect.

Councilman Callahan raised a legitimate question about the difference in cost between adults and kids for greens fees and season passes but not at the driving range and claimed that was driving (no pun intended) kids away from golfing there.

For instance, a round of golf on the 18hole course is $24 for adults, $16 for kids, but at the driving range it’s $10/bucket for both — same price. At one point BC seemed to be asking for a reduction to $5, on the grounds that the differential in the other fees made the case that we recognized that kids can’t afford the same as adults.

And, said BC, the consequence was that the kids were not using the facility because of the cost — kids whom BC wanted there to keep them off the streets.

So far so good.

On its face, that is not unreasonable.

Then things went out of bounds.

At one one point BC seemed to be saying that there were no kids at the course because of this fee differential while LK was saying that there were plenty of kids there.

In answer to BC, EE and LK said the fee at the driving range was “industry standard” and documented various examples of their generous involvement with and solicitation of junior golfers.

But BC wouldn’t seem to accept that explanation and pressed on.

Tension escalated when Councilwoman Van Wirt tried to get the discussion to move on, which met with a curt response from BC, and pretty soon there were hard words between President Waldron and BC, including suggestions that BC was arguing for special interests — for example, “paving” was mentioned, seemingly totally unrelated to the golf discussion.

Odd. Where did that come from? One of those times where other people know things you don’t. Other issues bubbling under the surface. And you feel left out of the conversation.

Paving?

Gadfly was not sure of what AW spoke, but he immediately thought of BC at the first budget hearing indicating twice that major road work was needed. Major paving.

Had BC been promoting paving interests there?

In any event, BC was rather heatedly defensive, and protested unfairness.

Now Gadfly — as always — suggests you go to the tape yourself and make judgment if judgment needs to be made.

Perhaps Gadfly will only say that there is a “history” of BC interactions with Council members that has resulted in short fuses among his colleagues.

Tempers escalate quickly.

After a previous Council flare-up involving BC (the Zoning Board nomination issue about which Gadfly devoted 10 posts), Gadfly responded to President Waldron’s invitation (to us all) to comment on the way he handles discussion.

Gadfly suggested that President Waldron consider a discussion rule based in Roberts Rules:

  • a limit of 10 minutes, then others are given an opportunity to speak
  • after others have spoken or passed on the opportunity to speak, another 10 minutes
  • any further 10-minute time after that only with majority vote of the other Council members

After you view the tape of this heated episode, however, Gadfly suggests that you go back and bask in Mr. Hoy’s ray of golf course sunshine again.

Gadfly bets his game is as sharp as his wit.

Budget hearing #2 goes pretty smoothly

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2020 Proposed Budget

2nd-Budget-Hrg-11-13-19-Agenda

Gadfly’s private life (yes, he has one!) unfortunately kept him from attending the second budget hearing as well as the first. So, again, he relies on the video archive just as you can.

Gadfly especially likes these budget hearings for the ability to hear from the City administrators and for the opportunity to hear some of the doings within their departments.

After all, these people — in their day-to-day, on-the-ground work — may have more to do with the quality of City life than some elected officials.

Gadfly likes to know who they are, have a sense of them.

Last hearing, for instance, we heard from admins Boscola and Alkhal. Mr, Boscola attends all the City Council hearings, but Gadfly doesn’t believe he’s ever had an occasion to speak. So hearing him was a treat. On the other hand, Mr. Alkhal is often called upon to answer some question or other in his diverse department.

At the mics for the second hearing were the familiar Chief DiLuzio, Chief Achey, and Business Manager Evans but also the unfamiliar Golf Course manager Larry Kelchner, who has been spoken of very highly. It was good to hear him.

Followers can see from the bullet points below that the questions from our Council inquisitors elicited answers on interesting topics. Gadfly invites you at the very least to choose a spot to browse the discussion for a while.

As at the first hearing — except for a brief stretch that we’ll consider in the next post — the interchanges between Council and Administration were courteous and amicable. One could sense cooperation and respect.

Budget Hearing #2, November 13
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Police Chief DiLuzio (parts 1 and 2):

  • no big changes in the budget
  • rise in overtime because they’re down 20 officers; applications are down; “big issue is manpower”; overtime is controlled — 4hr shifts not 8
  • good economy affects number of applications
  • every patrol officer has a body camera
  • current contract expires in 2022
  • new vehicles Ford SUVs
  • discussion of budgeting of special event overtime
  • probable presidential candidate coming to the City in 2020
  • we are probably in lower half of pay rates compared to other cities
  • drugs, opiods — get calls every day — number stagnant but hasn’t increased
  • programs to keep kids off the streets?
  • interaction with Health Department, for instance storm problems
  • the BPAIR program: people voluntarily turning selves in for drug treatment
  • diversity? work with NAACP, Hispanic organization,  LGBTQ
  • info on use of body cameras
  • info on winter shelter: people sleeping outside, etc.
  • Resource officers at Liberty: safety concerns? soft target
  • Fentanyl? large caches for city our size, a lot of it out there
  • marijuana enforcement

Fire Chief Achey (end of part 2, part 3)

  • contract settled
  • numbers of fires down: smoke alarm program
  • new engines added
  • down 2 firefighters, recruitment good
  • meeting call volume, injuries at historic low
  • drone program?
  • our gas lines? risk of explosions?
  • code for firewalls?
  • hiring Latinos?
  • EMS service calls static
  • compression devices?

Golf Course: Eric Evans, Larry Kelchner (end  of part 3, part 4 & 5)

  • turnaround has been a success
  • lots of positive feedback
  • major projects: pavilion, irrigation system, trees, etc.
  • rounds up 17% on course and up on driving range
  • marketing partnership with St. Luke’s at range — up 23%
  • “dramatic changes operationally” paying off
  • good work of part-timers
  • involved in First Tee program
  • environmentally friendly?
  • bunker and cart path work
  • bathrooms need to be “tuned up”
  • fees not being raised
  • discussion of kids’ fees — why difference in rate?
  • why not differential for kids at driving range?
  • First Tee (housed in Boys Club) uses facility for free
  • argument over whether kids are at the range
  • Liberty, Freesom, Beca teams use for free
  • host “Y,” Special Olympic, etc.
  • $5 at range instead of $10?
  • sticking it to kids on Golf range?
  • St. Luke’s partnership
  • “uniforms” for staff
  • relationship with restaurant owner: “fluid,” “contentious”

Down Memory Lane on the Armory controversy

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

Looks like the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory goes on at 4pm today, though neighboring residents have indicated trouble attending because of the time when many people work.

The City provided the opportunity for people to come to City Hall this week to discuss the plans to be presented, but Gadfly is not sure that happened.

Supporting documents are now online; they weren’t the last time Gadfly looked.

In any event, not all interested parties can attend the PC meeting to make their views heard, and Gadfly knows that sometimes “numbers” can have effect on decisions.

Gadfly calls your attention to City Council minutes of February 6 and March 20, 2018, when there was significant public comment and Council discussion on the Armory. Gadfly was not Gadfly at the time, but he did participate in the issue as a “detached observer,” and that unpleasant experience was part of the reason he eventually started the Gadfly project.

To refresh ourselves on the controversy surrounding the Armory, Gadfly prints here — with permission — part of a comprehensive email to Council by Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley dated February 7, 2018:

* The Commonwealth offers a prime asset to the RDA, a public entity, for a **far below-market** amount (around $270,000).
* The RDA, using a legitimate process (though some applicants may have been scared away), awards a **far-below market** RFP purchase option to Peron, at $322,000 (according to the figures I have seen).
* In both cases, the reason for foregoing a straight market-rate transaction is the Commonwealth/City/RDA’s interest in preserving the historic Armory and in encouraging an adaptive reuse of the building and site that would benefit the City.
* The neighborhood group (MANA), and literally every single resident I have encountered (and I’m sure there are exceptions), both support the redevelopment AND have legitimate questions about the Peron proposal.
* Literally every resident (in my experience, and across over 30 West Side residents’ testimony at the ZHB meetings that I believe you have seen), has argued that the new construction is too large AND that Peron’s lack of plans for the Armory is troubling for a range of reasons. There are a number of other concerns that have been repeatedly expressed, in good faith, about neighborhood parking, and about the anti-urban strip-mall style design.
* But everyone that I have ever spoken with *also* supports redeveloping the site and preserving the Armory. I have literally never heard a single, NIMBY-style dissent to redeveloping the site.
* We worked responsibly to engage the developer, Peron, through their representative, former mayor John Callahan. He met with the whole neighborhood (via MANA) once, and met with those (like my wife and I) adjacent to the property a second time—though not the neighborhood group MANA (which I think was a mistake). To Peron’s credit, they did replace an egregious and unworkable 22-space, cantilevered parking plan for Rauch Street with a 14-space lot off Rauch that was once used by the Armory.
* But Callahan and Peron would not compromise on the plainly out-of-scale new construction, nor on the strip-mall design.
* So we put our faith in the public bodies that enforce planning principles and the zoning code. We were especially confident because the project is not a regular private development. It was hallowed state-owned property provided to a city-affiliated nonprofit to transfer to a private developer at a *far below market rate* in exchange for protecting and advancing the public’s interest in preserving the Armory and enhancing our thriving neighborhood. This was no ordinary development, we thought.
* So we were stunned, first, when the Planning Commission swept away, with literally not a single word’s comment, the public’s concerns.
* The Zoning Hearing Board, speaking for myself, was by far the most deflating and demoralizing experience I’ve had since moving to Bethlehem from a corruption-plagued Allentown five years ago. Peron’s legal arguments for the crucial parking special exception were an audacious act of legal chutzpah that literally stunned me.
* The main claim was that the developer deserved 24-space special-exception relief due to “adaptive reuse” of the Armory—even though the zoning code exception language plainly and unambiguously refers to reuse of a “principal building.” The argument that a pair of attached garages—one from the late 1960s—constitute the “principal building” didn’t (and does not) pass the laugh test. It was ironic that Peron entered into evidence a flyover portraying their winning RFP design that showed the two garages utterly demolished for new construction. They, like literally everyone, consider the Drill Hall the “principal building”
* The backup claim was that the 24-space exception was owed because of a topography hardship. If anything, this argument was even more absurd, since the *only reason* they “needed” relief from the parking code was because they had proposed a 70-unit building. You can’t claim a hardship that you literally created yourself. Peron’s “hardship” would, of course, vanish if it merely reduced the number of units.
* You can image how stunning it was to watch the flimsiest of legal arguments upheld unanimously by the Zoning Hearing Board without a single word of explanation.
* We all had watched the same Board lecture a resident, right before the Armory case, over needing a “hardship” for a variance—in that case, 7 feet or so for his shed next to his property line beyond what the code allowed. The Board unanimously denied that request, before taking up the 11 Peron variances.
* To watch Darlene Heller, who I otherwise respect a lot, shamelessly use the last public-comment period to aggressively shoot down neighbors’ concerns and back up the developer—that was utterly deflating. Here you had the city’s planning director pitching for a developer to violate 11 variances/special exceptions and make a mockery of the zoning code. It was lost on no one that a major and disastrous precedent was established, leaving the zoning code open to follow-on exception requests.
* Over 9 hours of hearing, there was not a single resident who supported the proposal in its bloated, illegal form. Not one from over 30 who spoke.
* For me and my neighbors it was the plainest evidence that, for the Zoning Hearing Board at least, there are two Bethlehems. There’s one for ordinary residents, who get lectured about small variance requests that are unanimously denied. And then there’s a second Bethlehem for a developer with a well-connected former mayor. If you’re Peron and John Callahan, you get 11 variances on laughably dubious legal grounds approved unanimously.

Everyone knows the Armory is a “hot” issue in that Westside neighborhood.

Other Commissions have agreed to move their meeting times to accommodate residents on hot issues.

Why not the Planning Commission?

birds chirping . . .