Develop the Greenway heading west as a tradeoff for “breaking the rules”

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

Bob Davenport is PA born and raised for 25 years. Now a retired railroad (but not the man at the throttle) Engineer, a CE graduate of Lehigh U,  a Catholic attending daily mass and praying for a better world without apparent success. An optimist.

ref: Stepping down on 3rd St.?

Gadfly:

It’s aesthetics vs economics.  The “Cohen” plan adds architectural interest but reduces potential income by reducing the 3-dimensional space that can be placed on the 2-dimensional footprint. The Lehigh/St Luke’s building nearby looks like the height fight has already been lost.

I would like to see a development of the Greenway heading west as a tradeoff for “breaking the rules.” Luckily or purposefully, the former Reading right of way seems to still exist even though a building uses some of the air rights. It might be possible to put commercial entities on the building ground floor in a style evocative of the former buildings. The Lehigh/St Luke’s building did this but badly in my opinion by putting multi-paned windows at mid-level rather than ground level.

Open access from 3rd Street to an extended Greenway would also add architectural interest.

Summing up, the Cohen plan is interesting but not economically feasible. Give the developers what they want but make them pay for it in ways that should enhance the value of the property for them and the community in the long run.

Bob

Stepping down on 3rd St.?

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

“We gotta get past the height of the building first.”
developer

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2
ref: We need eyes tonight on a proposed Southside project again

Gadfly needs to get back to the interesting Historic Conservation Commission March 15 meeting on proposed new building construction (8 stories) at 14-18 W. 3rd St.

The volunteer HCC. Your non-tax dollars at work. Let’s look at how they’re doing for us.

The HCC historic officer set the table for discussion by outlining three issues:

1) demolition: necessary? can the existing building be saved?

2) the size and scale: 8 stories. The elephant in the room.

3) style: fitting in historically

The HCC chair wanted to talk about these issues in order. Logical. No sense talking about the proposed building unless there’s a decision to demolish the existing ones.

See image on the right for a reminder of what’s there.

But the developer wanted to go directly to the height: “We gotta get past the height of the building first.”

Yeah, the issue that bejiggers so much development on the Southside.

Gadfly loves following the argument in such meetings. Gets you to think about how you would respond, what you think about the issue. Join him, willya?

So here’s the HCC historic officer setting out the guidelines for size and scale and opining that 8 stories does not fit. This is the point of reference for all further discussion on this topic.

The historic officer points out that the guidelines point out that 2-3-4 story buildings are the norm in the district. Deviations to a “large degree . . . seriously impact” the district. Judgment: the applicant’s proposal is “inappropriate.” The historic officer holds up a stop sign!

Here’s the developer’s argument for the large size to go around the stop sign:

It’s an interesting argument, and one that Gadfly thought of and raised in a previous post. If you are coming off the Hill-to-Hill bridge and onto 3rd St., you would have a view of, say, the blank wall of half the Zest building, which is inappropriate and “less attractive,” the developer says, than if they covered it up with their new building. A new 3-story building according to guidelines would be “less historic,” the developer argues, than what they are proposing.

Enter Commission member Amy Cohen floating the idea of a “step down” construction of the new building:

Cohen addresses a nod to the guidelines, a more appropriate view traveling east on 3rd, and — another good point — avoiding a 220 ft long wall along 3rd St.  Yes, a penitentiary-like wall. Gadfly hadn’t thought of that last point. Gotta look at this from all sides, Gadfly — right?!

It would go something like this in Gadfly’s un-draftsman-like rendering.

Whattya think? Does Cohen offer a good alternative?

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

We need eyes tonight on a proposed Southside project again

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

Tonight!
Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2

First meeting tonight on a major Southside project in the historic district: 14-18 W. 3rd.

The two smaller buildings on 3rd St. wall to wall with the new Benner/Zest building at 306 S. New.

The proposal is to demolish the two buildings in sad shape and construct a new 8-story building with retail on the ground floor and 80+ apartment above — aimed at students.

Gadfly reminds you of the wonderful Smith Principles — Anna Smith, that is — to help us think about new development on the Southside (see links above).

Anna’s discussion of this proposal in regard to each of her principles in the above referenced posts is delightfully fresh, just like thinking out loud.

Gadfly suggests that you read through her posts again.

She raises several questions that she looks for the HCC to seek answers for at this meeting.

Her conclusion: “With the help of the HCC, the Planning Commission, and some resident voices, I think there’s potential to turn this into a project that truly adds to our neighborhood. Maybe reduce the height a bit, secure some first-floor tenants, commit to finishing up the Greenway and integrating it into the building plans, and think about whether undergraduate student housing is truly the best use for a building in this location. Maybe even make it a green building! What do you think?”

The community smartminds turned out nicely for the HCC consideration of the proposed development nearby at 319-327 S. New.

And we could use that good presence again.

———–

Here are some more images.

First, the layout:

What about the thorny issue of height? The side view makes anything less than matching the Zest building look a little weird, no?

Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2

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

Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1

continued . . .

6) Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design

I am a bit confused by the early renderings of this project, and I hope that additional clarification is offered by the developer’s presentation. The project extends along the South Bethlehem Greenway’s final yards, and the renderings seem to show a potential integration of a seating area for a small business on the Greenway. If the developer plans to finish this section of the Greenway as a part of their project, I think that would be fantastic. We’ve been waiting on this final section of the Greenway for too long, and, unfortunately, no requirements to finish the Greenway seem to have been included in Dennis Benner’s approval for the adjacent building.

However, another one of the renderings seems to show a small sliver of Greenway as a walkway between the building and a parking lot. I hope that this is not the plan, since it would likely prevent the public from using this piece of the Greenway if it is perceived to be a private walkway for residents of the building to get to their cars.

How does the developer plan to integrate the Greenway into their development? I look forward to hearing more.

7) 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

I’m not sure that anyone thinks we need substantially more student housing on the Southside. I’m not sure that we need any more large commercial spaces that are not built out and are unaffordable for most local, small businesses. I suppose that this project would place more students in the downtown area, but I’m not sure if they will really spend much more money at local businesses. My conversations with students and surveys conducted over the years indicate that there is a small range of small business types that truly benefit from student presence in their neighborhoods—mostly restaurants, bars, and cafes, with an occasional targeted hair or nail salon, laundromat, barber shop, gym, or fitness studio. Yes, we have a lot of these on the Southside, but will moving students onto Third Street make a difference in their business? I’m curious to see. I would be more likely to support one- and two-bedroom apartments targeted at a broader population than undergraduates in this location, since I think it would have more of an impact on the local business community.

Like most development projects in our community, I doubt that the developer will consult with community members to see what residents would like to see in this location. They might do focus groups with students to see what types of businesses they would like to see on the first floor, but I will continue to emphasize that responsible development should take into consideration the ideas and perspectives of the people that live in a community.

8) Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate. Examples: The Flatiron Building

Thus far, this project does not address this point. I hope that the developer’s presentation will include an analysis of the environmental impact of the project.

9) Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses

No businesses or residents will be displaced through this project, so that is definitely a plus.

10) 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)

While this project seems to be designed to avoid the pitfalls of the Southside’s ugliest developments (street-facing parking lots, massive towers, character-less architecture), it does use a controversial, non-historic property as precedent for height. I suspect that the HCC will address this at their meeting, and I look forward to hearing their analysis.

————

All in all, this isn’t a bad project, but it’s not a very exciting one either. I still have a lot of questions, and parking is a big one. If these are mostly students, hopefully there won’t be too many cars involved. I know that some could be parked in the garage next door, and others in the Mechanic Street lots, as the developer of the last project to come before the HCC had mentioned (but what if that project had been approved?). One image suggests that the developer is planning on building a lot behind the building, which would be unfortunate for the extension of the Greenway.

With the help of the HCC, the Planning Commission, and some resident voices, I think there’s potential to turn this into a project that truly adds to our neighborhood. Maybe reduce the height a bit, secure some first-floor tenants, commit to finishing up the Greenway and integrating it into the building plans, and think about whether undergraduate student housing is truly the best use for a building in this location. Maybe even make it a green building! What do you think?

Anna

Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. project a good addition to our community? Part 1

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

Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”

Gadfly:

Another month, another development proposal for South Bethlehem. This time we’re looking at an 8-story building proposed by local developer Joseph C. Posh for the partially-vacant triangle adjacent to Dennis Benner’s Third and New Street building. The project would require the demolition of two vacant properties, one of which most recently housed “Style You Need” printing company, which was another small Bethlehem business lost to Easton. The properties are in pretty bad shape, and the apartments have been vacant for at least five years, according to the developer. The proposed structure would include what appear to be two commercial spaces on the first floor and a fitness center for tenants, and the upper floors would include a total of 38 studio, 38 one-bedroom, and 11 two-bedroom apartments with study lounges and community rooms on each floor. While they do not specify it in their application, it appears that the project is designed to be student housing.

Given the location of the project within the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation District, the project requires the approval of the Historic Conservation Commission, whose members will consider the request to demolish two properties as well as the historic appropriateness of the proposed structure at their March 15 meeting.

Here’s another test for the responsible development principles I developed a few weeks ago. Is this project a good addition to our community? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. The developer has not included a narrative describing the project, so there are significant missing pieces when we think about the overall benefit to our community.

  1. Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses

The renderings of this project show two large commercial spaces on the first floor, but there is no indication yet that the developer has confirmed specific plans for these storefronts. One of the storefronts seems to include glass doors opening on to a seating area along the Greenway, which suggests that the developer may be planning for yet another restaurant or café.

The persistent vacancies at the adjacent property and the well-known difficulty of finding local business tenants for first-floor commercial properties following construction makes me wary about these storefronts. I will be looking for confirmation from the developer that there are small businesses included in the planning of these storefronts in order to ensure that they are built out to meet the needs of specific businesses. Otherwise, we may be dealing with a repeat of the neighboring structure—and adding even more vacant storefronts to the gateway to our side of town is not a great look for our community. Research shows that many residential developers prefer to keep first floor commercial properties vacant for financial reasons, so we need to keep an eye on this part of the project. On the bright side, however, this project would not displace any existing small businesses.

  1. Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties

This project would require the demolition of two historic properties, but much of the building would be developed on vacant land. Both historic properties are in pretty bad shape, so the likelihood of someone acquiring them and rehabilitating them to the point that they are truly inhabitable by residential or commercial tenants is slim. The historic properties look quaint and a bit strange along a corridor that has lost much of its historic architecture, and which is slated to lose more with the construction of the new Banana Factory/ArtsQuest complex. I am concerned about the precedent of encouraging demolition of historic properties in a historic district. But, is this a good place for development? Overall, I think this is a pretty good location for development, and I’m not too concerned with the demolition of these particular historic properties. Maybe there’s a way to include elements of the historic facades in the design of the new structure. I’ll look to the HCC for their thoughts on that.

  1. 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 coming in at 8 stories, this project is designed to be the same height as the 6-story building next door due to the difference in story-height between commercial and residential floors. I moved back to Bethlehem right as the Benner building was being approved, and I remember residents speaking out with major concerns about height. Since the project was constructed, I’ve heard regrets from a wide range of individuals who initially supported the project but didn’t realize just quite how big and out of place the building would look. I’ve heard a lot of folks say that they will make sure something this size doesn’t happen again in the neighborhood, since it doesn’t match the surrounding historic buildings that max out around 4 stories. A proposal of the exact same size and height doesn’t fit the character of our historic district. I suspect that the HCC will ask the developer to consider going a couple of floors shorter, but it may be hard for them to back up that request given their approval of the Benner building next door. I would like to see something a bit smaller.

I don’t know too much about design, but I don’t think the proposed design is terrible. I will rely on the HCC and other more knowledgeable people to give more feedback on that point. The glass tower at the western end seems a bit weird to me.

  1. Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population

While the developer does not indicate proposed usage of the building, it appears that the apartments are designed to be student housing, given the study lounges on each floor. While Lehigh has indicated their intention to expand the student body significantly over the next several years, they have also committed to housing all of the additional students on campus and are actively working on several dormitory projects. Where will the 87 students come from? Will this free up housing in the neighborhoods for other renters? I’m not sure—I don’t see students who live in 5-bedroom party houses being the first to sign up for a studio, so I suspect that they will draw from elsewhere. Depending on the rents, they may be able to attract some graduate students who currently live far from campus. If they offer furnished apartments, they will probably be able to attract international students. The one and two-bedroom apartments at Lehigh’s new Southside Commons dorm were reserved quickly, so I expect that these will also be popular. If the developer is committed to student housing, however, there is little to no likelihood that families or non-student individuals will live there due to perception issues. This is not an affordable housing project, but it seems to be designed to serve an important part of our local population—our college students—without causing displacement of residents or quality of life issues for neighborhoods.

As far as the commercial component goes, as I mentioned above, I’m anxious to see what the developer has planned and I hope that they take the commercial component of the project seriously.

  1. Support adaptive reuse of historic buildings

This is not an adaptive reuse project, and doesn’t seem to have potential to be one.

to be continued . . .

Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”

Latest in a series of posts on new development

ref: Establishing Community-Centered Principles for Responsible Southside Development
ref: Testing the principles for responsible development on the S. New St. project, part 1
ref: Testing the principles for responsible development on the S. New St. project, part 2

Things stick in Gadfly’s head.

He thinks it was Councilman Callahan who said something to the effect of “we are lucky we have developers who want to build in Bethlehem, but we make it hard for them.”

Yeah, we are lucky. But, yeah, frankly, we should make it hard, especially in the historical districts.

So here we go again on the Southside.

“Another month, another proposal for South Bethlehem,” quips Anna Smith, one of our sharpest heads on local development.

This time it’s 14-18 W. Third St., the two buildings next to the Benner/Zest building at 306 S. New.

The developer has requested permission to demolish those two buildings and has submitted plans for a mixed use building there for consideration at the Historic Conservation Commission meeting March 15.

Now let’s just stop for a minute and reflect on the great thing Smith has done recently to help us, to help everybody focus attention and discussion and think about how to judge this new development plan.

She’s done her own “development,” a set of principles.

“The Smith Principles” for responsible Southside development.

We’ve seen her apply those principles to 319-327 S. New.

In the next post or two on this subject, she will apply those principles to 14-18 W. Third.

Anna Smith’s Community-Centered Principles for Responsible Southside Development:

  1. 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
  2. Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties. Examples: The Factory, 510 Flats
  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. Examples: Polk Street building
  4. Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population. Examples: proposed Palace Row redevelopment
  5. Support adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Examples: Brinker Lofts, Flatiron Flats, Grace Mansion (in progress), Goodman building (proposed), Wilbur Mansion project (in progress)
  6. Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design. Examples: Brinker Lofts opening onto the Greenway
  7. 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
  8. Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate. Examples: The Flatiron Building
  9. Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses
  10. 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.

to be continued . . .