Bethlehem Moment 4: Zoning comes to town

Bethlehem Moment 4
City Council
January 2, 2019

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: February 24, 1926

On February 24, 1926, the Bethlehem version of the open-range Wild West ended. The new sheriff in town, two years in the studying, was Bethlehem’s first zoning ordinance, whose purpose, in the exact same words of our zoning ordinance today, was to “preserve the health, safety, and general welfare of the community.” If the zoning ordinance was Wyatt Earp, the Real Estate Board was the villainous Clanton family. The ordinance was ready to go in November 1925, but the Real Estate Board succeeded in getting it delayed till the next Council took office. If this ordinance becomes law, Bethlehem’s industrial growth is at an end, they said. Commercial interests constitute the life blood of the city, they said. Taxes will rise, they said. “You can sewer us up, but don’t zone us,” they said. The ordinance is so lengthy, complicated, and obscure, it’s utterly impossible for even the most intelligent man to digest, they said. The Real Estate Board generated a large crowd that turned an informational meeting heated. They claimed that 98% of businessmen on the West Side were opposed to zoning. On February 15, the day of the first reading, a petition to abandon the ordinance signed by 114 residents was delivered to City Council. On February 24, the day of the second reading, the Real Estate Board presented a 10-point manifesto climaxing in the claim that the Zoning Board of Appeals was open to favoritism and discrimination. But the ordinance prevailed. As one wise head remarked at the time, “more property values are destroyed for lack of zoning than by fire.”

 

“City Engineer Tells Real Estate Board of Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, December 15, 1925,

“Voices Opposition to Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, December 29, 2015.

“Real Estate Board Wants Zoning Plan Further Considered,” Morning Call, January 4, 1926.

“Zoning Ordinance under Discussion, Morning Call, January 13, 1926.

“’Special Interest’ Talk Heard at Zoning Ordinance Hearing,” Morning Call, January 23, 1926.

“Several Banks Join Real Estate Board,’ Morning Call, February 2, 1926.

“Zone Bill Passes the First Reading,” Morning Call, February 16, 1926.

“Zone Bill Passes Second and Final Reading in Council,” Morning Call, February 25, 1926.

“Council Faces Problem in Zone Bill Appeal Board,” Morning Call, March 1,1926.

“Realtors Discuss Multiple Listings, also Fire Final Gun at Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, March 2, 1926.

“Permits Refused under Zone Ordinance,” Morning Call, February 7, 1927.

More love at the library

(5th in a series of posts on Northside 2027)

Jacqueline Palochko, “Ornaments made from books to help Bethlehem students.” Morning Call, November 21, 2018.

“Old, tattered books usually end up discarded at the Bethlehem Area Public Library. It’s not that the library wants to toss books away, but sometimes it’s saddled with the same aged cookbook or numerous copies of a bestseller from a decade age. But staff and volunteers are putting those books to use by turning pages of used books into tree ornaments.Proceeds from the sale of the ornaments will go toward helping to pay off lunch debt and overdue library fees of Bethlehem area children.”

“It’s recycling old books and giving them purpose again as ornaments on a tree.”

“Last year, the state passed a new law that bans schools from stigmatizing children for having debt. Under the law, schools must give every child a meal, regardless of how much is owed on a child’s account. Districts have reported an increase in their debts since the law went into effect. Bethlehem Area saw a 50 percent jump in its debt — the biggest among area districts. In August, the district reported its debt at $154,590. The library understands the debt the district is facing. After library patrons hit a $10 overdue fee, they can no longer check out books. Many times, it’s children who have accumulated debt on their library cards. Library fees add up, too. Children from Thomas Jefferson Elementary in North Bethlehem alone have racked up $1,500 in overdue fees, Berk said. Berk speculates that many families who are struggling to pay their children’s meals are also finding it difficult to pay off library fees.”

Gadfly filed this November story because of its reference to CM Reynolds’s “beloved” Thomas Jefferson School (along with William Penn). It’s one dramatic example of the need for a Northside 2027 plan.

Gadfly kind of forgot about the story till faithful follower “ssider” sent an email reminder that “School lunch is sometimes the only meal children may have, when they live near, at, or below the poverty line” and reminding me of the library fund-raiser.

Bethlehem Area Public Library  **********  Kindness is Magic

007Gadfly hustled down to the library and bought several ornaments in fact. As shown here, one is tentatively nestled at the top of a small tree ‘neath a picture of Gadfly and his six “boys.”

Gadfly won’t say that they were all readers as kids. But they were always surrounded by books. And the eldest has recently confided that he used to sneak out of bed at night and grab one (probably above his maturity classification!) for midnight reading. Now it makes sense that he had one eye as well as one arm of his glasses going east and one north as I rousted him out of bed. Six boys, one shower. They were supposed to go chronologically, oldest first. He could never make it first. Now I have a better idea why.

Lunches and books — kids need ’em.

Bethlehem Moment 3: An Aroused City Beats City Hall

Bethlehem Moment 3
City Council
Dec. 4, 2018

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: November 4, 1958

They say “Ya can’t beat City Hall.” On November 4, 1958, an “aroused city” of Bethlehem did just that. Forty years after the city’s birth, the Bethlehem Junior Chamber of Commerce mounted a campaign to establish a Charter Commission to study and possibly change our form of local government. Our entrenched Democratic City Council at that time, realizing their power was at stake, vigorously fought this challenge to their existence, smelling the hidden hand of an “ivory towered” newspaper editor; raising the spectre of dictatorship; arguing widespread satisfaction with the status quo; meddling by the Jaycees, who may not even be taxpayers; and voting by Commission members who “might not know the difference between forms of government and a groundhog hole.” That editor, the legendary John Strohmeyer, lashed out at this “flagrant abuse of political power” aimed at perpetuating a “spoils system”; the Jaycees worked the public door-to-door; and in a turnout higher in some sections than the 1956 presidential election, the entire non-partisan Jaycee slate was elected to the Commission. On November 4, 1958, “political novices” tapped the power of democracy, reminded “the machine” where the power ultimately lies, took control of their own destiny, and started a process that gave us our current mayor-council form of government.

For the full story, see the attachment to “Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958” under Bethlehem Moments on The Bethlehem Gadfly, December 2, 2018 (thebethlehemgadfly.com/).

too much like the imperial executive

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly, thanks for this information. It’s fascinating!! Do you have any information about what the “weak Mayor” form of local government would be? That is the form I would be interested in understanding better, especially if it gives more power to the City Council. I think one problem we have is that we need more ideas than just one person — the Mayor — can provide. What would happen if councilmembers were paid a more reasonable wage to help with some of the tasks involved in city governance? Right now the mayor gets all the money and has all the power and all the responsibility. I fear it is too much like the imperial executive. I think the city would benefit from a broader distribution of responsibility, in particular.

Breena

Yes, Gadfly can return to this with, especially, some opinion from that time period about how the Commission form was perceived. His sense at this point is that the Commission form was not well liked, was seen as inefficient. But this deserves a closer look at the specific reasons. And Gadfly, ever-the-utopian, wonders whether there is a 4th and even better choice, wonders with Thoreau whether “there is a still more perfect and glorious [form of city government] imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

 

Founding Fathers and Mother

Gadfly is researching the history of the Bethlehem Charter Commission for the next “Bethlehem Moment.”

Charter

Here is the newly elected group — November 13, 1958 — that gave us our current Mayor-City Council form of government.

Elaine Meilicke was the top vote-getter.

Not all that long ago — any connections with these folk we should know about?

Charles Donches is not related to our Mayor but is the father of Steve Donches, who was head of the National Museum of History.

An interesting story here, but you’ll have to wait for the “Moment” to hear all about it!