Addendum #1 to Gadfly forum on development: the Armory

Latest in a series of posts on the Gadfly Forum

It’s development week on the Gadfly!

Gadfly started attending City Council meetings on January 2, 2018, six months before he officially became a Gadfly. Virtually the first thing he heard at that meeting was Westside resident Christy Roysdon talking about the Armory project during public comment. The resident commentary beat on the Armory continued January 16 and February 6 as the discussion moved to the “vacation” of Second Avenue as part of the development. The discussion troubled embryo-Gadfly. He made his first public comment at a City Council meeting the very next meeting, February 20. It would not be off-base to say that tension over the proposal to develop the Armory set him on the road to becoming a Gadfly.

Decisions were made, and the Armory developer pretty much got his way. And things were quiet on this front for a while.

But as you can see and scan for yourself, Gadfly-now-Gadfly opened a file thread on the Armory April 30, 2019, well into the “history” surrounding this project. as things began to heat up again. In his inimitable way, Gadfly described a “defibrillator moment” at one meeting and because of another meeting even floated the need for a City ombudsman as trouble with the project approval process morphed into trouble with the construction process.

That’s where we are now on this project that keeps on giving — trouble with the construction process.

And this week’s Forum topic generated this letter below from some Armory neighbors as a suggested prompt for the candidates, especially the mayoral ones.

The new construction, whose design they were not happy with from the get-go and which secured an inordinate number of variances from the City, some of them now find disrupting the quality of their lives and threatening the very stability of their homes.

And they feel nobody seems to care.

Welcome to the place where the buck stops, candidates — these Armory neighbors invite your comments. However, you have already done your homework on this Forum #2 development topic. If you choose not to comment, at least you (especially new folk Hillary, Kiera, and Rachel) are aware of another example of the devilment of development awaiting your attention.


Dear candidates,

Since the city (including the city council members) authorized the redevelopment of the Armory site, giving green light to 11 variances, making a joke out of the Zoning Ordinances, with the clear opposition of the neighborhood who attended meeting after meeting and expressed their concerns to all the parties involved, we, the adjacent neighbors of this site, have been living under war-like conditions since the beginning of the construction.

view from neighborhood homes

Our physical and mental health are rapidly deteriorating due to the constant, noise, pollution, fumes, construction dust, and temblors inside our old houses, which are more than 100 years old. We cannot even open our windows nor sit on our porches. Since the pandemic, many of us are working at home, a task that has become extremely difficult when you have the noise and vibrations coming from all the pounding, excavation, and drilling.

We have expressed these concerns to multiple city council members as well as city workers, and they have answered that there is nothing they can do to protect us during these stressful times. We specifically asked them to do follow-up inspections of the surrounding homes, utility pipes, etc., during and after the construction is over. The answer we received was that the city “does not do that.”

— A lot of previous city members have washed their hands after they approved this project. What would be your response to issues like this?

— Do you think that it should be up to the neighbors to spend thousands of dollars to deal with the damage or to hold the developers accountable?

— Is it too much to ask that after placing such a burden on this community that the city takes some steps to protect the homes, mental and physical health of the surrounding neighbors? Shouldn’t this be a common practice anyway that when constructions of this size are approved especially in historic neighborhoods, that there is a follow-up with the homes around?

This project is supposed to last at least 18 months. We do not even have the weekends off since the construction takes place even during this time

Are we citizens of Bethlehem and taxpayers supposed to live under these inhumane conditions for the remainder of this time?

What are you planning to do to limit the power of developers and protect the mental, physical health, and the homes of the community who are unfortunate to live surrounded by sites like this?

Neighbors adjacent to the Armory

Gotta be a better way

Latest in a series of posts on the Armory

Gadfly counted 17 phone callers during public comment last night at City Council (and that’s counting George Roxandich, poor guy, who had to call in twice to get his piece spoken!) and, of course, mostly on the police/budget topic.

It will take Gadfly some time to organize some info for you on those police/budget callers, and, in the meantime, he didn’t want callers on other subjects to get lost.

Like the resident of Rauch St., adjacent to the Armory and the new construction thereon.

We know that there was considerable tension with Armory neighbors over approval of that construction.

And we know that the inception of construction has exacerbated that tension with some of the neighbors.

And we know that this sincere, polite, respectful Rauch St. neighbor (atop the hill on the west side of the Armory backyard) has called Council more than once seeking some relief.

Some neighbors are worried that the construction (click here for Gadfly to remind you again of the pounding at the foot of that hill with which construction began) is causing structural damage to their quite old homes.

This sincere, polite, respectful Rauch St. resident is “sad” that the City has “washed its hands” of the situation and left the neighbors to the “mercy” of the developer who is represented by the former mayor and succeeded in gaining 14 code variances on the way to approval.

You or I would be crazed.

She is told the City does not do geological surveys of man-made hills. Why? What is the difference between a natural hill and a man-made hill when potential danger is involved? If not a “geological” survey, some other kind of survey? Gadfly finds it hard to believe that in the history of construction in Bethlehem, there has not been some cause to survey the nature of a man-made hill for good reason (pun intended). What is the reason the City won’t survey/inspect the hill?

She is told the City does not inspect homes in the way the resident seeks. But why? As far as Gadfly knows, no reason was given for not doing such inspections. Is the reason a city policy? If so, someone has the power to suspend it. Is the reason cost? If so, then someone has the power to rearrange priorities to make it happen. What is the reason the City doesn’t do these inspections?

She is told she must file a right-to-know request to get a traffic study. That’s such a little thing. A bureaucratic step. But she could be told the reason why that traffic study has to be RTK’d. And is it possible there’s just a bureaucratic reason rather than a legal one? Filing a form is a barrier for some people. Is it always necessary?

Gadfly envisions a day when a beneficent public servant of a mayor with a flush budget appoints a City Ombudsman to shepherd citizen requests like this through the maze of the City bureaucracy, acting as an advocate.

It is a sham to call in to City Council in situations like this. There is nothing President Waldron can do but listen sympathetically.

The system wears people down.

Not good.

Gotta be a better way.

Keeping an eye on the Armory

Latest in a series of posts on the Armory

ref: Alarm at the Armory again
ref: “We are hoping that . . . our concerns will be taken seriously
ref: “I don’t want [my house] to fall down”

Gadfly stopped by the Armory today.

Things a’changing.

Work has progressed on the street. The 2nd Ave. median is gone. Traffic is now using just the west lane.

But some things haven’t changed.

Some neighbors have been looking for a commitment from the City to inspect their houses from the pounding that was going on.

Remember that.

There is some uncertainty about the composition of the hill on the west side of the site on which the houses sit that raises the question of present and future structural damage caused by construction.

Some neighbors are looking for a commitment from the city to inspect the houses for such damage periodically. Which seems reasonable.

From what Gadfly can determine, the city has punted that request to the developer.

The developer’s point man on this project is John Callahan, former several time mayor of Bethlehem.

The project under Mr. Callahan’s point-ship succeeded in gaining controversial variances in the double figures — maybe a record number — from the city and withstanding large and concerted neighbor concerns.

Mr. Callahan’s email address is still (his tenure in office ended in early January 2014), an intimidating immediate reminder of the power he once wielded and maybe in some sense can still access.

Gadfly would not bet on Mr. Callahan agreeing to the kind of commitment neighbors would like.

But we’ll see.

One neighbor who called in to the October 6 City Council meeting mentioned lawyer.

With hope that this will be continued . . .

“I don’t want [my house] to fall down”

Latest in a series of posts on the Armory

ref: Alarm at the Armory again
ref: “We are hoping that . . . our concerns will be taken seriously

As told you on Friday, construction began on the Armory Monday October 5 with severe pounding that alarmed the neighbors.

Three neighbors called in to the City Council meeting the very next night October 6 to report.

This Armory project has a long and contentious history. The neighbors were not against development of the site but against the kind of development and against what one neighbor called a “blank check” afforded the developers by the City in the form of over 10 variances.

Through it all, Gadfly was amazed at the (at least on the surface) equanimity of the neighbors in public discussions in which they were continually rebuffed. Under trying circumstances, they handled themselves like gentlefolk.

They continue to do so. That same equanimity was in evidence at Council last Tuesday night. How they do it, I don’t know.

Listen again to the pounding from the construction:

And the calm tone of one of the callers:

“I live in a house that is adjoining the construction . . . and it’s shaking because of the construction today . . . machines are pounding . . . I don’t know what you call them . . . they’re pounding a lot . . . making the houses tremble . . . I’m worried for the safety of my home . . . this land that my house is on . . . was a sand pit years ago . . . I don’t know how stable it is . . . and my house is very old . . . It was built around 1900 . . . I don’t want it to fall down . . . maybe there’s some instability here that needs to be determined by the folks that are doing the building . . . you don’t want to damage people’s homes  . . . you want to find out what’s going on . . . something’s happening . . . so I’m drawing it to your attention . . . of course you want to hear our voices . . . and not our lawyer’s voices . . . so I’m happy to share with you that there’s something wrong . . . Thank you very much . . . It’s a beautiful evening here.”

  The affected houses are on top of the hill in the background. The pounding has
been at the foot of the hill on the right.

The neighbors are asking for the City to regularly inspect the site, and the surrounding historic homes, which seems totally reasonable.

As of yesterday, they had heard from lower-level City staff but not the City bosses as they have requested.

“We are hoping that . . . our concerns will be taken seriously”

Latest in a series of posts on the Armory


You are probably familiar with the Redevelopment Project of the Armory on the West Side of Bethlehem.

Our neighborhood has been fighting for years to make sure that this massive redevelopment does not diminish our quality of life. Although we welcomed the redevelopment, we were hoping that the city would only allow a project that respected the historic character of our neighborhood and that contributed to the community. Although there were some offers from various developers, finally the city favored John Callahan’s and Peron’s plans.

The reality is that years ago when Callahan first introduced this project to our neighborhood, he was pitching it like a modest redevelopment with three-story buildings. Sadly, after many meetings, the city allowed the developers to have an absurd amount of 11 variances, disregarding every single concern of the neighbors who asked the city to reconsider this decision during several meetings.

Sadly, the construction started last Monday, and so far this is what has been happening. Many of our houses are extremely close to the redevelopment site. Since construction started, our walls, foundations, and windows have been shaking. [Listen here for the sound of the construction.]

As you probably already know, this would not be the first time that unchecked construction damaged local homes, which was the case a few years ago when work at Holy Family Manor (on Prospect Ave.) damaged surrounding historic homes. Most of our houses are more than 100 years old. We are deeply concerned about the immediate and long-term damage that this MASSIVE construction will have on our foundations, old pipes, walls, etc.

During past meetings with the city, Peron expressed that they would take measures to protect our homes. However, since day one, our homes have been shaking.

In addition, there is a cloud of dust in the area, which is a health concern, especially for people with respiratory conditions, which is a major problem during this COVID 19 pandemic. The developers have done nothing to mitigate this.

These two items, along with the constant noise and heavy traffic, are creating substantial stress for the near neighbors and rapidly deteriorating the quality of our lives.

Last week, an inspector from Code Enforcement came to visit our neighborhood and the construction site. It was disheartening to hear him say that, basically, there is not much we can do as homeowners, except to take pictures and document the situation. This will quickly become a very dreadful task, considering that this construction is projected to take from 12 to 18 months.

As neighbors of the city of Bethlehem, we would hope that the job of the city is to assure the well-being of its taxpayers. However, when you see that a developer is allowed to claim 11 variances when an average person has an extremely difficult time to just ask for one, when our quality of life has abruptly deteriorated so much in such a small amount of time—and it is just going to get worst from now on—we can’t help but wonder, who is benefiting from all of these decisions? What is certain about all of this is that absolutely no one is watching out for what is best for this community.

We are hoping that the city will protect our interests and that, indeed, our concerns will be taken seriously. After all, this is a massive burden that the city of Bethlehem has placed upon our neighborhood, and we will have to live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of our lives. However, based on the fact that through all of these years, they have placed the interest of developers above the safety and well-being of the citizens of Bethlehem, we have very little faith that it will happen.

Because of that, we are asking the city to send someone immediately to ensure that proper measures are taken to ensure the safety of the surrounding properties. In addition, we are asking the city to check, periodically, the foundations, surroundings, and pipes of the houses around the construction area through the next couple of years to make sure that no damage has been inflicted as a consequence of this construction now and in the future.

We are also asking the city to make sure that the developer respects every single detail of the plans that were approved and that no liberties are taken.

As simple homeowners, we have no real way to ensure that our homes will be safe without paying thousands of dollars. We are trying to draw some attention to this issue, hoping that the city and the developers will take our concerns into serious consideration.

The Gadfly, too, hopes that the City can do something to allay community concern. The very first words that Gadfly-before-he-was-Gadfly spoke at City Council were about this issue early in 2018, and the treatment of the community he witnessed over this issue planted the seeds of his Gadflyness. See “Armory” under Topics on the right-hand sidebar for posts relating to a meeting of the Planning Commission a year ago in which, in Gadfly’s opinion, concerns of the Armory neighbors were politely listened to but totally dismissed.

Alarm at the Armory again

Latest in a series of posts on the Armory

It’s been a year.

The Armory is back in the news (click on “Armory” under Topics on the sidebar to refresh your memories).

Last Monday saw the much debated construction begin at the Prospect and 2nd Ave. site.

With considerable worry in the West side community about noise and building damage from the pounding.

Give a listen.

Three neighbors called in to City Council last Tuesday night.

Planning Committee needs to take public-trust-building steps

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Gadfly earlier this week reported the desire to have last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory moved from 4PM to a later time to accommodate the work schedules of more residents who wanted to attend. That didn’t happen, though residents were afforded the opportunity to make appointments to view planning documents in City Hall. At the meeting, moreover, residents were thwarted by and complained about inability to see the plans proposed, which were displayed on easels in front of the Head Table and visible only to the Commission members. Resident spectators could not see what the developer was showing the Commission. Beginning January the PC will move its meeting time to 5PM, which, though not perfect, is a step in the right direction. But, as Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley points out in the audio clip from the meeting and this email below, there are additional steps needed to make PC meetings resident friendly. Jeff describes that the effect if not the intent of PC practice is to “exclude” the neighbors, of creating a feeling of “not encouraging public comment.”

November 15, 2019

To: Darlene Heller, Director of Planning; Tracy Samuelson, Assistant Director of Planning; Rob Melosky, Planning Commission Chair

Dear Darlene, Tracy and Rob (if I may),

I am writing a quick follow up to the Planning Commission meeting last night—not about the substance, but about the public-input issues I raised in my comments. (I was one of the members of the public who spoke about the Armory application.)

Let me first say that I was, and remain, very grateful for your kind help, Tracy, when you showed me through the plans and answered my questions. Rob, I want to commend you for running a humane and fair meeting, with real empathy for residents and their concerns. It was noticed, and appreciated.

If I left with a bad taste in my mouth, it was entirely about the process up to and including the meeting—and that’s why I’m writing. (I am cc’ing Ed Gallagher, who I know shares some of these concerns.)

The news about the shift to 6pm meetings is genuinely thrilling, and answers one of my concerns. The City and Planning Commission could make additional, small moves in the same spirit—to encourage public input.

The first would be to post all application materials, including the City’s reply letter, as one or more PDF downloads on the City’s website.

The second would be to project those plans/PDF on the existing projection system during meetings, so the public is not shut out (as happened last night).

Every document in any application—even the large architectural renderings—now exists as a digital document. It would be a trivial matter to collect them into one or more PDFs for (1) download prior to a meeting and (2) digital display during the meeting. If materials are now delivered in paper form, the City could require digital copies too.

(Just to be clear, the PDF download that *was* posted prior to the meeting was a tiny, and completely uninformative, subset of the application that the public is entitled to. That is not what I am referring to.)

In the meantime—while a system like this is being implemented—my strong recommendation is that members of the public be permitted to take photographs, and or make copies (at a reasonable fee), of these public documents. I honestly wonder whether that restriction is even legal.

These seem, from the outside, like legitimacy- and public-trust-building steps that are nearly cost-fee. There’s certainly no justification, in 2019, for not sharing digital copies, nor for relying exclusively on unidirectional easels that, in effect, exclude the public.

I would love to work with you, and help in any way (including technical advice, given my day job 🙂 ), to make these small changes happen. I was pretty frustrated, and want to channel that feeling into helping to make a change—one that seems utterly feasible.

Thanks for reading.
Needless to say, Jeff’s points apply to other City agencies as well using Town Hall. We need to keep pushing for the means for effective public participation in all areas of City government.

The cost to the quality of life from development could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.


I have to chuckle at the “we’re communicating” comment. Communication suggests two way listening and achieving some sort of consensus and compromise as a result. That has certainly not been the case here and in a number of other areas of Bethlehem. It’s a lot easier for some to cry NIMBY, but the usual fact of the matter is that residents in established areas are open to development, but they want it to be compatible with the established environment, which it usually isn’t. I think it’s fantastic that people want to invest in Bethlehem, but it comes at a cost to the quality of life, which I believe could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration between those already here and those who are coming. Establishing that kind of landscape in any community takes leadership. I’ll leave my observation at that.


Gadfly imagines a defibrillator moment at the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory

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Armory 1

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

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.

Armistice on the Armory

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The neighbors might not be totally happy — and for sure a “still deeply demoralized” Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley fired a last shot, looking back at 2017 and 2018 when the Zoning Hearing Board approved variances seemingly “over the objections of the entire neighborhood” and making “a mockery of the zoning code” — but peace apparently has come to the dispute over development of the Armory.

Jeff Pooley:

Last Thursday the Planning Commission approved plans from Peron for the development of the Armory site on the West Side, ending about three years of discussion, some of which was quite tension-filled.

Former Mayor John Callahan, Director of Development for Peron, summarized the project, emphasizing that the plan is going forward under historical guidelines and has been presented to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission — which was music to Gadfly’s ears.

John Callahan:

At the meeting approximately a half-dozen residents asked questions, offered statements, and made constructive comments on such topics as parking, traffic, traffic visibility, bike parking, green space, appropriate trees, view blocking, environmental pollution, and walkability.

Concluding comments by the Commission members framed the project and the resident participation in positive terms, and Gadfly would especially call your attention to the comments by Mr. Malozi in the following clip, in which he finds “quite a lot of net positive for this type of project” (“urban infill,” “adaptive reuse of a historic structure,” “walkability,” desirable “density,” sufficient parking, safety, LANTA enhancements, traffic calming, possible boon to the downtown and feet on the street).

Planning Commission concluding statements:

It just might be that Thursday marked the last meeting on a long and sometimes bumpy road.

But Gadfly says look for at least one more post as he reflects on this meeting and the planning process related to the Armory and development in Bethlehem in general.

Nicole Radzievich, “Redevelopment of Historic Bethlehem armory approved 3 years after it was proposed.” Morning Call, November 14, 2019.

The historic Floyd Simons armory in west Bethlehem would be recast as an artist’s studio and living space surrounded by 70 apartments, under plans the Planning Commission approved Thursday.The 10,000-square-foot drill hall would include a studio and apartment for painter and sculptor Emil Lukas and his wife, who now live in Stockertown.

In addition, the basement of the armory, which once housed a rifle range, would be converted to a fitness center, meeting rooms and other amenities, according to owners Peron Development.

The project would also include 70 apartments built in and around other armory structures at 345 Second Ave. That would include 64 units in four-story building attached to the former armory, and six apartments converted from two garage additions at the existing armory.

A portion of the area of Second Avenue that widens would be narrowed and a landscaped median installed to slow down traffic. There would be 101 parking spots available, and grassy patches would replace some stretches of macadam, producing a smaller impervious-surface footprint than what is there now.

In justifying his support for the land development and subdivision approval, Planning Commission member Matthew Malozi said the project contains a lot of the themes the city has been pushing: historic redevelopment, walkability, and the density of housing near the downtown.

Jeff Pooley, who lives on Prospect Avenue near the armory, questioned, among other things, why the off-street parking is close to the street like a suburban strip mall. Modern urban design, he said call for buildings to be closer to the street and parking behind.

According to the Historic Register nominating form, the art deco-style building is a good example of the structures designed for military training before World War II, and the architectural details would be retained in its reuse.

Down Memory Lane on the Armory controversy

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Looks like the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory goes on at 4pm today, though neighboring residents have indicated trouble attending because of the time when many people work.

The City provided the opportunity for people to come to City Hall this week to discuss the plans to be presented, but Gadfly is not sure that happened.

Supporting documents are now online; they weren’t the last time Gadfly looked.

In any event, not all interested parties can attend the PC meeting to make their views heard, and Gadfly knows that sometimes “numbers” can have effect on decisions.

Gadfly calls your attention to City Council minutes of February 6 and March 20, 2018, when there was significant public comment and Council discussion on the Armory. Gadfly was not Gadfly at the time, but he did participate in the issue as a “detached observer,” and that unpleasant experience was part of the reason he eventually started the Gadfly project.

To refresh ourselves on the controversy surrounding the Armory, Gadfly prints here — with permission — part of a comprehensive email to Council by Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley dated February 7, 2018:

* The Commonwealth offers a prime asset to the RDA, a public entity, for a **far below-market** amount (around $270,000).
* The RDA, using a legitimate process (though some applicants may have been scared away), awards a **far-below market** RFP purchase option to Peron, at $322,000 (according to the figures I have seen).
* In both cases, the reason for foregoing a straight market-rate transaction is the Commonwealth/City/RDA’s interest in preserving the historic Armory and in encouraging an adaptive reuse of the building and site that would benefit the City.
* The neighborhood group (MANA), and literally every single resident I have encountered (and I’m sure there are exceptions), both support the redevelopment AND have legitimate questions about the Peron proposal.
* Literally every resident (in my experience, and across over 30 West Side residents’ testimony at the ZHB meetings that I believe you have seen), has argued that the new construction is too large AND that Peron’s lack of plans for the Armory is troubling for a range of reasons. There are a number of other concerns that have been repeatedly expressed, in good faith, about neighborhood parking, and about the anti-urban strip-mall style design.
* But everyone that I have ever spoken with *also* supports redeveloping the site and preserving the Armory. I have literally never heard a single, NIMBY-style dissent to redeveloping the site.
* We worked responsibly to engage the developer, Peron, through their representative, former mayor John Callahan. He met with the whole neighborhood (via MANA) once, and met with those (like my wife and I) adjacent to the property a second time—though not the neighborhood group MANA (which I think was a mistake). To Peron’s credit, they did replace an egregious and unworkable 22-space, cantilevered parking plan for Rauch Street with a 14-space lot off Rauch that was once used by the Armory.
* But Callahan and Peron would not compromise on the plainly out-of-scale new construction, nor on the strip-mall design.
* So we put our faith in the public bodies that enforce planning principles and the zoning code. We were especially confident because the project is not a regular private development. It was hallowed state-owned property provided to a city-affiliated nonprofit to transfer to a private developer at a *far below market rate* in exchange for protecting and advancing the public’s interest in preserving the Armory and enhancing our thriving neighborhood. This was no ordinary development, we thought.
* So we were stunned, first, when the Planning Commission swept away, with literally not a single word’s comment, the public’s concerns.
* The Zoning Hearing Board, speaking for myself, was by far the most deflating and demoralizing experience I’ve had since moving to Bethlehem from a corruption-plagued Allentown five years ago. Peron’s legal arguments for the crucial parking special exception were an audacious act of legal chutzpah that literally stunned me.
* The main claim was that the developer deserved 24-space special-exception relief due to “adaptive reuse” of the Armory—even though the zoning code exception language plainly and unambiguously refers to reuse of a “principal building.” The argument that a pair of attached garages—one from the late 1960s—constitute the “principal building” didn’t (and does not) pass the laugh test. It was ironic that Peron entered into evidence a flyover portraying their winning RFP design that showed the two garages utterly demolished for new construction. They, like literally everyone, consider the Drill Hall the “principal building”
* The backup claim was that the 24-space exception was owed because of a topography hardship. If anything, this argument was even more absurd, since the *only reason* they “needed” relief from the parking code was because they had proposed a 70-unit building. You can’t claim a hardship that you literally created yourself. Peron’s “hardship” would, of course, vanish if it merely reduced the number of units.
* You can image how stunning it was to watch the flimsiest of legal arguments upheld unanimously by the Zoning Hearing Board without a single word of explanation.
* We all had watched the same Board lecture a resident, right before the Armory case, over needing a “hardship” for a variance—in that case, 7 feet or so for his shed next to his property line beyond what the code allowed. The Board unanimously denied that request, before taking up the 11 Peron variances.
* To watch Darlene Heller, who I otherwise respect a lot, shamelessly use the last public-comment period to aggressively shoot down neighbors’ concerns and back up the developer—that was utterly deflating. Here you had the city’s planning director pitching for a developer to violate 11 variances/special exceptions and make a mockery of the zoning code. It was lost on no one that a major and disastrous precedent was established, leaving the zoning code open to follow-on exception requests.
* Over 9 hours of hearing, there was not a single resident who supported the proposal in its bloated, illegal form. Not one from over 30 who spoke.
* For me and my neighbors it was the plainest evidence that, for the Zoning Hearing Board at least, there are two Bethlehems. There’s one for ordinary residents, who get lectured about small variance requests that are unanimously denied. And then there’s a second Bethlehem for a developer with a well-connected former mayor. If you’re Peron and John Callahan, you get 11 variances on laughably dubious legal grounds approved unanimously.

Everyone knows the Armory is a “hot” issue in that Westside neighborhood.

Other Commissions have agreed to move their meeting times to accommodate residents on hot issues.

Why not the Planning Commission?

birds chirping . . .

Changing the meeting time for Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory: another try

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from Darlene Heller, Director of Planning, Monday, 8:43AM:


The prior meeting was scheduled at 6 to help us get a quorum for those meetings.  The advertised time for the meetings in 2019 is 4:00 PM.  We readvertised the 6:00 meetings so that we could get a quorum of members.  The December meeting is also scheduled to be held at 4:00 PM at this point.

In 2020 we are scheduled to hold the meetings at 5:00 PM.

Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss.


to Darlene Heller, Monday,  10:30am:

Hi again Darlene:

The Mayor’s memo to Adam dated Aug 29 titled “Board Meetings” and copied to everybody in the system indicates that the Bethlehem Authority, the Bethlehem Parking Authority, and BRIA all indicated that they would push back meeting times if the issue was “hot” or if the Mayor requested.


I think the issue is hot.

How about asking the Mayor?

The  logic of changing a meeting to achieve a Commission quorum extends to enabling a “quorum” of affected parties.

Whatta y’say?


City officials: could/should the Thursday Planning Commission meeting on the Armory be moved to 6PM?

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sent Sunday, November 10, 4:54PM:

To: Bob, Darlene, Alicia, Rob, Matt, Lou, Adam, Bryan, Michael, Grace, Olga, Willie, Paige:

The Armory is again on the agenda for the Planning Commission this Thursday at 4PM.

This is a “hot” topic. Neighbors want to attend. 4PM is inconvenient for many.

Agendas show the Aug and Sept PC meetings were at 6. Why now at 4?

The PC did agree to start meeting at 5 come the new year, which is a step in the right direction for resident participation.

Could/should the Thursday PC meeting be moved to 6?

I think the answer is yes.

Your consideration much appreciated.


Planning Commission meeting on the Armory development inconvenient for many neighbors

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

The controversy over development of the Armory on 2nd Avenue occurred before Gadfly was Gadfly, but he attended and spoke once or twice at meetings on the issue. In fact, what he thought was a “raw deal” for the articulate and substantial number of neighbors was part of the root motivation for starting the Gadfly project.

Planning Commission meeting, 4PM, Thursday, November 14, Town Hall

a. (19-OO5LD&S) — Bethlehem Armory Land Development & Subdivision Plan and Landscape Waiver Request — 345 2nd Avenue – Ward 10, Zoned RT, Plan dated July 30, 2019 and last revised October 15, 2019. The applicant proposes the consolidation of lots and vacated streets for the redevelopment of the former Armory building. The project is construction of a 4 story multifamily building with 64 units attached to the former Armory Complex. The 2 garage additions of the existing Armory will be converted into 6 apartment units for a total of 70 units. The Armory drill hail space will contain a live/work unit for an artist. The 2.57 acre site will also contain 101 parking spaces.

As he writes, Gadfly does not see supporting documents for this agenda item posted on the City web site.

Unfortunately, the 4PM meeting time is inconvenient for many Armory neighbors. At the urging of people like Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron, a few months ago the Mayor requested afternoon-meeting Authorities, Boards, and Commissions to consider moving to later times for citizen convenience, and the PC did agree to move to 5PM starting in the new year.

But that will not help now.

Gadfly has written to the Mayor, the responsible City administrators, the Planning Commission chair and members, and City Council urging a Thursday time change.

Followers — even if you are not Westsiders — are urged to do the same. Find contact info on the Gadfly sidebar.

For a reminder of the details of this controversial development (another one!), see the following good email from Mary Toulouse, Mount Airy Neighborhood Association president.

Dear all,

The Armory land use plan is the subject of the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday 11/14, at 4pm in the Rotunda. You will recall that as part of the Armory debacle (when 14 variances were granted the developer) the City will vacate half of 2nd Avenue between Spring and Prospect and hand it over for free to the developers for  parking.

Second Avenue is an important gateway to the West Side neighborhood, and the changes will have a direct impact on most neighbors. This entrance is already a tricky spot; if changes are to be made, it is important that we speak up and make sure that they benefit the neighborhood, both in terms of safe traffic patterns, but also in terms of beautification landscaping.

As I recall, some concerns about the preliminary proposal of the developers as vetted at the Zoning meetings included:

  • Diagonal parking at the base of the street will have cars dangerously backing into cars turning right onto 2nd Avenue from Spring. These diagonal spaces were needed to meet the requirements for the number of projected apartments in the design plan for the new building. Couldn’t this be changed so that the street is safe for everyone?
  • Is the space adequate for buses and cars to make the left turn from 2nd onto Prospect Ave?
  • Will the landscaping enhance the area or will it be minimal and turn the street into a Stefko Blvd with strip mall style parking?
  • What safety measures will be in place for cyclists or pedestrians going past the swath of cars in the parking lot?
  • What impact will the proposed landscaping have on the Armory itself, which is a national historic monument?
  • Where will the neighbors park?

Hopefully, some of these questions have been responsibly addressed by the City. But, unfortunately, the planning meeting is at 4PM  on Thursday—a time when most working neighbors cannot attend. Please attend if you can.

Kind regards,

Mary Toulouse

Neighborhoods are worth fighting for!

Bethlehem Zoning Board welcomes artist to the Armory

“Emil Lukas has the alchemical gift of transforming common materials
into objects that display a keen sense of the sublime.”

“We welcome you. Living in Bethlehem is a real wise choice. It’s a great city.” So saying, Zoning Board Chairman William Fitzpatrick concluded last Wednesday’s meeting approving Stockertown artist Emil Lukas’s proposal to turn the 2nd Ave. Armory drill hall into a live/work space.

Charles Malinchak, “In Bethlehem, artistry overtakes armory.” Morning Call, April 24, 2019. Slightly different and fuller version in the Friday print edition.

  • It will be home and studio
  • “While the drill hall is about 10,000 square feet, Lukas told the board the studio would be about 2,000 square feet and the living area, for him and his wife, would be an estimated 1,000 square feet.”
  • “The remaining 7,000 square feet would be minimally heated and cooled to maintain the integrity of the interior building materials, but for the most part
    Morning Call photo

    would go unused except if large materials for the artwork needs to be spread out, Lukas said.”

  • “Lukas said he is a visual artist working with painting and sculpture, ceramics and wood blocks, but none of the materials he would use in the studio are solvent-based, eliminating concerns about strong odors.”
  • “He said there would be no regular visitors coming to the studio or sales since his work is handled through galleries in New York City, San Francisco and Italy.”
  • “Lukas said he has no plans to vacate the space and that moving to a residential neighborhood is something he and his wife have wanted.”
  • “[The developer] said the interior renovation for the studio along with other development on the property should begin in late fall or early winter. The other developments include 64 apartments and six more units built in other armory structures.”
  • “[The developer said] The other developments include 64 apartments and six more units built in other armory structures” (print edition)

Lukas testified at the meeting, and Gadfly followers can learn more about him and his work in the following video and audio clip (6 mins.):

  • “visual artist mainly making paintings and sculpture”
  • “limit to the plan is to the inside of the building, I have no responsibility for the outside”
  • “return it to Spillman and Farmer’s originally 1930’s design”
  • “work with paper, canvas, wood, water-based paints, thread”
  • “I don’t use any paints that use fumes”
  • “I don’t use anything with odor or solvents”
  • “I have galleries that represent my work”
  • “It’s a private workshop”
  • “I have been in the Lehigh Valley for twenty-five years”
  • “I’m the only artist that works there”
  • “We have three children, but they are adults” (and not living there)
Amber Galdamez photo

For more about Lukas and his art:

his web site

images of his art at Durham Press and Artnet

“Optic Wall,” showcased at SteelStacks




Gadfly takes this opportunity to open a thread on the Armory. The Armory was “hot” at the time when Gadfly first began to haunt City meetings — long before he was Gadfly. There were significant issues between residents and the developer. At this April 24 meeting two residents raised issues, to which Gadfly will return. But first enjoy some familiarity with Lukas and his work, both of which seem well worth welcome to our town.