Need for student housing regulation long recognized — Now’s the time — Please “sign on”

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

———–

When the collective works of Stephen Antalics — Gadfly #1 — are published, researchers of Bethlehem history will find abundant evidence of this warrior’s dogged battles for preserving the quality of Southside neighborhoods around Lehigh addressed in the ordinance coming before the City Council Community Development Committee Thursday evening.

Who can forget Gadfly #1’s descriptions during public comment at City Council meetings of the cancer that has ravaged the Southside as a result of City zoning decisions.

And here below this Gadfly directs you to just two of Gadfly #1’s printed works on this subject that bookend the last decade.

So now before City Council is a fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed ordinance that aims to regulate student housing in a way that preserves the quality of life in those Southside neighborhoods.

And we’re asking a wide swath of the Bethlehem residents to show City Council the strength of support for this long aborning ordinance.

To show that support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

2012

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Bethlehem should revisit its zoning ordinance.” Morning Call, September 4, 2012.

For a city to maintain an environment of stability, safety and a sense of well-being in the community, its zoning ordinance must require a high ratio of family-owned residences compared to rental properties owned by nonresident landlords. This helps reduce transiency, and the high percentage of family homes also adds to a collective civic pride — an essential community element.

The Bethlehem South Side master plan in 2001 recommended that the area would benefit from more family-owned properties and fewer rentals. That hasn’t happened. The city’s zoning ordinance, adopted May 7, allows up to five unrelated people living together in one unit. This zoning designation encourages property owners to rent to Lehigh University students and others. Families, however, bring stability to a neighborhood.

Why does the Bethlehem administration not change its recent zoning revisions to be in line with other communities? Could not the South Side have a limited student overlay district immediately adjacent to the campus allowing five students, while rental properties outside that district are restricted to two unrelated persons? This would make rentals available to traditional families,

2019

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Student housing conversions harming Bethlehem’s South Side.” Morning Call, July 27, 2019.

In the late 1980s, Bethlehem revised its zoning code to allow up to five unrelated individuals to be recognized as a family and live in one housing unit. According to Jeffrey R. Zettlemoyer, who at that time was the fair housing and labor compliance officer for the city, the increase was an incentive for more student housing conversions.

If one were to time-travel back to the mid-1980s prior to the zoning revision, and drive the streets of the core residential section of the South Side, streets such as Carlton, Montclair, Birkel, Vine, Webster, Polk, Morton, Summit, Fillmore, Thomas, Taylor, Adams, Hillside and Pierce, you would see predominantly well-kept pristine single-family homes resplendent with grass green yards of flower and vegetable gardens and well-appointed porches.

Taking that trip today would reveal houses with large placards stating “Student Housing,” backyards with macadam surfaces to allow for overflow parking, alleys such as Boyce and Boyer streets appearing to be massive parking lots and two or three industrial-sized refuse containers on sidewalks before most houses.

Sidewalks are littered with cups and food containers after loud weekend parties. Bed sheets with messages are strung from second-story windows rallying athletic teams to victory over rivals, creating a college campus atmosphere on the city streets. A rather depressing annual sight is to see groups of people scavenging through piles of discards left by students who have departed for summer vacation. The absence of students and the absence of cars parked on the street gives some streets the appearance of a deserted city.

you can sign the supporting letter here

Please sign letter supporting proposal to regulate student housing

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Gadfly, who has supported encroachments on the quality of life in neighborhoods several times in his buzzing lifetime — perhaps your very own neighborhood — asks cooperation from residents across the city in signing the letter below seeking City Council support for student housing regulation at the Community Development Committee meeting Thursday night.
The issue of Lehigh sprawl is hardly new to Gadfly followers. And here we have an eminently reasonable proposal supported and developed by the City Administration and already approved by the Planning Commission and Zoning Board.
All it needs now is City Council approval.
Here’s overview information that will fill you in completely.
Please click on this link to sign the letter below to show your support for this important safeguard to a Bethlehem neighborhood.
——————
City Council: Support the Regulation of Student Housing in Bethlehem

Dear Bethlehem City Council Members:

We live, work, and/or spend our free time in the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. We are familiar with the multiple faces of this unique community, and we believe that the community’s identity as a place where all are welcome, and where all can establish a social and economic foothold, is key to South Bethlehem’s past and future. Southside neighborhoods are home to former steelworkers, young immigrant families, college professors, transitional and cooperative housing program residents, college students, and young professionals. At this critical moment in our nation’s history, the diversity of residents in Southside neighborhoods and the intentional and informal interactions that occur between those residents shine a light on what can make a community strong and resilient, fostering mutual understanding and cross-cultural dialogue.

Over the last four years, residents and community leaders have identified a disruption in the equilibrium that has kept our neighborhoods diverse. The rapid extension of student housing into neighborhoods further from Lehigh University’s borders has placed several of the Southside’s diverse neighborhoods at risk of being converted to exclusively student areas. Student housing companies are purchasing homes at inflated prices, and some intend to demolish existing housing stock to build luxury student accomodations. Residents have experienced the negative impacts of this spike in investment activity. Some low-income families have been forced to leave rental homes to make way for students; long-term renters and homeowners have fled and others are thinking of following them, and prospective residents struggle to find homes to purchase or rent.

Like most communities in the Lehigh Valley, South Bethlehem has a shortage of affordable housing, and the need for it among our families is clear: 93% of students at Broughal Middle School receive free and reduced lunch. While low-income families have historically had a better chance of finding housing in South Bethlehem, 70% of Southside families currently rent their homes, at rates up to five times lower than rental prices for college students. Without deliberate intervention to regulate the expansion of student housing beyond a designated zone, the affordability, as well as general livability of Southside neighborhoods is at risk.

Although college students in South Bethlehem serve as tutors in local schools, patronize local businesses, and may become permanent residents of our city following graduation, they have very different schedules, social lives, and levels of commitment to their adopted neighborhoods. Maintaining a balance between students and long-term residents helps to foster positive community relationships in neighborhoods beyond the immediate campus borders. By establishing a designated area for any new student housing, our community can ensure that students have safe, well-located residences while maintaining rental and homeownership opportunities and livable neighborhoods for families of all income levels.

We ask you to protect the livability of South Bethlehem’s neighborhoods by supporting Mayor Donchez’s proposal to create a Student Housing Overlay District in south Bethlehem and place common-sense regulations on college student housing in our city. Please act now to preserve and strengthen our diverse Southside community and ensure that safe, affordable housing and stable neighborhoods remain accessible to all.

sign this supporting letter here

More information on the proposal to regulate student housing on the Southside and a request for your help

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

“Although [Lehigh] student housing has been a part of the [Southside] community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.”

Regulating student housing

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Yesterday Anna Smith alerted us to an important meeting of the City Council Community Development Committee (Paige Van Wirt, chair, J. William Reynolds, and Grace Crampsie Smith) to discuss a long-standing concern — the regulation of student housing on the Southside around Lehigh University.

A proposal supported by the City Administration and approved by the Zoning Board and the Planning Commission is working its way to the last stop — City Council.

Just one more approval is needed.

Anna has provided us with this wonderful document that provides background on the problem caused by unregulated student housing, a summary of the proposed regulations, a statement of the value of the ordinance, and answers to frequently asked questions. Here’s all you need to know:

Overview of Student Housing Ordinance (1)

Gadfly supposes his followers are well aware of the present housing situation around Lehigh as well as the historical tension between the University and the surrounding neighborhoods. But here is part of the background section of the above linked overview document that Anna provided for us.

In 2018, community members and City staff identified a series of data points and resident anecdotes that indicated a major shift in the student housing market in south Bethlehem. In a single year, residential property sales were up 34% near Lehigh’s campus, sales prices were up 18%, and the percentage of new owner-occupiers was extremely low. We heard stories from neighborhoods that had previously housed only a handful of student homes for the last decade, but where out of state buyers were going door to door, attempting to convince homeowners that all their neighbors had already sold and that their homes would soon lose their value due to major student housing developments planned for the neighborhood. Realtors were emphasizing news of Lehigh’s expansion and encouraging investors to look far beyond the traditional boundaries of student neighborhoods. Although student housing has been a part of the community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.

A group of concerned Southside residents got together to discuss the future of our neighborhoods, and with support from the City and Southside Vision, hired an expert on housing policy from the University of Pennsylvania to analyze policies and practices that other college communities have used to preserve mixed-income neighborhoods while providing for the necessary amount of off-campus housing.

This proposal to regulate student housing needs visible signs of significant public support to push it over the last hump.

Following Anna’s lead, Gadfly suggests that you:

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

and/or

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

Here’s how everybody can help protect the Southside neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

Gadfly:

I’m writing to ask you and fellow Gadfly followers for your help to preserve and protect mixed-income neighborhoods with affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for families in South Bethlehem. Following two years of resident organizing and advocacy, the City of Bethlehem has proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to regulate the expansion of college student housing in south Bethlehem. After a comprehensive, community-engaged planning process, the City has finalized a proposal that is now being considered by City Council. Council has asked for community feedback on the proposal at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 pm in Town Hall, and virtually.

Over the past two years I’ve been a part of a broad group of neighbors, community stakeholders, City staff, and consultants that have analyzed data, collected stories, learned about best practices from other communities, and shared thoughts on what policy changes could help south Bethlehem remain a vibrant, diverse, mixed-income community. Our City staff have recognized the importance of regulating college student housing in our community, but the implementation of their plan is dependent upon Council’s approval.

We need residents who understand what makes south Bethlehem unique and who value affordable housing opportunities for all residents to tell Council that they support the regulation of student housing in our City.

Can we count on you and your followers to do one or more of the following:

  1. Speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal (in person or via phone)
  2. Email City Council members at cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov to express your support for the proposed zoning ordinance amendments
  3. Add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

I will soon be sending you several documents justifying and detailing the plan going to Council that you can share on Gadfly.

I hope that we can count on your support for our neighborhoods!

In solidarity,
Anna

Important meeting Thursday on regulating student housing to protect the Southside neighborhood

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Southside logo

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

The City Council Community Development Committee is chaired by Paige Van Wirt, with members J. William Reynolds and Grace Crampsie Smith.

Everybody needs to put this meeting on their calendar.

Look at item #1 on the agenda.

Some protection for the vitality of the Southside neighborhood around Lehigh University has been a long time coming.

You can expect landlords — mostly absentee perhaps — to be mobilized against these regulations.

Support from across the city is needed.

More information coming.

But please put the meeting date on your calendar and note the instructions below so that you can participate.

———–

Thursday, October 22, 2020

6:00 PM – Town Hall

Community Development Committee Meeting

Subject:      (1) Zoning Ordinance amendments related to the proposed

creation of a Student Overlay District and including other provisions

to address student housing and revising certain dimensional

requirements and accessory structure regulations; and

(2) Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting Hearing (2020) in

connection with the Article 349 Economic Development Incentive

Reporting and Evaluation Program.

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS 

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council Community Development Committee Meeting on October 22, 2020, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Committee Chair announces she will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Committee Chair will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit. If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Viewing:

You can watch the City Council Meeting on the following YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

“The black and brown people are always left behind”

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Southside logo

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.”

Amen.

Kudos to the City for proposals to regulate student housing

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Southside logo

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

Gadfly:

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?

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.

Anna

A grocery store at Center and Dewberry?

logo Latest post in a series on neighborhoods logo

Developer Abe Atiyeh has been pitching proposals for 1838 Center St. (Center and Dewberry) for more than a decade. His latest is for a grocery store by the German chain Lidl.

How would a grocery at this location relate to the Bethlehem Food Co-Op that is comin’ down the pike too?

from Christina Tatu, “Grocery store Lidl could replace controversial plans for psychiatric hospital in Bethlehem.” Morning Call, July 6, 2020.

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.

Maybe more apartments on the way

logoLatest in a series of posts on neighborhoods logo

Morning Call photos by April Gamiz and Christina Tatu

from Christina Tatu, “Two historic Bethlehem churches may become apartment buildings.” Morning Call, June 28, 2020.

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.

Staying ahead of the law!

logo Latest in a series of posts about Neighborhoods and block watches logo

004

Officer David Horvath and Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith
at Moravian block watch

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith doin’ the Lord’s work again.

Ten residents met with her and Officer Horvath last night.

Conversation revolved around student rentals, student parking problems, and nuisance zoning violations by a local business.

Gadfly gives you here a funny piece of conversation — agile students perhaps using access to a police scanner to know when the cops are a ‘comin’ to quiet their noisy party!

Contact Councilwoman Crampsie Smith at Crampsie150@gmail.com

Gadfly would love to hear about other block watches across the City.

 

Closing the book on 2 W. Market St.

logo 101st in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

Just kidding.

But the longest-running zoning case in Bethlehem history did end its latest chapter February 26th.

Closing lawyer-jargon-heavy final arguments by all sides. Nothing really intelligible for people like us.

Then the vote went 3-0 to uphold the zoning amendment that permits a business at 2 W. Market in a residential district.

Written report due within 45 days. Gadfly has never seen a Zoning Hearing Board report and hopes to get a copy for us to review.

Will there be an appeal?

Will Gadfly live to see this controversy finally settled?

How did the Hatfield/McCoy feud stop?

But fighting for control of and the quality of life in your neighborhood is sacred work.

Score one for the corner-store ordinance!

logo 100th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

Sara K. Satullo, “There’s a new corner bakery in Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com., February 4, 2020.  (with lots of photos — thanks, Sara!)

Gadfly was thinking about the 2 W. Market case Saturday afternoon.

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.

026

SOLD OUT!

Music to the ears of the new businessman.

Good luck, Charlie

Good conversation at the Moravian block watch

logo Latest in a series of posts about Neighborhoods and block watches logo

blockwatch 1

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.

Moravian block watch Wednesday, February 5

logo Latest in a series of posts about Neighborhoods and block watches logo

Yep, Moravian block watch meeting, Wednesday, February 5, 6PM, HUB building, Moravian College, first meeting room on your left as you enter from the north side of the building.

Gadfly would love to hear about other block watches across the City.

“Good conversation builds community”

Closing Packer Ave.: the true test will be if there is some sort of emergency on Third or Fourth Streets

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

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

Nicole Radzievich, “Should Bethlehem close this major street near Lehigh University?” Morning Call, January 16, 2020.

Gadfly,

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.

Dana

Resolution on short-term lodging coming to Council Tuesday

logo Latest in a series of posts on Airbnb and short-term lodging  logo

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.

10o Resolution-Short Term Lodging Zoning Text Amendments (2)

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.

Hotel Bethlehem receives approval for delay in expansion plans

logo Latest in a series of posts about Northside logo

Nicole Radzievich, “As Wind Creek plans a 2nd hotel, Hotel Bethlehem asks for more time on its $37 million expansion.” Morning Call, January 13, 2020.

Nicole Radzievich, “‘This is a timing issue,’ Hotel Bethlehem partner says about expansion.” Morning Call, January 16, 2020.

Sara K. Satullo, “With looming Wind Creek expansion, Hotel Bethlehem gets 2 more years to grow.” lehighvalleylive.com, January 16, 2020.

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.

Breaking news: 2 W. Market

logo 99th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

Finally, after almost 20 hrs. of meetings, both sides “rested” at the Zoning Hearing Board last night.

Gadfly joked with Board members before the meeting that maybe his coverage of this case would end at the round number of 100 posts.

Looks like that may happen.

The Board looks to make a decision at their February 26 meeting.

Nothing to report from last night except another night of gritty pick-and-shovel lawyering.

And relief that the end is near.

It may come down to which precedent the Zoning Hearing Board chooses to apply to the 2 W. Market case

logo 98th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.  logo

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.

We are pleased to include here for history the full text of Mr. Scheirer’s precluded testimony: Statement of Bill Scheirer

So each side has its legal precedent. For the Marketers, it’s Streck v. Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners, 1804 C.D.2011, 1809 C.D.2011. (2012), in which we find “the court will not inquire into the motives [reasons] of a municipal legislative body in making zoning changes.”

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.

to be continued . . .

A tough question for the City’s witness: “You have a financial interest in this, don’t you?”

logo 97th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

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.

2 W. Market 3

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.

The case for the defense: the 2 W. Market St. neighborhood is “very commercial”

logo 96th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

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.

ZHB 1

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?

  • “Absolutely not.”
  • 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.

What are you thinking?

to be continued . . .

The 2 W. Market case: no tempest in a teapot

logo 95th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

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.

Barbara

As always, Gadfly invites opposing views.

“He’s not providing us with evidence,” says the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor in the 2 W. Market case

94th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.

Here’s another interesting head-scratcher.

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?

to be continued . . .

“I’m missing the point,” the ZHB solicitor says about the Mayor’s involvement in the 2 W. Market decision

logo 93rd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

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.

Really?

Makes Gadfly feel like a country rube.

But you will enjoy Mr. Haines braving the legal dragons.

to be continued . . .

Expert witness “untouched” believes the Gadfly

logo 92nd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St. logo

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.

to be continued . . .