CM Reynolds on “the 2” (61)

(61st in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

CM Reynolds Dec 4, 2018 “Yes”

We must take the emotion invested by both sides out of this situation as well as the frustration of prior zoning board action, JWR says. He aims, instead, to present a “rational explanation” of his yes vote. He’s heard talk about ruining neighborhoods and opening doors and so forth, but, he asks, “What’s the worst possible solution?” To which he answers, if the text amendment is passed, the worst possible outcome is that a petitioner could go to Zoning and ask for an exception for one of the specified uses in ordinance 1304.04 (b) (7), which — he makes clear later in his commentary — are all acceptable uses to him: “What I see on this list are not things I wouldn’t want in my neighborhood.” Furthermore, JWR trusts our Planning and Zoning groups to manage that petition process enabled by the text amendment. Moving to another “rational” point, JWR asks solicitor Spirk to describe and perhaps give an opinion on spot zoning as it relates to 2 W. Market. Atty Spirk does so, giving clear examples, referencing recent past zoning history, and opines that this text amendment is not spot zoning of 2 W. Market, though he cautions that whether we should pass it is a separate matter. The safeguard against ruining neighborhoods in the ordinance and the lack of spot zoning of the property are the two parts of JWR’s “rational explanation.”

Let’s stop right here, mid-way though the commentary, and turn our practiced critical eye on the above two aspects of JWR’s “rational explanation.”

Spot zoning first. There is a case to be made that the text amendment is spot zoning, contrary to Atty Spirk’s opinion, but the lawyers will duke this point out based on court cases and precedent. Suffice it to say for our purposes that JWR is perfectly solid in basing his decision at this time on the Council solicitor’s opinion – which, in effect, is his lawyer’s opinion.

Now to his first point. The 1304.04 (b) (7) text amendment would allow what we might call “professional” offices only: “medicine, law, architecture, engineering, art, religion, music, insurance, real estate, psychology, accounting, and financial services.” One wonders the source of this list (created by Atty Preston? Or boilerplate zoning language?). In any event, the text amendment will not permit, say, tattoo parlors and the like!!!! HUZZA!!!!! So JWR asserts an in-house protection here to the dramatic claims of cancer and decay, a protection that was not operative in past time when the zoning language that permitted student rentals was operative. He shows, in effect, that the powerful analogy argument of the opposition breaks down. Bottom line: the kinds of businesses that might enter a residential neighborhood are limited: they can only be on corners and can only be high-class.

Note well: that list of authorized business is the key to JWR’s position.

How would the other side argue?

One might imagine that opponents to JWR’s position would continue to argue for the goal of purity (striving for the cup of sugar, eyes on the street qualities) in residential neighborhoods. One could imagine that they might quarrel with JWR’s personal and subjective comfort with the list by demonstrating that all or certain items are or could be incompatible with residential neighborly life. For instance, a  negative view of, say, a Nationwide Insurance Agency.

This point is pretty nerdy, I admit, but one could imagine that opponents of JWR’s position might argue that basing a position solely on a worst-case scenario is completely wrong – that law should be promulgating positive outcomes. What do I mean by that? JWR does not offer a positive reason for enacting a text ordinance. He’s offering the best way out of a killer, stale-mated argument. He argues in back-door fashion that the worst-case scenario if we do enact a text amendment won’t be bad. That’s an odd way of arguing. Look, for instance, at the gnarled, double-negative articulation of his position: “What I see on this list are not things I wouldn’t want in my neighborhood” instead of “What I see on the list are things I would want in my neighborhood.” He’s not arguing that it would be good for the neighborhood or the city if those businesses established at certain locations. See the difference?

Finally, JWR’s opponents might somehow argue that allowing high class offices on certain corners might likely produce the dreaded cancer-like gradual decay experienced on the Southside. A pretty hard point for opponents to win. He may have taken the wind out of that arguument.

Conclusion: one could certainly always disagree with or trouble JWR’s position as we’re doing here for the exercise, but his position so far is clear-headed and dispassionate. JWR provides, as promised, a “rational explanation.”

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But at this mid-point in his remarks, JWR moves to a different level of discourse, more personal and subjective — more emotional in tone — as context for his pro-petition position. And it’s hard not to feel that the wheels come off his rational attitude.

In the second half of his remarks, for instance, JWR abandons the impartiality one usually connects with a “rational” argument by demonstrating multiple times that he is a partisan commercialist. He hopes for significantly increased commercialism on Walnut St., literally abutting the opposers’ property. “I don’t want all residences in my neighborhood,” he says. “I wouldn’t even mind more commercial uses in my neighborhood,” he says. The commercial uses in his neighborhood are “not a negative for my neighborhood,” he says. His train of thought on commercialism climaxes in what is literally a love-it-or-leave-it pronouncement: “If you don’t want any commercial in your neighborhood, there are townships everywhere that are built on that general idea.” Over the line. Way over the line. Seriously.

In the second half of his remarks, it is hard to crystallize good sense out of several of JWR’s comments:

  • “If somebody is going to put money into it and make the neighborhood nicer, then I really don’t care what it is as long as it is not a detriment to the place that I’ve lived for forty years”: “As long as it is not a detriment” is the pivotal phrase. The opposers see a detriment from 2 W. Market. Logically, then, Mater Reynolds would agree with the opposers, which is not the way Filius Reynolds presents her words.
  • Mater Reynolds’s cup of sugar reference is, as Filius Reynolds literally said, “beside the point.” Yes. And better not said at all. Needlessly insults the opposition position.
  • “If somebody came to the Zoning Hearing Board and said I want to put one of these uses on the corner down the street from me I would probably write an email too or I would say that’s a good idea”: it is not clear what this sentence means. Does it mean that JWR would either agree or disagree? If so, I’m not sure what that means.
  • “I just think to myself that we are investing a whole lot of time in something that to somebody who doesn’t live here does not look like it’s a problem”: Yes, people who don’t live here wouldn’t understand, maybe wouldn’t even be expected to understand. Yes. Normal. Natural. Nothing unusual. People who know nothing about the guts of a controversy are likely to not understand it.
  • “What are the motivations of people that have lived in this neighborhood for a long time? . . . That’s the question that I keep coming back to”: Good question. But not answered by JWR. But after all this time, it’s hard to say we don’t know what motivates both sides.

In the second half of his remarks, JWR is “overarchingly sad” about the internecine neighborhood warfare, impatient and desirous of “moving on,” a bit out of control, and dismissive of the significance of the issue – far from the rational tone of the first part. On kind of an emotional roll, JWR will twice tell things that he knows that some [of the opposers] will not want to hear – because “I never can bite my tongue.” One of those things the opposers will not want to hear is that he wants to “move on” – no bones about it — because this issue is trivial; because compared to the kind and type issues in other neighborhoods, 2 W. Market is “not that big an issue.”

It’s just plain damn hard to feel that you are getting a fair shake, or even that there are good persuasive reasons for you to give up the suit, when the judge, in effect, tells you that the whole case you’ve invested five years or so in isn’t worth poopola and that all he wants to do is stop wasting time and get outta there to spend valuable time on more pressing concerns.

“This is not the way that I think things should be handled” – yes, but reporting and scolding are not solving.

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I have spent a lot of time on JWR. There’s a lot here. He has a multi-leveled and fast-moving mind. JWR’s remarks are not only the longest but the most intricate and provocative of the Council group. His voice booms. He speaks with authority.

But I must admit that I come away feeling very unsatisfied.

On to CM Waldron–

zeroing in on the essential issues (60)

(60th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Gadfly:

CW Van Wirt has a way of zeroing in on the essential issues and for me #8 is it (post #59). The city went through an extensive process revising the zoning code in 2012. It involved a diverse group of community members including several people who currently oppose passing this amendment. This community input in concert with the city is important because it established a broadly agreed upon standard (recalling here your desire for a standard to aid judgment) by which zoning decisions should be made along with the comprehensive plan. There is plenty in the current zoning code that should guide council to oppose this amendment especially 1323.08 “No non-conforming use shall be extended to displace a conforming one.” That would be the outcome if the amendment is supported. Any change in the zoning code should only be made with ample evidence based on sound analysis that it is in the interest of the city. The interest of an individual, as PVW said, is secondary.

Barbara Diamond

The December 4 CAP meeting (5)

(5th in a series about Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan)

 “There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

With that sketch of past doin’s over, Gadfly brings you to the December 4 meeting of the Human Resources and Environment Committee in Town Hall chaired by CM Reynolds, with CPs Callahan, Negron, Van Wirt, and a “green” crowd attending.

Gadfly provides here audio of the meeting.

CM Reynolds’s presentation was keyed to the four pages of a PowerPoint entitled COB Climate Action Plan 12-4-18:

CM Callahan spoke of the need to put pressure on national leaders and praised the high quality of our water supply:

CW Van Wirt asked questions about local industry commitment to providing data, the involvement of the EAC, City progress on energy-saving lighting, and the status of thought about electric vehicle. Head of Public Works Mike Alkhal provided information.

CW Negron expressed confidence in industry participation, the shift in the recycling department to sustainability concerns, and local things like grocery stores asking us to bring bags.

Brian Hillard talked about the role of the EAC.

Peg Church, Peter Crownfield, and Mike (?) asked questions about impervious surfaces, availability of records, and rain barrels (!)

Enjoy!

It’s Friday, December 14, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

CW Van Wirt on “the 2” (59)

(59th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

CW Van Wirt Dec 4, 2018 “No”

PVW shoots multiple reasons in rapid-fire for support of her opposition to the text amendment. She agrees with CM Colon that this is, in her words, an “end run” around the traditional legal process. There is no way really to know what will happen, but precedent is important. The Hill-to-Hill bridge digital sign decision is a good example. It was done for understandable reasons, and now we have a suit over a consequence we don’t want. “Precedent can be profound.” We don’t know how this amendment will affect the city; it has not been studied. We should be using the Comprehensive Plan to guide decisions. This corner will become more commercial not less. “Pressure to changing residential to commercial in the historic district is relentless.” This is a perfect example of that pressure, pressure that is felt particularly on the border, like here. “Borders of the zoning areas are the fragile places. That has to be the red line.” Continued commercial creep will change the character of the downtown. Cachet of historical district understandably draws businesses. Risks in giving in far outweigh benefits. Regrettably, the “Yes” votes on the Planning Commission were not explained. The Rij’s are nice people, good citizens. But “We’re not in the business of judging on the merit to a change in our city zoning code based on someone’s aesthetics, their wealth, their access to connected lawyers. We are in the business of judging the laws we passed are in the best interest of all the city and all of the citizens of the city. Someone’s personal characteristics and aesthetics and impact on that corner and all of that is honestly secondary to what are we doing for the whole of the city and how does this move past the litmus test ‘is this in the best interest of the city and its citizens’.” PVW fully understands why the petition is good for the Rij’s, but it doesn’t pass the litmus test of being good for the city. And that is the role of City Council as the representative body.

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Once more, let’s go into our test mode. Let’s enumerate PVW’s packed points supporting her “no” vote and push on them with our Skeptic hats on:

1) an “end run” around the legal system: Commonwealth court denied the petitioners, albeit the case was presented in a different way. How would one argue against the fact that the basic case was denied at the highest level? One way is the “Local knows better” attitude that we also considered in the MC discussion. It’s clearer at this very moment now more than ever (suspense! more on this later) that if this petition is approved, it will be litigated again, no doubt again to the Commonwealth court. It seems a stretch to think that the “local is better” argument would hold at state court. The second way is to recognize that this petition is a citizen-initiated change of law. In that case, the burden would seem to be very, very, very heavy to show that the proposed change is not self-serving but is a recognizable good for the city at large. Importantly, not that the house is a good for the city, but that the text amendment itself is a good for the city in its widest application (or, conversely, perhaps is of absolutely no consequence to the rest of the city). Atty Preston has provided evidence of minimal impact. Is that enough?

2) “precedent is important in the city”: That’s a truism. And the Hill-to-Hill example is current. Can one argue that precedent is not important? No, not likely. Can one argue that H-to-H didn’t set an unforeseen precedent? No, not likely. Can one argue that this text amendment will not set a precedent? Well, maybe. It looks like this is the point where the petitioners would have to focus. Enter Atty Preston’s evidence again.

3) “not advocated for by the Comprehensive Plan”: PVW says the Comprehensive Plan is the guide for zoning decisions. Logical. Petitioners would have to continue to ignore the Comprehensive Plan, keep it out of sight, as they have done so far or argue that it is non-binding in toto or need not be thought of as absolute in particulars.

4) “the entire corner will become more commercial not less”: the example of the cata-corner bed & breakfast is tricky and hard to get by, for the co-owners, perhaps the most vigorous supporters of the petition, have (so far unsuccessfully) sought permission to have an office there. It’s hard to think they do not have a selfish interest, especially since they volunteered joyfully that their property value went up significantly because of 2 W. Market renovations.

5) “borders of the residential zoning areas are the fragile places”: if something bad is happening or something bad is coming your way, it is natural to think that you take a stand at, that you defend yourself at the border. One might argue the notion of a soft border or an open border (Ha! are you thinking what I’m thinking?), in other words, a border that is not really a border. Somehow that doesn’t sound like a successful route. Or maybe one could create the concept of transition zones. Or – and I heard this in someone’s testimony – advance the notion that borders are “sensitive” spaces.

6) “continued commercial creep will come in and completely change the character of our downtown”: money-making is aggressive by nature. If borders were soft or open or transitional, one would have to argue that there is some other very powerful dynamic in play that will ultimately control or constrain that appetite. One would have to identify a powerful counter-force. What would that be?

7) “no justification whatsoever”: The Commissioners who voted yes at the Planning meeting did not justify their votes. Feels inexcusable after several hours of testimony. Feels like an insult to the resident participants on both sides. One would have to argue that their silence doesn’t mean anything since their only job was to pro forma pass the petition on to Council. The Planning Commissioner who most thoroughly explained his vote based it on the Comprehensive Plan (see #3 above)

8) “is this in the best interest of the city and its citizens?”: PVW subordinates the person of Mr. Rij (see BC’s position, post 49) in the judgment process: “We’re not in the business of judging on the merit to a change in our city zoning code based on someone’s aesthetics, their wealth, their access to connected lawyers. We are in the business of judging the laws we passed are in the best interest of all the city and all of the citizens of the city. Someone’s personal characteristics and aesthetics and impact on that corner and all of that is honestly secondary to what are we doing for the whole of the city.” See BC (post 49) for the answer to PWV.

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Gadfly likes that we have “the tapes” to play over and over again.

Though he might be the only one doing that!

Gadfly likes that we can hear the voices not just read the texts or, worse yet, the excerpts in newspaper stories.

We are in a great position to participate in this important case, virtual participation to be sure, but participation it is.

And the invitation is open, of course, to attend next Tuesday’s Council meeting. Nothing like it.

Onward to JWR–

standing for principles . . . struggling with excuses (58)

(58th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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.

Although I was unable to attend, I have been following the Gadfly’s analysis and postings, as well as being privy to other communications. Besides Councilman Reynolds’ demeaning move to the suburbs pitch and Councilman Callahan’s lack of understanding of what this neighborhood block is actually comprised of, I was equally aghast at Councilman Martell’s reflection about Council not being concerned about domino effects and what ifs, I would suggest that on every vote any City Council takes they should always be concerned about the potential impact, both short and longer term. It would be irresponsible to do anything other than that. After reading the various statements of positions, it seems that the three no votes were standing for principles and that the four yes votes were struggling with excuses for making their political votes.

Dana

New Myths perpetrated during the 2 West First Vote meeting on 12/4 (57)

(57th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Bruce Haines is a Lehigh graduate who returned to Bethlehem after a 35-year career at USSteel. He put together a 12-member Partnership to rescue the Hotel Bethlehem from bankruptcy in 1998 and lives in the historic district.

Follow up to The 7 Myths of 2 West Market, post #40, December 3, 2018.

Gadfly:

Interesting developments from the First Vote meeting including Mayor Donchez finally admitting that he in fact has been behind this project for several years as outlined in Myth #7.  He comes out at the 11th hour to officially throw his support for the project but only after Darlene Heller poisons the entire vote by declaring that no other property in the city will be impacted by this approval.

So while Myth #7 was now admitted to and verified by the Mayor, we now have Myth #8!!

Myth #8) No other property in the city is impacted by this text:  

+Darlene Heller writes a clandestine email to council outlining a complete fabrication of the facts to assure the Council that their vote won’t impact any other property in the city because there are no other properties that have Single Family “detached” dwellings and non-conforming commercial other than 2 West Market.

+Heller therefore even went so far as to discredit Atty Preston’s exhibit submitted at the hearing of 7 other properties in the city that would be impacted.

+Heller used words like “separate” and “detached” in her comments at the prior hearing and also in her memo that don’t exist in the amendment nor in our zoning ordinance for that matter.  She has completely fabricated something to distract the council away from the pervasiveness of this resident-originated zoning change across the city.

+This then provided the cover for the Mayor to now come public on his long time behind the scenes push to get this property approved for a major donor to an affiliate of the city Police Department. It then gave the same cover for 3 other council members subsequent dialogue and vote.

+Councilman Reynolds took that ammunition to focus the discussion to only spot zoning in one neighborhood and in his question to solicitor Spirk. It also gave councilman Martell the same cover for his preordained vote with his comment about No Domino Theory.  Councilman Callahan focused his whole discussion to his recollection of the first block of West Market Street that in his mind is not a residential area.

This leads us to Myth #9.

Myth #9) The first block of West Market Street is not residential:

+The RT district begins at Heckewelder Place with the first block abutting the CB district going to east to New Street. In that block there are 26 buildings in addition to 2 West:

22 residences—18 single family/4 multifamily

2 office buildings (non-conforming grandfathered)

2 school buildings (permitted uses in RT)

+Clearly Councilman Callahan is mistaken about the character of the block where he formally resided, and his “No one can tell him differently” with respect to that neighborhood is characteristic of someone preordained on their vote for this major city donor.

Myth #10) City zoning should be based upon what individual council members think should be in their neighborhood:

+Councilman Reynolds’ deliberation comments included his personal preference for having commercial in his neighborhood as this is the city. Therefore, implying that those residents living in the Historic District should move to the townships if they want to live in residential-only neighborhoods.

+Serious disconnect by an elected official with the city zoning ordinance that clearly defines separate residential and commercial neighborhoods and section 1323 that directs nonconforming properties toward conforming with specific provisions against expansion of nonconforming uses.

+Serious disconnect with the electorate that purchased property in areas of the city based upon such zoning ordinances and the city responsibility to uphold such ordinances.  Total disregard for the residents of the historic district that care about their neighborhood and who spoke out 4:1 against this ordinance at the Hearing.

Myth 11) The neighborhood is equally divided on this issue:

+While at the hearing the speakers were reasonably equally divided on this issue, the vast majority of the speakers on behalf of the petitioner were either paid employees, contractors, clients, or family members that don’t live in the Historic District. The actual count of residents speaking that night was 8-2 against the amendment.

+The petitioner speaks about a 3-year-old petition for a completely different amendment where neighbors were threatened if they didn’t sign with low-income housing apartments if Quadrant didn’t get approval.  This petition is irrelevant to the decision in front of Council today and should be completely discredited.

On a final note, the petitioner and their employees continued to spread misinformation related to Myth #4 regarding the property sale process as languishing on the market for 2 years (Ms. Lannon).  The facts are that this property was put under contract by Morningstar in less than 4 months and closed in less than 1 year.  Hardly a test of the market for use as a single-family home during a very weak market in 2013/14.

7 come 11 Myths—How many more will we hear?

Bruce