We’ve been thinking a lot about and talking a lot about systemic racism.
Gadfly couldn’t help but fold that in to the public comment by Southside Little League President Roy Ortiz at the August 18 City Council meeting.
The Southside Little League needs relocating.
Mr. Ortiz called attention to the perennial flooding of Southside’s field, a situation that impedes their play, a situation that the City has wasted money band-aiding for years.
Councilman Colon remembers the bad situation when he played ball.
And Gadfly can go back over twice as long to the days when he coached and administered in the Northeast and North Central Little Leagues.
That Southside field has always been trouble.
Mr. Ortiz observed that of the 6 city Little Leagues, the Southside always gets “the short end of the stick.” The field is not up to code; it should be condemned. “Our kids don’t deserve this,” he said, “begging” for relocation. Coming to Council because he hadn’t been able to connect with the Recreation director.
Mr. Ortiz got a sympathetic ear from Councilmen Reynolds and Colon, but it was Councilwoman Negron, the conscience of the Southside, who put the button on the lingering situation.
“The bottom line is that it is always, always the problem that the lower income communities, the black and brown people are always left behind,” said Councilwoman Negron, “The attention is not there. And that is wrong. And it is time to right the wrong.”
Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.
After two years of best practices research, conversations with residents, community organizations, and property owners, and careful data analysis, the City has proposed Text Amendments to the Zoning Ordinance that would regulate all off-campus student housing within the City. This is the first policy implemented to directly regulate off-campus housing for all students enrolled at a local college or university. Until now, student housing has fallen under the category of “regulated rentals,” which house 3-5 unrelated individuals and are inspected and registered with the City on a yearly basis. The proposed amendments define a “student home” as a separate category and create geographic restrictions for the establishment of any new “student homes” in south Bethlehem. The Planning Commission will consider the proposal at their meeting on August 13th at 5 pm.
Some background on the student housing issue (skip to below for details on the zoning changes)
In 2018, in my former role at CADCB, I completed my semi-annual analysis of residential property sales in south Bethlehem, and came across a shocking data point—the median price of a single-family home had increased by 18% from one year to the next. As I dug deeper, I found that new owner-occupiers were few and far between in the neighborhoods close to Lehigh’s campus, and brand-new companies with New York or New Jersey mailing addresses and names like “Lehigh Housing LLC” were buying homes at higher-than-average prices for the neighborhood. In addition, the number of properties adjacent to Lehigh University experiencing a sale or transfer over the previous year had increased by 34%.
Over the next six months, CADCB staff and the Southside Vision Housing committee began conversations with residents in the neighborhoods adjacent to Lehigh University, and we quickly identified a startling frenzy of speculative investment activity. The perfect combination of low-interest rates, a recovering economy, Lehigh’s announcement of a major increase in student population (without a simultaneous explanation of how they would be housed), and the perception of easy money to be made in student housing was resulting in a new group of investors—many with no ties to the community at all—buying up properties in Southside neighborhoods. At the prices they were paying, renting to a family would not be an option. And why would they, when they could make up to $5,000 per month on a home rented to students, while the same home would max out around $1,800 for a family?
Residents described a slick, Kansas City-based investor who was knocking on doors in the Hillside/First Terrace area, promising homeowners (falsely) that every one of their neighbors had already committed to sell their properties, and if they didn’t sell now, their house would lose its value due to a massive student development that would be built next door. When they couldn’t make it work, a recent Lehigh grad purchased a number of the homes and brought a preposterous plan for townhouses balancing on the side of the mountain before the Planning Commission, who let the proposal advance. Residents scrambled to collect enough money to pay a lawyer to defend their neighborhood at the Zoning Hearing Board, and, after learning of the legal challenge, the developer pulled his proposal at the last minute. However, after paying an average of $250k per property, residents worried that it would only be a matter of time before he brings a new proposal forward.
Meanwhile, properties for sale throughout south Bethlehem—often miles from the center of campus—now suggest that they would be “perfect” for student housing, and are listed at prices far from what most local families could afford. Neighborhoods like the one where I grew up, at Ninth and Carlton, have reached the student housing tipping point; we always had a few student homes, but the numbers are increasing. One more bad student house, with overgrown grass and weeds, students partying on the third story roof and setting off fireworks, and broken bottles smashed all over the sidewalk, will send the homeowners packing. I’ve heard it from the nine homeowners who have signed letters and petitions in that block, asking the City to preserve the quality of life for committed residents who love their neighborhood.
Meanwhile, a low-income family in south Bethlehem has taken one of the largest student housing providers to court; the home they have rented for years for $1,500 a month was purchased by a student housing provider that is attempting to increase their rent to $620 per person—an average price for a student home.
From my perspective, the question we were faced with, and that we asked of the City, was: how do we preserve mixed-income neighborhoods with a diversity of housing types (including student homes), while retaining affordability for families?
And the City listened and took on the challenge. In August 2018, the Southside Vision Housing Committee and the City hired Karen Black, a University of Pennsylvania professor, lawyer, and expert on housing policy and planning, to analyze the options available to preserve mixed-income neighborhoods in south Bethlehem. Karen spent several months researching best practices from other communities, and discussing possibilities with residents, student housing owners, and City planners, among others. City staff continued the process throughout the next year, developing a proposal for zoning changes that was presented to community stakeholders last summer and fall. The Southside Vision Housing Committee met with City Council members last August to discuss these issues, and the four members in attendance indicate their interest in a proposal from the administration that would address resident concerns.
After months of meetings with stakeholders and careful revisions, we finally have a proposal that addresses the concerns of the neighborhood. This is the product of resident advocacy and organizing, careful data collection, analysis of best practices, and consultation with professionals in the field. So what are the highlights, for those who don’t enjoy reading zoning ordinances?
The policy defines “student home” as “a dwelling unit occupied by 3 or more students aged 18 years or older, but not more than 5, who are not “related” to each other and each of whom is enrolled to take two or more academic classes at a college or university authorized to grant post secondary degrees by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. A housing unit occupied by I or 2 college students shall be treated the same as any other housing unit of the same housing type, and shall not be considered a Student Home.”
All properties currently housing 3-5 students (regardless of the location) that are appropriately registered and inspected as regulated rentals at the time of the passage of the ordinance will be allowed to remain student homes, as long as they maintain their yearly licensing and inspection. If they let it drop for any amount of time, they will be required to abide by the rules of the new ordinance.
Any property that is not currently a student home that wishes to house 3-5 students must now be located ONLY in the areas established by the attached map. These neighborhoods were selected because they are close to Lehigh’s campus and already have a significant portion of the area dedicated to student housing. These homes will also be required to provide 3 off-street parking spaces.
Any property that is not currently a student home that wishes to house students in the business district will be restricted to a maximum of 3 students per home.
Any property that is not currently a student home that wishes to house students outside of the designated areas and business district will be restricted to a maximum of 2 students per home (and will not be regulated as a student home, but as a typical rental property).
Additional limits have been placed on the height and impervious surface coverage of any new construction in RG/RT zones, which would prevent the construction of out-of-scale structures designed to house students in residential neighborhoods.
Thanks to the hard work of Darlene Heller, Tracy Samuelson, and Alicia Karner on this one, and to Mayor Donchez for hearing the concerns of Southside residents and taking action. Neighborhoods are the foundation of our City, and the diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods of south Bethlehem (students included)–where neighbors yell to one another from their front porches and kids play on the sidewalk, where people always say “hi” when I walk by and ask me about the baby, where neighbors offer you food from the barbecue without even knowing your name—that’s the south Bethlehem I know and love, and that is worth protecting.
Plans for a Lidl grocery store could replace a controversial psychiatric hospital proposed in Bethlehem, but the change depends on an amendment to the city’s zoning, said Developer Abe Atiyeh.
Atiyeh has been fighting with Bethlehem zoners for more than a decade over a 5-acre grassy property at 1838 Center St., near Bethlehem Catholic High School. Another proposal for the site included a four-story, 125-unit apartment complex, but neither the hospital or apartments are allowed under the property’s institutional zoning.
The zoning, which allows for hospitals and medical offices, prohibits grocery stores as well, but Atiyeh is pressing forward with this latest plan, saying a grocery store by the German chain Lidl would serve a need in the community. He will present a petition to City Council on Tuesday night to get the zoning changed.
City Council will refer Atiyeh’s request to the City Planning Commission and Lehigh Valley Planning Commission for their recommendations, said Darlene Heller, city director of planning and zoning. When City Council receives recommendations from both commissions, it will hold a public hearing before voting on the change.
Atiyeh said he’s been in negotiations with Lidl for two months after the company reached out to express interest in the site.
A representative from Lidl didn’t return a request for comment Monday. The closest food market is Azar Supermarket, about 2.5 miles away on Linden Street.
“I think it’s a perfect use. People can walk there and it won’t generate a lot of traffic. There’s a void in this market for groceries,” Atiyeh said.
Bethlehem City Council President Adam Waldron said he would reserve comment until he hears Atiyeh’s presentation.
“Obviously, that’s been a pretty contentious property over the years and there’s been a lot of neighborhood input,” Waldron said Monday.
The 170-year-old former Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church at 537 High St. is proposed to be converted to 15 apartments with off-street parking by developer Ryan Dunn of DTMG 1665 VCP, LLC.
In the South Side, the former Zion First Hungarian Lutheran Church with parcels at 938 E. Fourth St. and 949 E. Fifth St. would be partially demolished to make way for 24 affordable apartments, said developer Plamen Ayvazov, president of Monocacy General Contracting.
The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board will review both proposals July 8.
Ayvazov plans to keep the front of the church and its steeple intact, but would demolish the rear of the church to construct a five-story addition for the apartments. The building would also have a community room and fitness area, he said. There would be 42 parking spaces. Ayvazov believes the church has been empty for more than three years.
Ayvazov bought the building for $285,000 in November, according to Northampton County property records. He believes it was constructed around 1925. He was able to salvage some of the church’s interior, selling or donating various artifacts, including wooden pews purchased by a Connecticut congregation.
The project would feature two-bedroom apartments ranging from $800-$1,100 per month.
Dunn didn’t return a phone call requesting information about his project.
According to documents filed with the city, Dunn wants to redevelop the five-story building into 15 apartments, with 21 parking spaces.
Neither church is in the city’s historic district. Darlene Heller, Bethlehem’s director of planning and zoning, isn’t sure how long the churches have been empty.
It’s been out of the news almost a month and won’t return till the decision of the Zoning Board February 26.
Gadfly was thinking about it because a new store opened in his neighborhood, a bakery — “Charlie’s Bakery” — at 1401 High, corner of High and Greenwich.
Why was Gadfly thinking about the majestic 2 W. Market in the historical district when a bakery opened in a modest location in the hinterlands?
Because it’s a corner store taking advantage of the relatively new corner-store ordinance specifically designed to return such properties to their former and original commercial use.
And because 2 W. Market is trying to take advantage of the relatively new corner-store ordinance to establish a business where there was never one.
Charlie’s Bakery is precisely the kind of use for which the corner-store ordinance was designed, a space historically commercial but turned residential being returned to its commercial use.
Gadfly’s 50-year-old kids still easily remember Miller’s store where a clerk who dispensed the candy was so much a “character” that she earned from them a (not so nice) nick-name.
One would think that anybody can see that the High St. building style (shaved corner entrance, side windows) on the left for which the corner-store ordinance was designed is not the same as the Market St. property. Anybody but our Zoning Board and City Council.
From all angles, the High St. building was obviously designed for first-floor commercial use.
We wish Charlie well. When Gadfly passed while taking his constitutional Saturday afternoon the store was closed, with two disappointed would-be patrons chatting outside.
Latest in a series of posts about Neighborhoods and block watches
Last night organizers Katie Reagan and Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith — doing the Lord’s work — met with Bethlehem officer Buskirk and Moravian Chief of Police Blake and a group of ten residents at the Moravian Block Watch.
Chief Blake reported to the residents positive developments in regard to tailgating, parking, and the general behavior of the current Moravian student body.
More good news: Councilwoman Crampsie Smith read a detailed letter from Bethlehem head of Public Works Mike Alkhal addressing questions the block watch had about traffic in the Main St. area.
The Moravian block watch usually meets the first Wednesday of the month at 6PM in the HUB Building, Moravian College.
Contact Councilwoman Crampsie Smith at Crampsie150@gmail.com
Gadfly would love to hear about other block watches across the City.
Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside
Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.
Pilot study: temporary closing of Packer Avenue
Public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at the
Broughal Middle School Auditorium
Lehigh is concerned with Lehigh. The Mayor and City Council must be concerned about the entire city and, in this particular instance, the nearby Southside environs. This isn’t the first time the University has floated this idea, and in the past the concept was panned by public safety officials. Today it is more than that, especially given increased development throughout the Southside and the resultant traffic gridlock that results along the Third and Fourth Streets corridors at various times. Packer Avenue has provided a third east/west option for drivers on the Southside, and with increased congestion elsewhere the jury is still out on how beneficial this would be for Bethlehem, for this lifetime Bethlehem resident. There’s a lot more to this equation than what Lehigh University is pitching. The true test during this 45 day period will be if there is some sort of emergency (God forbid) on Third or Fourth Streets that stops through traffic and how the Packer Avenue closure will affect the ability for motorists and commerce to continue to flow.
Latest in a series of posts on Airbnb and short-term lodging
The phenomenon of Airbnb/short-term lodging/short-term rentals has been an acute issue for some people in the Northside Historic District, but it is also a concern for others as the “Town Square” essay by Paul Peuker that we published yesterday shows. In fact, Gadfly has concerns relative to his own neighborhood. (Click on Airbnb or Short-term lodging under Topics on the right-hand Gadfly sidebar for previous posts.)
New legislation for the zoning code that has been working its way to City Council was discussed at the Planning Commission on January 9 and will come to Council Tuesday night in the form of a resolution to collect all kinds of information before enacting the legislation.
At the moment Gadfly doesn’t have copies of the two exhibits mentioned in the resolution coming forward Tuesday, but here is an “unclean,” marked up draft of the latest revision of the proposed new addition to the zoning ordinance (Housing Ordinance 1741 on short-term lodging has been in operation for a year or two). The January 9 Planning Commission recommended no changes in this draft. It just may be a bit confusing for you to read.
Here is the City Planning Director helpfully summarizing for the PC (and for us!) the background leading to the upcoming resolution and proposed legislation:
Here to Gadfly’s mind are some key components of the draft zoning legislation that followers might be interested in:
Owner-occupied (a big concern in the Northside Historic District): Short Term Lodging use is only permitted in an owner occupied single family dwelling existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1, 2020 or, for lots exceeding one( 1 )acre in size,in an accessory or outbuilding structure existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1 ,2020.
Parking: Two offstreet parking spaces are required for the dwelling. One additional space is required if more than one room is rented. These off-street requirements shall not apply to any short term lodging facility in a CB Zoning District.
Number of rooms: No more than 2 rooms on any lot may be offered for rent in any short term lodging facility regardless of the size of the structure or number of bedrooms.
Renovation: No exterior alteration or expansion shall be made to any building for purposes of furnishing or expanding short term lodging, except as may be required for purpose of sanitation, handicapped accessibility, historic rehabilitation or safety.
Bruce Haines and the Gadfly had suggestions for changes and questions, but since the upcoming action by Council is just a resolution to collect information, Gadfly will save that information for a later post.
But what are you seeing and thinking? Responses invited.
The plans for expanded development of the Hotel Bethlehem that generated so much discussion and excitement 2-3 years ago have been put on a bit of a pause because of new hotels in Center Valley and the proposed development by Wind Creek.
Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines is still optimistic about the project but says the timing right now is not right.
See his good description of the situation here in his appearance before the CRIZ board this week seeking and gaining approval for an extension of the expansion planning.
Gadfly has downsizing work to do. He keeps hoping for resolution of the 2 W. Market case. At least at the local level. Whatever happens here, the case will no doubt fly into the court system. And we’ll lose sight of it for a while.
His eyes are focused on tonight. Can we get to closing arguments, please?
But Gadfly thinks there is one more piece that you will be interested in, you who see this case as important to such questions as whether you have any control over your neighborhood, whether zoning laws matter, whether City Hall is for or agin’ you.
And you who are kind of nerdy like he is.
Remember that in skeletal form what’s happening here in this phase of a longstanding argument is that neighbors are questioning the validity of an amendment to the zoning code that enables the owners of 2 W. Market to operate a financial service office in a residential neighborhood.
Now this case has generated a truck load of testimony.
You who are more recent Gadfly followers should look at this chart of testimony of just one meeting done when Gadfly was much younger and intoxicated with his power to help people come to a decision about the controversy: Chart of 11-20-18 testimony . It’s from a post entitled Gadfly’s Study Guide to the 11/20 Council Hearing on 2 W. Market. A post that won an honorable mention at the northeast regional conference of The Gaddies, our national organization.
So the neighbors’ attorney wanted to use a large portion of such testimony — our voices — in the attempt to invalidate the amendment favorable to the Marketers.
The neighbors’ attorney had a document of several hundred pages (Gadfly’s testimony itself took 12 pages) of transcribed testimony — our voices — over several Planning Commission and City Council meetings that he wanted to introduce into the ZHB record.
The marketers vigorously objected. And it would seem to Gadfly that the Zoning Hearing Board is on the side of the Marketers.
As Gadfly understands it, the Marketers want to exclude all (or as much as they can) of the negative testimony that led up to the approving vote on the amendment by City Council. That would exclude all (or mostly all) of the resident voices — our voices — testifying against the Marketers.
The past does not matter, say the Marketers, a past that the neighbors would argue is full of problematic aspects that call into question the very basis on which Council passed the amendment.
It does not matter whether the amendment was immorally or illegally passed, according to this position. It was passed. That’s it. Get over it. (Hmmm, where in the national dialogue has Gadfly heard that phrase before?) Move on to subsequent events.
The Marketers argue that the clock starts anew with the passage of the amendment, that the reasons and motives on which the amendment was passed are not relevant. The Marketers would start this case with the notion that the amendment as passed is valid.
Now we have seen in a recent post what the impact of such a ruling can have, the post in which we see Mr. Haines sparring with the opposition attorneys AND the ZHB over the relevance of the influential role the Mayor played in passage of the amendment. Such testimony is not acceptable according to this position.
Another example of this view of the restricted legal basis of neighbor testimony — our voices — is what happened to Gadfly #2 Bill Scheirer.
Scheirer was “precluded” from testifying. Precluded! He came to the big dance dressed up with a prepared statement and was refused admission at the door.
A usually gentle and calm but now exasperated Mr. Scheirer (you know him, you’ve seen him in action) had one word for the proceeding as he exited the arena! One word! Click here to find out what it was.
The neighbors have Baker v. Chartiers Tp. Zon. Hearing Bd., 677 A.2d 1274 , in which we find as a reason an amendment was invalidated “the failure of the Board of Supervisors to provide a full and fair examination of the impact which the rezoning would have on adjacent properties.”
Which will the ZHB go with? Gadfly feels the ZHB has already shown strong leaning to the Marketer’s case.
Gadfly finds this back-and-forth legal arguing fascinating and invites you to hear the lawyers lay out their cases. In the following video clip, the ZHB solicitor raises the question of what kind of testimony the ZHB should listen to, and then the attorneys for the City/Marketers and for the neighbors respectively make their pitches.
What did you think of the testimony of Mrs. Virgilio, the sole resident witness put on by the City/Marketers?
If I were to boil her testimony down, I’d say Mrs. Virgilio feels it’s ok for a financial service office to operate out of 2 W. Market even though it’s in an area zoned residential because it’s a commercial area and because it has raised property values.
Would you agree with the way Gadfly put it?
Last post I asked you to use Google to “see” what Mrs. Virgilio sees. Now see the area through the City zoning map. (Have you ever seen the zoning map. Pretty interesting.) Yellow is residential; the other (pink?) is commercial.
Now Mrs. Virgilio “sees” the New and Market intersection as commercial even though 3 of the corners are zoned residential. Councilman Callahan said basically the same thing at a key Council meeting long ago and even extended his purview of the commercial area west on Market toward Main, saying something like “you can’t tell me W. Market St here is residential.”
Here is the audio of the cross examination of Mrs. Virgilio by the neighbors’ attorney.
The attorney makes several points in that cross examination:
Though there was a dentist office in the Virgilio B&B before they bought the property, it would not be allowed now by law.
Verizon is in the business district, and Glemser bldg and the law offices are grandfathered, so they have no legal bearing on 2 W.
Though there is a longstanding law office near the B&B, a new one would not be allowed there now by law.
Though Mrs. Virgilio testified that there was no “commercial creep” in the neighborhood, the recent opening of a financial service office at 2 W. itself is indeed an example of commercial creep.
Valid points, Gadfly thought.
But, climatically, the neighbors’ attorney focused on what for Gadfly was precisely his big takeaway from Mrs. Virgilio’s testimony when he asked, “You have a financial interest in this, don’t you?” Go back to the last post and look at her stress on increased property values under examination by the City attorney. Did you notice that?
For Mrs. Virgilio the touchstone is money, thought Gadfly. Hmmm.
Her answer to this question of whether she had a financial interest in the approval of the Marketer’s presence — delivered with emphasis and urgency as if it was a stupid question — almost jolted Gadfly out of his seat with its dollar-sign clarity:
Isn’t that the whole idea of buying property?
A rhetorical question. As if the answer could be nothing but a “yes.” But Gadfly, sitting in the cheap seats, was about ready to shout “NO.”
The principal purpose of buying property is to make money? Not always.
Mrs. Virgilio is a businesswoman. Ok, you buy a property as a businesswoman, and you hope to build on your investment.
She was answering with honesty and complete transparency.
But if you are buying a “home,” you have a lot of other values in mind, the kind of things a long line of neighbors talked about in meeting after meeting embodied in references to a sense of community, eyes on the street, borrowing cups of sugar, shoveling sidewalks, watching each others’ kids, and so forth.
A “neighborhood” for a prospective home owner and for a prospective businesswoman would mean two different things.
Mrs. Virgilio admits of such when she says if she was looking for a place to raise kids, she wouldn’t have bought there.
But kids have been raised in the 2 W. Market house. The previous owner Schadts had one or maybe two children there. One testified several times, and Gadfly believes another may have done so once.
The Romerils (Martin testified last meeting) were raised on the block. Ms. Van Wirt, also a prior testifier, is now raising kids on the block.
More importantly, by her own admission at the beginning of her testimony, Mrs. Virgilio herself raised three sons at the intersection of New and Market.
So, children can and have been raised at the intersection of New and Market. One can have a home there.
New and Market is residential.
The fact that a street has double yellow lines, the fact that a street has parking meters, the fact that a street has a bus stop does not make an area commercial to Gadfly’s way of thinking.
So Gadfly was no more moved by Mrs. Virgilio’s testimony here than he was similar testimony by many more people during the original stages of this controversy.
And he doesn’t see that she goes anywhere to rebutting the two main conclusions of the neighbors’ expert witness.
Here’s the full interchange between the attorney and Mrs. Virgilio:
Attorney: You have a financial interest in this, don’t you, in that a financial service office has been placed diagonally across from your property that has now increased the value of your property?
Mrs. Virgilio: Isn’t that the whole idea of buying property?
Attorney: Well, isn’t the whole idea of when you buy into a residential neighborhood that it remains residential?
Mrs. Virgilio: I think I stated up front that when we purchased our property we purchased it with the idea of putting a business in there. It was already a business when we purchased it, and we purchased it with the intent of continuing it as a different type of business, but it would still be a business. I already said if we were looking to buy a home as a residence to raise our children, we would have never looked at New and Market.
Gadfly spent another long night Wednesday at the Zoning Hearing Board at which the owner of 2 W. Market St., the neighbors of 2 W. Market St., and the City are locked like Middle East countries in a feud of such longstanding duration that it’s almost impossible to remember anymore what the core issues are.
Those issues are lost in the legal weeds. Gadfly invites you to peek at the last 45 minutes of Wednesday’s meeting (begin around min. 4:15:00), for a mind-numbing City-lawyer-led tour of city properties by a civil engineer, who, rather amazingly, was permitted to testify as an expert witness on zoning.
Gadfly assumes this kind of thing was necessary for the City to make its case and the attorney to earn his keep, but it was not spectator-friendly. God bless the Board members. One of whom appears to be looking for divine intervention during this punishing latter testimony. One could better hope that he has discovered the beauty in the Town Hall ceiling that Dana Grubb has just revealed to us.
There was no resolution Wednesday night. We look forward to another try at such next Monday night.
“Some people may wonder why this matters so much and see it as a tempest in a teapot,” neighbor team member Barbara Diamond says in yesterday’s explanatory post in this series.
Yes, some of you Gadfly followers ARE wondering that. Couldn’t we all be making better use of our time, you ask?
Yes, Gadfly hears that.
So what is the City/Marketer case?
Gadfly has done exhaustive presentation of the Marketer position in past posts when as many as 12 or 15 residents testified in their favor at previous meetings. See here for one example among many posts.
But the City/Marketers only presented one testifier this time.
So — since in Gadville we always try to present all sides — let’s look at the testimony of Suzanne Virgilio, owner of the Bethlehem Inn Bed & Breakfast catercorner from 2 W. Market, the sole resident witness put on by the City.
But, first, let’s familiarize ourselves with the 2 W. Market “neighborhood.”
2 W. Market is at the corner of New and Market. Gadfly bets we all have passed it scores if not hundreds of times.
But let’s try to “see” it right now before listening to Virgilio. If the technology works, click here for the google map in (I hope) the mode that will enable you to travel east and west on Market as well as north and south on New. (If the link doesn’t work, you can google-map 2 W. Market yourself and maneuver around in the street view.)
The idea is to see what Virgilio sees as she stands at the intersection of New and Market.
Ok, now listen to her testimony.
Gadfly apologizes that his camera position and YouTube’s choice of image make Mrs. Virgilio look like a mob informant secretly testifying before a Congressional committee
“Our objective in purchasing the property was to run a bed & breakfast at that location.”
“We did so specifically at this location because it was a great business location.”
“If we were looking to buy a home to raise our children in, we would not have chosen this location.”
“But it was ideal for business.”
How would you characterize the nature of the neighborhood?
“Obviously we’re within the historic district, but within the historic district there’s many different personalities.”
“That’s what makes it very appealing . . . in a downtown area you can live on a residential street, but you also can live in a more commercial area.”
“Which is how I characterize the neighborhood at the corner of New and Market.”
“It’s a very commercial area. It has a 4-way traffic light. It has double yellow lines which indicate a heavily traffic’d area.”
“Up until this year we had a LANTA bus stop directly in front of our home. I don’t think residential areas necessarily have that.”
“We have a school directly across the street, with drop-offs, pick-ups, school buses, parents, etcetera.”
“While maybe some areas in the historic district pose a more residential feel, certainly that’s not the case at the corner of New and Market.”
It’s an area in which there are parking meters, already existing offices, and there has been no increase in traffic as a result of the 2 W. Market business.
Have you observed any negative effects in the neighborhood?
Quite the contrary, I thing the improvements made to that property have upped the bar.”
“Our own property value has increased since that property has been renovated.”
“On New St., two houses on New St. from us, sold for very, very high amounts and sold quickly.”
“On Market St. two doors down from us another property sold very quickly.”
“And I think that has a great deal to do with what has been done to 2 W. Market St.”
“It’s improved the neighborhood. It’s improved property value. It’s been a great improvement overall.”
Have you noticed any creeping commercialization in, say, the past five years?
“In my immediate 4-corner area, I can’t think of anything that has become commercial.”
Ok, so here is the only testimony by a resident put on by the City/Marketer to defend against the claim by the other neighbors that the zoning amendment permitting a business use at 2 W. Market in a residential district is invalid.
Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.
Thank you Gadfly for reporting so extensively on 2 West Market St. Some people may wonder why this matters so much and see it as a tempest in a teapot. In fact this has a far-reaching impact that could adversely affect property owners in residentially zoned neighborhoods in the city. It is also about using the levers of government to dispense favorable treatment to a well-connected benefactor.
The simple facts are that the Marketer, as you call him, decided to move his business from the commercial district on Broad St to a house in the historic district. The ZHB declined a variance twice to do so but granted one not long after he made a substantial gift to build the mounted police stable. He commenced renovations knowing that litigation was ongoing and the ZHB’s favorable decision might be overturned — and it was, unanimously, by the Commonwealth Court.
Endeavoring to get his way nonetheless, he decided to get the city to alter its zoning ordinance so that his property would fit in. This was done by a tortured amendment to the corner store provision in such a way that he could operate his business in a residential neighborhood. No analysis was done by the city as required to determine how many other properties might be affected, and no property owners were notified before the city council approved it. Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, acknowledged in a memo to the Bethlehem Planning Commission (BPC) that the amendment clearly benefits the business owner, and that the potential impacts on the city are unknown: “this amendment is specifically written to provide relief for one individual’s property, but there is no information about the overall number of properties that will be affected. . . . the end result of the amendment is unclear.” The BPC did not approve the amendment, but the city council did. With their favorable vote, Councilmen Waldron, Callahan, Martell, and Reynolds failed to abide by the intent of their zoning code to preserve residential neighborhoods throughout the city for the benefit of one special interest business promoted by the Mayor.
We are before the ZHB as part of the appeal process, but because of city politics we suspect that they will rule in favor of the Marketer. You only have to look at the table where the city’s attorney (who is paid by tax-payers) sits beside and confers with the marketer’s attorney to know the outcome.
Nevertheless we believe this is a fight worth the time, effort, and money. When individuals use their influence to get favorable treatment that materially has a detrimental impact on others in the community, it should be challenged.
In the 2 W. Market case, what constitutes evidence?
Gadfly thinks you will find this 5 minutes of Steve Diamond’s testimony provocatively relevant to that question.
Part of Mr. Diamond’s testimony on the economic impact of a vague zoning amendment on the large investment he and others have put in their historic area properties is dismissed as speculative, and the bottom line in his testimony about the physical and financial stress generated by uncertainty is dismissed as providing no evidence, no facts.
Your own mental state is not a fact, not evidence.
Are you seeing the kind of personal and legal swamp you might have to wade through in order to protect your property, your neighborhood?
The Zoning Hearing Board meets on 2 W. Market again tonight. Might be the last time. One can hope that we will hear closing arguments.
So Gadfly is kind of rushing to come up to speed and to point out to you interesting elements from the December 11 meeting.
So let Gadfly start with the testimony of Bruce Haines for the neighbors. It will give you a stark understanding of the difference between public commentary at a City Council meeting meant to influence a Council decision and the quasi-legal format of the Zoning Hearing Board.
Simply stated, there are things you can say to Council that don’t “count” at an appeal hearing like this before the ZHB.
Let Gadfly ask you a question.
Do you think a Mayor’s position on an issue can have influence on his Planning Director and City Council members?
Gadfly would say yes. How about you?
Certainly this was an issue in the meetings on 2 W. Market before the Planning Commission and City Council. The Planning Director did not endorse/approve the Marketer proposal. The Mayor weighed in on the side of the Marketer — and did so late in the game. So neither the City Planning Director nor the City Planning Commission approved the Marketer petition. But the Mayor — who, of course, had no formal vote at any time — overrode his Planning Director, and his position favorable to the petition was well known to Council members, some of whom might be thought to be his allies, and the public. There was suspicion that the Mayor’s favorable position was a favor to a prominent financial contributor to the City and that the Mayor’s favorable position was a factor in Council’s approval.
Hmm, has Gadfly characterized that fairly?
So, Gadfly would say that in the mind of followers of the local proceedings the beliefs and actions of the Mayor were quite relevant to the passing of the Marketer petition.
But not so in front of ZHB.
Take 5 minutes and follow Mr. Haines sparring with the City attorney and the ZHB solicitor over the Mayor’s involvement.
You will hear that there is no relevance to what the Mayor felt, said, did. It doesn’t matter if the Mayor was for or against. You will hear that the Board doesn’t care if the Mayor endorsed or not. It doesn’t matter if the Mayor contradicted his Planning Director.
The ZHB solicitor ends this exchange by saying he’s “missing the point” of Mr. Haines’s recurring references to the Mayor’s role.
Makes Gadfly feel like a country rube.
But you will enjoy Mr. Haines braving the legal dragons.
So the neighbors’ expert witness Karen Beck Pooley made, as we saw last time, two conclusions about the text amendment relating to a business at 2 W. Market St. in a neighborhood zoned residential.
1) “The amendment didn’t clearly articulate the planning priorities set out in the Comprehensive Plan.”
Doing the course of the long series of meetings on this case that has generated 92 posts dating back before The Flood, Gadfly realized something about himself. He’s a “strict constructionist,” a “constitutionalist.” He saw the City Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning code as “constitutions” and wanted arguments to be based in them, to flow from them. He did not see that from the 2 W. Marketers.
2) “It was very unclear as to how the recommended adjustment would affect properties throughout the City.”
The Marketers presented a list of 8 properties that would be affected by their amendment, the City 142 properties. And there was no duplication! The lists had no properties in common! What the *!*!? To Gadfly, it was obviously unclear to what properties this amendment would apply. One wonders how the amendment could have passed the hurdles it did without clarity on this matter. Unbelievable.
Now it’s one thing to make such unchallenged public comments at City Council, quite another to face cross-examination by lawyers from the City and from the Marketers in the trial-like proceedings before the Zoning Hearing Board. Gadfly knows. He did not do particularly well under his cross-examination two meetings before. Ugh.
Not so with Beck Pooley. Gadfly invites you to sample the skill she showed under cross-examination. In Gadfly’s opinion the cross-examining attorneys succeeded only in giving her the opportunity to once again and more strongly state and elaborate her position.
In this following clip of cross-examination by the City attorney, note, for instance, how Beck Pooley avoids the attempt to make confusion about the amendment her problem. No, she says, it is not my confusion but the confusion of others that is clearly on the record, and as a specific example she cites again the lack of commonality in the property lists submitted by the City and by the marketers. Precisely one of her main points. To which the attorney can only say, “Ok.” In fact, he says it twice.
Note also what Gadfly would consider a crude lawyerly attempt to discredit Beck Pooley as an expert witness by testing her, by asking her the meaning of “text amendment”: “Do you understand what a text amendment is?” Rather than give a definition that the attorney could worry her over, Beck Pooley replies that’s it’s not her term but one used by others to describe the amendment in question — thus eluding a potential trap by avoiding the need to define it.
In this next clip from her cross-examination, Gadfly invites you to see Beck Pooley avoid similar traps set by the Marketer attorney in questions about the definitions of “spot zoning” and “non-conforming,” as well as her ability to avoid answering key questions “yes” or “no” as the attorney urges — rather, turning her answers into mini-lectures that effectively amplify her conclusions and show her grasp of the subject.
Thus, in Gadfly’s opinion, the cross-examination did not “touch” the two main conclusions in the testimony of the neighbors’ expert witness.
Now the testimony of other neighbor witnesses (with whom Gadfly followers will be familiar) the night of December 11 did not go as well for reasons that might surprise you.
So — trying to keep things simple for you — this controversy begins with the “corner-store ordinance” on the books as part of the revision of the City Comprehensive Plan and Zoning code revisions about a decade ago.
The purpose of the corner store ordinance was to permit those properties originally designed to have a first-floor store but which had been converted into living spaces over time to be used again as stores.
Once this particular architectural configuration (the punched-in corner entrance) is pointed out to you, you, like me, will see they are abundant throughout the City. They are distinctive architecturally.
Gadfly could probably find 5-10 without any trouble within a half-hour walking radius of both his home and work place.
The thrust of the owners of 2 W. Market’s efforts, including the text amendment now under fire, is to make this below kind of building originally designed to be a home equate with those originally designed as a store — and to allow a business use there.
If you put the four pictures together and played the Sesame Street “which one doesn’t belong” game, the young ‘uns wouldn’t strain. Yet Commission and Council members did.
At the December 11 Zoning Hearing Board meeting, the first witness — an “expert witness” — for the neighbors was Gadfly follower Karen Beck Pooley.
What conclusions did expert witness Beck Pooley reach?
1) “The amendment didn’t clearly articulate the planning priorities set out in the Comprehensive Plan.”
2) “It was very unclear as to how the recommended adjustment would affect properties throughout the City.”
Where does thinking about zoning begin, according to expert witness Beck Pooley? The City Comprehensive Plan.
“The new Comprehensive Plan was updated in 2009. That’s where the community’s priorities, vision, how it wants to see properties used . . . what it’s overall priorities are for how the City’s going to function and how people are going to interact in different spaces throughout the City. That’s set out first, established by that Comprehensive Plan, and the zoning ordinance is the tool the City has to control the way development happens . . . to be in accordance with the priorities set out in that Plan.”
What did expert witness Beck Pooley see comparing the text amendment to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance?
“I was taken aback at how different it was from the original intent of the ordinance. . . . The previous ordinance clearly stemmed from the City contemplating mixed uses, thinking about how a variety of uses existed in neighborhoods, harkened back to historical uses of properties in those neighborhoods . . . . The amendment operated in a very different way to actually allow non-conforming uses to expand which is sort of the opposite of what the typical zoning ordinance does.”
Makes sense to Gadfly. Throughout the long controversy Gadfly wondered about the silence surrounding the Comprehensive Plan in the proposer’s arguments, a Plan that Gadfly began to think of as analogous to a constitution. How could the amendment be good if it is not in accord with the constitution, thought Gadfly.
And, yes, the range, the impact of this amendment tailored to one property on other properties was never, never settled, so how could one vote for its passage?
Are you with me?
Seems a good start for the neighbors challenging the amendment.
We are coming up on another in the long march of meetings by the Zoning Hearing Board on the 2 W. Market case.
Note that this is the 90th post on this subject. See “2 W. Market” under Topics on the Gadfly sidebar.
Not a case for the faint-hearted.
But fighting for your neighborhood, as Gadfly always says, is a good thing.
Gadfly does not expect his followers to remember all the details, especially because of the long gaps between action on the case.
Nor does he expect his followers to have the overflowing nerdiness to be as engaged in the argument of the case as he is.
Gadfly loves this stuff. Gadfly loves a good argument.
Some followers will remember that, after painstaking consideration of the case presented by both sides (charts, lists, audio, video), Gadfly sided with the neighbors who were protesting the right of the owners to run a business out of their 2 W. Market property in a zoned residential neighborhood.
Gadfly came to feel that the decisions to approve the business running through City committees up to and through City Council were egregiously wrong-headed.
And the Court has agreed when the neighbors appeal to higher authority.
But the owners of 2 W. Market are not faint-hearted either. In the latest phase of this struggle, they proposed a text amendment to the zoning code to allow their business, and that amendment was approved by the City, again rather astonishingly to Gadfly.
Now the neighbors are appealing again. That’s where we are.
The neighbors have the means and the will to continue to fight what they see is a commercial incursion into a neighborhood that is bent on maintaining its residential nature — allowing us to see full chapters of judicial processes.
The beauty for Gadfly in the fact that this phase of the case is moving so slowly is that it is easy to focus on each stage of argument and think along with it.
That’s what Gadfly is inviting you to do.
The 2 W. Market case is important because it is about the control of and the quality of life in a neighborhood. And we all live in neighborhoods.
But the case is also engaging as we think along with the contestants. Playing lawyer is an intellectually fun thing to do.
And maybe most of all the case is compelling because it has produced wonderful models of thoughtful residents fighting City Hall. Such as the examples of Paige Van Wirt and Martin Romeril as portrayed in Gadfly’s previous posts.
We all have to be ready to play those roles if our time comes.
So Gadfly invites you to hang with him for the next few posts as he thinks through the December 11 meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board on 2 W. Market St. in preparation for the January meeting on the horizon.
Remember that 1-2 years ago there was serious talk about the future or non-future of the City golf course. Gadfly remembers Business Administrator Evans and Councilman Callahan keeping the faith, and taking the lead, and the hiring of manager Larry Kelchner seemed a major turning point.
During recent budget hearings even prior skeptics had turned into believers.
Remember especially the worry about cutting down trees? We were asked to trust Mr. Kelchner. And to Gadfly’s eye, the tree work has left the course looking smart as he drives by.
There was another article in the paper yesterday about changes in management and improvements in the restaurant at the course.
That “recreation row” on Illick’s Mill is surely beautiful. Councilman Callahan asked again at the last Council meeting about moving the Recycling operation out of that stretch of good road — sounds like a good idea.
Latest in a series of posts on Airbnb and short-term lodging
In our last post in this series about the Planning Commission consideration of this proposed new Short-Term Lodging amendment to the City Zoning Ordinance, we listened to discussion led by one Commissioner about limiting the duration of a transient’s stay in short-term lodging and limiting the total time annually in which a home-owner could offer short-term lodging. Both questions related to the impact of short-term lodging on the quality of neighborhood life. Good.
Next, to understand the concern of Bruce Haines, managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem — and “representing a neighborhood” — one has to back up to the passage in 2017 of the original attempt to control the perceived and experienced dangers of short-term lodging to the Northside Historical District represented by Airbnb: Article 1741.
Article 1741 was designed to address the concerns of neighbors about Airbnb (and no doubt similar businesses), and the current proposed zoning amendment requires that short-term lodging hosts must comply with “all aspects” of 1741.
So here’s Haines framing the purpose of 1741:
Haines’s present “beef,” if you will, is that the zoning amendment under consideration by the Planning Commission does nothing to address the shortcomings of 1741 (shortcomings of enforcement?). He identifies, for example, two specific properties in the Northside Historical District that have separate apartments and thus are not single family homes yet are licensed by the City for short-term lodging — even after being reported to the City.
“The ordinance that’s in place has been an utter failure . . . . and this isn’t going to help it. . . . The only time you should allow transient visitors in a residential community should be if they are sharing the space.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Haines seems to have run into the wall of compartmentalization. The Planning Commission chair focused just on the zoning amendment at that moment before the Commission and not this shortcoming of what we might call the “parent” 1741 ordinance.
And thus all Mr. Haines could do was make known his disappointment that persisting problems with short-term lodging in his neighborhood weren’t being addressed.
And so the long-standing “Airbnb” issue in the Northside Historical District is still not resolved despite legislation supposed to address their concerns.
There are some people with whom you just don’t argue.
One is your barber.
While you are in the chair. Especially for your holiday haircut.
Somehow Wind Creek came up.
And Gadfly stupidly said — as he has said several times in these pages — that the Wind Creek desire to make Bethlehem “the #1 destination in the Northeast” with a waterpark troubles him greatly.
Call him “Mohawk Gadfly” now.
Gadfly has taken somewhat of a beating in circles other than that surrounding the barber pole for holding the negative feeling about Wind Creek’s plan, making remarks about it here, and refusing to automatically genuflect to the Economic Deity.
(After all, he hasn’t even seen any plans or heard any details of the Wind Creek project, so how fair is that feeling?)
And he hasn’t quite been able to articulate why he feels that way. But he’s getting there.
Gadfly has the kind of mind where particles float around looking for a point of coalescence.
Particles like Wind Creek’s #1 destination quote, the goal of Festival UnBound, Dan Church’s line “the city has no jurisdiction over architectural style” (except in the historical districts), the “blending” architecture promoted by the Smith women, a line from one of the Festival UnBound panel members that “it matters who is at the table,” multiple posts and conversations about residents trying to control the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and the “imploring” letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society (remember that one?).
Coalescence occurred when a follower recently used the term “creative placemaking,” a term Gadfly had never heard, and a practice fairly new but apparently well known by people who work to shape public spaces, neighborhoods, cities, regions.
Gadfly did some quick google searches. So he’s no expert on “creative placemaking.” But he liked what he was able to glean from some surface reading.
If Gadfly understands “creative placemaking” correctly, artists are instrumental, catalytic in design processes. And design comes bottom up, design grows out of the community, design is community-led.
Here’s one description of “creative placemaking”:
Creative placemaking refers to the process in which “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.” Creative placemaking advocates believe that community development projects benefit from the participation of artists at the onset of projects, and on the planning and design teams that shape our communities. . . . Forget the traditional, staid public meeting format and instead imagine artists engaging community members using multiple languages to generate meaningful dialogues, capturing their creativity and local knowledge to better inform the ultimate design of the project.
Creative placemaking is a process where community member, artists, arts and culture organizations, community developers, and other stakeholders use arts and cultural strategies to implement community-led change.
Wind Creek has bought some space in “our” town and is now going to give “us” a new identity of its own choosing.
(Or at least so it seems. Maybe there was more interactive discussion behind the scenes.)
Gadfly, as your self-appointed and — ha! — maybe self-serving representative resident, feels forced on his back, forearms at right angles, palms facing up, resisting the overpowering and unquestioned weight of economic argument.
Gadfly is soooo dramatic.
Simply put, Wind Creek is telling us what’s good for us.
Gadfly’s having a hard time with that.
It’s not like we are without an identity now.
Steeples and stacks.
It’s not like we cannot evolve a new identity.
That’s what Festival UnBound was all about.
But steeples and stacks and slides?
Gadfly’s learned there was a different way.
What if Wind Creek had engaged in a collaborative process with us of creative placemaking for that several acres in the southeast end of town instead of decreeing our destiny?
When it comes to creating identity, Gadfly would like to participate.
Gadfly’s quick google search on creative placemaking: