He could tell you about the police who stopped a guy walking at night whose only crime was that he was an odd duck, put him in a chokehold, put a spit bag on him, precipitated injuries from which he would die, mocked him, argued that they were simply following policies implemented by city leadership, and buried the body-cam videos.
Enough to remind him that there is enough evidence around in the post-GeorgeFloyd era for our police department, for every police department to undergo self-scrutiny about procedures and practices.
And for City Council to assure that it is being done.
Gadfly is suggesting nothing nefarious about our police department. With its double certification, he assumes the department is as well trained as possible.
But he has said that such visible, public analysis simply makes sense in the post-GeorgeFloyd era.
The international furor over the killing of George Floyd plus the hiring of a new Chief of Police mark the perfect moment to take significant stock of department operation.
So perhaps Tuesday’s meeting on “Police reorganization” will get in to this.
But anything that smacks of criticism of the police will inevitably be a political hot potato.
We’ve already seen a local group applying the heat.
Gadfly thought Councilwoman Crampsie Smith hit the right note, the right balance in her re-election comments before Lehigh Valley for All February 17: “I come from a family of cops, but I also see that you can support the police but also address and fight systemic racism because they are not two mutually exclusive items.”
One of the candidates for Council has put herself behind “re-imagining public safety”: “This to me means not just looking at policing in a vacuum but integrating our approach to public health and our approach to policing. I do think that Chief Kott is on the right track in a lot of ways, but I would love to be there as well to ask how we approach that. There are a lot of new models in cities that are bringing out social workers, public health professionals who are disrupting the police engagement when people are in crisis over things that are non-violent and non-criminal.”
That same candidate has boldly said “Black lives matter and Latino lives matter,” and we know that policing is inextricably tied to racial issues.
So Gadfly hopes that there will be political pressure to keep public safety in front of us.
One week to the day after the May election will be the one year anniversary of the George Floyd killing.
All cities in the country will be asked to show what they have done in response.
And now, in a proposal announced today, the mayor of Ithaca, NY will attempt the most radical reimagining of policing in the post-George Floyd era so far: abolishing the city’s police department as currently constructed and replacing it with a reimagined city agency.
n a nearly 100-page report obtained by GQ, Mayor Svante Myrick will propose replacing the city’s current 63-officer, $12.5 million a year department with a “Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety” which would include armed “public safety workers” and unarmed “community solution workers,” all of whom will report to a civilian director of public safety instead of a police chief.
“IPD currently spends one third of its time responding to calls for service that essentially never lead to arrests,” Myrick writes in the report’s introduction. “Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity, can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery. This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime.”
If the proposal is approved, calls for service will be evaluated to determine whether an armed or unarmed respondent is necessary, or another public agency altogether would be best to respond. Mental health calls would be outsourced to a standalone unit of social workers based on the CAHOOTS program pioneered in Eugene, Oregon. The goal, ultimately, is to have far fewer encounters between citizens and armed government agents.
“Everyone wants the police to perform better when they show up, everybody wants that. What this plan is saying is that we also want the police to show up less—and that’s a radical thing for a city and a mayor to do.” Myrick, 33, told me in an interview Sunday.
Now, he’s investing his political capital in a plan that would remove armed officers from most civilian interactions, which he said should free those who remain to fully investigate and solve serious crimes. “The investigators are going to be focused on the shooting last Tuesday, they will have nothing on their plate except finding that gun, finding that shooter and taking them off the street,” he said. “They won’t be pulled away from that work by a motor vehicle crash on 3rd Street or a welfare check on Madison.”
And the proposal will provide new fodder for the national semantics over policing, even as the plan itself lays bare how undercooked public perceptions are around much of the terminology. Depending on your rhetorical goals, it’s possible to argue that the Ithaca plan would mean the police department is being “abolished,” or policing in the city is being “reformed” and “reimagined,” or armed government response to public safety is being partially “defunded.” Myrick notes that the new department would likely result in more city money being spent on public safety—while the specifics are yet to be finalized, he envisions the combined staffs of the department’s unarmed and armed workers exceeding the city’s current number of police officers. He admitted he’s yet to decide whether he’ll use the term “abolish” when discussing the proposal: “This plan would abolish the police department while not abolishing policing,” he said.
The proposal is part of a report Ithaca and surrounding Tompkins County intend to send to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last June signed an executive order requiring local governments to conduct comprehensive reviews of their police departments. With the help of the Center for Policing Equity, officials conducted a community engagement survey, held a series of town halls and public forums, and convened 21 targeted focus groups that included members of law enforcement, the formerly incarcerated and homeless citizens.
According to the report, community members said they often feel disrespected by police during interactions and questioned whether local police officers knew how to properly deescalate situations. As a result, respondents told city officials, they were hesitant to turn to the police for intervention. During the law enforcement focus group, police officers and sheriff’s deputies said they don’t believe the public understands what their jobs entail. They think the department is understaffed and under resourced; and called for better coordination between police and other public service agencies. “Few people who participated in the Reimagining Public Safety trust the process,” the report notes. “Both targeted focus groups and law enforcement think the other needs education. Both respondents from targeted focus groups and law enforcement agree that the lack of trust is a major issue that needs to be addressed.”
“Once you can fully imagine an alternative response agency,” Myrick told me. “It’s hard to defend what exists currently.”
A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report.
Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time.
The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.
STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by connecting people with services like shelter, food aid, counseling, and medication. The program also deliberately cuts down on encounters between uniformed officers and civilians.
The policing alternative empowers behavioral health experts to call the shots, even when police officers are around.
Sailon said she remembers a call last year in which a woman was experiencing mental health symptoms at a 7-Eleven. The clerk had called the police — the woman was technically trespassing — but when the police arrived, they called Sailon.
“We got there and told police they could leave,” Sailon said. “We didn’t need them there.”
The woman, who was unhoused, was upset about some issues she was having on her prepaid Social Security card. Sailon helped her into the van where the two “game-planned” a solution before the STAR crew drove her to a day shelter for some food, she said.
“So we were sort of able to solve those problems in the moment for her and got the police back in service, dealing with a law enforcement call,” Sailon said.
The fact that the police officers even called the STAR team tells Dr. Matthew Lunn, who is in charge of DPD’s strategic initiatives, that the program is working (Lunn has a PhD but is not a medical doctor). About 35 percent of calls to STAR personnel come from police officers, according to the report.
Chief Pazen is thrilled with the success of STAR, but the time and money it saves will go toward fighting crime, he said.
A spectrum of solutions has sprouted from protests against systemic racism and police brutality that started last summer, including the idea of taking money from traditional policing and giving it to social programs not unlike STAR.
For Pazen, transferring low-level calls to civilian teams is not about reallocating money. It’s about solving two problems at once: getting harmless residents the help they need while letting police focus on other things.
“I want the police department to focus on police issues,” Pazen said. “We have more than enough work with regards to violent crime, property crime and traffic safety, and if something like STAR or any other support system can lighten the load on mental health calls for service, substance abuse calls for service, and low-level issues, that frees up law enforcement to address crime issues.”
Pazen added: “I see this as an ‘and.’ Not an ‘or.’”
The city of Rochester, N.Y., has suspended the police officers involved in handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl last week.
The suspensions come one day after police released disturbing body-camera footage of the Friday encounter, which shows multiple officers using force against a young girl in obvious distress while they responded to a “family trouble” call.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged all of our community,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement announcing the suspensions.
The Friday incident began about 3:20 p.m. and police who responded were told the 9-year-old girl, who hasn’t been identified, was suicidal.
The footage shows the officers chasing and restraining the girl. In one video, she’s sobbing and struggling against the cuffs as officers try to force her into a patrol car. The officers chide her and one tells her she’s “acting like a child.” She responds: “I am a child” and pleads with them to stop forcing her into the car.
Minutes later, video shows an officer pepper-spraying the girl, leaving her crying in the back seat. “Unbelievable,” says the officer who sprayed her.
It is yet another example of police treating people in the midst of mental health crises as criminals, said activists, who have questioned why officers responded to the scene and not the city’s newly minted “Person in Crisis” team.
Roj, the city spokesman, said the call originally came in as a “domestic” crime report. The girl’s mother reported her boyfriend, the girl’s father, for allegedly stealing her car, Roj said. It was only when police arrived that the mother told police her daughter was distraught and had threatened to harm herself and her mother, he added.
“It did not come in as a mental health call.”
However, he said, the officers responding to the call on Friday did have the option to call Monroe County’s Forensic Intervention Team, which dispatches mental health clinicians to crisis calls.
The mother of the 9-year-old Rochester, N.Y., girl who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police said Wednesday that she repeatedly told an officer that her daughter was having a mental health breakdown and she pleaded with them to call a specialist instead of trying to detain her.
The officer said “no,” Elba Pope said.
Pope, 30, said the incident, which sparked nationwide outrage and prompted fresh scrutiny of how law enforcement agencies deal with people in emotional distress, has left her rattled and fearful that her daughter could suffer long-term emotional trauma.
“I was saying, ‘We need mental health out there,’ ” Pope said in an interview. “He ignored me.”
Pope spoke out one day after she and her attorneys filed a formal notice that they plan to sue the city, citing “emotional distress, assault, battery, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment,” as well as other potential violations of the girl’s “constitutional rights.” Pope is also calling on the city to fire the officer who pepper-sprayed her daughter.
About 20 demonstrators protested outside the Rochester Police Locust Club, which serves as the police union, on Wednesday afternoon, calling for new laws that would ban police officers from handcuffing or pepper-spraying children.
Pope said her daughter had a similar emotional breakdown in late November, which required her to be evaluated at a hospital under New York’s mental hygiene law, when she became upset over being grounded for failing to do her homework.
Pope said she could immediately tell that the girl’s distress on Friday also required an evaluation by a medical health expert.
“It just so happened she chose that moment to run out of the house, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, here we go,” Pope said. “I had to go get the officer and say, ‘Sir, I know my daughter, and she is about to have a mental health slowdown, can you please contact someone?”
With the girl now about a block and a half away from home, Pope, who is pregnant, said the girl kept screaming she wanted her dad and was about “to kill me and my unborn baby and herself.”
“I said again, ‘We need mental health out here,’ ” Pope said. “He ignored me.”
Pope said the officers then demanded that Pope return to the house, leaving the officers alone with her daughter. Pope said she found out only the following day that officers subsequently used pepper spray on her daughter.
Mike Mazzeo, the president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, did not respond to requests for comment. At a news conference earlier in the week, Mazzeo defended the officers and said they told Pope to return to her house because her presence appeared to be making the girl’s behavior even more unstable.
Napolitano said Pope also hopes any eventual lawsuit she files against the city also includes demands for “systematic changes” in how Rochester police deal with people who might be having an emotional or mental health episode.
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
“The family and close friends find ourselves thinking of the countless ways this situation could have been de-escalated. What he needed was treatment, and what he received was a death sentence in a chaotic encounter with law enforcement.”
If we want an example of the kind of situation gone wrong that Gadfly has chronicled in these pages for the past 8 months, we don’t have to go far.
Just to Catasauqua nine days ago.
The scenario is so familiar that the Morning Call reporters could almost just look up a previous shooting, change the name and address, and file their story.
Domestic disturbance. Man having a heated argument with his ex-girlfriend. She calls the police. Certainly we are told that domestic disturbance calls are among the most dangerous of situations for the police. But the police have been to this house before. They know this man. They know his history of mental problems.
Three police arrive. The man has had no gun. When the police arrive, he goes to the cellar to get one. The police confront him there. He refuses an order to drop the gun. They shoot him. The man is dead.
The family grieves, describes what a good and harmless man their loved one was, blames the police for not de-escalating, blames the system for unresponsiveness to a person in need.
Now that’s as far as the story has gone so far, but we can write the rest of it, can’t we?
The police say they were acting in self-defense, the police say they were following their training, the police say the man was at fault for not obeying their order, the D.A. presses no charges, the man’s family sues (and sometimes even the same lawyer shows up to represent them — like the omnipresent Benjamin Crump these days if the subject is Black), the case is settled for Big Bucks, the taxpayer shells out.
Can we not agree that this is a bad outcome for everybody, for everybody, and that we need to figure out a better way to handle such situations?
Can we not agree that just possibly a sensible re-imagining of the way public safety is done in certain situations and circumstances might avoid unnecessary loss of life?
A man arguing with his ex-girlfriend was shot and killed by a Catasauqua police officer Friday after he refused to drop a gun in the basement of the home he shared with his parents, authorities said.
Ryan Shirey, 27, was pronounced dead by the Lehigh County coroner’s office at the home at 133 S. 14th St., where he was shot shortly after 2 p.m.
Shirey and his father and ex-girlfriend were at the house when she called police during an argument that the father told police got “heated,” Martin said. The ex-girlfriend is a caretaker for Shirey’s mother, he said.
Three Catasauqua police officers responded to the home, at which point Shirey “fled to the basement where he retrieved a revolver,” Branosky said.
Police entered the basement.
“[Shirey] was ordered to put the gun down, he did not comply,” Martin said. “And a Catasauqua police officer shot him, and unfortunately he is deceased.”
Ryan Shirey, the 27-year-old man shot to death Friday by Catasauqua police, was “in a heightened paranoid state” when officers responded to a 911 call at the home he shared with his parents, but the encounter should not have ended in a death sentence, his family says.
A statement released by family member Jeff Purdon said Shirey battled mental health issues his entire adult life after being diagnosed during his childhood, and was in need of treatment, not a use of force from police who were called to the home for a domestic argument.
“There are no words to accurately describe the pain of this sudden loss, the anguish at times unbearable,” the family said in the statement. “He is a victim of a system that failed him. A system that made it impossible to get the treatment and help that he so desperately needed.
“Those of us who knew Ryan know he posed no mortal threat to anyone,” the statement said. “The family and close friends find ourselves thinking of the countless ways this situation could have been de-escalated. What he needed was treatment, and what he received was a death sentence in a chaotic encounter with law enforcement.”
Purdon said Catasauqua police had been at the home in the past, and the department should have been aware of Shirey’s mental health issues. The presence of law enforcement could trigger his paranoia, Purdon said.
“I feel like there was no compassion, no understanding [from police] going in,” Purdon said. “We have no idea what was running through his head. Nobody gets to know what his last thoughts were.”
Shirey’s family said they hope the Catasauqua police will consider how the incident could have been better handled considering Shirey’s mental health issues made him a “vulnerable member of this community.”
According to Shirey’s obituary, he loved animals, something family friend Scott Rossi said was evident anytime Shirey was near a four-legged creature.
When Rossi was moving across the country in 2006, Shirey agreed to watch his cat, Scooter, for awhile. The two got so close that Rossi thought it best to let them stay together.
“They had such a bond. It was unreal,” Rossi said.
More recently, Shirey agreed to watch Rossi’s dog while he was at work. He’d come home and find them both curled up on the couch together, snoring away. Rossi said his dog had its own special tail wag dance whenever it laid eyes on Shirey.
“He probably understood animals better than he understood people,” Purdon said.
Shirey’s battle with mental health issues was constant, but according to family and friends, he could find solace “in digital spaces” and the myriad interests that would snag his attention.
Shirey spent countless hours creating electronic music, but was very private about the art and wouldn’t share his creations, Purdon said. Regardless, the comfort Shirey found in his music was clear to anyone who knew him, Purdon said.
His ability to become hyperfocused meant he’d dive deep into a subject once it caught his attention, according to Purdon. And he felt strongly about some of the issues, such as his support for the decriminalization of marijuana, family said.
Purdon recalled how for a period of time, Shirey would haul a tome about coding with him wherever he went, though he never seemed to be reading it.
“It was more like this physical reminder that this was something he had to get into and learn about at some point,” Purdon said.
Purdon also said Shirey loved to spend time surfing Google Maps and touring the halls of far-away museums online with his father, Karl Shirey.
“It was like he was in his own little world sometimes,” Purdon said. “And we were all just guests.”
“This world is poorer for Ryan’s absence,” Rossi said. “He will be greatly missed, and we will spend the rest of our lives working for justice for Ryan.”
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
The Public Safety Committee (Chair Colon, members Negron and Crampsie Smith) meets at 5:30 Tuesday, March 2, immediately before the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
The subject is “Police reorganization.”
We know that the current Chief, Chief Kott, has only held her position since September.
So we can assume that the report at this meeting will embody her plan to shape the department according to her views on policing.
We cannot assume that the meeting will relate to the momentous events of last summer — the killing of George Floyd, the several notable subsequent killings in police actions, the national reckoning with race, and the discussions about re-imagining public safety that ensued.
The meeting might do these things. But we can’t assume.
For instance, when the Mayor requested such a meeting at the February 16 City Council meeting, he clearly said that it would not deal with the Community Engagement Initiative — the Council plan initiated by members Reynolds and Crampsie Smith that was our main response to GeorgeFloyd.
We cannot assume that the meeting will relate to how police handle what Gadfly has called some “first contact” situations, especially, for instance, those that could be identified as mental-health issues.
Trying not to get entangled in the verbal and political barbed wire of “defunding” (a term which he virtually always puts in quotes to indicate its vexed meaning, to the perplexity of follower John Rothschild who wants him to drop the term altogether), Gadfly has simply pointed out that to him there is an obvious problem in how some calls are handled by police, that that problem should be aired, and that, if appropriate, changes should be made.
Gadfly has been impatient with the City’s delay in considering such issues that to him seem to demand first rank attention. Though he recognizes that Chief Kott is new in her position. And though he recognizes that there is a pilot program with the Health Bureau.
Gadfly has said several times that he is afraid George Floyd will be forgotten, that the momentum crest of his killing is passing, that we will soon be asking “George who?”
He hears no one else calling for the kind of internal analysis and self-analysis of the department that last year’s “history” called for.
He thinks that only he and follower Michele Downing care about such. (Ha! true, Michele?)
(Though he does note hopefully “re-imagining public safety” in candidate Hillary Kwiatek’s stump message for City Council.)
But this upcoming meeting prods him to dip in to his clipping file and remind himself and others about some cases that highlight the issues that warrant re-imagining how public safety is done.
Here Gadfly finishes up with his coverage of the CADCB February 18 discussion of the future of the Southside as part of their preparation for their latest Southside Vision Plan.
After the small-group breakout sessions, the 40 or so attendees gathered for a plenary session, and each group did a quick recap of their individual discussions.
This sharing session contains several dozen interesting ideas, and certainly provided CADCB some important things to think about.
Gadfly encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to feel the pulse of the people.
The meeting ended with a description of these 5 CADCB committees and an invitation, an exhortation to get involved and to help continue the the important work of making the Southside an even better place, as one attendee put it, to live, work, eat, and play. Contact Yari Colon-Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council incumbent Grace Crampsie Smith at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
I’m in my second year of a two-year term on Bethlehem City Council. I’m running for the 4-year term. I’ve been a resident of Bethlehem for over 30 years. And I’m the grateful mother of three children, who pretty much have contributed to inspiring me to run for City Council to give back to the great community in which they were raised. My daughters Shannon and Bridget are going to graduate from Law School and Medical School in May, so I’ll have two people off my payroll. And my son Brendan is in his third year of college. And I am extremely grateful and proud of them. Professionally, I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Lehigh, and I have been a high school counselor at Easton Area High School for over 15 years. I have over 30 years experience in various area. I was an addictions counselor. I was an administrator of government-funded services for people with developmental disabilities and mental health diagnoses and their families. And I was an adjunct instructor at the community college level on the America for Disabilities Act and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Currently on Council I am chair of the Public Works Committee, and I am a member of the Public Safety and Community Development Committees. In my first year on Council I initiated and co-chair the current Affordable Housing Task Force. Homelessness and housing that is affordable is a passion of mine. I really got interested in this years ago, but more specifically in the past five years when I saw a significant increase in the number of my students and families who were homeless and transient. So the Affordable Housing Task Force consists of public and private entities, including developers, and our goal is to try to come up with recommendations to address the lack of affordable housing with in the City. Recently, I was thrilled to get the folks from State College and Pittsburgh to join our meeting and give an extensive presentation on their success with inclusionary housing. I also sponsored a resolution to insure insurance coverage to first responders to include post-traumatic stress disorder because that’s important. Councilman Reynolds and I have, through the pandemic, met on an ongoing basis with the local business associations and the Mayor to try to assist them to survive during this pandemic. Councilman Reynolds and I last year also met with the Police and the Administration and pushed for them to review our use of force policy to make sure that restraints were not included if they were going to be adverse like the things we saw last summer. We also formed a Community Engagement Initiative which included people from the community which involved people from the Police, the Administration, and the community to try to join together to look at ways that we can enhance the services of the police within the city. Again, Councilman Reynolds and I have been meeting with the ongoing with the Police Chief and the City regarding adequate and appropriate training for the police and to work toward coordinating with community and governmental services in the area of mental health, drug and alcohol, domestic violence, and other areas. I think that I have a unique perspective when it comes to the police issue because I come from a family of police. My father was a police chief, I have three nephews who are policeman, one of them is currently on the SWAT team at the U.S. Capitol, so he was actively involved in the insurrection unfortunately on January 6 but fortunately he is safe. And as I have said repeatedly, I come from a family of cops, but I also see that you can support the police but also address and fight systemic racism because they are not two mutually exclusive items. Basically, I feel that my personal attributes and my professional experience have been relevant on my role on City Council, and it’s been an honor. Even though this year has been a long, strange trip, I have enjoyed it. It’s been an honor and privilege to serve the great, diverse community of Bethlehem, and I hope I continue to get this opportunity to serve and to represent and to fulfill the initiatives I’ve started.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Bryan Callahan, Hillary Kwiatek, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron, Kiera Wilhelm.
New York-based Chef Rafael Palomino and developer Jeffrey Quinn have proposed a 12-story mixed-use development project for South New Street that includes 82 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a first-floor food court made up of Palomino’s restaurants. The current proposal includes a roof-top terrace, basement fitness center, and two community rooms for residents. The project requires the demolition of four structures: 319-323 New Street, which includes a single-story retail property currently occupied by JC Jewelry and Gifts, and a three-story structure with Lara Bly Designs and Car Village Title and Notary on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors; 325 New Street, which is a three-story structure that was acquired several years ago by the developer’s local business partners, Juan Carlos and Cara Paredes, and has been left vacant ever since, but which previously housed a bar on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors; and 327 New Street, which is a single-story building that was home to Pat’s Newsstand. The project will also extend to cover Graham Street from the third floor upwards.
Here’s the first test for the principles for responsible development that I proposed in a prior post. As the project winds its way through the Historic Conservation Commission and the Planning Commission’s approval processes, let’s think about what this project means for quality of life on the Southside. Is this a project that aligns with principles for responsible development?
1) Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses
The proposed project would add a food court owned by Chef Rafael Palomino, which he says would feature several options–Mexican, Vegan, Italian, Tapas, and American. Data shows that restaurants tend to keep more money in the local economy than other types of small businesses since labor makes up a significant portion of their expenses, and the food court would likely create some jobs. I imagine that a sort-of fast casual food court would be popular with college students and folks working on the Southside, and the location is easy walking distance from Lehigh’s campus. The idea seems sound from a business perspective, and the fact that the developer is also the owner of the food court means that he will build out the space to the appropriate specifications. That is, if the developer sticks to his plan, I don’t think we’ll be dealing with vacant storefronts.
However, the project will result in the loss of several small businesses—a jewelry shop, designer-owned clothing store, and a notary. All three are women and/or minority-owned businesses, which is a category that receives special consideration by organizations promoting small business development. Will these businesses survive the cost of moving elsewhere? Will they find another place on the Southside? Maybe, maybe not. Are these businesses that we want to keep in our community? I’d like to hear the thoughts of Southsiders on this point.
I appreciate the integration of small businesses into the planning, but I do have concerns about other businesses being displaced without an option to relocate in the new development.
2) Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties
Rather than choosing a vacant site on which to build, the developer has decided to demolish properties in the heart of the downtown, although the properties slated for demolition have less historic value than many other Southside landmarks. From a City perspective, however, I would rather see a development like this proposed for an empty lot in the redevelopment areas.
3) Encourage new development that does not exceed the size of surrounding properties and blends with historic architecture in order to create a cohesive sense of place and encourage walkability
While the developers have made an effort with the design, and their willingness to integrate the one historically-relevant façade into their project deserves recognition, I’m afraid that the massive scale of the project cancels out most of the efforts made on design. Twelve stories in an area characterized by 2, 3, and 4 story historic properties just doesn’t seem appropriate. The impact of a huge, out-of-place building on the street-level feel and sense of place on New Street will be significant. Rather than a quirky, small-town neighborhood feel, the narrow street will be darkened by the shadow of this monolith and converted into a channel that funnels walkers from Lehigh to the Fahy Bridge.
4) Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population
This project proposes 72 two-bedroom and 10 one-bedroom apartments with approximately 10% slated to be affordable housing (9 apartments). Once the height is reduced (as it would have to be to conform to the HCC’s requests), the number of affordable apartments will inevitably decrease as the 10% rate is maintained. The first floor will contain a food court that will serve the broader community, although judging from the portfolio of restaurants owned by Rafael Palomino, pricing will likely be on the higher side in comparison with the average of 50+ other Southside dining establishments.
So how does this project fare when analyzed from an accessibility and affordability perspective? According to the most recent Census data available, 32% of South Bethlehem residents live below the poverty line (an annual income of $26,500 for a family of four). 72% of homes on the Southside are occupied by renters, and 45% of them are classified as “cost-burdened”—in other words, they pay more than 35% of their income in rent. That is, their housing is, by definition, unaffordable. Median rent hovers around $1,000. The data makes it clear: there is a huge need for more affordable housing in South Bethlehem. When the developer says that they will add affordable units, this sounds like a no-brainer. We need affordable housing, and here is someone willing to build it! But there’s a lot more to consider here. Let’s talk a little more about affordable housing in south Bethlehem.
The City of Bethlehem offers zoning-based density incentives to developers who are willing to include a minimum of 10% affordable apartments in their developments. By federal (and City) definition, “affordable” means that the rents will not exceed 30% of the income of families making 80% of Area Median Income, and the rent will not exceed Fair Market Rent. For a one and two-bedroom building, this translates to a maximum rent of $891 for a one-bedroom (which is affordable for a family making over $35,640 a year) and $1,139 for a 2-bedroom apartment (which is affordable for a family making over $45,560 a year). Applicants for these apartments would be restricted to 80% of Area Medium Income based on family size: that is, a maximum income of $43,800 for one person, $50,050 for two people, $56,300 for three people, and $62,550 for four people. Now, I don’t want to diminish the value of building housing that conforms to these definitions of “affordability,” since these numbers do represent lower rents than many luxury apartments throughout the City. However, we have to take these numbers into the context of this proposed development, which is not occurring in a vacuum.
The proposed tower would displace two buildings that contain multiple apartments. While I cannot find public information on the total number of apartments at 321 and 325 New Street, a conservative estimate of two per floor multiplied by four floors would suggest a minimum of eight apartments. When the developer’s business partner acquired 325 New Street, he gave all of the tenants 30 days to leave. One of the tenants solicited my assistance since he had nowhere to go and was concerned about finding another place that he could afford as a single person making $10 an hour. At the time, he was paying somewhere between $300-400 per month. While I don’t have concrete data on all the existing apartments, I think it is fair to assume that the existing apartments could be rented out at more affordable prices than the proposed new development, given the costs of demolition and construction of a new building.
Affordable housing is extremely difficult to build. Having spoken to affordable housing developers and collaborated on a team that was seeking to build workforce housing in south Bethlehem, I know just how challenging it is to make the numbers work—even with generous subsidies and zoning incentives. Construction is expensive, and contingency funds are often eaten up by unexpected costs that are par for the course when you’re building in small spaces, demolishing old structures, and potentially dealing with environmental contamination issues. It’s understandable that this new project would limit its affordable apartments to the minimum necessary and maximum rent possible to obtain zoning benefits and improve the optics of the project.
But we are considering this project from a community perspective. If affordable housing is so tough to build, we should make sure that we preserve as much existing affordable housing as we can, and create incentives to prevent apartments that could easily be rented out affordably from sitting vacant. If we consider this project from an affordable housing perspective, our community will be demolishing affordable apartments to build unaffordable ones. Once older, affordable apartments are gone, there’s no bringing them back.
Affordable housing is complicated. We desperately need more, but we need to carefully analyze every proposal that comes before us to ensure that the end result is truly beneficial to our community. What would I like to see? Prioritize new construction of apartment buildings for vacant land, and incorporate 10% affordable apartments where it will be a net addition to the community. Don’t knock down existing affordable housing to put up less affordable housing.
So the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, described for you in the last post, held a meeting February 18, asking “What’s your vision for the Southside?” as part of information gathering for the development of its new Southside Vision Plan.
What’s your vision for the Southside?
We are inviting South Bethlehem’s residents and the business community to join us online for a community meeting to discuss the future of Southside.
Your unique perspective on the current strengths and challenges of the Southside, and your vision for improvements to be made in the coming years, would be very helpful in the development of the new south Bethlehem Neighborhood Plan.
As we approach almost 20 years of Southside Vision, our current neighborhood plan and the focus of much of our work in the community. Your input gathered during these meetings, surveys or interviews will assist in the creation of a new neighborhood Plan.
The core of the meeting was straight talk from the attendees.
This is the kind of thing that the Gadfly loves.
He attended and records here part of one of the breakout sessions where participants were asked to talk about several questions.
The first question was “What challenges are we currently facing on the Southside?”
Here are the facilitator’s notes, but I encourage you to listen to the discussion.
It was frank, passionate, and you might find a surprise or two.
Based on a belief in economic and social justice, Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADCB) improves the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.
“Empowering people and transforming South Bethlehem”
On February 18 the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem hosted a meeting in which director Yari Colon-Lopez asked the assembled group the pregnant and poignant question, “What’s your vision for the Southside?”
The CADCB is formulating the next phase of its Southside Vision program.
Gadfly’s betting that most of you, like him, are not familiar with this remarkable organization. And we all should be. So he encourages you to listen at some length to Director Yari describe CADCB’s productive and fruitful activities.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council incumbent Bryan Callahan at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
As many of you know, I am a long-time educator in the Bethlehem Area School District. I teach at Northeast Middle School. I have been a union member my whole entire life. My very first job was in Local 54 down in Atlantic City. When I was in college I was a member down there. And then when I became a teacher I became a building rep at Freedom High School. And then after I became the building rep, I became the vice-president for the BEA for the high schools, for Liberty and Freedom. I have also owned and operated a very successful small business here in Bethlehem for the last 12 years, and I am supported by a very long list of local unions . . . You know, all the building trades and many of the other unions in the City of Bethlehem and in the Lehigh Valley are long-time supporters of mine. Probably the most proudest thing I’ve done in my life is, unfortunately, a lot of you know that I lost my wife Lucia to cancer 14 years ago. I had a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old at the time, and I’m so proud of them. I raised two great kids and have been very successful and are doing very well in their lives. And that’s really the crowning achievement of my life. You know, that I got them through the disaster of losing their mom. And it was a tough thing to do for the first 4-5 years, bit once they started getting off and driving and getting off on there own, things started easing off a little bit. And that’s really my pride and joy. I have B.A. in Journalism and Public Relations. I have a B.S. in Health and Physical Education. I also have my Masters in Education. I was the chair of the Finance Committee, Community and Economic Development, and Human Resources, and I’ve been on Public Works also. I am also on the Bethlehem Mental Health Board which I sit on. I will be running for my third term on City Council. As many of you know, I have a great love for and passion for our city. I’m a Nitschmann Lion and Liberty Hurricane till the day I die. There is a perception and an idea by a few people in our City that all that good that has happened in our City over the last 20 years was just inevitable. And they think that the rebirth and renaissance our City has been through in the past 20 years . . . that simply is not true. There are countless cities littered and scattered through the northeast and the midwest of the Unites States where progressive, forward thinking and leadership did not happen. I am proud of my years in service on City Council. I will finish up by saying that in the years I’ve been on I passed the wage equality ordinance that prevents the perpetuation of gender-based wage inequality, and I also proposed and passed the no gifts ban that prohibits City Council members from accepting gifts from those trying to influence public policy, along with improvements to the Rose Garden and the Municipal Golf Course and more funding for ADA ramps. Next month I’ll be bringing forward a new ordinance that give local businesses, especially minority, female, and veteran-owned businesses advantage in the bidding process in local jobs. . . . I also supported, and this is something I am extremely proud of, I probably gave more money to Democrats in Northampton-Lehigh county, good, hard-working progressive Democrats, than any candidate in the City. I take great pride in trying to help people out financially, so we can get those people elected to office.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Grace Crampsie Smith, Hillary Kwiatek, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron, Kiera Wilhelm.
Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.
The February 22nd Historic Conservation Commission meeting was a win for proponents of responsible development, but I worry that the phrase is most frequently used in discussions of what we would NOT like to see occur in our neighborhoods. The process by which development projects are proposed, reviewed, and approved in our city—which is not unique to our community but represents standard operating procedure for most cities like ours—does not make much space for proactive discussions of community-centered development. No one wants to say “no” all the time, so let’s talk about what responsible Southside development could look like. There are great examples of creative projects that got each of these principles right and that can guide us as we envision the future of our community.
Establishing Community-Centered Principles for Responsible
The City of Bethlehem has seen a remarkable number of development projects proposed for its downtowns over the last several years, from mixed-use retail, restaurants, and housing to office space and luxury apartments. Some projects have been in the works for decades, carefully strategized with every detail scrutinized by developers and their partners, while others seem to have been thrown together at the last minute by novice teams of folks new to the Lehigh Valley. Regardless of how they come together, each project undergoes a similar evaluation process that includes review by City officials, the City’s Planning Commission, and often an historic and architectural review or an appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board. Every board or commission has a narrow scope to consider, and although some occasionally overstep their boundaries, no group is charged with actively working to ensure that each project is a productive addition to a long-term vision for a viable community. Residents and small-business owners often attend these meetings to express their views, but the technical aspects under consideration can be intimidating to folks unfamiliar with the City’s ordinances, and many committee members are professionals with a background in development themselves who are capable of quickly checking the appropriate boxes regarding stormwater, architectural design, and sidewalk grading. Throughout these review processes, many of the components of projects that are most important to those who live or work nearby receive only minor consideration.
Let’s take a moment to think about what our approval processes would look like if they truly centered impact on the quality of life residents and small businesses in our community. What if we had a resident- and small business-centered framework to evaluate each development proposal that comes in front of our City government? After all, our residents and small businesses are the foundation of our community, and our City government exists primarily to serve the interests of these constituents. We are the voters and taxpayers; we are the ones who live, work, and play in the neighborhoods and downtowns, and our interests should play an important role in thinking through the costs and benefits of any new development project proposed for our community. And those interests extend beyond the technical aspects of projects outlined in the City’s ordinances. What would that framework look like? Here’s my first try at a list of principles for responsible development on the Southside with some examples of recent-ish projects that I think have successfully embodied each approach. What would you add or change?
Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses. Examples: Riverport Market, Flatiron Flats
Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties. Examples: The Factory, 510 Flats
Encourage new development that does not exceed the size of surrounding properties and blends with historic architecture in order to create a cohesive sense of place and encourage walkability. Examples: Polk Street building
Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population. Examples: proposed Palace Row redevelopment
Support adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Examples: Brinker Lofts, Flatiron Flats, Grace Mansion (in progress), Goodman building (proposed), Wilbur Mansion project (in progress)
Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design. Examples: Brinker Lofts opening onto the Greenway
Support projects that are developed in response to community needs identified by residents and stakeholders, and that engage residents and stakeholders in idea development and the design process
Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate. Examples: The Flatiron Building
Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses
Do not use projects that are nearly universally considered planning and design failures as precedent for elements of new development (e.g., Urban Renewal projects like Rooney building, Litzenberger House, Lehigh’s Brodhead House, Rite Aid shopping center.
Historical Conservation Commission meeting on proposed new construction on South New St. February 22, 2021: chapter 3.
HCC chair Lader turned to public comment.
Which public comment — calling out the developer for a clearly improper proposal and calling on the Commission to do its sworn duty — made Gadfly proud and provided the coup de gras for the proposal in its current form.
The comments are all short, and Gadfly encourages you to at least listen to some.
Model public participation. Democracy in action.
Gadfly loves your voices. Take the opportunity to listen.
It’s difficult to choose between them, but if you have time to listen to only one clip, Gadfly would recommend Seth Moglen’s.
Hard, economical, no nonsense, bulls-eye words there.
They sum up the situation for Gadfly.
Anna Smith: “You’re here to filter out the argument that things can only be done one way and that passing up a single development opportunity will doom our community forever after. . . . You know that the developers have learned how to play the game, ask for 12 stories when you want 8, which the evidence suggests is what the developer is aiming for.” A conclusion that Smith backs up very nicely by doing some math with the data about parking spaces.
Kim Carrell-Smith: “Compatibility, that is, being context-sensitive . . . is vital in historical areas.” Carrell-Smith draws on research studies such as we’ve seen in her “Historical preservation pays” posts, reminds the Commission of the guidelines, reminds them that height matters. She points out that there are no renderings of the streetscape from the north, which perspective would clearly show how out of scale the proposed building is. “I urge you to maintain the integrity of your guidelines.”
Dana Grubb: Grubb, who helped write the ordinance, wonders why we have guidelines when he sees this proposal. He worries about creating a canyon in this area of New St. “It’s almost disingenuous” for a developer to come in with this kind of proposal. What would happen if such a thing were to be proposed on the Northside. He questions the sincerity of the developer. Too many open questions. “Your charge is to help protect that district.”
Rachel Leon: “Affordable housing doesn’t always mean accessible housing.” The price of these apartments is double, triple the amount of a mortgage. Leon is also worried about the negative affect on the air quality from the construction, even if short-term.
Al Wurth: The historical district is a small place, and it’s not good to jam such an inappropriate structure in. Worth is worried about the building looming over the street and encroaching over Graham Place and especially the Greenway. And how about air rights? “I’m depending on the Historic Commission to protect us from this overreach.”
Breena Holland: You must evaluate the building for its compatibility with predominant building size in the district between 1890s and 1950? Why is the developer and some of the public referencing more modern buildings. The size at the Zest building is the exception that tests the rule not the exception that proves the rule. The Zest building does not fit. We still need the rule. Imagine the sun being blocked on the New St. corridor. This proposal would create a dark canyon, a tunnel kind of feeling.
Seth Moglen: “This is a simple and straightforward situation.” The project is “grossly out of line” with the guidelines. The developer has indicated a “deep disrespect” for the Commission and the Southside. The people speaking here are deeply committed to the vitality of the Southside, people who would support “responsible development” at this location. “This is simply a project which is entirely out of scale,” and the Commission should send an “unambiguous message” to the developer, who is trying to “strong arm” the Commission. Tell them they must bring a project which is in scale.
So The HCC decided against voting on the developer’s request to approve demolition. They approved a motion to do nothing at this time.
Gadfly is not sure.
At the end of the meeting chair Lader offered to the developer that he had received “clarity.” The developer agreed. But said nothing more.
We’ll have to see what happens. Ball in the developer’s court again. HCC in the middle again.
Gadfly worries about the politics.
He hears the developer several times refer reassuringly to his several meetings with the Mayor, City Administrators, and even Council members.
Even Council members.
And wonders what signals and what support he is getting from those sources.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council Hillary Kwiatek at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
I am a resident of the west side, and I work at Lehigh, so I am an employee on the Southside. And I love the whole city. I’ve lived here since 2000. I moved here with my family. I’ve been thinking about running for a while, but recently sat in a great Zoom session with Professor ______________ from Lehigh talking about what are the actions we can take to really make change. Lehigh is working toward being an anti-racist institution, and I would also like to see Bethlehem move in that direction. And some of the things she said really stuck with me. And that was if you want a just world, you need to have a just community. And this is the community that I live in and that I love, so that is my goal. I have a 4-part progressive vision for the City. I think that we are totally up to the challenge. First, recovering from the pandemic is the number one priority, but we can do that through an inclusive, transparent approach to economic development. I want to be on the Council to ask those questions. Will this project bring family-sustaining wages to people without college degrees? Are we just looking to build luxury condominiums? Or are we really going to look at how we can integrate affordable housing, affordable rental properties into those plans as well? So that’s really important to me because I believe we will only really emerge as stronger on the other side _______, the whole community along with us. Next, re-imagining public safety. This to me means not just looking at policing in a vacuum but integrating our approach to public health and our approach to policing. I do think that Chief Kott is on the right track in a lot of ways, but I would love to be there as well to ask how we approach that. There are a lot of new models in cities that are bringing out social workers, public health professionals who are disrupting the police engagement when people are in crisis over things that are non-violent and non-criminal. So I’d like to pursue that. I believe that we can be a vibrant and sustainable City for all, that includes supporting our small businesses, not just on the west side of the Southside but on the east side where there are so many great small business people. Also, all over the City we have great small businesses that I would like to be able to listen to, hear their needs, and see what Council can do. I also support the Climate Action Plan very much and being a model Green City will be a big part in our bounce back from the pandemic and our move into the future. Finally, I want to not just address racism and inequity in policing but in everything we do in the City, so I would want to identify and eliminate racist and discriminatory practices across all aspects of City government. Black lives matter and Latino lives matter, and that’s very important to me. I work at Lehigh. I have worked in non-profits and higher education doing fundraising and communications for twenty years. I was honored to serve with Councilman Reynolds on his Connect Bethlehem plan to learn how we can connect better as a City with community members.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Bryan Callahan, Grace Crampsie Smith, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron, Kiera Wilhelm.
Proposed streetscape February 15 — HCC meeting February 22
showing Rooney Building***
Historical Conservation Commission meeting on proposed new construction on South New St. February 22, 2021: chapter 2.
Gadfly has said that the developer blew some smoke.
No malice intended. That’s what developers do. Just part of the dance.
But we expect our volunteer representatives to be street smart.
Listen in now as the Commission members engage with the developer during this second visit on the project.
Frankly, Gadfly feels a bit tentative about new HCC chair Gary Lader. Chair Lader felt at times a little too willing to compromise on the height guidelines for Gadfly’s liking. For instance, he suggested that the developer include the Zest building (306 S. New) as a point of reference and said that “we” were “hoping” the developer would come back with a proposal in the 8-story range. Maybe Gadfly is not being fair saying so. Maybe in his role as facilitating chair, Lader feels he needs to keep the conversation going with the developer on amicable terms, keep him hooked, as it were. But there’s a time or two in the meeting when Commission members speak back rather strongly to their chair. For instance, when chair Lader talks about the 8-story “building across the street” as point of reference for a “compromise,” he is immediately and rather dramatically met with a chorus of “Hold ons” from his committee, reminding him that the Zest building is 6-stories, was itself an exception to HCC guidelines, and is not considered a contributing factor to this proposal. “Right, ok,” he replies. As if awakened.
In any event, Commission members responded firmly to the developer. This “isn’t close to what I suggested,” says Seth Cornish. “I’m afraid I find it somewhat discouraging that it comes back one story taller,” says Beth Starbuck.
In response to a direct question about the new 13-story design from Commissioner Starbuck, the developer explains that it was added (“in haste” — an excuse? — since they had to submit new plans for this meeting) because of an adjustment made necessary to keep the facade on 321-323 that the HCC requested last meeting and that some details in the design would be “rectified” later.
Felt like more smoke to the Gadfly.
And for the second time Commissioner Cornish pointed out that “we’re avoiding the elephant in the room.”
Now it becomes really interesting. You have to listen to this.
The point in the dance when the developer plays hard ball.
We will continue to do our “homework” on such things as the size of the building (implying a belief that a size above HCC guidelines is negotiable), says the developer, but if the HCC doesn’t give approval now to demolish the building, “then the project goes away today.”
The project goes away today.
Do you have a “comfort level” to cut the size of the building in half, asks chair Lader pointedly? “Not yet” is the reply. But “we want you to vote tonight” on the demolition.
Watch what you ask for is always good advice.
At which time chair Lader turns to comment from the public, of whom there were a healthy 30 or so Zoomed in.
*** Even Gadfly knows the Rooney Building is grandfathered in and should not be part of the discussion. Including it is more smoke from the developer.
In 1999, Dana Grubb was Bethlehem’s Grants Administrator and responsible for managing millions of dollars of grant money received by the City of Bethlehem. In addition, then Mayor Don Cunningham named him Acting Director of Community and Economic Development when the director became terminally ill: this meant Dana was in charge of the Health Bureau, EMS, Code Enforcement, Housing Inspections, Planning & Zoning, Housing Rehabilitation, Recycling, and Economic Development. Dana then took on a lead role negotiating with Bethlehem Steel on the Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which became critical to advancing the development of SteelStacks, the Levitt Pavilion, the Hoover-Mason Trestle, the Stock House Visitors Center, the Southside Bethlehem Green Way, public parking, roads, and public utilities on the former Bethlehem Steel site.
In all of these three positions, he provided leadership, hard work, dedication to his home town, and sound judgement, as he accepted his ever-growing list of tasks and goals.
That is why Dana is the ONLY candidate for Mayor of Bethlehem who knows the responsibilities, has the work ethic to achieve incredible results, has the character and integrity to always work in the City’s best interests, and who can provide the knowledge and experience to lead the City of Bethlehem now and into the future.
It is also why two former City Councilmembers and fifteen former city administrators, with an aggregate of nearly 400 years of service to the residents of Bethlehem, have endorsed his candidacy for Mayor!
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Candidate for City Council Kiera Wilhelm at the Lehigh Valley for All “Meet the Candidates” event February 17.
Bethlehem has been in my heart for a long, long time. I went to Moravian College. I graduated in 1993, and I lived here for another year before I moved away to start my career in teaching. Which I did. I taught for five years in the Bucks County and Souderton school districts before I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to get my Master’s Degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I ended up staying in Cambridge for almost 14 years working in Education and Arts Administration and non-profit administration and development fundraising. And was called back to Bethlehem in 2013, and it was really exciting to me to return to a city that I had loved for such a long time and to people that I loved. I loved Cambridge as well, but what I realized when I moved back to Bethlehem was that Bethlehem offered the things that I loved about Cambridge, arts and culture, a great food and drinks scene, wonderful education institutions, and so many of those wonderful things that I felt that Bethlehem invited you to become involved in in a more heartfelt way. You could get your hands dirty here, and, in fact, that has been exactly what has happened to me, in particular through my current role. I have served for 4 years plus as director of Fig Bethlehem magazine. I just happen to have a copy of Fig right here with me. You may have seen it. If you don’t know Fig, I’ll tell you that our mission is to lift up local business. And that is a responsibility that I have taken very seriously and done so with great pride. And, in fact, I would say that it’s my role at Fig that brought me closer to Bethlehem, and sort of wove me in to the fabric of the city a bit more through meeting wonderful business owners and community leaders and volunteers and non-profit managers and just members of this community at large. And, in fact, what has happened is the more that I got to know, the more I wanted to know, the more I wanted to know, the more I wanted to get involved. And ultimately that’s why I’m here. I serve on Boards such as the YWCA Bethlehem, Touchstone Theatre, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Any Given Child. I was on the advisory committee for the Lehigh Valley Creative Economy Project. Side note — I also officiate weddings as part of the Lehigh Valley Celebrant Team. I believe Bethlehem to be, and I want to help it continue to become a city that is vibrant and thriving and sustainable — a forward thinking city that honors its past and builds on that as well. And that looks after all of its citizens. And there are so many ways to accomplish that. Some very important ones to me personally. I’ll start with helping small business because that’s where I spend my day-to-day. And not just helping business through this devastation of the pandemic. but in the long term creating a galvanized business community that is actively supported by its community. A business friendly community. I am deeply invested in housing, housing insecurity, and homelessness. Grace, I know you started the affordable housing task force — that’s so important. Sustainability is extremely important to me, a walkable, bikable city, streamline and normalize public transportation — all this speaks to vibrancy. And I feel very strongly about civic engagement, and I am proof of that pudding. I became involved because I knew more. And as a City Council person, I want to promote a Council that is inclusive and accessible and that communicates warmly with the people of the City and invites them in. Everybody should have a voice. As a City Council person, it’s my responsibility to listen closely, and I would be honored to serve this City in a greater role as a Bethlehem City Council person.
There are 6 candidates running for 4 seats on City Council. The other candidates are Bryan Callahan, Grace Crampsie Smith, Hillary Kwiatek, Rachel Leon, Adam Waldron.
You are wondering how last night’s meeting at the Historical Conservation Commission on the proposed development of 319-327 S. New turned out.
Gadfly was rather astonished at what occurred.
Remember that the ball was in the developer’s court.
The upshot of the January 25 HCC meeting on this project was the identification of several issues for the developer to address last night — especially the 12-story height of the building.
On January 25, Chair Gary Lader had called the 12-story height a “big stretch” for the HCC.
To a person, the Commissioners who spoke January 25, while recognizing appropriate stylistic elements in the facade design and positive aspects in the concept (apartments plus Food Court), had substantial concern about the height.
Commissioner Seth Cornish, for example, laid down a marker: a 5-story limit for the new project.
You will share Gadfly’s astonishment when you hear that the developer came back last night with the 13-story design that you can see in the rendering of the streetscape above.
13 stories. One more than last time.
Without mentioning the height issue, the developer proposed dividing the issues. His desire for last night’s meeting was solely that HCC vote to approve demolition of the 3+ buildings (they would save the facade at the 4th building 321-323 S. New, as HCC had requested) with the understanding that the developer would not “pull the permit” for demolition nor actually perform the demolition till the issue of the size of the building was decided.
Gadfly likes to give you the flavor, the drama of the meetings he covers, not just the bottom line, so he invites you to listen to the developer make his pitch. You will recognize that, like on January 25, he again heaps up positive aspects of the project to obscure the height issue.
However true and good in what the developer says, it is all off-point, off the main point. He’s blowing smoke.
Commissioner Seth Cornish has a good smoke filter, though, for he immediately responded to the developer’s peroration with “I want to cut through, you know, to the elephant in the room, which is the height.”
Kim Carrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!
So as we march into the future in Bethlehem, could we look to the value of the past? Could we more intentionally blend our new buildings and development to harmonize with, and enhance what is good for our economy — that which we already possess in Bethlehem and other cities may not? We have three centuries of historical architecture and building stock composed of diverse historical materials; we have great old storefronts, historical vistas, and a compelling industrial/urban vibe, thanks to the presence of the blast furnaces and older industrial buildings.
Why use our mistakes of urban renewal –e.g., the Rooney Building or Brodhead House complexes on the Southside, or the City Hall or One Broad Street Plaza complexes on the Northside — as measuring sticks (literally and figuratively), when making choices for new design and construction? Why not embrace the ideas in “Older, Smaller, Better” and so many other studies? Upgrade, paint, and tweak the exteriors of older structures to enhance the historical vibe, emphasize adaptive reuse, and build new infill that is “context-sensitive.”
With every development proposal, ask city planners, historic district boards and developers to answer the question: does it honor and complement the historical value that its proposed setting may already possess? How might they blend in the new with the old,
through compatible scale and massing
by creating a complementary aesthetic
using compatible materials
and thinking strategically about infill rather than demolishing whole blocks at a time.
We don’t want to create copies of existing buildings or even keep every old building. But we definitely need to find ways that the new may peacefully and profitably coexist with the old, while maintaining Bethlehem’s historical vibe. SO MANY studies show that it’s worth a try!
A priest becomes convinced that nymphs are living in a cave and seducing his parishioners, so he blocks the cave’s small mouth and tries to starve them. While waiting for them to starve, a woman — Mary — arrives and transforms the nymphs into birds.
The Swifts are the official City Bird of Bethlehem
They need your help