Excited about new development even though it means loss of family connection

Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St

Joshua Pepper is a professor of physics and astronomy at Lehigh University and lives in West Bethlehem.

Gadfly:

I’d like to comment about the proposed construction at 14-18 W. 3rd. St. I lived on the Southside for 5 years, moved to the Northside last year, and I often walk or bike to work past this location. The current buildings and lot are an eyesore, and the community would benefit from a new building. More residential units will increase foot traffic in the neighborhood and build a greater economic base for the Southside. I do hope that the new building will leave ample space on the sidewalk along 3rd St. for easy pedestrian traffic and will keep trees along the sidewalk. I especially hope that there will be ample bike rack space to encourage outdoor activity and reduce dependence on cars. And it is vital that the back of the building integrate well with the Greenway, and not impede its usage.

Much of the discussion at the Historic Conservation Commission meeting centered on the building height. I’ve always been a little puzzled by general concerns about height without specifying what it is about the height that is the problem. In this case, the building’s shadow will be across 3rd St, not the Greenway or any residential buildings. A building that high will also draw the eye away from the Comfort Suites, which has a pretty unattractive exterior. A better point made at the meeting is that the new building should have a more broken up roof line, so that will not appear to be a massive monolith towering over the street, but would instead show more variation across the top. If necessary, I think it would be fine to trade off more height in exchange for a better shape of fit to the surrounding area. By making the height the key metric, we just force all buildings to look like a rectangular slab, since the developers have to stuff as much volume as they can under a given height to make it economically viable.

Finally, I have a personal connection to the current building. Although I was born and raised in Cleveland Heights, OH, my father attended Lehigh University, class of ’59. Before that, my great-grandfather Aaron Goldberger lived at 14 W. 3rd St, with my great-grandmother Lillie, and 4 children, including my father’s mother, when it was in the city of South Bethlehem. He was living there in 1911 when he became a naturalized American citizen. We have his naturalization certificate showing his address and family, and also that he was previously a subject of Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary. He came from Galicia in western Ukraine. I understand that he worked in one of the many small cigar factories in the Bethlehem area at the time.

While it would be sad to see a building with a family connection lost, the building is crumbling and falling down, and doesn’t have any civic historical significance that I know of. And it will be wonderful to see that spot becoming part of a new building for people living in the area. I am excited to see this spot being developed with care and attention to the economic and environmental needs of the community.

Joshua Pepper

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