Numbers can lie, and the Mayor can speak

(Latest post on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside,
1st Terrace, Affordable Housing)

Gadfly:

If “data-driven” means making decisions based on fact rather than assumptions or favoritism, I’m all for it. But I think we all know that statistics data can be shaped to prove almost anything, so that approach can be dangerous as well.

The ABCs should not be mere puppets, but for the Mayor to be silent on important issues is also inappropriate. He is, after all, an elected representative of the people, and silence communicates agreement. (Too often, he has used his platform to speak out in favor of developers, even when proposed development clearly violated the city’s own ordinances.)

Peter Crownfield

Two Councilpersons respond to the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development

(Latest post on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside,
1st Terrace, Affordable Housing)

Contact for the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development is Seth Moglen: moglen@lehigh.edu. This group is open to all, not just 1st Terrace area residents. The more membership, the greater the power. And the issue here is not limited to one neighborhood.

So Gadfly has covered in detail the forceful first appearance of what he thinks we can now call the “Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development” at City Council Tuesday night. A group that he feels can accomplish much good.

But there were two meaningful responses by Council members that we should note as well.

First, Councilwoman Van Wirt.

In reference to the 1st Terrace issues that the residents spoke about, PVW wants data and seemed to get into a slight bit of tangle with the City rep over getting it. Nothing serious. But I don’t think the rep got the importance of what PVW was asking.

PVW has described herself as data-driven. She’s a doctor. A “fixin’ doctor,” a term Gadfly’s kids used to differentiate their father’s degree.

Data-driven — Gadfly likes that.

PVW wanted “firm data,”  a “firm study” to show “actual need” for housing around Lehigh. She wanted “something to refer to.”

(Ha! Gadfly would “fix” that ending preposition to “something to which she could refer.” See, kids, your dad is a “fixin’ doctor” too!)

Gadfly likes that. Glad we have a person like that on Council.

Second, Councilman Reynolds.

JWR thanked the Mayor for weighing in strongly on the 1st Terrace proposal, but his more general point was the power that Mayor has in such situations, implying, Gadfly thinks (he almost literally talked directly to the Mayor at one point), that the Mayor/Administration should wield that power more often.

“One of the lessons going forward here is the power the Administration has to weigh in on these projects publicly and privately. . . . when Administrations take positions on any of these things, it is extraordinarily rare for these Authorities, these Commissions, these Boards to necessarily say no, no, no, we disagree with what the professionals say, we disagree with what the full-time people say, we disagree with what the elected officials say about this. . . . and I want to say thank you to the Mayor for weighing in on this, but at the same time it’s also a model. We can pass all the ordinances we want. But the strongest thing that we have is that we have an Administration that will stand up and say we like this project, we understand some people disagree, we understand some people don’t like elements of it. . . . I just think that going forward . . . as we talk about other development projects throughout the City, all of our voices are important, but the most important one is siting there [the Mayor], and I have confidence, I have faith, and I just want to say thank you.

Gadfly thanked the Mayor too. He didn’t trust the Zoning Commission to have any more “No” than the Planning Commission in this 1st Terrace proposal that seemed so obviously wrong. Gadfly liked that the Mayor saw it his way.

But how would he feel in the opposite case.

Which, Gadfly feels, has happened in the not-so-distant past.

JWR seems to literally argue for a strong Mayor (Administration). But does that tilt the ABCs toward puppet rather than independent status?

Gadfly needs to chew on this some more. You are welcome to help.

Two thoughts regarding the issue raised by the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development

(Latest post on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside,
1st Terrace, Affordable Housing)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Great to have this group [Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development] speaking out!

One thing about off-campus student housing is that it tends to promote gentrification—despite its generally poor quality and high rents. This is exacerbated by new high-end rentals (such as the new SouthSide Commons) which also drive rents in the community.

One more factor: overpriced dormitory housing, which makes the off-campus housing more attractive. Colleges & universities could easily price their on-campus housing at a price that would pull many students back on campus.

Peter

Contact for the Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development is Seth Moglen: moglen@lehigh.edu. This group is open to all, not just 1st Terrace area residents. The more membership, the greater the power. And the issue here is not limited to one neighborhood.

Meet the “Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development”

(Latest posts on such topics as Neighborhoods, Southside,
1st Terrace, Affordable Housing)

In a model display of public participation and activism, a group of residents associated with the 1st Terrace situation that Gadfly reported on earlier attended City Council last night, announcing the formation of  “Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development,” describing the deteriorating situation in their neighborhood from the increasing pressure of student housing and firmly pushing the Mayor and City Council to take action NOW before it is too late.

You can find audio of the full individual statements from these residents at the bottom of this post, but here just below Gadfly has arranged clips in the form of an interview to capture the powerfully cumulative effect of their presentations.

Describe your neighborhood. (Moglen)

Why are you living there? (Mendez)

What is your purpose in coming here to this meeting? (Moglen)

Isn’t off-campus housing for students needed because of Lehigh’s expansion? (Handler)

What’s it like to live next to students? (Handler)

Are you opposed to neighborhood students and development? (Handler)

Give us some historical perspective. (Evans)

What’s the developer like? (Stark)

What’s your experience with the developer? (Long)

How urgent is the problem and how committed are you to pushing for a solution? (Saunders)

What is it that you want? (Moglen)


Don’t miss the full presentations:

Anne Evans

Kristin Handler

Chris Long

Mrs. Mendez

Seth Moglen

Murdock Saunders

Gretchen Stark

The Mayor clobbers the 1st Terrace proposal, but . . .

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Zoning Hearing Board meeting, Town Hall, tonight, Wednesday,
June 26, at 6PM

There are three items on the Zoning Board agenda tonight.

The middle one is the proposal to put 40 student housing units on residential 1st Terrace above Lehigh University.

We have written about this before as a bad proposal. Gadfly was troubled that the Planning Commission couldn’t find its “no.”

Now it is before Zoning.

Stimulated by the posts of Kim Carrell-Smith, Gadfly devised the notion of butt-sharing.

Neighbors helping neighbors.

You get your butt to the hearing about my neighborhood, and I will get my butt to the hearing about yours.

Lots of you have never been to a City Council meeting, much less a Planning or Zoning meeting. Tonight would be a good opportunity to see important City neighborhood business in action.

Please turn out and lend silent symbolic support, even if you don’t plan to speak.

But the 1st Terracers have an unusual, powerful ally. The Mayor has taken a position against the proposal in the letter below. This IS unusual. Word is that this Mayor has not taken this step in a residential case before.

Donchez 1st Terrace

But the attorney for the developer is a good one. We’ve seen him in action before. He’s used to winning.

And the Planning Commission, faced with the same kind of evidence, couldn’t find its “no.”

It seems hard to say no to a developer. That’s why every neighborhood should be on the alert.

And butt-sharing.

Zoning Hearing Board meeting, Town Hall, tonight, Wednesday,
June 26, at 6PM

New idea: butt-sharing

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Zoning Hearing Board meeting, Town Hall, Wednesday, June 26, at 6PM

Gadfly tries to make clear that when he writes about one neighborhood, all neighborhoods should pay attention.

What’s happening in one neighborhood can happen in another.

Especially if it’s something bad.

We are all linked.

A recent case is the proposal to build 40 student units in the 1st Terrace residential neighborhood just above Lehigh University.

Gadfly whined about the Planning Committee’s wussy decision on this proposal: The Planning Commission couldn’t find its “No”

Then Kim Carrell-Smith followed with a provocative proposal of her own in these posts: butt-sharing.

Please support the residents of the 1st Terrace neighborhood at the Zoning meeting June 26

Southside residents and environmental folks need your body in a seat!

Well, butt-sharing is my term for what she suggested.

We have bike-sharing, ride-sharing, why not butt-sharing!

Kim suggests that even residents from outside the 1st Terrace neighborhood attend the Zoning Hearing Board meeting, Town Hall, Wednesday, June 26, at 6PM, in a show of support.

What a great idea.

Butts-in-the-seats!

And in one of her posts Kim even suggested standing in solidarity during the testimony! Better yet!

We give blood to our neighbors in need. How about giving your butt to a neighbor in need?

Are you free Wednesday night? Stop by. Developers are persuasive in this town. Our volunteer resident Boards sometimes have a hard time saying “no” to them.

“No” is easier with lots of butts in the seats.

Developers are easily emboldened. Let’s activate some restraint.

Southside residents and environmental folks need your body in a seat!

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Kim Carrrell-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!

Greetings active citizens,

Sorry to be sending alerts two weeks in a row, but there is another local govt-related issue coming up, and Southside residents could use some significant support.

Southside residents and environmental folks need your body in a seat

 THIS WED NIGHT 6/26 at 6 pm

 ZONING HEARING BOARD 

 TOWN HALL IN BETHLEHEM

(You can bring a book, and there is free wifi available in town hall, too…)

Newspaper article links and specifics are at the bottom of this email, but here’s the main info about a proposed 8 townhouse (40 student) development on First Terrace on South Mountain near Lehigh…

At issue are 

  1. the stability and safety of a great neighborhood
  2. the request for significant variances*  (see below email) to key environmental provisions in city ordinances, in particular steep slope and impervious coverage, among other requests.

THIS MATTERS TO THE WHOLE CITY: if one developer can bypass key ordinances in such a significant way, it sets a precedent for others to do the same.

Can we beat this?

  • City officials have told us “butts in the seats matter” to the Zoning Hearing Board. Please help us back up residents in the face of a powerful landlord with deep pockets.
  • And we’ve also heard elsewhere that standing up behind residents who speak could matter to the ZHB, since these folks may not be aware that that the Southside neighborhoods are places many Bethlehem residents care about.

Happy to fill you in about any of the particulars on traffic, parking, quality of life, etc., connected to this case, if you need more info.

THANK YOU, and thanks for sharing this with sympathetic friends and colleagues,

Kim

________________________________________

* The developer is asking to “increase the maximum impervious coverage in steep areas from 5% to 39%” and “decrease the minimum lot area from 10 acres to .7466 acres”

The ordinance states that if a parcel has any steep slopes above 35% grade within the construction area, the lot size must be a minimum of 10 acres and have a maximum impervious coverage of 5%.

https://www.lehighvalleylive.com/bethlehem/2019/06/this-developer-wants-to-raze-southside-houses-for-40-beds-of-student-housing-but-opposition-is-mounting.html

https://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-mayor-against-zoning-20190623-ytmfudjmkffbrfnrmkz7lvtuqa-story.html