I thought the Skyline West project in Bethlehem had the Tasteless Architecture Award wrapped up, but incredibly a late entry at 548 N. New St. may win. Both are by the same developer/design team. Apparently their aesthetic was greatly influenced by early episodes of “The Jetsons.”
These proposed buildings are in or adjacent to the Historic District of Bethlehem. In researching how it is possible that these buildings could be approved, I found that City Council, the Planning Board and the Zoning Commission have no say over design, unless the building is in the Historic District.
Not to pick on Bethlehem, the same group has a like building proposed for Easton, also in a historic area. Looks like an alien structure giving birth, waiting for the mother ship to call them home. Neighborhood residents appearing before Easton’s Historic District Commission opposed the project. Hopefully, Easton will listen to them.
I hope the people of Bethlehem will Google these buildings, their locations and voice their concerns to the city.
“Neighborhoods are worth fighting for,” Gadfly always says — we must keep making our ideas known.
So there was considerable kumbaya from the Head Table at the end of last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory, what is probably the last public meeting before construction begins.
Two of the Commission members really and no doubt sincerely applauded the value of the resident participation.
For example, just before the vote that perhaps once and for all green-lighted the developer, one member said, I “really appreciate the comments from the public today, some very good suggestions, some great dialog here today . . . we’re communicating.”
Whoa! Not so fast.
The residents spoke. But the best they have is hope that the developer was listening and will/might act on their recent ideas and suggestions.
What the neighbors were left with was hope.
Why couldn’t the Planning Commission add some conditions based on resident input?
For instance, the neighbors thought they had a “verbal agreement” with the developer to work together on the barrier fence between the new construction and the adjoining properties.
Likely, nobody mentioned that agreement to the architect. She said that the fence “probably will be that shadow-box type of fencing” that apparently the neighbors had previously talked about.
It is not obvious that the developer remembers such an agreement. And Gadfly is no expert in voice tones, but the developer’s “I’m open to discussing it with the neighbors” doesn’t sound to him all that enthusiastic. Listen, see what you think.
And all the PC chair can say, while explicitly agreeing with the neighbors, is that kind of fence “would be something I would hope the developer would consider.”
Why could it not have been a condition of approval that the developer and neighbors agree on the fence type?
Then no need for the neighbors to hope.
A second example.
The subject is tree removal.
Look at how in these words from the PC chair, hope — fragile hope — is the soft pivot (literally in the center of his statement) around which glittering encomiums (good SAT word) about the value of resident ideas orbit.
“The dialog that we’ve had here this evening is important. It’s so important to hear what the neighbors and the taxpayers and the citizens have to add. One thing that was mentioned . . . I hate those lantern flies. I hope the developer does something to remove those trees so that those things don’t come back. Little things like that, those are details, and I won’t even say like small details, those details are vital.”
Damnation, if what the neighbors had to say is so important, if the tree “little” detail is so “vital,” then why not make it a condition of approval that the developer do a certain action?
Instead of hoping that it will be done.
Does not the PC have that power?
A third example.
And the most significant.
Jeff Pooley describes the “suburban strip-mall type parking area” along Second Avenue in the proposed design and says the “Planning Commission has the opportunity to prevent what could be a kind of a self-inflicted wound,” for all authorities would agree that best practice is to move the building to the street and put parking behind. Even Gadfly knows that from his summer reading in Jeff Speck that he reported on in these pages multiple times.
But all Jeff can do is hope. “Putting suburban strip-mall parking along the street is a great mistake,” you heard in his conclusion, “and one we hope you would prevent.”
Now this is a big point. A major revision of the design. And one determining the look and feel of a gateway to the West Side.
If ever there was an invitation to “great dialog,” there it was.
Wouldn’t it have been a great moment — for Gadfly a defibrillator moment — if the PC chair had turned — politely — to the architect and asked for her professional response to Jeff’s comment?
Instead there was a polite “Thank you, Mr. Pooley,” and the chair moved on.
That kind of design comment/question might as well be spoken in another language in meetings like this.
Gadfly is reminded of his recent muddle over 548 N. New (see the sidebar to refresh on this pertinent series of posts). By the time that Bill Scheirer, Kim Carrell-Smith, and Jerry Vergilio questioned the design, it was too late in the process.
The process is then too far along for a proposal to be questioned much less for it to fail.
Something is wrong with such a process in which such significant and informed public commentary is not aired and addressed earlier.
Planning Commissioner backpatting was well meaning but a bit self-serving. Communication is two-way. The PC didn’t act when it could have. Didn’t speak when it should have.
As you will notice, there is not a tree or any other living thing in front of the building [548 N. New]. Also if you look at [the developer’s] property on Union (Black Box, 124 W. Union), there is nothing but a weed here and there.
I listened recently to a speaker from PHS (PA Horticulture Society) speak about the importance of trees to a city. I wish I could remember the statistics, but the de-forestation of PA is a real concern. Bethlehem likes to put up signs about being Tree City USA but does nothing, requires nothing of builders, to support the citizens who have trees on their property. There is nothing to encourage a person to plant a tree.
I think this should be mandatory on any new building that there be some sort of greenery and at least a tree with each new build.
And the Union building is not a “bungalow,” which is defined as “a one-storied house with a low-pitched roof.” Just sayin’.
Gadfly always amazed these days at how fast time goes.
A sign of his senior-seniorness.
(Sinatra’s “But the days grow short when you reach September” plays faintly in his inner ear these days.)
Been 8 days since he promised a “to be continued” on 548 N. New.
The 11 and 15 W. Garrison St. matter popped up (see sidebar).
Can’t multi-task anymore.
In media res the Garrison St. discussion, Jerry Vergilio*** stepped up twice — calmly, concisely, patiently, sensibly — to put the current issue in its meaningful frame.
548 N. New and Skyline West:
How do they fit?
Are they a done deal?
Vergilio*** is Everyman, a concerned citizen who doesn’t understand the thought process or the bureaucratic process or the political process that has enabled these highly significant visible projects to outrun his awareness and anyone’s ability to curb their forward motion.
So the Planning Commission response to the proposal for a new building at 548 N. New St. saddened a reflective Gadfly in a different manner for a different reason.
There was no one Planning Commission position on the 548 design, but here is what Gadfly pieced together a couple of posts back from separate comments on the design by the three commissioners.
This is what Gadfly “heard” as a general rationale for approving the design:
548 is not in the historical district, which means that it’s not tied to the past but can be a catalyst for elevating and exciting and even beneficially controversial change, an indication of our commitment to modern progress that will benefit the City economically by attracting urban dwellers who, in the developer’s language, want to “live free” and who will spend money in the downtown.
Gadfly is aware of the legitimate problems with what we might call the “Boyd Theater” block of Broad Street. And of optimism about plans for 120 new apartments there.
He shares that optimism.
For a personal and selfish motive, Gadfly — wrestling with the downsizing demon — would love to see apartments that he would like and can afford in that section of town.
The Planners base their approval of the design precisely on the basis that it will be a change agent in that area:
“[548 is] not in the historical district”
“This is a new development and hopefully the rest will follow“
“The design is going to elevate the architecture in the surrounding 70s-designed buildings in the future”
“It’s going to improve our overall outlook and image in terms of where we’re going and moving toward“
The Planners have Gadfly envisioning this section of the future City in the image and likeness of the 548 style of architecture.
So which is it? Does the modern design of 548 blend in with and complement the historical architecture, as the developers see it? Or is it something new, a consciously chosen break with historical architecture that signals a move in a new direction, as the Planners see it?
Not only which is it, but which do we want it to be?
It’s the dramatic inconsistency of the two messages that bothers Gadfly.
In contrast to the developers, The PC celebrates difference and change and assumes more of it.
It almost sounds as if there is an official plan or consensus evolving of the kind of downtown residents we seek and the kind of downtown development we want.
In approving such dramatic change in architectural design, are the Planners in ad hoc fashion making policy, or are they reflecting principles already agreed upon?
Gadfly has heard the kind of residents we seek (“the type of clientele that we’re trying to have within our City”) as young professionals with disposable income who want to live and spend money in a walkable downtown.
And he guesses the assumption is that such folk will only be attracted by such modern design. Is that a testable assumption?
For it sounds from the PC words like we are moving toward a city with a distinct historical section and a distinct modern section.
Gadfly agrees generally that history is Bethlehem’s brand. So will we have a competing brand? Can a city have two brands?
Carrell-Smith felt baffled. Gadfly feels muddled.
And thus for Gadfly the key question is, where and when does the conversation about Beauty in Bethlehem take place, and who is there when it does?
For by the time that Scheirer and Carrell-Smith get thoughtfully to the microphone, it is too late. That’s what made Gadfly sad. The conversation train had left the station.
Gadfly hopes that conversation is taking place somewhere before the train has gone too far.
For this specific kind of comment from a Planning Commissioner really makes Gadfly anxious: “if nothing else, people who visit Bethlehem will have something more to talk about.”
That does not seem responsible planning.
to be continued . . . (Gadfly can really beat a topic to death, can’t he?)
Gadfly began this thread on 548 N. New on September 10 by saying he “found himself very reflective after the Planning Commission meeting of August 26. And — to tell the truth — sad.”
Now that we have a complete overview of the players and the process, let’s put a foundation under those feelings, starting with a closer analysis of the developer rationale for the design.
Gadfly doesn’t feel the developer was prepared for the Planning Commission member’s question about the design.
And his answer was totally inadequate and, Gadfly thinks, insulting and dishonest.
Scheirer and Carrell-Smith deserved better. “We” deserved better.
“We understand that [the 548 design] is modern, but when modern design is actually done right we feel it not only enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances the historic architecture. So I mean, we feel that, we understand that people may not like this in the historic downtown, but this is invigorating type design . . . people want to live downtown, be downtown, live free, and spend money downtown. We feel this is, this is the way things are headed. We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem . . . continue enhancing the downtown.”
We understand that it is modern, but when modern design is actually done right we feel it not only enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances the historic architecture. To Gadfly, who has no architectural savvy, this is an astounding claim made totally without example or evidence or data, so it’s meaningless.
We understand that people may not like this in the historic downtown, but this is invigorating type design. Gadfly does not understand the relation between the first part of the sentence and the second. This is a type of non sequitur. Precisely what will be the nature of the invigoration, and how will it enhance the surrounding historic architecture? If the second part of the sentence is meant to mollify the antipathy of the people in the first part of the sentence, it is not clear how.
People want to live downtown, be downtown, live free, and spend money downtown. What does “live free” mean? Is the assumption here that a differently designed building would not attract such people? If so, no basis is provided for believing so. And Kim Carrell-Smith offered to provide data that historical architecture is an economic driver.
We feel this is, this is the way things are headed. To what does this refer? To directions in City planning? Or to trends in urban architecture? Or to what? Not clear. This statement is meaningless.
We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem. Ends with a love feast. Kumbaya, my Planning Commission, kumbaya. Smoke screen hiding empty argument.
We try to be sensitive to the surrounding area [quote by the developer the night of the meeting]. Please. Pu-leeze.
For Gadfly, the developer response to the design question is non-sense.
Yet the Planning Commission did not blink.
The irony is that the developers could have made a good case on each point. Gadfly could write it for them. But there was no effort to do so. Their answer is manifestly skimpy.
And thus we find a rightfully “baffled” Kim Carrell-Smith, “baffled by the developer’s characterization that this modern building fits into the historic downtown and complements it.”
Gadfly feels justified in feeling the developers were insulting in treating “us” as empty heads.
But why does he feel they were dishonest as well?
Because, Gadfly feels, they must have known they should have been making the exact opposite case for their modern design but didn’t feel it would fly.
That modern design is so obviously different from the surrounding area that, if they were honest, they should have been “selling” its difference as a needed and necessary positive change agent in a section of the City that needed a boost.
For, after all, that’s what the Planning Commission did!
Yes, oh yes, my good followers, the Planning Commission made a case for the design 180-degrees from the creators of the design.
What good is an English major? What skill do English majors have? One thing Prof Gadfly used to say is that English majors are excellent close readers. They read closely; they listen closely. Gadfly has tried to listen closely and carefully to the case for and agin’ 548 N. New. He’s structured the key voices in the case in a flowing narrative here. Can you discern the plot?
It would be worth the while if in each town there were a committee appointed,
to see that the beauty of the town received no detriment. Henry David Thoreau c. 1862
Who’s in charge of beauty in Bethlehem? Gadfly
Was there any thought given to the architectural design?
To fit in to the rest of the neighborhood?
Planning Commission member
We try to be sensitive to the surrounding area. the developer
When modern design is actually done right we feel it not only
enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances
the historic architecture.
This is invigorating type design.
We feel this is . . . the way things are headed.
We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem.
Everything we have asked them to do and contribute for
they have agreed to. City Planning Department staffer
Your project will change the streetscape in that block
that has existed for 100 years. Bill Scheirer
Other than market demand, and other than you want to build it, how
do you justify changing the streetscape there, the historic
streetscape so dramatically? Bill Scheirer
I’m kind of baffled by the developer’s characterization that this
modern building fits into the historic downtown
and complements it. Kim Carrell-Smith
Historical architecture and historical streetscapes are economic drivers. Kim Carrell-Smith
What I would like to see the developers answer specifically is how does your architect, how do you see this building blending in with this neighborhood? Gadfly
And moving and growing and moving forward, I think the fact that it’s not in the historical district something like that would increase foot traffic in our downtown, would draw in the type of clientele that we’re trying to have within our City. Planning Commission member
It’s going to improve our overall outlook and image in terms of where we’re going and moving toward. Planning Commission member
I think the design is going to elevate the architecture in the
surrounding 70s-designed buildings in the future. Planning Commission member
Moving forward I think this will infuse a lot of excitement into the area. Planning Commission member
Architecture is very subjective, and, if nothing else, people who visit
Bethlehem will have something more to talk about. Planning Commission member
I don’t do context. Frank Gehry World-class “starchitect” (star architect) — quoted by Jeff Speck
One of the things we’ve learned as new urbanists is that the prime ingredient
of urbanism is really public space and the public realm. So the urban plan comes
first and the building second. It becomes an issue of whether the building is a
monument or a piece of fabric. Then does this building dominate what’s in
place or does this building add to it or transform it? New Urbanism architect Stefanos Polyzoides
Maybe the question should be, where and when does the conversation about Beauty in Bethlehem take place, and
who is there when it does. Gadfly
“How do you justify changing the streetscape there, the historic streetscape, so dramatically?” Bill Scheier
“I just ask, does this building fit into the character
of that neighborhood?” Kim Carrell-Smith
In their final comments, the three Planning Commission members did address the issue of the design for the 548 raised by residents Scheirer, Carrell-Smith, and the Gadfly.
Which responses we will consider in the next post in this series (probably) as Gadfly begins to reflect on this entire process.
But, first, give a listen to the Planning Commission viewpoints:
PC member 1:
“Mr. Gallagher used the words ‘moving’ and ‘growing’ and ‘moving forward’.”
“And, yes, even though the rendering does not show what’s currently there, and, yes, I would concur that I would like to see that as well, but moving and growing 10, 15, 20 years from now, I’m not sure if that picture was there of what is currently there, I can’t predict those buildings will still be there 10, 20 years from now.”
“And moving and growing and moving forward, I think the fact that it’s not in the historical district something like that would increase foot traffic in our downtown, would draw in the type of clientele that we’re trying to have within our City.”
“It’s going to improve our overall outlook and image in terms of where we’re going and moving toward, so, even though it’s not in the historical district . . . I would like to make a motion.”
PC member 2:
“The architectural design doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that this is a new development and hopefully the rest will follow, and I agree with [PC member 1] with what he’s trying to confer there . . . my biggest concern about the project right now is [one lane of traffic].”
PC member 3:
“I actually applaud the architectural design.”
“I think the design is going to elevate the architecture in the surrounding 70s-designed buildings in the future.”
“Moving forward I think this will infuse a lot of excitement into the area.”
“Architecture is very subjective, and, if nothing else, people who visit Bethlehem will have something more to talk about.”
Now we can see the elements of the Planning Commission affirmative position: 548 is not in the historical district, which means that it’s not tied to the past but can be a catalyst for elevating and exciting and even beneficially controversial change, an indication of our commitment to modern progress that will benefit the City economically by attracting urban dwellers who, in the developer’s language, want to “live free” and who will spend money in the downtown.
Does that seem a fair reading of the PC position? It’s risky to try to meld other people’s ideas together.
“How do you justify changing the streetscape there, the historic streetscape, so dramatically?” Bill Scheier
“I just ask, does this building fit into the character
of that neighborhood?” Kim Carrell-Smith
In this next installment of “The Making of the 548,” Gadfly lept to his feet and commanded the podium-less microphone stage-left so that he was virtually speaking into what he thought were the inactive right brains of the City Planners.
Gadfly can’t figure out how to do a video-selfie, so you’ll have to settle for this still photo to go along with the audio, taken during the undercover phase of his gadfly training.
“I’d like to hearken back to Mr. Stellato’s question about design.”
“I don’t think the Benners answered that question well.”
“You see the building without its context, without what’s on the left, without what’s on the right.”
“I think we have to think about how the building fits in to the neighborhood better.”
“What I would like to see the developers answer specifically is how does your architect, how do you see this building blending in with this neighborhood?”
“We can’t just look at the individual property.”
“I would actually like to see a form in whatever comes to you guys to start this process, a form that gives a space where the developer has to answer the question ‘How do you see the property blending in with its neighborhood,’ and I’d like to see a paragraph, or a page, or two pages in which the architect explains that to us.”
“The answer that you got, Mr. Stellato, has to do with the people who will be in the building, or this is the way that architecture is going for apartments — that’s off-point.”
“How does this design fit into the neighborhood — not historic district, but still I think we need an answer to that question.”
“I look at it . . . and I can’t see it blending in, but I’m an English prof, but an architect would say, ‘Hey, Gallagher, this is the way I see it fitting in, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
“That’s the kind of answer I think we need.”
Gadfly hopes you enjoyed his three minutes in the spotlight.
But he wants to be sure you note two things that we will return to later:
he adopted the verb “blend” from his followers (in a comment to a recent post, Dana Grubb suggested “compatible” would be a good choice too)
he moves toward a possible solution to a (the?) problem in situations like this by requiring a statement from the architect
Gadfly resists the appellation (good SAT word) CAVE (a citizen against virtually everything). His natural instinct is to move toward solutions not just whimper and whine. You will note his “modest proposals” every once in a while.
But even Gadfly has to laugh at himself. His solution is so . . . “academic.” Write me (us) an essay, he says.
No context needed. Just listen to these two fine resident comments on the proposal for the new building at 548 N. New St.
“People tend to agree that there is a special quality of life in Bethlehem.”
“One of the components of that quality of life is the streetscape.”
“Your project will change the streetscape in that block that has existed for 100 years.”
“It is a dramatic change to the streetscape.”
“Other than market demand, and other than you want to build it, how do you justify changing the streetscape there, the historic streetscape so dramatically?”
The aforementioned Kim Carrell-Smith:
“I think that we are all pretty aware that Bethlehem’s brand, if we had one, would be history.”
“And I think that eliminating historical pieces of the streetscape bit by bit and replacing them with high-rises may miss that fact.”
“Historical architecture and historical streetscapes are economic drivers.”
“Bethlehem’s brand is history and its historical ambience, and that’s why the downtown was redeveloped with a historical feel in the 1970s, thanks to visionary City leaders who were really far ahead of their time in recognizing that historical preservation pays in many ways.”
“I think the New St. developers’ idea of demolishing this dignified brick twin . . . that was built around 1900 and replacing it with a glass and metal high-rise apartment, although perhaps appropriate for other communities and maybe other places in Bethlehem, is not in keeping with what makes Bethlehem’s downtown area, whether Southside or Northside, unique and appealing.”
“I’m kind of baffled by the developer’s characterization that this modern building fits into the historic downtown and complements it.”
“We are probably all in consensus that . . . the bank building . . . is not a great precedent or something to cite for the value of modernism or the scale in this area.”
“The design clearly [detracts from the historic district a block away].”
“Could apartments be constructed behind and hidden by a lower building?”
“Although a lot of people like to cite New Urbanism as a reason for urging density . . . currently most planners would agree that we’re kind of embracing a new New Urbanism these days where it calls for thoughtful density that fits into the character of the neighborhood.”
“And I just ask does this building fit into the character of that neighborhood?”
After “working with the City for roughly a year,” Garrett and Brandon Benner made this 12-minute presentation on new construction at 548 N. New St. to the Planning Commission on August 26.
Gadfly bets that almost none of his followers have ever witnessed a Planning Commission hearing. The City is now in the process of video-ing such hearings, and they will be available for viewing live as well as later.
But for now take a look at the Benner presentation through the roving unprofessional eye of an illegally loaned Sony held in Gadfly’s trembling senior’d hands.
At the head table are three Planning Commission members (one recused himself for this hearing) and two City planning staffers.
Look at what most of the discussion is about:
parking (there may be an unnoticed problem here, for early talk of the new Walnut Street garage calls for fewer spaces)
loading and unloading convenience
And the Benner plan receives the City blessing: “Everything we have asked them to do and contribute for they have agreed to.”
The Benners are cooperative.
But who’s in charge of beauty in Bethlehem?
One Planning Commission member — god bless ‘im — asked in a quiet voice what for Gadfly is the booming Ur-question, the question before all other questions:
“It’s a beautiful building to put between several brick buildings. Was there any thought given to the architectural design? To fit in to the rest of the neighborhood?”
Gadfly believes that it’s Brandon Benner who answers:
“Actually, yeah, there is. We understand that it is modern, but when modern design is actually done right we feel it not only enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances the historic architecture. So I mean, we feel that, we understand that people may not like this in the historic downtown, but this is invigorating type design . . . people want to live downtown, be downtown, live free, and spend money downtown. We feel this is, this is the way things are headed. We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem . . . continue enhancing the downtown.”
“It would be worth the while if in each town there were a committee appointed, to see that the beauty of the town received no detriment.” Henry David Thoreau c. 1862
Do we have such a committee?
Who’s in charge of beauty in Bethlehem?
Gadfly was thinking of that Thoreau recommendation as he sat in the cheap seats at the Planning Commission meeting August 26, the one in which the 6-story building at 548 N. New was approved.
And he was thinking of a message that he has kept unanswered but undeletable in the top tier of his email queue since August 2 from a faithful follower who prefers to remain anonymous (but you know who you are, CB) in response to the design of Skyline West, just after he posted about it.
What an unattractive building!! Why can’t they design something that blends into the area/cityscape? Arggghhh…
“Arggghhh,” the sound of an Adam’s Apple collapsing under a relentless tourniquet ruthlessly applied by some mad serial Strangler.
And he was thinking of how another faithful follower Kim Carrell-Smith used that same verb blend in a way that he hasn’t been able to shake, a verb that’s been nipping at his mental heels since June 17 (and that’s a long time to be nipped, let me tell you, blood was drawn).
One of the things that makes all of the Southside a cool and interesting place to live is that we have an eclectic blend of architecture, and we like it that way, it’s kind of cool, but what we don’t have are new things that completely depart from that old look of a neighborhood . . . those are just not ways houses were designed in the old days . . . part of the interesting features of the Southside are things that blend, they might be different but they blend . . . the biggest issue is scale that does not blend.
Blend . . . blend . . . blend . . . “Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom / When the jungle shadows fall” in the classic Cole Porter tune.
Gadfly found himself very reflective after the Planning Commission meeting of August 26.
And — to tell the truth — sad.
Let’s lay the groundwork for some discussion of the City planning process by focusing on one case at that meeting.
The Benner brothers plan to demolish an old twin at 546-48 N. New St. and replace it with a modern 6-story apartment building with a wine bar on the first floor.
Parking will be arranged in the Walnut St. garage across the street (possible problem there). Northbound New St. will change from the current two lanes to one in the block in front of the building between Walnut St. and Broad St.
Picture 546-48 N. New, just slightly south of Broad. It used to house the James Judd agency, where Gadfly got a mortgage a 100 years ago. Looking head-on as in the picture above, the former Penn Pizza space is on the left and the long-living dance studio is in the building on the right (wave if you are a member of the 540 Club). It is not fully occupied at the moment.
The building is just outside the historic district.
Load up on the details and context from the newspaper stories, and then we’ll come back and find out why Gadfly was sad.
Developers Garrett and Brandon Benner want to tear down a three-story downtown Bethlehem building, replacing it with a six-story building with retail on the first floor and 33 apartments. The property sits just outside the border of the north side Historic District.
The brothers plan to construct a modern-style building that incorporates materials in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood’s historic nature, said Garrett Benner. The duo’s again hired the Philadelphia firm SITIO as the project architect. Firm founder Antonio Fiol-Silva designed both the Levitt Pavilion and the Hoover-Mason Trestle on South Side Bethlehem and is behind the Benners’ Skyline West project on West Broad Street.
“We try to be sensitive to the surrounding area,” Garrett Benner said.
The first floor will feature a wine bar — the developer declined to identify the tenant yet — with a mix of studios, one-and-two bedroom market-rate apartments with “great finishes” and washers and dryers in the units, he said. The majority of the two-bedroom apartments are corner units.
To create a loading zone in front of the building, the right-hand turning lane on New Street would be eliminated and new metered spaces will go in front of Rosanna’s and Penn Pizza, said Tracy Samuelson, city assistant director of planning and zoning.
After pursuing the project for a long time, there’s a huge demand for new apartments in downtown Bethlehem, Garrett Benner said. The developer’s Bungalow apartments, in the former Togs building next to the Old Brewery Tavern, were fully leased in under two months.
This investment paired with the $22 million redevelopment of the Boyd Theatre property into 120 apartments and retail could represent a turning point for a stretch of the downtown that’s long vexed city leaders. The decaying Boyd properties create a sharp demarcation between the city’s restaurant row and Main Street shopping and restaurants further up East Broad Street.
A century-old brick structure just outside Bethlehem’s historic district would be demolished to make way for a six-story, modern apartment building with a first-floor wine bar, under plans the Bethlehem Planning Commission approved Monday. The $7.5 million project would put 33 apartments a block from historic Main Street and around the corner from a sleepy Broad Street block where the shuttered Boyd Theatre is expected to be replaced by a $22 million apartment project.
Brandon Benner, who is developing the project with his brother Garrett, said the proposed building had an “invigorating design that would draw people wanting to live and spend money downtown.”
“When modern design is actually done right … it not only compliments it but also enhances the historic architecture,” Benner said.
“I think the design is going to elevate the architecture in the surrounding ’70s-designed buildings in the future,” Cohen said. “I think this will infuse a lot of excitement in the area.”
But the scale and design didn’t sit well with a couple residents in the audience. Noting the close proximity to the historic architecture for which Bethlehem is heralded, Kim Carrell-Smith questioned the wisdom of replacing a “dignified twin that was built around 1900″ with a “glass and metal luxury high-rise apartment.”
“Although perhaps appropriate for other communities and maybe other places in Bethlehem, it’s not in keeping with what makes Bethlehem’s downtown area, whether South Side or North Side, a unique and appealing place,” she said. “I’m kind of baffled by the gross mischaracterization that this modern building fits into the historic district downtown and compliments it.”
The project is being designed by SITIO architecture. That’s the same Philadelphia firm that is designing Skyline West, an modern apartment project that is replacing an early 20th century residence in the historic district on West Broad Street overlooking the Colonial Industrial Quarter. The Benners also are involved in that project.
Under the apartment project proposed on North New Street, the Benners agreed to upgrade pedestrian improvements, retime traffic lights and use the Walnut Street parking garage for parking. A right-hand turn lane on New Street also would be eliminated.