You gotta listen!

The spectator value of last night’s City Council meeting from Gadfly’s roost in the cheap seats was totally front-loaded in the public comment space.

Yep, Council members did their business — necessary business — good business — especially involving $money$ (and big money, ’twas!) and approving resident members of City committees (have you volunteered lately?) and approving resolutions (especially of interest to Gadfly followers, resolutions of feasibility studies for the Rose Garden and a pedestrian bridge).

But you gotta listen to the quintet of resident speakers. It will only take you 15 minutes.

Barbara Diamond (min. 2:45) delivering Bethlehem Moment 8 on “Operation Book Move,” the community effort in 1967 to move all the books from the old library at New and Market to the current location in one day, and introducing 91-year-old Ed Beighe and his wife Eleanor — Ed was project chairman for the move.

Beth Behrend (min. 5:50) promoting a plan from the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council to ban single-use plastic bags, with follow-up by Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics (min. 12:33).

Bill Scheirer, Gadfly #2 (min. 8:55) presenting a wise disquisition on two major past problematic episodes before Council — 2 W. Market and the proposals from the Bethlehem Parking Authority — episodes well covered on Gadfly — spurring us to clear thinking, which requires weighing all relevant information.

Doug Roysdon (min. 13:04) supporting the resolution on the table (which passed) to seek funding for a feasibility study for a pedestrian bridge — which he did in a strikingly exciting way.

Gadfly will come back to talk about some of these presentations individually later, but he encourages you to listen now to sense how interesting these City Council meetings can be and how valuable public participation is.

And to be turning out or tuning in the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

You can catch the meetings live. Or at your leisure. You can even binge-watch. Just like Netflix.

Great opportunity.

Watch City Council Live (if you don’t have the hard-to-get tickets to be there in person) tonight at 7pm!

City Council meets the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 7pm in the Town Hall rotunda. That means tonight. These meetings are now live-streamed on the Council webpage and on YouTube.

On the surface, the agenda doesn’t look too “exciting.” But a good many Gadfly followers will be interested that approval of resolutions to seek feasibility studies for the Rose Garden and a pedestrian bridge are on the agenda.

But you never know what might happen. In any event, Gadfly followers know that he is enamored of our resident voices during public comment. And he likes to record and distribute them. Democracy in action.

As example, he captured these comments at the recent Planning Commission meeting: citizens Murdock Saunders, Anne Evans (min. 3:08), and a woman whose name he couldn’t catch (8:18) cautioning the PC about a proposal for student housing in their neighborhood.

Listen to the clear, courteous, firm, fair, reasoned voices. Speaking up. Exercising their right. Your fellow citizens in action. Makes you proud. Makes you tingle.

But, though the agenda looks docile, anything could happen tonight. Impossible to anticipate.

But what if we could anticipate some things of interest?

Gadfly followers know that he has been making “modest proposals” about the various City authorities and boards making periodic presentations about what’s going on in their worlds that affect us — presentations that we could advertise so that you could tune in.

So that, for instance, you would know, say, that you could hear from the Parking Authority tonight about what’s going on in their hands and heads?

If you like that “modest proposal,” write your Congressperson . . . er, Councilperson. Email addresses on the Gadfly sidebar.

So, if you aren’t coming in person tonight, at 7pm go to the City web site >>> Quick links (bottom left) >>> City Council Meeting Agendas and Documents >>> “View Live Stream City Council Meeting” at the top of the page.

On that same page you can find the agenda for the meeting, any pertinent documents for the meeting – and, for later reference, the print version of the minutes plus audio and video recordings of the meeting.

You can also go to YouTube at <City of Bethlehem Council> for live-stream and archiving.

But being there is always best! Gadfly will save a seat for ya.

Need for a more robust discussion on the state of the City

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

In one of his “modest proposal” posts a few posts back, Gadfly whined as gadflies tend to do (sigh) about the venue for the Mayor’s “State of the City” address, the audience for it, and the dissemination of it.

The content of the Mayor’s address is very positive, very upbeat, as such addresses are wont to be, but, I think, legitimately so. And Gadfly has admitted to wishing that the Mayor seek the spotlight a bit more and foster a widespread positive feeling about the good news among “the people.”

But the dissemination of the address seems better this year than last. Virtually immediately, there was an “announcement” on the top page of the City web site with a link to the audio of the address accompanying the Mayor’s slides. And there is a link to the printed text of the address at the top of the quick links on that page as well.

And the Call article that day is a prominent size: “Bethlehem mayor showcases city’s untold development story.” (The headline of the Call print version is “Bethlehem mayor stressed development; Donchez highlights investment numbers in State of the City address.”)

But that’s still not enough.

Gadfly’s whine is basically centered on the venue and the audience: As the Call says, “Donchez delivered the remarks Thursday to 250 business people at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks.”

I say again. That just seems wrong to me. Symbolically. Probably not politically.

You aim your speech at your audience.

And, though the Mayor’s address contains much more, the Call headlines saw the address primarily through the lens of that venue and audience, focusing on the Mayor showcasing, stressing, highlighting development – even to the drama of revealing to readers an “untold story” of development.

And astronomical numbers dominate the content of the news story: one imagines an audience of slick-haired Gordon Gekko’s salivating at the Mayor’s financially erotic language: 190 million, 295 million, 54 million, 370 million, 22 million, 15 million . . . 1 billion! 1.3 billion! Even Gadfly swooned.

And, though there is more in the Mayor’s words, the Call reports that post-address questions centered, as one might expect in that venue and with that audience, only on “two big projects,” Martin Tower and the Sands.

Gadfly sees the “State of the City” address as an exciting moment for robust wide-ranging discussion from a broad set of perspectives.

We didn’t have that.

So Gadfly’s been thinking about a “modest proposal” of his own for next year.

Assembling, say, four people to complement the Mayor’s address with posts on Gadfly.

Complement not compete with, criticize, answer, or attack like what happens with our national “State of the Union” address.

Complementary views.

Aimed at fostering a sense of community.

The state of the City seen from a variety of angles, through a variety of lenses, using different metrics. Equally valid.

Gadfly hasn’t been around long enough to know. Who are the wise heads representing a range of perspectives that he might invite next year to fill this delicate and valuable role?

Give him your suggestions–

Attack on councilperson damages credibility (13)

(13th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

Several points of debate have been raised recently that speak to the walkability issue in Bethlehem. Unfortunately when they are used to denigrate the opinion of a current city council person, they lose much of their credibility.

The points raised by Professor Thode may, in certain cases, be valid. However, Bethlehem is a unique community, and his advocacy of high rise development in our two urban cores is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to justify the fact that our leaders have allowed or, in certain cases, been forced into allowing developers to build what they want, where they want, with little or no accountability for our existing zoning and planning regulations.

Why do we have historic districts, conservation overlays and other zoning and planning regulations if we continue to ignore them? By the way, what defines our urban cores? Where do they begin or end? Is Stefko Boulevard in the urban core? Is the Lehigh campus part of the urban core? Experts usually avoid ambiguous terminology because it can skew perceptions.

Walkability is more than having access to supermarkets and medical facilities. It is true that the North side urban core has low density population. I view that as a positive attribute. Other communities that have allowed the subdivision of grand old homes and buildings into a myriad of apartments have seen the disastrous results of those actions.

Allentown, our neighbor to the west, has seen numerous high rise developments built in the last few years. Ironically, this increased density and alleged criterion for walkability according to Dr. Thode has resulted in not a single supermarket being located inside the urban core. Indeed, the Giant supermarket and Wegmans are 4 and 5 miles away from center square respectively.

I guess in that category we, as residents, have to make a judgment. Do we want crowded residential development to justify a supermarket on the north side, or are we willing to drive to one outside of the urban core and preserve the architectural beauty of our historic district?

Demographically urban core supermarkets market to the residents that surround their site. The C Town market on the Southside is the perfect example. Its product mix and pricing reflects the neighborhood it serves. I believe this debunks the low population density argument for the southside.

By attacking a current council person for advocating for sound urban planning, Dr. Thode has completely revealed his bias. Currently developers in Bethlehem have been allowed to build what they want, where they want with no thought to the existing zoning and planning regulations. Could Dr. Thode have an ulterior motive for attacking a candidate using the cover of academic expertise? Food for thought.

Steve

“you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development” (12)

(12th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Paige Van Wirt is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman, physician, and small business owner.

Dr. Thode,

Since we have never met, it stands to reason that you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development. I don’t know where you got incorrect facts.

“Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

Stephen Thode”

I am not on the record opposing high rise development of any kind in urban cores of Bethlehem.  Please, show me where I said that? I voted FOR the Benner/Parks project on West Broad Street, which went against HARB recommendations, precisely because I do believe we need increased amounts of downtown residential development. My remarks at the time of the vote reflect this belief.  I am for the use of the Boyd for market rate housing.  I voted FOR the vacation of 2nd avenue for the Armory project. I have never once said I oppose high rise development in Bethlehem.  I have been on council for one year and my voting record is crystal clear for all to see. Please, be sure of your facts before having them published, in a blog or otherwise.

I am a physician for nursing home patients.  I take care of patients at over 25 different nursing homes and ALFs in the Valley. You can bet that if they were in one walkable radius, I would be walking there. How inconvenient for my personal transportation beliefs that they are spread from Sellersville to Hometown.

I shop for groceries at the Wegmans. I would be more than happy to shop at a local food market, such as C Town, if there was one in North Bethlehem.  But there is not, which is why my husband and I joined the Bethlehem Food Co-op, to help establish a market in a food desert.

I live in the heart of downtown Bethlehem, a choice my husband and I made so we could walk to as many activities as possible. The fact that you cast aspersions on how I live my life without even knowing me gives me great pause. I do not understand why you took your feelings on Bethlehem’s walkability to Bernie, without even bothering to have a conversation with me about this.  You are substantively and factually incorrect in your assertions.

Dr. Thode, I am deeply surprised that an educator such as yourself would not do the research before making assertions.   The sad thing is, we share the same beliefs about what would make Bethlehem better in terms of walkability.  If you ever would like to sit down with me and hear my own beliefs and then come to a conclusion on their validity, I would be more than happy to make the time.

Paige Van Wirt

The developer needs to be treated the same as the homeowner (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

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.

Gadfly:

So, I guess Mr. Thode (for whom I have a great deal of respect) believes in unequal application of the law as well? Because, what both Bethlehem Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron have been battling is exactly that issue. Neither one is anti-development, but those who are attacking them are trying their best to portray them in that fashion.

Both zoning and historic district ordinances have requirements. In historic districts you are supposed to build to the scale and mass of the resources that qualified those areas to become National Register Historic Districts in the first place. In zoning certain uses are permitted in certain areas. These laws are not being applied equally in this City, and both Negron and Van Wirt see that, and many residents do as well.

Mr. Thode makes absolute sense with his assessment. And, for example, there was no public argument against the development directly across from the Fowler Center on East Third Street, because it was not subject to Historic Conservation Commission review and subject to the local Historic District ordinance. Both the 6 story office building and public parking garage on South New Street were. 510 Flats is a fantastic development that “fits” where it’s built.

And then to compound matters, everyone involved with the South New Street office development, including the City administration and five Members of Council, conveniently buried their heads in the sand when an unauthorized expansion of the 6th floor restaurant was undertaken without the proper review. The citizen commission recognized the faux pas and refused to endorse it because it contradicted the highly negotiated compromise of the original Certificate of Appropriateness!

So, the difficult part of Mr. Thode’s observation for Bethlehem is that both central business districts are also in whole or in part located in National Register Historic Districts. Studies have shown that a sense of place, including preservation of historic buildings and areas, is critical to these areas being successful. In these cases you can’t have it both ways, and that is exactly the position both Councilwomen have taken. You can build higher around them but shouldn’t within them. It’s that simple.

As far as Councilwoman Van Wirt’s use of her vehicle to do her job vs. her endorsement of walkability, these are totally different issues that can coexist. When your employment requires you to work at various locations throughout the Lehigh Valley, it’s plain and simple, you drive. Schedules, services, accessibility and appointments do not make walking conducive from say downtown Bethlehem to the Gracedale County Home, and public transportation options are limited. So, you drive your auto from one to the next point of service because you have to meet the obligations of your employment.

However, what you also do is walk from your residence to City Hall, restaurants on Main Street, visits with friends, parks, etc.

The bottom line is that both Van Wirt and Negron are not anti-highrise, density, or development. They want compliance with City ordinances and City Hall’s complicity with developers stopped. They want the developer to be treated the same as the homeowner who needs a permit to add a porch, or build a garage, or a historic district property owner who wants to paint their home. All they have been advocating for is equal treatment under the law. Nothing more, nothing less!

Dana

Really good police work!

Lynn Rothman, a twenty-year resident of Bethlehem and Chair of the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council, took this photo at a local gas station.

BPAIR

I continue to be impressed with our City and the actions of our police department.

As stated in the Mayor’s State of the City Address: “Our Police and Health Departments responded to the increase in overdoses by creating the BPAIR program, in which a drug addicted person, can call or show up to the police department, and request assistance in finding treatment, with no criminal consequences.”

Not only did they institute the program, but they are getting the word out!

Lynn