Neighbor-produced-data relevant to 2 W. Market

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Fighting for one’s neighborhood. Always a good thing in Gadfly’s book.

Yesterday Gadfly focused on the forceful testimony of Paige Van Wirt before the Zoning Hearing Board on November 12 as a model of good citizenship.

Gadfly does the same today with the example of Martin Romeril.

The issue in the 2 W. Market case is the insertion of a business in a residential neighborhood.

Unbelievably, from the beginning of the recent chapter of this case, the nature of the neighborhood as “residential” has been questioned, despite what the zoning map says.

Go back to post 49 in this (so-far) journey of 89 posts with Gadfly, the post “CM Callahan on ‘the 2’.”

Here’s what Councilman Callahan had to say about a year ago: “I think what it comes down to is, the main question is this, where does the residential neighborhood begin and where does it end? And the bottom line is it doesn’t. It doesn’t. There’s nobody that can tell me where the residential community in that neighborhood on that block begins and ends.”

As Gadfly said back in December, “The zoning code says 2 W. Market is in an area zoned residential. [Callahan] says, in effect, there is no residential area there.”

That subjective suspension of the zoning code by a Councilman bowled the then innocent Gadfly over.

Now around the same time the City — which supported the owner of 2 W. Market and is now vigorously opposing the validity challenge — produced a map that also seemed to have the same effect, the downplaying of the residential nature of the West Market neighborhood and thus minimizing the impact of the inserted business.

Enter Romeril.

And his production of a color-coded map that shows the neighborhood 87.3% residential!

Romeril map

Here is Romeril testifying about his work at the November 12 Zoning Hearing Board meeting:

But Romeril’s investigative work didn’t end there.

When the City attorney posed this question — “Mr. Romeril, you expressed some concern about the impact of 1304.4b throughout the City, have you been able to identify other parcels where 1304.4b might apply?” —  he seemed surprised that Romeril’s “Yes” answer was embodied in a 3-page chart, done with the help of a friend, based on evidence offered by the 2 W. Market attorney:Romeril chartGadfly invites you to note the long silence at the end of the following clip with which the City attorney responded to Romeril’s work:

Romeril didn’t just accept the study done by the City.

Romeril didn’t just accept the research done by the 2 W. Marketers.

He challenged both and provided data that supported the neighbors’ position.

It is, of course, by no means clear that the neighbors will win this latest round before the Zoning Hearing Board in this marathon controversy (everyone seems to feel resolution in the courts will be necessary), but Gadfly is pleased to help disseminate these examples of active citizen involvement as models for us all when we need to struggle for the quality of our neighborhood life.

The Hearing Board meets again on this case December 11.

The 2 W. Market beat goes on

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Gadfly has lost count. But there was another 4hr meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board last week on the challenge to the validity of a text amendment to the “storefront”  ordinance originally intended to apply to properties like the one on the left but benefiting 2 W. Market on the right — an ordinance passed by a Council, in Gadfly’s opinion, not in its best hour.

This is the 88th post on the long history over the controversy of the zoning on 2 W. Market, and followers can refresh themselves on that history by clicking the link on the Gadfly sidebar.

Gadfly loves examples of citizen participation, of which there were several at this meeting, and he invites you here to both learn about the issues surrounding 2 W. Market and to enjoy a model of good citizenship through the testimony of Paige Van Wirt.

How does this zoning amendment impair or impede the residential character of the neighborhood? (3 mins.)

  • “There’s no families in this business to watch little kids on the street, there’s nobody to see that somebody fell down on the corner.”

What are your concerns given that this property is on the edge of a commercial district? (1 min.)

  • “Now this neighborhood is struggling to come back and have a full residential character to it. Any conversion . . . of a previously healthy residential home . . . is going to erode the fabric of my neighborhood.”

Do you have concerns about commercial creep? (1 min.)

  • “This does give a signal that our neighborhood’s zoning is not a wall.”

Will this amendment erode the reliability of the zoning ordinance? (1 min.)

  • “As a homeowner . . . I would be much less inclined to buy a property on this block if I felt there were going to be more commercial/residential flips.”

Describe the importance of drafting the memo to the City Planning Director asking for more data? (2 mins.)

  • “My concern was that there was no impact study done by the City. . . . that we were asked at City Council to adopt an ordinance where there had been no data and research done.”

Does the amendment support the general health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Bethlehem? (1 min.)

  • “I understand why this is in the best interests of Quadrant, I get it, they did a great job on the building, but it doesn’t pass the litmus test of being in the best interest of the City, and that’s fundamentally what City Council is here as a representative body of the citizens of Bethlehem to do.”

Interesting material came out as Van Wirt parried with one of the attorneys under cross-examination. (9 mins.)

  • “This is a border neighborhood. . . . You’re not going to go six blocks in to the middle of Wall St. to try to set up a business there.”

Are you familiar with uses of the properties on your block? (1 min.)

  • “If this amendment could be so broadly applied that it would affect my own home, it made me understand the potential impact this would have on the rest of the City.”

Why did you wait so long before requesting data from the City? (2 mins.)

  • “Call me naive, but I never thought it would get that far. Once it was apparent that there was enough people on Council considering voting for it, that’s when I said, O, my God, I’ve got to show them, I’ve got to prove to Council why this is not in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Bethlehem. . . . That’s my job”

The hearing board will convene again December 11 to continue consideration of this case.

The 2 W. Market case goes south (geographically, that is)

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Note: The Zoning Board Hearing tonight is at Southside campus Northampton Community College, room 605.

The latest chapter in the 2 W. Market case unfolds tonight.

Posts on this recent phase of a controversy that is almost as long as our national involvement in the Middle East wars begin at post #80. Click on the sidebar link if you want to refresh or catch up.

Let’s call it the Neighbors v. the Marketers.

The Neighbors are challenging the validity of a text amendment favoring the Marketers.

The Neighbors are in process of re-introducing witnesses (Gadfly testified last time) from at least 4 major Planning Commission and City Council meetings, re-introducing them under oath so that they can be cross-examined.

The neighbors have about 17 witnesses to put on as well as a few “expert” witnesses. Since the last meeting was dominated time-wise with testimony of the City Planning Director, only three other witnesses were put on.

The ZHB goal is for the Neighbors to finish their case tonight, but one wonders how that will happen given how slow past testimony has gone.

Gadfly suggests turning the heat off in the NCC classroom in order to move things along.

The ZHB members were visibly impatient last time, which does not seem to bode well for the Neighbors’ case.

For those closely following the legal arguments, here is the Neighbor’s attorney outlining at the last meeting the 9 issues that form the basis for the validity challenge of the ordinance.

Now that last meeting was 4 hours long, and Gadfly reported from the equally long meeting before it that one aspect of the Marketers’s position was “what led up to the text amendment approved by Council doesn’t matter. All that matters is the amendment itself, and the effect it has or will have. The basis of Council’s approval does not count, only the fact of that approval embodied in the text amendment itself. The Zoning Hearing Board should not look backward, only forward.”

This position feels very strange to Gadfly, but at the last meeting it was validated based on a 2009 case that Gadfly could not catch the name of.

The basis on which the Council made its decision, what the motives of Council were, what was in the minds of Council — do not count.

Hear discussion of this point between the Board solicitor and the Neighbor’s attorney at the last meeting:

The state of mind of the Council members who voted for the text amendment does not matter.

Ugh.

For this was not — in Gadfly’s opinion — Council’s finest hour. Councilman Martell is not here any longer, so let’s skip him. But Councilman Callahan disputed the validity of the Zoning map itself and cozied up to the Marketer. Councilman Reynolds was impatient with the proceedings and made the famous remark that people who didn’t want commercial nearby should move to the townships. And President Waldron gave no reason at all.

Aiiii — Gadfly remembers well feeling that the “yes” votes were all flawed.

But that doesn’t matter legally.

The challenge has to be based on what they approved not why or on what basis.

Ugh.

Now another issue, related but somehow different, still seems in play.

Remember there was a question before Council about how many other properties would be affected by the text amendment.

The idea was that a decision shouldn’t be made till that was determined.

The Marketers presented a study involving 8 properties, the City did one on 140 properties.

The City study did not become available till the morning of the Council meeting, and Councilwoman Van Wirt reasonably moved to delay a decision to provide time to study the study.

That motion was denied. And the vote approving the text amendment was taken.

Whether that’s a flaw in the approval process (which it sure sounds like it should be) seems to be still in play.

Onward — Gadfly will report on tonight’s doin’s.

Gadfly hopes someone will go to the first tax hearing tonight or watch it live and post thoughts.

Peter telling it like it is: succinctly!

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Gadfly:

Public comment is only democracy in action if the government officials are listening and acting accordingly.

Peter Crownfield

Take a look on the About page at how Gadfly envisions our elected officials in his Norman Rockwell fantasy of a small town. Pretty “fantastic,” eh! But it’s around election time, a time to be thinking about the kind of elected officials we want even though there are no real choices to be made now.

The 2 W. Market “trial”: part 2

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Gadfly is fond of saying that the sound of voices at the public comment spaces of City Council meeting is democracy in action.

The quintessence of the respect for the concerned common citizen that he has high-lighted on his “About” page of the Norman Rockwell image of a small town as the lens through which he looks at his ideal Bethlehem.

Freedom of Speech
Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech

Claiming your 5 minutes at public comment, though, is different than testifying at a “trial.”

Facing President Waldron’s usually merciful soft gavel is different than facing smile-less lawyers schooled in “gotchas.”

But sometimes you have to go to trial.

Trials are “Democracy in Action.2.”

The Zoning Hearing Board meeting last night on the 2 W. Market case was trial-like.

Witnesses take an oath, lawyers cross-examine.

But “Neighborhoods are worth fighting for,” as Gadfly titled a recent post.

So you do what y’gotta do.

Last night Mary Toulouse, Frank Mayberry, and Gadfly testified.

Mary Toulouse:

Afterwards, Mary noted to Gadfly the following: “I made 2 points but forgot the most important one. It is true, 1) the petitioner should have respected the zoning ordinance, he knew it was only residential when he bought it. (2) He moved his business from Broad Street. Broad Street needs good businesses, neighborhoods need good residents. But for me, the zoning ordinance for residents is not just a law, it is a COVENANT where residents invest their time, talents, and life savings as well as making it their home in that area. It is the City’s responsibility to respect and protect that.

Frank Mayberry:

Fine models of resident participation here by Mary and Frank.

Mercifully, Gadfly — who is very shy, shuns limelight, doesn’t think well on his feet — can not yet figure out how to do a video-selfie, so you are spared seeing him. But here is the audio.

Gadfly’s message to followers is that if he can do it, you can too.

Last night’s meeting was 4 hrs. again. It did not reach climax. The case has been continued till November 12 at 6PM. at which time the Board hopes to conclude testimony and hear closing arguments. Stay tuned for 1-2 more posts on last night’s proceedings.

Gadfly dusting off his past testimony for the newest hearing on 2 W. Market St.

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2 W. Market is one of Gadfly’s marathon threads.

Look at that — this is post #84!

For a refresher on the very latest chapter in what is a 5-6 year controversy, start at post #80 in the thread for 2 W. Market on the sidebar.

In briefest of brief summary: “The owners of 2 W. Market in the residential Northside historical district want to use a house that they have fixed up at considerable expense as an office. A group of homeowner neighbors object. There is a long history of ping-ponging adjudications ultimately going against the “2 Westers.” But in the most recent our City Council approved their petition, and our Zoning Hearing Board approved as well. A group of neighbors has appealed.”

There is another hearing before the Zoning Hearing Board Thursday, 6PM, Town Hall. It should be televised live as well on the Bethlehem DCED youtube channel.

This is a very interesting case. It has brought out significant testimony on each side. There have been many, many of the good voices Gadfly loves. Gadfly has covered the testimony in deep detail — with video and audio, charts of pro and con, you name it, that all can be found in the archives of this thread.

Gadfly has urged the significance of this case for all our neighborhoods — it’s a case to which attention should be paid.

Because of that widespread relevance and significance, Gadfly has urged and urges now for residents from all over the City to turn out and give witness to the need for a fair decision.

Gadfly, after long and careful weighing of arguments as detailed in his post archive, took a position — a position in favor of the neighbors in opposition to the owners of 2 W. Market.

He testified three times.

You might be interested and can find that excerpted testimony from his three appearances here:

Ed Gallagher Testimony on 2 W. Market St.

He will testify again Thursday night.

Your thoughts for or against his position always welcome!

Late Night at the Zoning Hearing Board

(83rd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Market

It was tedious last night at the Zoning Board Hearing in which the Market St. neighbors are challenging the validity of the ordinance that enables a professional office at 2 W. Market.

Procedural stuff.

Even Gadfly’s video camera pooped out before the nearly 4-hour hearing was over.

A tip o’ the hat to a couple Gadfly followers who attended for some or all of the proceedings.

Gadfly stuck it out. That’s why gadflies get the big money.

But, actually, Gadfly found the issues interesting. He’s pretty nerdy, you know.

He’ll summarize what went on, highlighting the issues, and then you’ll find video links so that you can taste the action.

First, remember that there were four long hearings on “2 W. Market” — two at the Planning Commission, two at City Council — at which probably over two-dozen people spoke (gave “testimony”) multiple times — and these are well covered on Gadfly with transcripts, audio , and video.

The process was paradise for Gadfly. All that citizen commentary! Totally aphrodisiac. Empowered residents voicing their opinions. How sweet it was!

What the Neighbors attorney (Stevens) wanted to do was “streamline” the proceedings before the Zoning Hearing Board by introducing a transcript of all of that testimony directly into the record. The attorneys for 2 W. Market (Preston) and the City (Deschler) objected.

For two reasons.

First, none of it was given under oath, and there was no cross-examination.

Second, the testimony was irrelevant.

Huh?

Yes, because — forcefully argued the Marketers attorney — what led up to the text amendment approved by Council doesn’t matter. All that matters is the amendment itself, and the effect it has or will have. The basis of Council’s approval does not count, only the fact of that approval embodied in the text amendment itself. The Zoning Hearing Board should not look backward, only forward.

That Marketer attorney is pretty shrewd. Have seen him in action before.

The Neighbors attorney said their case was based on the fact that Council made its decision on irrelevant considerations and did not do due diligence on the impact of the amendment. So how will the Board know that without the transcript.

You will see Gadfly’s camera nodding yes at these points.

But the ZHB voted not to include the testimony, meaning that the Neighbors attorney now has to “recreate” that testimony before the Board by bringing people in now under oath and subject to cross-examination.

Gadfly will testify under oath.

In fact, perhaps a dozen people for the Neighbors case will be called back.

Yuck.

So much time elapsed with these procedural matters that the Neighbors attorney could call only one witness to begin his case: Mary Rose Wilson. She answered a few questions from the attorneys, Mrs. Vergilio from the public, and a Board member.

The hearing was continued till Oct 24.

It might be Christmas before this is over.

Was the opposition to accepting a transcript of prior testimony a legitimate legal concern or a stall tactic?

The wheels of justice . . .

But at least our words will get in there. Gadfly was very worried about that. You might remember that the core of Gadfly’s belief was precisely that the testimony on which it appeared Council made its decision was misguided — focusing on the character of the 2 W. Market people and the money and care they poured into the house. They are good people and they spent a lot of money, but that can’t be a reason to bend the law.

———–

Video 1: Neighbors attorney Stevens makes his case to bring the the transcript of testimony from four prior meetings into the record to streamline the process.

Video 2: See City attorney Deschler at min. 3:31 but especially see Marketer attorney Preston for 4 mins. at 11:35 making the case for the irrelevance of the public testimony. This makes all “our” ideas irrelevant for this phase of the legal process. Preston is reluctant to even call it testimony. And he says what might be quite true, that the Neighbors are “seeking to investigate the legislative motives and methodologies,” which he thinks is a “wildly irresponsible undertaking”: “focus on the amendment itself”; “it stands or falls on it own terms”; “It doesn’t matter if there was an impure motive”; “The ordinance speaks for itself”

Video 3: Listen to the first 3 mins. especially as attorney Preston continues his argument for the irrelevance of “our” words: he finds “bizarre” that the ZHB is asked “to engage in a critique of City Council’s actions.” “The presumption is that the legislation is valid.” It doesn’t matter why a Councilperson voted. The focus should not be on what they were thinking but the effects of the ordinance. And there are rules “out there” to evaluate ordinances. Neighbors attorney Stevens presents his objections to those ideas here as well.

Video 4: And here look especially at mins. 4:05-6:14 for Preston’s reference to “standards the Court has developed” for judging such cases that do not include this testimony.

Video 5
Video 6
Video 7: Interesting that here you can get a bit of a taste about what those testifying will face. Mary Rose Wilson was, of course, a Neighbor witness. Look at the rather lame efforts of attorney Deschler to make her look inadequate. And the bit of a head-to-head with a neighbor holding the opposing view.