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.
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.
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.
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.
Latest in a series of posts on Airbnb and short-term lodging
As we move into a series of posts on the short-term lodging proposal just introduced before the Planning Commission, Gadfly would like to recycle part of post from October 6, 2018, fourteen months ago, and just 3 weeks after Gadfly-became-Gadfly.
The Northside Historical District is not Gadfly’s neighborhood. It is not the neighborhood of you, the vast majority of Gadfly followers.
Why should we care what happens in the Northside Historical District?
First things first, why should the general “we” of the City care? Why is Gadfly spending time on this? Why should you read on if you don’t live in the Northside Historical District?
Good question, Gadfly.
And Gadfly answers that it has to do with the perfectly understandable concern over the nature of your neighborhood. Something everybody has or should have. Every time Gadfly uses that word “neighborhood,” he thinks with pleasure of Fred Rogers, “Mr. Rogers” (did you see the recent Tom Hanks’ movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”?). It’s about the quality of life in your neighborhood, about caring for and about your neighborhood, and “control” of your neighborhood. This is or should be a concern across the City and has much wider implications than just Airbnb.
Mr. Gadfly’s neighborhood is changing. Has changed. Of the 15 houses in Gadfly’s block, 6 are now rentals. Porch palings are missing. Parking is harder. Some sidewalks want to hurt you. Mother Nature is sometimes the only sidewalk snow-shoveler. Glaring, spooky feral cats have taken over the once carnival-like street (40 kids playing there at one point). Yards aren’t all that well taken care of. Gadfly’s lawn is “crop-circled” by dogs on leashes. Where have all the flowers gone? Some porches have become utility sheds. We were once a tree-shaded lane; now Gadfly’s tree (“Secundus,” since it is a replacement) stands alone, sole respecter of City ordinance.
Poor maudlin Gadfly. He doesn’t live in the Northside Historical District. But he gets it. We all should get it. Neighborhoods change one rented house, one dog pee at a time. Often imperceptible change. Till one day it’s too late. Gadfly gets it. We all should get it. And be invested in what happens in the Northside Historical District.
It pays to fight for our neighborhoods. Gadfly always says that. You may have noticed.
We must speak up.
Airbnb has provided some of the most dynamic resident-involved meetings in Gadfly’s Council spectatordom history. Take a look at “Our neighborhoods are under attack” (the quote is Frank Boyer’s), about the September 4, 2018, meeting that Gadfly called “one of the best of the year . . . The air crackled. Tension was thick. The issue was urgent, resident commentators were passionate, Council was involved and concerned.”
It’s up to the City to protect our neighborhoods.
Whether it’s First Terrace or West Goepp or whatever, Gadfly will always be following “developments.”
Let’s see what’s going on with this proposed zoning ordinance.
“The Uber of the hospitality market, Airbnb acts as an online broker, connecting people who need a place to stay with hosts who have a spare bedroom, apartment or a full house to rent.”
The Airbnb issue is before us again. It’s been out of sight for over a year. Brought back by a proposal introduced at the Planning Commission December 12 for a change in the zoning code to complement an ordinance passed last year.
We’re going to spend several posts on this proposal. So it’s time to refresh ourselves on the background.
Though the roots of this controversy long precede Gadfly-becoming-Gadfly, the issue seems to have begun with neighbors’ reacting to a specific Bethlehem couple in the Northside historical district renting their home (and then homes) on a short-term basis.
In the next post we will want to ask why all of us should be attentive to what’s happening in one section of the City.
Bethlehem is considering a proposal to regulate short-term rentals — akin to renting rooms or whole houses to overnight guests — in its zoning code for the first time. While the city has an ordinance to license such uses, the new ordinance would actually spell out in what zoning districts they can be.
The proposed changes are in an zoning amendment aimed at what is being called “short-term lodging” which the commission discussed, but members determined at least two sections of the regulations need to be fined tuned. The two questions the commission requested be looked into further were how many days per year the home or room can be rented and what zoning districts should the activity be permitted.
According to a copy of the proposal, a short-term lodging facility is a single family home occupied by the owner who rents no more than two bedrooms for up to 30 days. The home would not be licensed as a hotel or a bed and breakfast and no exterior alterations or expansions of the home would be permitted to expand the rental operation, according to the amendment. The areas where the rental activity would be permitted or with a special exception permit include the following zoning districts: rural residential, single family residential and medium and high density residential.
Hotel Bethlehem Co-Partner and city resident Bruce Haines told the Planning Commission that the amendment doesn’t really mesh with an existing ordinance regulating housing. “The point is, these places need to be single family homes where the visitor has access to the entire house like the kitchen, living room and dining room,’’ he said after the meeting. One of the problems, he said, is that several homes in the center city historic district are already operating under the pretense of short-term lodging but are actually apartments with no access to the rest of the house.
The commission will continue discussion of the issue and possibly make recommendations at its January meeting. Those recommendations would be forwarded to City Council. The city began looking at the zoning issue after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case earlier this year that ruled in favor a Monroe County municipality’s zoning of short-term lodging. The city’s current licensing ordinance is under appeal in Northampton County Court.
The ordinance was created after residents complained about the houses being rented out in their neighborhoods. Critics say they have no problem with homeowners licensed to rent out a bedroom or their house to overnight guests, but oppose investors buying homes for that sole purpose, creating a commercial intrusion into their neighborhood.
I thought the Skyline West project in Bethlehem had the Tasteless Architecture Award wrapped up, but incredibly a late entry at 548 N. New St. may win. Both are by the same developer/design team. Apparently their aesthetic was greatly influenced by early episodes of “The Jetsons.”
These proposed buildings are in or adjacent to the Historic District of Bethlehem. In researching how it is possible that these buildings could be approved, I found that City Council, the Planning Board and the Zoning Commission have no say over design, unless the building is in the Historic District.
Not to pick on Bethlehem, the same group has a like building proposed for Easton, also in a historic area. Looks like an alien structure giving birth, waiting for the mother ship to call them home. Neighborhood residents appearing before Easton’s Historic District Commission opposed the project. Hopefully, Easton will listen to them.
I hope the people of Bethlehem will Google these buildings, their locations and voice their concerns to the city.
“Neighborhoods are worth fighting for,” Gadfly always says — we must keep making our ideas known.
Latest in a series of posts about Northside neighborhoods
Remember that we noted last week in the cold snap that the Bethlehem Emergency Shelter for the homeless at Christ Church United Church of Christ, 72. E. Market St., wanted to open early — before the December 1 date approved by its zoning — but a neighbor complained.
Raising some justified concern among Gadfly followers.
The Mayor announced at City Council last Tuesday that agreement was reached — certain members of Council were involved in the background — for an early opening.
Louis James, a close neighbor of the BES spoke in support of the early opening, praised BES for responding to neighbor concerns, and hoped that the City would help BES find a permanent home.
Councilpersons Colon, Reynolds, and Van Wirt spoke in support of the importance and high quality of the BES work, and Gadfly wished he was quick enough on the trigger to have recorded all their comments (but see the city video of the meeting, beginning at min. 1:41:48), in which, for instance, Councilman Colon mentioned working at the shelter.
But here is audio of Councilwoman Van Wirt in which she states that “taking care of the homeless . . . is one of the paramount duties we have” and her hope that Council can help make sure these people are cared for 24/7 and 12 months a year.
Kate McVey is a concerned citizen, 30-year resident of Bethlehem, professional organizer, dog owner, mother of two children, been around, kosher cook . . . explorer.
I have never understood the hubbub about this property. It looks so much better than it did, and it does bring people in and out of the neighborhood unlike the Verizon building and the fortress that used to be a bank. To my knowledge, I guess we could count the dead people in the cemetery there as residential (?). But the school surrounds that property, there is a B and B across the street, and a lawyer’s office, and there was a small shop farther down Market. There is an old folks home next to the cemetery and only one residential property on the south side of Market street. And what about the one story building behind it on New St.? There is a business in there.
As stated in the other blogs, the zoning board changes the rules constantly to please new projects. At least the 2 Market St kept the old building and the character of the area. Going down New there is the Kemerer Museum and a shop on the other corner of Church and New.
The residents have even admitted that 2 Market people are good neighbors.
Historic Bethlehem needs to sometimes get over themselves. So what am I missing? Also further down on Market there are law offices, a boarding house. Come on, what am I missing?
Let’s focus on tearing down the Judd building and what the new development being proposed will do. Not to mention the Airbnb issue, what happened to that?
Here’s what Councilman Callahan had to say about a year ago: “I think what it comes down to is, the main question is this, where does the residential neighborhood begin and where does it end? And the bottom line is it doesn’t. It doesn’t. There’s nobody that can tell me where the residential community in that neighborhood on that block begins and ends.”
As Gadfly said back in December, “The zoning code says 2 W. Market is in an area zoned residential. [Callahan] says, in effect, there is no residential area there.”
That subjective suspension of the zoning code by a Councilman bowled the then innocent Gadfly over.
Now around the same time the City — which supported the owner of 2 W. Market and is now vigorously opposing the validity challenge — produced a map that also seemed to have the same effect, the downplaying of the residential nature of the West Market neighborhood and thus minimizing the impact of the inserted business.
And his production of a color-coded map that shows the neighborhood 87.3% residential!
Here is Romeril testifying about his work at the November 12 Zoning Hearing Board meeting:
But Romeril’s investigative work didn’t end there.
When the City attorney posed this question — “Mr. Romeril, you expressed some concern about the impact of 1304.4b throughout the City, have you been able to identify other parcels where 1304.4b might apply?” — he seemed surprised that Romeril’s “Yes” answer was embodied in a 3-page chart, done with the help of a friend, based on evidence offered by the 2 W. Market attorney:Gadfly invites you to note the long silence at the end of the following clip with which the City attorney responded to Romeril’s work:
Romeril didn’t just accept the study done by the City.
Romeril didn’t just accept the research done by the 2 W. Marketers.
He challenged both and provided data that supported the neighbors’ position.
It is, of course, by no means clear that the neighbors will win this latest round before the Zoning Hearing Board in this marathon controversy (everyone seems to feel resolution in the courts will be necessary), but Gadfly is pleased to help disseminate these examples of active citizen involvement as models for us all when we need to struggle for the quality of our neighborhood life.
The Hearing Board meets again on this case December 11.
Gadfly has lost count. But there was another 4hr meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board last week on the challenge to the validity of a text amendment to the “storefront” ordinance originally intended to apply to properties like the one on the left but benefiting 2 W. Market on the right — an ordinance passed by a Council, in Gadfly’s opinion, not in its best hour.
This is the 88th post on the long history over the controversy of the zoning on 2 W. Market, and followers can refresh themselves on that history by clicking the link on the Gadfly sidebar.
Gadfly loves examples of citizen participation, of which there were several at this meeting, and he invites you here to both learn about the issues surrounding 2 W. Market and to enjoy a model of good citizenship through the testimony of Paige Van Wirt.
How does this zoning amendment impair or impede the residential character of the neighborhood? (3 mins.)
“There’s no families in this business to watch little kids on the street, there’s nobody to see that somebody fell down on the corner.”
What are your concerns given that this property is on the edge of a commercial district? (1 min.)
“Now this neighborhood is struggling to come back and have a full residential character to it. Any conversion . . . of a previously healthy residential home . . . is going to erode the fabric of my neighborhood.”
Do you have concerns about commercial creep? (1 min.)
“This does give a signal that our neighborhood’s zoning is not a wall.”
Will this amendment erode the reliability of the zoning ordinance? (1 min.)
“As a homeowner . . . I would be much less inclined to buy a property on this block if I felt there were going to be more commercial/residential flips.”
Describe the importance of drafting the memo to the City Planning Director asking for more data? (2 mins.)
“My concern was that there was no impact study done by the City. . . . that we were asked at City Council to adopt an ordinance where there had been no data and research done.”
Does the amendment support the general health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Bethlehem? (1 min.)
“I understand why this is in the best interests of Quadrant, I get it, they did a great job on the building, but it doesn’t pass the litmus test of being in the best interest of the City, and that’s fundamentally what City Council is here as a representative body of the citizens of Bethlehem to do.”
Interesting material came out as Van Wirt parried with one of the attorneys under cross-examination. (9 mins.)
“This is a border neighborhood. . . . You’re not going to go six blocks in to the middle of Wall St. to try to set up a business there.”
Are you familiar with uses of the properties on your block? (1 min.)
“If this amendment could be so broadly applied that it would affect my own home, it made me understand the potential impact this would have on the rest of the City.”
Why did you wait so long before requesting data from the City? (2 mins.)
“Call me naive, but I never thought it would get that far. Once it was apparent that there was enough people on Council considering voting for it, that’s when I said, O, my God, I’ve got to show them, I’ve got to prove to Council why this is not in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Bethlehem. . . . That’s my job”
The hearing board will convene again December 11 to continue consideration of this case.