Lehigh Northside parking lot mystery partially explained (24)

(24th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Deep Throat surreptitiously (good SAT word) passed Gadfly a new document regarding the new Lehigh University parking plan that contains the following bullet:

  • There will be a commuter lot added on the SteelStacks/Sands property off of Third Street and Founder’s Way, and a shuttle serving this commuter lot. More details about the commuter lot will be shared with the campus community by the end of March. The university will be funding the cost of this space, so there will be no cost to the employee to use this lot.

So why the big mystery?

Why couldn’t Lehigh simply say, yes, Gadfly, we announced in September and said nothing different until this week that there would be a Northside Commuter lot but actually it’s a commuter lot on the southside now — 3rd and Founder’s Way.

Instead they played dumb, as if there were no off-site commuter lot, and got Gadfly’s pee all warm.

No doubt a good reason for stiffing me. No doubt above Gadfly’s pay grade. Big business.

In the recent document, Lehigh indicates they have made some changes. They indicate that the first come/first served system has been dropped, and people on lower campus seem assured now of parking close to their workspace. Sounds like “bumping” has been eliminated or diminished.

Lehigh is, of course, still silent about the contract workers — Sodexo, ABM, BrightView, etc. They are not Lehigh employees, and thus are not referenced, though they clearly must be affected by the parking reorganization, and are separated out as such in the Lehigh July 2018 parking study (p. 16 if my notes are correct).

The 3rd and Founder’s Way lot is 3/4’s of a mile from Farrington Square at the bottom of lower campus, about the same distance as the “mythical” Northside lot.

Thus, I still don’t have an answer to my basic question of what’s happening with this lower-paid group, at least some of whom no doubt are Bethlehem residents and taxpayers.

But even if they aren’t Bethlehem residents and taxpayers, are the lower-paid workers being, as it were, “forced” to suffer some hardship to park off-site because they can’t afford the parking fee?

Remember that Lehigh has made a conscious decision to build on parking lots, losing approx. 500 spaces.

I keep saying that there may be no problem, but I’d like somebody who has thought about these people to tell me so.

Lehigh obviously made changes in the original program because of legitimate concerns, stiff questions, and resistance from faculty and staff on campus.

The contract workers probably have no similar voice or power.

Are they being treated fairly?

Gadfly asks time before the Planning Commission today (22)

(22nd in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Thursday, March 14

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email). Lawyer Durso has been copied through her firm’s web site.

Good People:

Take #5

I understand that the Wind Creek Sign Waiver Request is on the agenda for today — apparently a visible sign that the long-awaited casino transfer is near. Exciting times. Great.

I didn’t hear that the Lehigh matter would be added to the agenda, but then again I see that I didn’t ask for notice so that I could prepare if it were possible for me to make a presentation. Let me ask now. Is it possible that we can re-visit 124 E. Morton today? Can I be recognized?

As more evidence that something is amiss in seeming City and Lehigh professed ignorance of this off-campus parking option before the PC: in an Oct./Nov. “additional FAQ’s” document, Lehigh answered these questions regarding the “Northside Commuter Lot” from concerned members on campus.

1) “Will there be a bike share location available at the North lot?” (You will remember that I believe it was Lawyer Durso at the very end of the 2/21 meeting who emphasized bikes as part of the solution in relation to the questions I raised. But the answer was no help from bikes here.)

2) “Will the North Lot shuttle schedule be expanded over time to accommodate people who work outside the designated hours?”

3) “How long will the wait be for the North Lot shuttle?”

4) “If the Commuter lot option is selected, where will staff park during Musikfest, Celtic Fest . . . ?”

Can there be any doubt that the Northside Commuter Lot is a definite part of the Lehigh parking plan though it was not included in their parking study presented to the City?

I remind you that Lehigh has announced plans to commence the first-come, first-served sign up system April 1, and on Feb. 26 the Lehigh representative announced to the Mayor’s South Side Task Force that construction on 124 will begin in June.

Now is the time to get some inconsistencies straightened out.

I hope to hear from you about today’s meeting.

Ed Gallagher

probably the last time to set the record straight (21)

(21st in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Tuesday, March 12

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email). Lawyer Durso has been informed of my request below through her firm’s web site.

Good People:

Take #4

Since I have provided all parties with access to substantive materials that indicate that a Northside Commuter Lot, though not in the parking plan submitted to and approved by the City and apparently unknown to the Director of Planning and Zoning, is part of the Lehigh parking plan rolled out to employees in September 2018,

and since Lehigh has announced plans to initiate its parking plan around April 1,

and since Lehigh’s implied denial of the very existence of that lot in their thinking about making up for lost parking spaces on campus made me look rather foolish in front of the Planning Commission, the public, and the press,

I respectfully request that 124 E. Morton be added to the agenda for the Thursday March 14 meeting.

It will probably be the last time to set the record straight before Lehigh’s plan becomes operational.

Ms. Heller and Chairman Melosky, I will be glad to make a presentation based on the presence of the Northside Commuter lot in Lehigh documentation if that is permissible.

Ed Gallagher

Will the Planning Committee reconsider the Lehigh Northside issue? (20)

(20th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

from the Planning Commission meeting 2/21/19

The gadflies of the insect world are nasty, pesky critters. Your Bethlehem Gadfly of the homo sapiens world is surely earning his sobriquet (good SAT word) with this thread on Lehigh University.

And you may be tired of it.

What’s your beef, Gadfly Gallagher?

There are two elements to this “case” bound to engage a gadfly:

1) what seems like conscious and willful inconsistency between Lehigh’s statements and the actuality

2) what may be (not sure) potential unfairness to the “little guy”

In relative briefness, let me lay it out once again:

Lehigh is constructing three major buildings on existing parking lots and, in total, by its own published figures is thereby losing 518 existing parking spaces on campus, almost the equivalent of the new New St. Garage. Lehigh’s July 18, 2018, parking study, approved by the City, indicates that Lehigh meets all zoning requirements and that all lost parking space will be absorbed on campus. That claim of absorbing all lost parking spaces on campus was affirmed by Lehigh before the Planning Commission, even when questioned by Gadfly at a meeting.

However, when Lehigh rolled out its new parking plan in a September 10, 2018, memo to employees and in perhaps a score of large and small group meetings with employees in the Fall, there was in the plan an off-campus Northside Commuter Lot at 123 W. Lehigh St., ¾’s of a mile and a good 15-minute walk from Farrington Square at the very bottom of main campus – a lot not mentioned in the July study submitted to the City. In the documentation circulated on campus to employees, bus service from that Northside lot to Farrington Square, where employees can connect with other buses to their work location, is described.

It seems clear from Lehigh documentation that all parking demand cannot be satisfied on campus and that the Northside lot is part of several elements to resolve that shortfall. In addition, the new Lehigh parking plan involves an annual fee of $500 for most spaces close to work locations. Some people might choose to park in the Northside lot because it is free. But it’s possible that others – among them Bethlehem residents and taxpayers – will be forced into that lot because they can’t afford the fee.

The fundamental problem, though, is that neither Lehigh or the City has recognized the inclusion of the off-campus lot in testimony before the Planning Commission, despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it is part of the Lehigh plan. Gadfly would like to see the existence of the off-campus lot recognized before the Planning Commission at which time any potential unfairness to Bethlehem residents and taxpayers can be addressed. There may be no unfairness, but we won’t know that without focused discussion.

Well, that wasn’t so brief, was it?

So here’s audio of the public comment section of the 2/21 Planning Commission meeting:

  • in the beginning “with-it” PC members do ask about parking
  • Gadfly makes his soulful pitch for the underdog (min. 1:20)
  • the Lehigh lawyer responds (min. 6:55)
  • there is a brief interchange between the lawyer and Gadfly (min.8:20)
  • astute PC members question again, and City official Ms. Heller resolves the discussion for the PC (9:20)
  • an astute concerned PC member, though, suggests an addition to the main motion before the vote, indicating still some uncertainty about parking (min. 12:25)
  • also comically (to Gadfly anyway) interesting is the Lehigh lawyer implying bike parking as part of the solution to the specific question about the specific kinds of people Gadfly is concerned about (min 13:50)

Lehigh plans to begin parking allocation around April 1 (3 weeks) for a July start to the new plan.

The Planning Commission meets next this Thursday March 14.

If anything is to be done, the time is now.

As you might note from his last letter to Lehigh, the City, and the PC, Gadfly has asked that the authorization given at the 2/21 meeting be revoked till the issue of the Northside lot and potential unfairness to City residents and taxpayers is thoroughly aired.

A Northside Commuter Lot for Lehigh U? Let’s make sure fairness is in play (19)

(19th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

This is the 3rd email in Gadfly’s recent conversation with the involved Lehigh and City parties over this puzzling issue of Lehigh’s “Northside Commuter Lot” and its possible negative effect on lower-paid Bethlehem residents and taxpayers who work at Lehigh.

Saturday, March 9

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email)

Take #3

There is a discrepancy here. The most obvious reason is that Lehigh has in some fashion (not a lease) made arrangement to use the Bethlehem Parking Authority Lot, discussed it openly with Lehigh employees as an option in their new parking plan, but not told the City, since Ms. Heller has no knowledge of it. But there are other possible interpretations as well.

My suggestion would be that the Planning Commission revoke its 2/21 approval till Lehigh explains the discrepancy, at which time the possible impact of bumping or forcing lower-wage Bethlehem residents, taxpayers, and voters into the Northside lot may be explored fully. There may be no problem, but let’s be sure.

The College of Health at 124 E. Morton is a major undertaking and a great additional distinction for the University and the City. The Mayor just highlighted it in Thursday’s “State of the City” address.

That new College and fair practices for lower-wage Bethlehem residents and taxpayers are not incompatible. Let’s just pause and make sure fairness is in play.

Here is evidence to consider–

Direct quotes from recording of the 2/21 Planning Commission mtg:

1) The Lehigh lawyer (so sorry, I don’t have her name): “[Lehigh has done] a study to prove and confirm to the city that with all these projects that would be coming both proposed now and what may be coming in the future that there’s adequate parking through out the campus based on the zoning ordinance requirements. That is public record here at the City, so whether Mr. Gallagher took the opportunity to review that, I don’t know. The lot that he’s talking about that there be a lease of some City lot does not exist, so the comments about lower income, lower whatever he’s trying to describe parking in that lot, there is no leasing of that City lot. And that is not even part of the parking study. The parking study took into account existing projects as well as the projects proposed. . . . There is no leasing of the lot with the City. All I can say is the lot you are claiming Lehigh is leasing is not under lease. . . . It’s not in the Comprehensive Plan. It’s not in the plan the City reviewed.”

2) Darlene Heller, Bethlehem Director, Planning and Zoning: “So that there will be some satellite parking spaces, none that I know of on the northside. . . .”

From the Lehigh Parking Study referenced above:

1) “The commuter lot is located on Goodman Campus [over the Mountain, Stabler Arena locale] with frequent bus service.” (32)

2) “Lehigh University intends to make use of off-site parking as an option for non-residential students at the Goodman Commuter lot.” (41)

From Lehigh U material on web site Sept 2018 and used as basis for widespread campus discussion throughout the Fall:

— see the attached image from the Campus Parking Map from the Lehigh U parking regulations document showing notation for Northside (other areas in the documentation reference bus service from the Northside lot to Farrington Square)

Northside 3

From personal conversation with a score of current Lehigh employees on Friday:

— everybody I talked with is aware of the Northside Commuter Lot in the mix of parking locations in the new plan

Assoc. VP Stringfellow and other Lehigh reps perhaps closer to implementation details of the parking plan than the Lehigh lawyer were present 2/21 but did not participate in discussion, though led to do so by Ms. Heller. Stringfellow is signator to the Sept 10, 2018, document that was circulated on campus that is the basis for my concern.

Ed Gallagher

Why still the mystery about a Northside Commuter Lot for Lehigh U? (18)

(18th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Gadfly did some research in the City Hall vaults for this follow-up message.

Thursday, March 7

Take #2

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email)

On 2/21 the Lehigh lawyer (sorry, I did not catch her name) “invited” me to look at the July 18, 2018, parking study submitted to the City.

I did. And, indeed, it has nary a mention of a Northside Commuter Lot. Which is consistent with the first testimony I heard from Lehigh when I inquired whether all lost parking spaces could be absorbed on campus. And was told they could.

So how does that square with the appearance of the off-campus Northside Lot on this document on the Lehigh web site and in conversations with Lehigh faculty and staff in the Fall when news of the parking changes was rolled out?

See the Northside Commuter Lot mention on the lower right of this Campus Parking map.

In fact, here is a blow-up of that lower right corner of the map clearly showing the presence of the Northside Commuter Lot in the Lehigh parking plan:

Northside 3

Why before the Planning Commission is the existence of this lot not recognized?

The 2/21 Lehigh lawyer was careful to say that Lehigh has no lease for that lot. But she did not say that Lehigh wasn’t using it.

Is Lehigh using that lot? Has that use been approved? Why the mystery?