Martin Tower developer reminds Council that “tax revenues are an equally important consideration”

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

ref: Martin Tower proposal significantly interrogated at Council
ref: Trying to nail down the Martin Tower developer
re: Martin Tower developer responds to Council request

A Martin Tower developer text amendment is on the agenda for City Council tonight.

After some “interrogation” by City Council at a Public Hearing on April 20, the developer sent a letter to Council in preparation for tonight’s discussion and vote.

Gadfly sent you that letter in the last post.

Gadfly was a long-time writing teacher, so he’s attuned to the way people frame arguments.

The last, the climactic point in that letter supporting their proposal reminds Council of the tax gold mine that’s in store for the City: “Although there were no comments or questions during the public hearing [April 20] regarding the current and projected tax revenues, I feel that tax revenues are an equally important consideration.”

Which is not so subtle pressure to approve the proposal.

O, by the way . . .

O, lest we forget . . .

The headline in Sara’s article in today’s lehighvalleylive is “Martin Tower plans could generate $2.7M in local taxes. But first the zoning needs to change.”

The headline says it all.

Classic confrontation.

Change the zoning, and you get $2.7m.

Council was pretty tough on the developers April 20.

Let see what happens tonight.

(The lvl story is “subscriber exclusive,” and I can’t get it. I must not have paid the bill! If someone could provide the gist of the article, it would be appreciated.)

Martin Tower developer responds to Council request

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later
ref: Martin Tower addendum
ref: Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon
ref: The tweaking of the Martin Tower site plan begins
ref: Martin Tower site: “we want it done the right way”
ref: Martin Tower proposal significantly interrogated at Council
ref: Trying to nail down the Martin Tower developer

April 28 letter from Martin Tower developer

Remember that we left the Martin Tower thread here on Gadfly with President Waldron trying to nudge the City and the developer to sit down and agree on a bunch of elements to get done.

It doesn’t appear that the City was involved in a meeting, but the developer did provide the linked letter in advance of further discussion of their text amendment at tomorrow’s City Council meeting.

The letter is long and detailed and handily divided into some clear sections that have caused concern. A lot to chew on.

Follow the link above for a deep dive. The summation of the letter is printed below.

———–

Summation:

Mr. Herrick and I have been involved in the Martin Tower property for nearly fifteen years – including through the great recession and the current pandemic. We have invested tens of millions of dollars to date and will be investing tens of millions more to complete the project. In addition to the dollars invested, our team has expended thousands of hours pursuing hundreds of prospective users for the site to no avail. Simply stated, the Martin Tower redevelopment is a complicated project that will require both cooperation and compromise by all concerned parties to make it happen.

The uses proposed for the 8th Avenue frontage lots (i.e. medical, grocery, C‐store/Gas) are the lynchpin to proceeding with redevelopment of the property, including the apartments. The requested text amendments are necessary to securing these users and, consequently, necessary for the project to incrementally increase tax revenues to the City of Bethlehem, the Bethlehem Area School District, and Northampton County. The project will also create hundreds of construction and permanent jobs in the City.

Trying to nail down the Martin Tower developer

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

Bethlehem is not where we were in 1994. This City is now in a position of strength.
Councilwoman Van Wirt

I am not overwhelmingly encouraged by what I’ve seen thus far.
President Waldron

What is it that you are able to do if I was the developer and I said I don’t
want to do these things?

Councilman Reynolds

It’s our role as Council to . . . help represent the community to say that these things are important based on conversations with members of the public that
have been ongoing for years.

President Waldron

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later
ref: Martin Tower addendum
ref: Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon
ref: The tweaking of the Martin Tower site plan begins
ref: Martin Tower site: “we want it done the right way”
ref: Martin Tower proposal significantly interrogated at Council

Martin Tower’s on the City Council agenda for Tuesday night.

The developers are proposing a Zoning text amendment relative to parking and traffic flow that Gadfly, as you might remember, thought of relatively minor significance from the way it earlier flew through the Planning Commission.

Not so.

Several Council members at the public hearing on April 20 addressed the specific proposal on the table, but the more important thing that happened was that said proposal opened the door to a more general discussion of the Martin Tower project.

The proposed buildings on the old Martin Tower site face 8th Avenue in deference to the end users’ (e.g., St. Luke’s) desire for greater visibility. The original design proposes one traffic lane and one parking lane across the front. The amendment would permit the developer latitude to increase that area however he liked. The City Planning Bureau is not in favor of the amendment. Nor the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

At the earlier Planning Commission (not Planning Bureau) meeting, the developers said that this narrow and relatively insignificant (in their eyes) proposal was the first of a series of tweaks they would be proposing now that we are coming out of the pandemic (O, god, please!) and construction on the project is about ready to begin.

At the public hearing on the amendment April 20, some Councilpeople questioned this specific amendment on the table, but some were obviously looking for more general information on the project as well as wary of giving the developer too much freedom.

For instance, President Waldron almost immediately called attention to the significance of the night’s discussion, explaining that “This may be one of Council’s only opportunities to weigh in on the project and gain feedback from the public as far as what’s going to happen on such an important large parcel in the heart of Bethlehem.”

President Waldron was signifying that Council wanted eyes on the project because the eyes of the public were on them. He made the interesting point that there were two end users involved here that needed to be pleased, end users like St. Luke’s on the business side and end users like us the residents of Bethlehem on the public policy side.

In a previous post Gadfly used the term “interrogation” to describe Council’s mood at that April 20 Public Hearing, a mood no better exemplified than in the muscular tone of Councilwoman Van Wirt’s virtual lecture to both City Hall and the developer. Give a listen:

 

“Whenever I come across a privately requested zoning text amendment, my guard goes up. . . . Bethlehem is not where we were in 1994. This City is now in a position of strength. And I feel that there is a Golden mean that we have to find where we have appropriate development that respects our zoning code, that respects our walkability, and our need to de-emphasize motor travel and transportation, and especially strive to decrease the sea of asphalt that we see on our roads. We want development to happen at Martin Tower but not at the expense of our zoning and our quality of life. I feel that we must try harder. I feel that when developers come to our administration and our Department of Community and Economic Development that every single effort will be made to insure that new development respects our historical districts, our zoning codes, our walkability, but also will negotiate with the developer prior to coming for any requests to obtain the very best deal and maximum benefit for the citizens and not the developer. This is what I expect of the Administration and City Council, I believe, will hold to these standards, and I feel that there really is a good solution here, and it’s called good design. And I think that’s what we need to be asking of our developers before they come and ask for exemptions from our zoning codes.”

The discussion got really interesting when Councilman Reynolds — naming big picture topics like timeline, the look of the project, the design — said there were “lots of questions” about the project. Indeed, he coaxed a list of City priorities for the project out of the Mayor, a list that included shared parking, reduced impervious coverage, attention to a walkable community, replacement of trees, the view, handling of stormwater, enhancement of the trail network, green space, recreation space, decertifying Criz acreage, and affordable housing. Listen in:

All good stuff. Followers will recognize items on this list. We’ve all made lists. One of Gadfly’s is here. Scott Slingerland’s is here.

So we could make a list of the lists.

And Councilman Reynolds, channeling us no doubt, then asked the City where “we” were on securing the achievement of those items and, more to the point, “what is it that you are able to do if I was the developer and I said I don’t want to do these things?”

Big question.

Good question.

Can we trust the developer to have good ears?

What recourse do we have if he doesn’t?

Councilman Reynolds wasn’t satisfied with the vagueness of the response. He had to ask the question twice.

Solictor Spirk was incorporated into the discussion.

The end result of which was that though Council could stipulate a list of priorities for the developer to achieve, Council could not enforce such a list.

Drat.

But the City might well do it.

Someone turned on the fog machine.

Would the City sit down with the developer and nail down these priorities?

Yes, if the developer was willing.

Gadfly listened, but he heard no response from the developer.

President Waldron — “not overwhelmingly encouraged by what I’ve seen thus far” — and doing yeoman work for us, tried to arrange not only a meeting between the City and the developer to agree on priorities but also the production of a written agreement as the end result of such meeting.

A written agreement. Some basis for some accountability.

That daring suggestion/request hung in the air as the Public Hearing ended.

What will happen Tuesday night if such written agreement is produced?

Perhaps more importantly, what will happen if it is not?

The history of the Martin Tower saga refuses to be written yet.

Martin Tower proposal significantly interrogated at Council

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later
ref: Martin Tower addendum
ref: Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon
ref: The tweaking of the Martin Tower site plan begins
ref: Martin Tower site: “we want it done the right way”

for City Council April 20:
00 PH02 2021-02-15 Martin Tower Text Amendment Petition – Final.pdf
00 PH2 06c Planning Commission Martin Tower Zoning Text Amendment
00 PH2 06d LVPC Martin Tower OMU Design Standards

———–

Scott Slingerland Letter on Martin Tower Redevelopment Project
April 14, 2021

Many of you are Martin Tower site watchers.

None perhaps more carefully than Scott Slingerland. See his letter to the City and the Planning Commission linked above.

A new round of Martin Tower activity began at the March Planning Commission meeting. To Gadfly’s understanding, as reported earlier, what was discussed and approved there in regard to parking and which was considered at City Council last night (see the documents above) was not of substantial consequence.

But Gadfly was substantially wrong.

Council spent a lot of time — I mean, a lot of time, like 2 hours — in discussion with the developer about the proposal on the table about parking and several other issues.

Gadfly followers concerned about the controversial development of the site can take heart at the scrutiny that Council members gave to the proposal and their general concern beyond it to making sure they knew what was going on and that certain priorities were being addressed.

Gadfly will return and break last night’s discussion down, but, in the meantime, followers can listen to the discussion here beginning at min. 9:50.

But, as also reported earlier, Scott Slingerland raised some issues of greater import than parking at that March Planning Commission meeting captured in a letter he had sent to the Commission. The Commission told him basically “to hold his water” for consideration of issues at later meetings. And to revise his letter. And to keep it in front of the Commission for discussion at later meetings.

Scott revised that first letter in one dated April 14 and that is linked above.

Last night Councilwoman Van Wirt noted the high quality of Scott’s letter.

Scott speaks interestingly of the possible development of a spur trail “ending just shy of Airport Road,” which “in 20 or 50 years when we look back on this project, could be seen as kickstarting a crucial branch of east-west multi-use rail trail that will have connected so many west and north Bethlehem neighborhoods with these businesses, downtown, and Bethlehem’s Memorial and Illick’s Mill Parks.”

He also speaks about the amount of asphalt, the need to clarify the green spaces, stormwater management, and the Monocacy Way Trail Crossing at Schoenersville Rd.

Scott’s letter is a treat in tone as well as substance. Take a look.

City Council candidates dish on Martin Tower

Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election

Bethlehem City Democrat Committee
City Council candidate forum April 12

Council candidates: Callahan, Crampsie Smith, Kwiatek, Leon, Wilhelm

———-

“Can you please share your views on the Martin Tower properties
redevelopment project?

Grace Crampsie Smith

 

“I would like to see inclusionary housing and housing that is affordable.”

 

Rachel Leon

 

 

“I would like to have seen more of the green space protected.”

 

Kiera Wilhelm

 

 

There is an opportunity to avoid soulless buildings and parking lots and to create something with character.”

 

Bryan Callahan

 

“We had to rezone and bring it down.”

 

Hillary Kwiatek

 

“There’s so much opportunity there in terms of the natural world.”

 

to be continued . . .

Martin Tower site: “we want it done the right way”

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

“This tract of land is something we take very serious and we want it
done the right way,”

Planning Commission chair Melosky

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later
ref: Martin Tower addendum
ref: Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon
ref: The tweaking of the Martin Tower site plan begins

As Gadfly said last time, the Martin Tower site developer is looking to begin construction within a year, and we will be entering a stage of consideration of a series of tweak requests.

Many followers have intense interest in the site, and, as far as Gadfly could see, the issues last night were not of substantial consequence.

And Planning Commission chair Melosky was anxious to keep the focus of discussion just on the agenda items and not move afield.

Resident Scott Slingerland, however, had previously sent the PC a letter with, apparently, topics that we would consider of interest and concern.

Scott has said he will send me a copy of his letter, and I will share it when he does.

But in the meantime you might want to listen to the interchange during public comment at Thursday’s meeting  among Scott, chair Melosky, and developer Ronca.

We surely will want to be skeptical, but chair Melosky and developer Ronca were kind of falling over each other to be agreeable.

Scott mentioned the “car-centric” site plan and referenced walking, biking, public transit. He mentioned the trail connection in the back of the property and whether there was a traffic study on Eaton Ave. with impact on the Monocacy Way Trail. He mentioned the amount of asphalt coverage.

The response was these were “all good discussion points,” “all good things to look at down the road,” things that Commission members were “passionate about,” and certainly everybody “appreciated your passion.”

Mr. Ronca said issues like the trail were already discussed with the City and that there would be 50% less traffic on the site than there was when Martin Tower was in operation.

Commission member Malozzi told Scott to “stay tuned” and to “re-issue his letter” at times in the future.

We will stay tuned.

The tweaking of the Martin Tower site plan begins

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later
ref: Martin Tower addendum
ref: Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon

The Planning Commission recommended three “tweaks” to the Martin Tower site design last night and passed them on to City Council for final approval.

The City had “urged” that one of the tweaks — to allow more parking in front of buildings — not be approved, but there seemed to be no contention, and the three change were approved without controversy.

We can look forward to a series of such meetings as the developer brings forward requested changes to the original plan that was approved a year or two ago.

Gadfly notes that the number of apartments has been scaled back from 500+ to about 300, though this was not a discussion point last night.

Gadfly found the most interesting part of the meeting public Comment from Scott Slingerland and the ensuing discussion with PC chair Melosky and developer Ronca.

Gadfly will post on this interchange in a separate post.

But nothing out of the ordinary last night that Gadfly could see. And Scott is keeping some important issues of interest to us in the air.

———-

selections from Christina Tatu, “Nearly two years after demolition, development progressing at former Martin Tower site.” Morning Call, March 12, 2021.

Nearly two years after Martin Tower was demolished in an implosion that could be heard for miles and drew thousands of onlookers, the owners of the property are seeking zoning changes that would allow them to proceed with development of the 53-acre former Bethlehem Steel site.

At Thursday night’s Bethlehem Planning Commission meeting, planners unanimously recommended approval of zoning amendments that would allow for the expansion of a three-way signalized intersection on Eighth Avenue and for more parking between medical offices proposed for the site, and decrease rear-yard setbacks from 30 feet to 20 feet.

The latest plans show some changes from the ones narrowly approved by planners in April 2019. . . .  At that time, the developer was proposing a trio of office buildings — at least two of them medical — near Eighth and Eaton avenues where there are similar offices. There were to be 528 garden-style apartments, rising three stories high, on either side of the property. A gas station and convenience store, a 132-room hotel, a restaurant and up to two retail stores were also proposed.

The latest plan shows 10 buildings. It reduces the number of apartments to about 300 units, Wagner said.

The plan also includes two three-story medical offices and a 31,000-square-foot grocery store along Eighth Avenue. There’s a three-story professional building along Eaton Avenue, a one-story office building and 130-room hotel. The plan also calls for two restaurants and a gas station and convenience store on the southwest corner of the property.

The developers anticipate construction could start by the end of the year, but they still need to submit land development plans for the project. City Council will vote on Thursday night’s recommendations at their meeting on April 20.

Ronca was asking to put more parking in front of the buildings on Eighth and Eaton avenues.

To limit parking lots along major roads, the current zoning restricts parking spaces between a commercial building and the street to one driving aisle and one row of spaces.

Ronca argued in a Feb. 15 letter to the city that the rules create poor vehicle flow around the medical offices. They would also require most of the parking be behind the buildings, creating access issues for patrons, most of whom would be elderly and would be required to walk a great distance to get into the facilities.

It would also result in the loss of parking spaces, including required handicapped spaces adjacent to the entrance of the grocery store.

selections from Sara K. Satullo, “Martin Tower redevelopment construction could start by the end of 2021.” leheighvalleylive.com, March 11. 2021.

The developers are asking the city to tweak the zoning rules governing the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. world headquarters to allow for more parking near proposed medical buildings, the addition of a new Eighth Avenue entrance and a slightly denser development. . . .

The commission voted unanimously to recommend Bethlehem City Council endorse all three changes, despite the city planning department’s advice to reject the request to allow more parking in front of the buildings. City council is set to hold an April 20 public hearing on the matter.

Board Chairman Rob Melosky emphasized to the public that Thursday night’s vote was just a zoning text amendment recommendation, not project approval. Those more detailed plans will receive careful review from the commission, he said.

“This tract of land is something we take very serious and we want it done the right way,” Melosky said.

The original master plan shows eight buildings plus an apartment complex. The new submitted plans show 10 buildings, although not all of them are labeled.

The plans show a grocery store along Eighth Avenue along with two three-story medical buildings and a three-story office building along Eaton. There is now a one-story office building next to the one-story 130-room hotel and two restaurants where one is proposed in the master plan. The gas station and convenience store remain as well as another building.

City Planning Director Darlene Heller told the commission the requests were pretty straight forward. The city took no issue with reducing lot setbacks or with making the three-way signalized intersection at Plaza Drive — where the CVS and other St. Luke’s medical buildings sit — a four-way signalized intersection.

But Heller did urge the commission to require the bulk of parking to be to the interior portion of the lot. She noted in a feedback letter that the majority of the neighboring buildings were developed prior to 2012 zoning design guidelines.

Ultimately, the commission voted to allow the parking tweaks, noting they learned from St. Luke’s Eaton Avenue building that this is a common request from medical users.

Martin Tower developers request parking limitation exception at Planning this afternoon

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

Martin Tower: Planning Commission, March 11, 5PM

Sorry for the late reminder about this meeting on the Martin Tower site this afternoon.

The developers are asking for 3 changes.

The City is ok with 2 but would “prefer” not approval of a request to allow more parking on the 8th Ave. side in front of the buildings.

The developer’s request:

“The applicant requests that there shall be no limit to the amount of parking between the front lot line and the building.”

The developer’s argument:

Section 1311.08(a) of the City of Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance states: “In the OMU District, parking spaces placed between a principal commercial building and the curb line of an arterial street along the front of the lot shall be limited to one (1) driving aisle and one (1) row of parking spaces.”

a Petitioner proposes to develop two large 3-story Medical Office Buildings and a Grocery Store along the 8th Avenue frontage, and a Profession Office Building along the Eaton Avenue frontage.
b The parking space placement limitation set forth in Z.O. 1311.08(a) will result in poor vehicular circulation around the Medical Office Buildings and poor accessibility to the drop-off entry canopy facing the arterial street. Furthermore, the parking space placement limitation causes the majority of the parking spaces to be at the rear of the building, such that patrons, the majority of which are elderly, are required to walk a great distance to enter the facilities.
c The parking space placement limitation set forth in Z.O. 1311.08(a) will result in the loss of parking spaces, including required handicap parking adjacent to the entry of the Grocery Store.
d The parking space placement limitation set forth in Z.O. 1311.08(a) will result in the loss of parking spaces at the Professional Office Building.
e The parking space placement limitation set forth in Z.O. 1311.08(a) is generally inconsistent with most of the properties in the vicinity of the Subject Property, many of which were developed or redeveloped in recent years.

The city’s response:

  • The current limitation of one drive aisle and one row of parking spaces between a principal building and an arterial street was included . . . to limit the amount of macadam in front of a  development.
  • In fact, [in other zoning districts] NO parking spaces are permitted between a principal building and an arterial street.
  • The one row and one drive aisle exception was created to match existing layout to the west across 8th .
  • Commercial buildings on 8th Ave, north of Eaton were constructed before the current zoning.
  • The Planning Bureau prefers that the parking and macadam area in front of principal buildings remain limited. The bulk of parking should be to the rear or interior of the lot.

Martin Tower addendum

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

Martin Tower: Planning Commission, March 11, 5PM
Martin Tower hearing: City Council April 20
Martin Tower petition

Sara has more and better info than I had in yesterday’s post.

ref: The Martin Tower site — almost two years later

selections from Sara k. Satullo, “We’ve got our 1st glimpse at Martin Tower plans in 2 years. Check them out.” lehighvalleylive.com, March 3, 2021.

The owners of the 53-acre Martin Tower property have submitted updated plans for the massive redevelopment project for the first time in nearly two years.

The developers want to tweak the city zoning rules governing the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. world headquarters to allow for more parking near proposed medical buildings.

The original master plan shows eight buildings plus the apartment complex. The new submitted plans show 10 buildings, although not all of them are labeled.

The developer proposes two large three-story medical office buildings and a grocery store along the Eighth Avenue property frontage and a professional office building fronting on Eaton Avenue, Ronca writes in his Feb. 15 letter.

The plans show a one-story retail building along Eighth — presumably the grocery store — along with two three-story medical buildings and a three-story office building along Eaton. There is now a one-story office building next to the one-story 130-room hotel and two restaurants where one is proposed in the master plan. The gas station and convenience store remain as well as another building.

Ronca is asking to tweak the property’s zoning to put more parking in front of buildings fronting on Eighth and Eaton avenues. To minimize parking lots alongside the major roads, zoning limits development on the property to one driving aisle and one row of parking spaces between a commercial building and the curb line of an arterial street.

Ronca argues in his letter the current zoning rules creates poor vehicle circulation around the medical office buildings and poor accessibility to the drop-off entrance facing the main streets. The majority of the medical office building patrons are elderly and they’d be forced to park behind the buildings and walk a long distance to enter, Ronca writes. And it will require losing parking spaces around the grocery store, including handicapped spots.

Ronca also proposes adding an entrance to the property off of Eighth Avenue for direct access to the proposed medical buildings. The developer wants to make the three-way signalized intersection at Plaza Drive — where the CVS and St. Luke’s medical buildings sit — a four-way signalized intersection. The developer notes his parking tweaks are in-line with existing developed properties in the area.

The developer also proposes developing the existing three-way signalized intersection on Eighth Avenue to create a four-way traffic light, which would provide direct access from Eighth Avenue to the medical office building.

Ronca is also seeking relief from the 30-foot minimum rear yard setbacks to 20 feet.

The Martin Tower site — almost two years later

Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower

May 19, 2019, is one of those red-letter days in Bethlehem history.

The day Martin Tower disappeared from the City skyline.

Here we are almost two years later.

Gadfly passes the site pretty frequently on his way to rendezvous with the family drug dealer.

He loves the open space.

But he can literally feel the ground ready to “break” and sprout man-made artifacts.

The developer is asking for some changes in parking, the nature of which Gadfly doesn’t quite understand yet.

But he was interested in these renderings that are part of the paperwork heading to the relevant City committees reviewing the parking change request.

The first here below pictures the whole site.

 

 

The second rendering cuts off a bit on the right side and on the bottom of the site, but it labels the buildings. If Gadfly’s memory serves, what’s cut off on the bottom left side is a gas station.

Gadfly finds these questions in a thinking outloud post of March 4, 2020. They are still on his mind as we get closer and closer to seeing action at the site.

  • Are we really going to have 500+ apartments there?
  • Will they be less cookie-cutter looking than the renderings we saw?
  • Will any be “affordable” like the memorable old guy asked at the very tail end of the Nitschmann public meeting?
  • Will the whole area be imperviously paved?
  • Will we get sidewalks along Schoenersville to the Monocacy so there’s a walkable connection from there to North Bethlehem?
  • Will there be a crosswalk or other traffic calming at the foot of the Schoenersville hill?
  • Will there be a recreation trail/path access to Burnside and the trail along the Monocacy?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to the youth recreation areas along Schoenersville up to Illick’s Mill?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to Westgate Mall?
  • Will there really be a gas station down by 378?

Martin Tower — one year later

logo Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower  logo

It was just recently that a follower remarked to Gadfly that a year ago some of us were worried about pernicious fall-out from demolition silica.

And now . . . pandemic.

from Christina Tatu, “One year later: Martin Tower implosion drew cheers and tears as iconic skyscraper came crashing down.” May 19, 2020.

It was one year ago when thousands of spectators from around the Lehigh Valley gathered to watch the implosion of Martin Tower, Bethlehem Steel’s world headquarters, which for 47 years reigned as the Lehigh Valley’s tallest building. The 21-story, cruciform building came crashing down at 7:04 a.m. May 19, 2019.

“At the end of the day it was a successful demolition and was a symbol of Bethlehem’s past. We are certainly very appreciative of everything Bethlehem Steel has done for the city and now it’s time to move forward and develop that tract of land,” Mayor Robert Donchez said Monday. A year later, the site at 1170 Eighth Ave. continues to be cleared.

At 53 acres, it’s the largest developable tract of land in the city, Donchez said. It’s also in the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, which allows developers to use certain state and local taxes to pay off construction loans.

The developer, HRP Management, received a waiver from the state to continue work at the site despite the statewide shutdown, Bethlehem Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner said.

City planners narrowly approved a master plan in April 2019 that calls for the 53-acre site to be developed into a trio of office buildings, a gas station and convenience store, a 132-room hotel, a restaurant, and up to two retail stores. There would be another 528 garden-style apartments rising three stories on the other end of the property.

It’s not clear when construction might start, though Donchez said city officials are in regular contact with the developer. The city has yet to receive any land development plans, Karner said. Phone calls to HRP Management were not returned.

So, yes, there will be another go-round about specific plans for the site.

Gird you loins, so to speak.

And then there’s the question of waivers

logo Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus logo

Ok, so we know Martin Tower has been a sore issue.

So Gadfly thought it was a great observation by a follower that the health hazard some of us were worrying about there last year at this time seems so insignificant now.

Great perspective.

But Martin Tower remains a sore issue.

Work continues at Martin Tower during this shut down.

Gadfly followers noticed, some out of detached wry cynicism about special privilege having its privilege, others miffed that their incomes were snuffed because their employers were shut down. How is Martin Tower construction going on when my construction job is shut down?

Gadfly inquired of the City. Director of Community Development Alicia Karner acted promptly, sending an inspector to the site. Karner said work at Martin Tower at the beginning of the shut down was associated with logging and landscaping, both activities deemed essential by the Commonwealth. So far so good. But this time the inspector noted additional activity, beyond logging and landscaping. Karner’s office asked for a copy of a waiver from the state by today or the work would be shut down. The waiver was produced. The work is permitted. There is no indication why the waiver was permitted by the state.

(A tip o’ the hat to Ms. Karner for prompt action!)

Now about rationales for waivers, this article in today’s Morning Call is instructive:

Cynthia Fernandez, “There’s no timeline to release list of Pa. businesses that received coveted coronavirus waivers, top official says..” Morning Call/Spotlight, April 23, 2020.

More than a month after the process was first announced, there is still no timeline for when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will release the list of Pennsylvania businesses that received coveted waivers and were allowed to reopen during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.

During a hearing Thursday, members of the Republican-controlled state Senate lambasted the secretive nature of the waiver process, arguing that the state was deciding the fate of businesses without providing any transparency, leading to confusion and inconsistencies even among businesses in the same industry.

“With such an unprecedented situation comes unprecedented decisions, with no handbook or established guidelines,” Sen. Mike Regan (R., York) said. “Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration that waivers were issued and denied with no basis, and especially with no transparency.”

In March, Wolf shuttered most of the state’s economy in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But in a nod to the complexity of the situation, the governor opened up a waiver process to allow businesses to make the case for why they should be allowed to reopen.

The stakes of the waiver process cannot be overstated, as the state’s decisions affect the livelihoods and potential safety of business owners, employees, and their families, and could mean the difference between solvency and bankruptcy.

Of the 42,000 applications submitted, 22,000 were granted a waiver or informed that they were already considered “life-sustaining,” state officials said. The secretary of the economic development agency, Dennis M. Davin, told lawmakers the process did not favor certain businesses and insisted the 45-person team made decisions in good faith.

Wonder what reason the owners of the Martin Tower site gave to secure their waiver. Though the waiver process doesn’t seem all that difficult if about 50% of the petitioners succeeded in getting a waiver.

Gadfly guesses there may be reason to hold on to some cynicism about the Tower saga.

 

Why was Gadfly thinking of Martin Tower?

logo Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower logo

Why did Gadfly send you that silly picture of the Martin Tower site on Sunday?

It was such a nice weekend. Sunny. Spring-like. 090

And as he drove along the site, he suddenly “saw” it as if as new.

It looked so different. It’s fairly nearly cleared now. Have you noticed?

Feels like it’s nearing time for construction to begin.

But does the final project design come before the public again, or have all the final approvals been given?

All of Gadfly’s questions about the site flew back like birds returning north.

  • Are we really going to have 500+ apartments there?
  • Will they be less cookie-cutter looking than the renderings we saw?
  • Will any be “affordable” like the memorable old guy asked at the very tail end of the Nitschmann public meeting?
  • Will the whole area be imperviously paved?
  • Will we get sidewalks along Schoenersville to the Monocacy so there’s a walkable connection from there to North Bethlehem?
  • Will there be a crosswalk or other traffic calming at the foot of the Schoenersville hill?
  • Will there be a recreation trail/path access to Burnside and the trail along the Monocacy?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to the youth recreation areas along Schoenersville up to Illick’s Mill?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to Westgate Mall?
  • Will there really be a gas station down by 378?

Sorry if Gadfly is scratching an old sore.

Suffer any damage from the Martin Tower implosion? (75)

(75th in a series on Martin Tower)

Gadfly:

If you know anybody that suffered any damage during the implosion tell them to file their claim sooner rather than later. The implosion company is refusing to pay its claims on a building they did months ago.

https://www.jaxdailyrecord.com/article/blackstone-building-owners-file-lawsuit-over-damage-from-city-hall-implosion

George Lopez

They probably don’t want to release the original data (74)

(74th in a series on Martin Tower)

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Gadfly:

They probably don’t want to release the original data because that could have serious OSHA repercussions to all the people that were required to work that day and were exposed to the cloud of dust. It violates the law regarding exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

George

“Can we please see the original data as gathered by each monitor?” (73)

(73rd in a series on Martin Tower)

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,

This summary does not present the results in a very helpful way. It would be nice to know the range of concentrations by particle size per monitor. To say that during the implosion maximum concentrations ranged from 9.3 to 33,625 micrograms per cubic meter of air for particles with an average diameter of between .31 and .91 micrometers does not allow us to put the results in the context of any meaningful ambient air regulatory standards, which designate safe levels for particles that measure 2.5 (or 10) micrometers. Assuming the presented numbers were averaged across all four monitors in very different locations, we don’t know where the fallout was worst, and what amount of particulate might have fallen into the creek or an area where people live (vs. what looks like a parking lot on their map).

The results suggest that one PM monitor was inundated with particulate, so I guess we can assume that location was hit the worst, but what were the specific numbers associated with that location? Also, as Mr. Lopez notes, telling us what was not in the air is not the same thing as telling us what was in the air. I guess these data show that the demolition company was not lying when it said it had removed all the asbestos and lead paint, but we already had reason to believe that was true because the DEP went and checked their work. Did they even bother to do a chemical analysis to identify other toxins? I guess we’ll have to wait for the DEP to tell us what else might have been in the air, assuming their monitors were not inundated with so much dust as to also become “overloaded.”

Can we please see the original data as gathered by each monitor? What is here simply conceals any meaningful variation in exposure by location to either homeowners or aquatic resources.

Breena

Breena has way more science than Gadfly has but still not enough. So I say again: The developer’s report is (obviously) going to be questioned. There will be suspicions of some sort of cover-up. Is there some (objective) scientist “out there” in Gadfly-land who can help us understand what the developer and the DEP reports say and don’t say. The developer is probably before the City right now with the next step in design plans, which just as probably will be controversial, and they will be before the public again. This is a good time to be sure the developer was “clean” in terms of claims of safety from the demolition.

Tasting the dust (72)

(72nd in a series on Martin Tower)

ssinsider is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.

Gadfly:

The PM didn’t disappear after a half an hour; as Mr. Crownfield said, it blew away. But not just into not nearby neighborhoods. Into faraway ones, too! We could taste the dust on our lips in the south side well into the late afternoon hours (up until the rain started), even when we were not in the direction of the prevailing winds!

When we drove by the site two days ago, and it was slightly breezy, the same thing happened: you could taste the cement (or is it concrete?) dust on your lips! They are telling us that is normal? What does “normal” mean? What does “remarkable” mean? If you ask me, or the nearby neighbors, it has all been pretty remarkable.

ssinsider

The developer’s report is (obviously) going to be questioned. There will be suspicions of some sort of cover-up. Is there some (objective) scientist “out there” in Gadfly-land who can help us understand what the developer and the DEP reports say and don’t say. The developer is probably before the City right now with the next step in design plans, which just as probably will be controversial, and they will be before the public again. This is a good time to be sure the developer was “clean” in terms of claims of safety from the demolition.

 

“Why not just say what was in the dust not what wasn’t in the dust?” (71)

(71st in a series on Martin Tower)

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Gadfly:

Oh Geez. They didn’t even test for respirable silica which is what caused thousands of horrible cancer deaths after the collapse of the WTC. As for the “However, two air samples for asbestos content could not be analyzed due to overloading of particulate. ” Overloading is why they didn’t have air monitoring reports for the “8,000” other projects they imploded. Why not just say what was in the dust not what wasn’t in the dust?

George

One Air Quality Report on the Martin Tower demolition (70)

(70th in a series on Martin Tower)

Vertex Martin Tower results

Here linked are air quality test results from the developer’s testing agent.

Conclusion:
Air 5ampling results revealed no detectable concentration5 of asbestos or lead. However, two air samples for asbestos content could not be analyzed due to overloading of particulate. PM monitoring revealed no remarkable concentrations in three of the sampling locations. The PM monitoring station positioned northeast of the building within the fence line near the Eaton Ave/ Schoenersville Road egress was visibly coated with debris following the implosion. Data from this northeast sampling station indicates a significant spike of PM for less than a half hour after the implosion, subsequently, the PM concentrations generally went back to normal or slightly above normal readings.
If you should have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely,
The Vertex Companies, Inc.

Test results from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will need to be obtained with a Right-to-Know request when they become available.

Answer for Mr. Lopez (69)

(69th in a series on Martin Tower)

See post #68 in this series

From a good source:

There are 2 air quality (“dust”) reports from Martin Tower, per Bob Novatnack.

1) Air quality report paid for by developers Wagner/Ronca et al, done by a private firm and to be finalized and released to Bob Novatnack this week. As soon as he receives it, he will make it public.

2) Air quality report from PA State Department of Environmental Protection, which they will release only through a Right-to-Know request. Not sure when that one would be finished and RTK-able.

Councilman Callahan’s angst (67)

(67th  in a series on Martin Tower)

There were aspects of the Martin Tower demolition that were contentious.

Gadfly’s pee was warm over lack of direct attention by the City to long-term health effects from the “dust.”

A follower said Gadfly sounded “agitated” and “furious” at the Nitschmann night meeting. (You can play the tape.)

But one thing Gadfly readily acknowledged at that meeting as did everyone else before, during, and since the demolition was the absolutely outstanding work done by Robert Novatnack, Bethlehem’s Emergency Services Coordinator, who led the project from the City side. Mr. Novatnack was given an award by the County and at the May 22 City Council meeting received a particularly eloquent citation from the City (kudos to the author!).  You can listen to that well-deserved citation on the City video beginning at min. 59:30. It is really excellent.

Everybody please take a moment and nod thanks in the direction of City Hall to Mr. Novatnack for a job selflessly and tirelessly well done. There is something in his very gentle and genial voice that gives you confidence that all is under control.

But Gadfly would like to call attention here to the interchange between Councilwoman Van Wirt and Councilman Callahan that framed Mr. Novatnack’s presentation and, rather awkwardly in Gadfly’s mind, temporarily halted the presentation of the citation.

Please listen to Gadfly’s audio of this section of the Council meeting or watch on the City video beginning at minute 43:47. It takes less than 10 minutes.

Gadfly has said before that the dynamic between these two councilpersons is worth paying attention to.

PVW made three points:

1) the air sampling results should be posted online for citizens to look at

2) she was quite sure (personal inspection) that there was cement debris swept down into the Monocacy and we must do better in the future protecting our natural resource

3) speaking as a physician and explicitly answering an argument made by the demolitioners about the safety of the “dust,” she observed that “imploded cement particulate from cured concrete . . . is incredibly different from what is spewed out from our cement plants [like Casilio].”

PVW’s tone – to Gadfly’s ear, and you can judge for yourself – was firm but fair.

She certainly was not accusatory toward Mr. Novatnack:

“I do think that you handled a difficult situation . . . with grace and patience, and I thank you for the good job you did with that.”

“Mr. Novatnack has been very responsive all the time to all of my concerns.”

“This is not on you, Mr. Novatnack . . . this is not you doing it better, but I think we as a community . . .”

“I really do admire how you’ve handled all this, handled all my concerns . . . Thank you for your patience with me particularly and helping the citizens understand what was happening.”

“You are very responsive, attentive, and patient.”

“Thank you again for your good work.”

Councilman Callahan, admitting to an “angst in [his] tone right now,”  then temporarily halted the reading of the citation for the purpose of 1) questioning PVW’s “awareness” ( a term used three times) of certain facts since she is only a recent resident of the City and 2) decrying her lack of questioning before “stoking fear” (a phrase used three times) among the residents – a behavior irresponsible by public officials.

A point of order halted BC’s train of thought.

Gadfly felt BC was out of order. Gadfly was very troubled by BC’s response to PVW. He found it both condescending and erroneous.

To Gadfly, PVW’s comments made perfectly clear that she knew about Casilio and that she was probably making a pest of herself asking questions.

To Gadfly, “stoking fear” might be thought of as insulting. PVW is a physician, and she made a comment about the particulates and public health danger in her professional capacity.

BC’s point of PVW’s short 4-year residence in the City as implying lack of standing in the Martin Tower discussion reminded Gadfly of BC last year claiming higher authority to speak about the Southside since he has lived in Bethlehem longer that Councilwoman Negron.

PVW sounded like a responsible public official to Gadfly.

One of the goals of the Gadfly project is to help us know our Councilpersons better, especially when it comes time to vote. Council meetings are now on video, so residents can judge for themselves.

But Gadfly thought he would italicize this interchange, as it were, as another one especially illustrative of the nature and temperament of these two Councilpeople (see post #60), who literally sit at opposite poles of the Head Table.

“How many communities would deliberately destroy their historic tallest building?” (66)

(66th  in a series on Martin Tower)

Though Martin Tower is now an imploded heap of rubble and thus “old news,” Gadfly hastens to archive follower Al Wurth’s perspective so that it will be available to historians of this moment in Bethlehem history.

Wurth’s moving comments at the Nitschmann public meeting (where he was rudely interrupted from the head table) got the most vigorous applause of the night.

Here’s Wurth’s excellent essay, a version of which appeared as an op-ed just before the demolition.

Al Wurth, “What is the advantage to the community of ‘imploding’ Martin Tower?” Lehighvalleylive, May 17, 2019.

What is the advantage to the community of “imploding” Martin Tower?

In a few days, on Sunday May 19, Bethlehem residents will have a surprise on our way to church.  The spectacle is the announced  “implosion” of the iconic Martin Tower, the former headquarters of the steel company known round the world by the name of its birthplace — Bethlehem. However, it won’t be terrorists who have carried out the assault but rather our local officials and people we call “developers” who have led us to do it to ourselves.

The building will fall on itself after being broken apart with explosive charges and will release a cloud of dust that will spread over the city (and Nitschmann school across the road), and travel for miles in an ever-larger pattern to the Southeast, if prevailing winds are in place—aimed initially toward the most densely populated parts of town – the near West Side, downtown, the historic districts and the South Side—and toward South Mountain, which will likely contain even more of the dust in city.

Actually, we did not vote for any plan to destroy the Martin Tower; it was not a decision made by the people. It would never have been supported by a referendum, but we never had a vote. It was instead enabled, ambiguously, in a 6-1 rezoning vote (promoted by Mayor Donchez), by city council in December 2015, that effectively removed protection of Martin Tower as a historic structure. Only three of the members of City Council who approved that rezoning remain on council, Councilors Callahan, Reynolds, and Waldron; the lone dissenter, Kathy Reuscher, and the others, including City Business Manager Eric Evans, are no longer on council.

The insensitivity of the city leaders to the history and the uniqueness of the structure should not be surprising. Abandonment and destruction of old structures in “historic” Bethlehem has lately been common.  Indeed, good advice for preserving property would be: Don’t get on the National Register of Historic Places—like the old Broughal School, or even be designated historic, like the 2nd Avenue Armory, because you end up in the cross-hairs of the absentee out-of-town speculators that call themselves developers.

So, three years later, it should be no surprise that the unique and historic structure, the tallest building in the Lehigh Valley, would be scheduled for demolition by “implosion” at the same time that cities around the world are seeing a boom in distinctive tall structures.  I recently visited Durham NC, where one was just completed, and condominiums on the upper floors are listed at $1 million. Rather than take advantage of the unparalleled views (much better than Durham’s) from our own tallest building (that used to be reserved for the steel execs), our leaders’ choice apparently has been to destroy both the uniqueness and the historical character of Martin Tower in favor of suburban-style “generica” developments made up of low-rise structures on acres of parking lots—mirroring the shopping centers across the street.

Bethlehem doesn’t have to settle for this plan, and certainly citizens should not face the risks of the “implosion demolition.” The original rationale for demolition, that the Tower was too plagued by old construction materials like asbestos, no longer applies. Fortunately, the negative characteristics of the old building have been removed by the developer; only the historic significance and the unique character of the building remain. With its costly and dangerous asbestos removed, it is what Bethlehem Steel made it to be—the skyscraper company’s skyscraper—a hometown tribute to the builder of world-class bridges and buildings.

Instead of completing the destruction, why not retrofit the remaining steel structure with new cover skin with solar panels, add state of the art efficiency, insulation, and daylighting, and other modern technologies, and remodel the old monument in a 21st century form? The solar exposure (for PV panels and daylighting) is unmatched as the building is not shaded from any direction—another distinctive  characteristic of its monumental status.

The mayor and council and other state and local officials (who have been conspicuously silent) can work together to find a better and much safer plan. Place a moratorium on any demolition to get clear comparisons of cost and risk of the slow but steady (job creating) piece-by-piece demolition alternative, compared to the quick and dirty implosion. These estimates have not been provided to the public. Meanwhile, seek initiatives from other builders who could contract with the current owners for the structure’s skeleton and shell to be turned into multi-use and multi-level  residential, and commercial area, like so many similar developments in other communities.

The complaints from the absentee owners about how long it will take can hardly be considered serious given the years of inactivity that the location has endured. The owners will still have their special tax breaks from the CRIZ–that they can apply to the project and the surrounding property.  Make no mistake, citizens are paying for the destruction of Martin Tower not just in the destructive pollution and loss of our history; our leaders are actually giving special tax breaks to the wreckers.

The old obstacles to reuse have been removed; why destroy the core and its historic and structural integrity—and make citizens hide from the pollution?  How many communities would deliberately destroy their historic tallest building?  Bethlehem officials, and the developers, can do better.

Op Ed submitted by Prof. Al Wurth, Bethlehem resident and (imperiled) neighbor of Martin.

The Martin of Martin Tower (65)

(65th  in a series on Martin Tower)

Bob Bilheimer is General Manager of the Industrial Archives & Library here in Bethlehem and was the General Manager of Public Affairs at Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where he was responsible for corporate communications.

Bob prepared these press releases on Ed Martin for publication before the demolition.

Gadfly got behind in his journalistic endeavors, however, and apologizes to Bob for not posting them at a more timely moment.

Martin

 

Edmund F. Martin – The Man Behind the Tower – IAL News Release – May 15, 2019

 

Edmund F. Martin & Bethlehem Steel Timeline