“We’re lacking transparency here” (17)

(17th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 

Gadfly:

Regarding your post on Lehigh Northside parking, here is a map of the environs of 123 West Lehigh Street.

123 W. Lehigh

The lot is generally vacant except during Musikfest. Police officers sometimes use it for bike training. Why isn’t a traffic study being conducted for the added volume to the streets feeding into this lot? A new crossfit facility has just been permitted at Conestoga and Union. The Conestoga and Spring intersection is famous for traffic collisions (though I have no statistics to corroborate the statement). The main parking lot for Moravian’s Priscilla Payne Hurd campus is less than 200 yards away. And the neighbors (me, for example, plus the condo owners on Lehigh and Spring Streets) have not been notified of the proposed use. We’re lacking transparency here.

John

John: The answers seem so easy, I don’t understand why Lehigh just doesn’t give ’em. It has always just seemed odd to me that with what at first glance/thought seems like such a big campus, that Lehigh needs to push parking so far away.  And, if it is true that Lehigh is using that lot — remember, they are not saying so, even though it’s in the material distributed to faculty and staff — then there is still the issue of a bus running apparently at both rush hours that will probably need to stop somewhere in the “canyon” of New St. between 3rd and 4th before heading to Farrington Square.

a class-based parking system (16)

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.

(16th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Gadfly, Thanks for your attention to this ongoing issue. I have one point of clarification.

When Mr. Stellato asked where the 124 cars would go, and the response was a nearby garage, there are two options that come to mind. First, the top floors of the garage behind Maginnes Hall are currently reserved for students, and I think they plan to eliminate the student parking there so that the entire lot can go to faculty and staff.

Second, there is oodles of space in the new Benner Garage on New Street. I’m talking about the garage for which there was not a demonstrated parking demand, but which was built anyway with publicly backed bonds, in order to accommodate Dennis Benner’s desire to have parking for his new building at the corner of 3rd and New Street, which is now attached to the garage by a glass walkway built over a public greenspace. Now it would appear that the garage was built in part to accommodate Lehigh University’s need for new parking spaces. Of course, none of this was admitted at the time, although the University never opposed the construction of the garage, which is oversized and attached to an oversized building — completely out of scale with the Historic District.

So as long as you are trying to determine the impact of the new parking scheme on low-income folks, you really need to consider the imposition of a poorly located garage attached to an oversized building that has really just destroyed a key gateway to the south side, making it look like an ugly institutional setting rather than a historic city. And the developer continues to ignore the restrictions put on the building, backed by 5 members of city council who will apparently let him get away with anything, and a mayor who is willing to take the blame for anything the guy does wrong.

This garage, which will likely be at least half full of Lehigh University parkers, brings a lot of traffic right into the heart of downtown Bethlehem. It has created a canyon effect on the New Street and on the greenway, and because it has its own fancy restaurant (a destination in itself) and coffeeshop on site, it does not appear to be helping the local businesses much at all. Why would people leave the building when they can get everything they need on site and then take a glass walkway to their cars in the new garage?

As you know, the Bethlehem Parking Authority went into significant debt to build this garage for Benner and (apparently) Lehigh. The consequence is that everyone’s parking rates and fines will be raised. We knew this at the time and argued that the primary user of the garage should pay for it, since the parking study did not convincingly show demand for it. The inequity starts there.

In order to address the problem you raise, of the remaining need for parking pushing lower income people at Lehigh to the north side lot, parking fees at Lehigh should be attached to salary, so it is just as easy as my department coordinator to pay for a spot in the garage outside her office as it is for me.

Leave it to Lehigh to cook up a class-based parking system, rather one that is equitable.

Best, Breena

Still seeking info from Lehigh (15)

(15th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)
Monday, March 4, 2019

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

To reiterate my comments at the 2/21 Planning meeting. I am concerned that Lehigh’s decision to do substantial building on parking lots might negatively affect low income Lehigh faculty and staff and contract workers for Sodexo, BrightView, and etc. — people who may be Bethlehem residents and taxpayers.

The attached document was distributed to the Lehigh community in September. I attended three follow-up sessions on campus. I had personal contact with Mark Ironside and the Lehigh Transportation manager in November.

Contrary to the impression given by the Lehigh lawyer 2/21, there was no doubt in any of these documents, meetings, and contacts that Lehigh was using a “Northside Commuter Lot” at 123 W. Lehigh St., and running a bus from there to Farrington Square on lower campus.

The Lehigh lawyer 2/21 made the point that Lehigh has no lease for northside parking, making it sound as if there was no plan for Lehigh people to park there at all. Given the knowledge and experience I had, frankly, I was rather dumbfounded. I checked with BPA. Indeed, there is no lease. But there was/is no question in any of the documents, meetings, contacts about use of that lot.

Take a look at the attached document. Lehigh is losing 518 spaces, partially making up that loss to “respond to a reduction in parking supply” by utilizing 150 spaces in a “Northside Commuter Lot.” There, in black and white, is what I have been focusing on.

The clear impression I have is that the Northside Commuter Lot is necessary. Some people might choose to park free there and take the bus or walk the 3/4 mile to campus. That’s good. Yes, Mr. Malozi, Lehigh has an ambitious and laudable walking and public transportation plan. But I am concerned about those who will be bumped or forced off-campus by inability to pay the $500 on-campus parking fee or simply lack of space for everybody on campus.

For it looks to me there will be a kind of hop-scotch going on. Mr. Stellato cogently asked where the cars displaced at 124 will go. The answer was to the nearby Lehigh parking garage. But then the follow-up question should have been, where will the cars in that now-filled lot go?

There may be no problem. I am simply seeking clarity. At a Planning meeting last year, Lehigh said all displaced parking would be absorbed on campus. I questioned that, and it was so affirmed. Then, to the contrary, comes the Northside Commuter Lot in documents and meetings by Lehigh itself.. So that statement does not seem to have been true. And now the Lehigh lawyer made it sound, frankly, that I was making up the plan to use the lot. As if it were not clearly in the documentation and in the air during conversations among affected persons on campus.

The new Lehigh parking plan is to be rolled out in April. I think the city needs to know whether lower-income Bethlehem residents and tax payers might be unfairly impacted.

There may indeed be no problem, no issue. Many contract workers work after 4PM, for instance, and can park on campus. Maybe many contract workers already walk or take the bus or car pool.

My question(s) might be easily answered. These matters might have been thoroughly thought through. I think we should hear the answers. But it seems to me like Lehigh is avoiding.

At the previous Planning meeting where I brought this issue up, the Lehigh lawyer at that time (a different one) and I ended in an almost comical cliched stand-off. He said Lehigh had done everything right legally. I said there’s a difference between law and concern for people.

How will Lehigh’s new parking plan affect low income Lehigh faculty and staff and contract workers for Sodexo, BrightView, and etc?

I will write about this later in the week on Gadfly, in case anyone would like to respond before then.

Be well–

ED

All quiet on the Lehigh front? (14)

(14th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Tim Hyland, “Lehigh Breaks Ground on Bridge West Residence Hall.” Lehigh University News, December 19, 2018.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh University breaks ground on 720-bed dorm.” Morning Call, December 19, 2018.

Gadfly hasn’t posted on Lehigh for over a month. You may have forgotten the issue he’s been watching out for. (Reminder that you can always catch up on earlier posts on topics through the menu under the image on the front page of the blog or under Topics on the sidebar).

Some recent and planned Lehigh new construction, like the one covered in this morning’s articles, is on parking lots (120 approx spaces lost by this construction), forcing Lehigh to obtain parking from the Bethlehem Parking Authority across the river on the north side of town.

On the face of it, that’s kind of bizarre — 3/4’s of a mile from the closest, lowest edge of campus. But the issue Gadfly is concerned with is whether Lehigh’s lowest class of worker will be forced to park there inconveniently (adding time to the work day, etc.) after testifying at 2 City hearings that their parking studies showed that they could accommodate all the lost parking on campus.

Gadfly has asked that Lehigh discuss the impact of their parking decisions on those workers before construction goes much further so that the City is aware that there might be a significant negative impact on workers who are City residents.

Gadfly thinks that the next major project is the College of Health described in the above articles as opening Fall 2020. Not too far away. So Gadfly assumes there will be presentations at City meetings soon.

  • It has occurred to Gadfly that bouncing concerns off the Mayor’s Southside Task Force might be a good idea, but he has not been able to work their meetings into his schedule. And he can’t find contact info for chair Roger Hudak — if any followers can help with that, much appreciated.
  • Gadfly filed Right to Know requests with the Parking Authority for leases on that “Northside Commuter Lot” and was told there were none. Strange. Maybe too early for leases? Just a verbal commitment now?
  • Gadfly was curious about busing from the Northside lot (on Lehigh St., just west of the Fahey Bridge, adjacent to the Wooden Match). What size bus it would be and where it would stop on the Southside. Would, for instance, the bus go straight on New till stopping at Farrington Square? If so, where would it stop in that narrow stretch along the new building and garage between 3rd and 4th Sts. I could get no answer on that from the Transportation guy. No decision yet.
  • Also, I wondered about the new bus loop (square?) from Morton to Adams to Mechanic to New to Morton. That will be a Transit-sized bus. Big. I wondered about it turning on some of those streets and where the stop would be. Sounds like the stop will be in the bus pull-off on Mechanic St. Gadfly worries a bit about the left turn from Mechanic onto New. We all have seen the awkwardness of the buses turning right there — trying to get into traffic with a wide turn and often jamming traffic. Getting across traffic with a big bus turning left looks like potential jamming too at times. But the Transportation guy said planning was not definite when I talked with him a month ago.

Are there any Gadfly followers with ears closer to the ground who have anything to add about what’s going on? Is all quiet?

Lehigh Grad Students speak up (13)

(13th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

As Gadfly has reported earlier here, the tuition-paying undergraduate students raised a stink about an early phase of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence planning that brought an immediately placating response from the Lehigh Administration.

Gadfly was not at all concerned with undergraduate students, virtually all of whom live on campus and who have tremendous leverage to apply to get fairness.

Gadfly has been concerned about a large segment of graduate students and about such low-wage staff as maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers.

Gadfly has asked for transparency on the impact of the new parking plan on such people.

Lehigh Grad Student Senate letter

Now, however, see the linked Nov. 7 letter from the Lehigh Graduate Student Senate to the Lehigh Administration about graduate student concerns about parking inequity under the new plan.

(Gadfly especially encourages you to read the direct quotes from grad students in Appendix B of the letter. Gadfly loves the raw voices.)

The graduate students have political power to bring to bear against the Lehigh Administration, they are using it, and it is to be hoped that Lehigh will recognize that these voices, previously overlooked like the undergraduates, will be heard.

So maybe Gadfly need not be very concerned about the graduate students. We’ll see.

But what about maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers?

The undergrads (dollars) and grads (teaching classes, running labs) have chips to play within the system.

Gadfly doesn’t think these others do.

They are low pay. Without representation. Replaceable.

We won’t see letters to the Administration from them.

(Many, if not all of them, may not even technically be employees of Lehigh – which makes matters worse.)

There may be no problem. But the undergrad and grad brouhaha’s indicate flaws in Lehigh’s planning.

So Gadfly is asking for more information, for more transparency, before the City grants any further approvals.

And he has now spoken twice at City Council meetings, hoping to raise consciousness about his concerns.

One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.

“Lehigh-Affiliated” not “Lehigh” (12)

(12th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Lehigh Breaks Ground for SouthSide Commons

SouthSide Commons changes living conditions as construction begins

Gadfly doesn’t know how he missed it.

The new SouthSide Commons – the stunning complex of buildings on the west edge of the Lehigh campus that snakes down Brodhead from Packer toward 4th St and will house 400+ students – is not a Lehigh dorm but a “Lehigh-affiliated” apartment complex.

SouthSide Commons

Gadfly assumed that SouthSide Commons was a “Lehigh” dorm. In the first press release Gadfly saw about it at ground-breaking time, it was termed “an apartment-style residence hall.” Residence hall.

However, the University architect “said Lehigh leased the land for SouthSide Commons to collegiate housing developer EdR, which will own and operate the building for 50 years.”

That land is leased to a developer.

Gadfly is not sure if there is anything to make out of this. But his antennae have been up since a follower several posts back in this sequence raised concern about “Lehigh sprawl.”

And Gadfly knows there has been a concern about developer impact on the community for a long time.

Gadfly – who has no business sense – wonders why Lehigh is building another dorm, solely its own, within sight of SouthSide Commons, which is being run by a developer, at exactly the same time.  Just asking.

SouthSide Commons has a rental office on Adams St. and a fancy web site. Take a look!

The key question:
Is there a difference for the community between Lehigh as landlord and a developer as landlord?

And is there a difference for a community between Lehigh as a neighbor and a developer as a neighbor?

The developer said such projects tend to be good for the community: “When a university grows . . . the local neighborhood and the city in which it resides also feel a positive impact.”

“Let’s face it,” the Lehigh president said, “parking lots make lousy borders. Neighbors shouldn’t be separated by large stretches of asphalt, and universities should not be separated from the community in which they reside by a large stretch of asphalt. SouthSide Commons will help change all that.” He said the new residence hall will create new possibilities for how students interact with the surrounding community.

Gadfly thinks what the president is thinking of is economic impact. For that is what was on the Mayor’s mind: “The partnership between the city and Lehigh University is strong and is instrumental to the future prosperity of South Bethlehem. This facility will bring more foot traffic and attention to South Bethlehem’s businesses as the revitalization of the South Side continues to move forward.”

Good for the business community.

Is there another community affected?

What are those neighbors thinking about?

Just asking. May be all good.

Gadfly just wondering because of his belated realization of this significant change in Lehigh’s housing system.

Lehigh students: University action “blindsided the Lehigh and Bethlehem community” (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Remember that what Lehigh does on its own campus is its own business. That is not Gadfly’s concern. But this thread began with Lehigh’s need to secure (way) off campus parking as a result of its major expansion plans.

Gadfly has been asking for transparency about how that off-campus parking affects lower-paid employees, some of whom will be Bethlehem residents and tax payers. There may be no issue, but, then again, at this time there is not enough information to tell.

This on-campus brouhaha about housing shows Lehigh suffering from bumpy planning.

And intensifies the need to hear further from them before more City decisions are made affecting the surrounding and wider Bethlehem community.

Gadfly would expect that the pious sentiments about listening, and sharing, and including, and “transparencying” expressed in the “Dear Lehigh Student” letter linked below would also apply to the class of people perhaps affected by the parking decision.

——————

Use these articles for a recap of the Lehigh housing flap:

Jessica Hicks and Musa Jamshed, “Trembley demolition eliminates on-campus housing for upperclassmen next academic year.” Brown and White, October 29, 2018.
Housing Services says “no on-campus living options for juniors and seniors during the 2019-2020 academic year.” “The email presents SouthSide Commons, a private apartment complex partnered with Lehigh, as an alternative to on-campus living.” Students would pay more at Southside Commons. “It is unclear at this time if Lehigh will offer students forced to live off-campus additional financial assistance.”

Madison Hoff, “Student Senate demands response from President’s Office regarding housing issue.” Brown and White, October 30, 2018.
Student Senate sends resolution to Administration demanding more information: “The resolution said the email sent out ‘blindsided the Lehigh and Bethlehem community’ It also expressed concerns for lower income and international students, pricing of off-campus residences and overcapacity of Greek houses, among other issues.” The Senate sent surveys to students and parents. “This resolution encompasses the voice of the entire student body.”

“Dear Lehigh Students,” memo from John Simon, President, and Patrick Farrell, Provost, October 31, 2018.
Apologizes for the Housing Services memo. Indicates Administration has heard the “thoughtful and legitimate concerns, ”heard the “individual and collective voices,” pledges “an open dialogue and transparent process which engages students,” incorporation of “student input.” “All voices are important and have been greatly appreciated.”

Sarah Epstein, Alexis McGowan, Jordan Wolman and Jessica Hicks, “Trembley Park remains open for upperclassmen through 2020.” Brown and White, October 31, 2018.
President’s office sends email to students reversing the Housing Services email. No change in process for student housing in Trembley. Not clear on whether there will be changes for other residences. Other offices unaware of President’s email, causing confusion on campus. Residence Hall monitors told not to talk with the press, “or their positions may be affected.” Greystar, the real estate company that runs Southside Commons (the new complex on Brodhead Ave.) was not aware of the original Housing Services email, pleads ignorance. Housing in Southside Commons would be $2400/yr. more.