Widening the circle of commentary on Garrison St.

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(5th in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)

After the Garrison St. neighbors spoke, two champions emerged for their cause.

Bruce Haines

Haines is a litigant in the latest chapter of the highly divisive 2 W. Market St. issues that Gadfly has covered extensively (see the link to 2 W. Market on the sidebar) and sees this issue through that lens as another example of “true commercial intrusion” into neighborhoods tacitly then visibly supported by the City. The developer has a “great project,” but it’s in the wrong location. Striking to Gadfly is the practical point that a vote yes is a vote for an open door. Since the rendering of the project shown at the meeting is only tentative, the final project could be “anything,” a fate Haines underlines with some nasty examples. “This is about integrity,” Haines says, and repeats it so often that Gadfly looked up the definition to make sure he knew what Haines saw as the transcending issue: “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”

  • This is a deja vu all over again.
  • Remember 2 W. Market St.? This is commercial intrusion into residential neighborhoods. It’s plain and simple.
  • Except instead of being in the historical district, it’s a wonderful community on Garrison St.
  • It’s a community. It’s a neighborhood.
  • Certainly that’s a great project [the developer’s], as they even acknowledged, on New St. and around to the commercial business district as it exists today.
  • There’s not a house on that street that fits the variances and the codes, but at the end of the day, they are all residences.
  • So, how familiar is this? Here we have an individual coming to redo a zoning change again. We don’t have the City endorsing it. They’re sitting neutral. They’ll wait till the 11th hour like they did for 2 W. Market St., and then they’ll weigh in to make sure you understand how you’re supposed to vote.
  • And are we then pretty soon going to have Sand Island named after Mr. Connell or his business?
  • What we’ve got here is true commercial intrusion.
  • I really feel for these neighbors, and I’m going to stand up for them.
  • Because if you go ahead with this, you are marching down the the exact same path you marched with 2 W. Market St.
  • Now we are hearing the CB [Central Business district] . . . doesn’t apply on a local street so on Garrison she [City Planning administrator Darlene Heller] didn’t tell us what could go there . . . the largest bar and restaurant in the city . . . the biggest Hookah lounge, the biggest tattoo parlor . . . who the heck knows.
  • I think this is a great project. I’m not here not supporting a great project for the City.
  • Just put the project in the district where the project belongs which is the Commercial Business district, and leave these neighbors alone, and leave their businesses alone.
  • So what this is about is the same as 2 W. Market St., and if you keep going down this path, it’s about integrity.
  • This is about integrity. The whole thing is about integrity. It’s the integrity of our zoning code, which [the City administrator] won’t stand up to defend . . . It’s the integrity of our neighborhoods, and it’s about integrity of government.
  • You’re marching down the same path that will have you in court for 5, 7 years, the same as you’re going to be for 2 W. Market St.
  • This is a travesty, and you guys should need to squelch this from the beginning.
  • Not only that, you’re buying a pig in a poke. You’re going to change the zoning  . . . and you don’t even know that you’re going to get this project.
  • Once it’s CB, it can be anything.
  • We know that the majority of Council believes that economic development outweighs neighborhoods.
  • If you were to approve this CB without it being attached to this project or conditional . . . you’re really done a disservice to this community.
  • [applause]

 

Stephen Antalics

Looking and sounding much like an Old Testament Jeremiah, Gadfly #1 speaks, as he always does, with rhetorical and moral brevity and clarity: whose will should Council serve, the public or the private? There’s the question that applies to not only this case but to a span of cases this Gadfly #00 has covered over the past year. To Antalics, the answer is self-evident.

  • There’s an old adage that says government of, for, and by the people, and it seems that’s been lost.
  • It’s almost like governance in spite of the people.
  • Bruce [Haines] is exactly right. The key word is integrity.
  • Integrity is expressed when the will is recognized and supported.
  • It then becomes whose will.
  • We have on many occasions intelligent concerned people who love the City come here and testify after intensive research why something shouldn’t happen.
  • But the people come forth who have private interests, which is fine . . . as long as private interests do not impinge upon the will of the people, the people who chose you to represent their interests.
  • So the question is, whose will are you going to serve?
  • And this question has come up much too often.
  • The will of the people or a private individual.
  • My sympathy for these people who spoke, because they represent the core of the City, decent people who love the City, and enjoy living in the City.
  • And what you can be doing here is depriving them of their way of life, uprooting them, forcing maybe some to move out of the City because they came here for that simple reason.
  • So, I think it’s very clear what has to happen here.

So, “where’s your head at” on the rezoning of the houses on Garrison St.?

Festival UnBound

The Garrison St. neighbors respond (2)

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(4th in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)

Garrison St.

More beautiful Bethlehem voices–

Voices worrying about practical things like damage to foundations in an area in which there was a sinkhole, but mainly worrying about damage to community, serenity, peace, safety, beauty — yes, beauty (who’s in charge of Beauty in Bethlehem, Gadfly has asked).

Julie Cordero (17 W. Garrison)

  • It’s a safe place to live. It’s an affordable place to live.
  • I have two kids in the Bethlehem School district who walk to school.
  • How does breaking ground affect my foundation and foundations down the street?
  • My house is my heart, my home.
  • I don’t really see that as a feasible option to break ground for a 74-space parking garage . . .
  • I’m a disability advocate . . . we have people on our street who have wheelchairs and are on walkers. You gonna shut down Garrison St. [during construction] and make everyone walk?
  • Is this street going to be closed down for weeks on end?
  • Housing for veterans . . . I’m all for that . . . if it doesn’t carry on into Garrison St. which is a well-established family neighborhood.

Vanessa Torres (23 W. Garrison St.)

  • I come from New York. I left New York to get away from high-rises and buildings.
  • I left New York city to be in a calm, beautiful environment, and I love my neighbors, and I know everyone’s name,
  • But for that I just move back to New York city, a high-rise with so many families, such a busy environment.

_____ Toledo (18 W. Garrison)

  • I like a family.
  • We have community there.
  • We’re not going to feel safe there.
  • [Now] all the kids are outside playing, and we feel safe there.
  • So if there are two big buildings across the street, I know a lot of us won’t feel safe there.
  • [she speaks for others in the audience]
  • applause

Chewing? Next, comments from a couple of resident gadflies, who do not live in the neighborhood.

Festival UnBound

The Garrison St. neighbors respond (1)

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(3rd in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)

Five Garrison St. neighbors affected by the zoning change proposal testified against it. Let’s look at the first two here: Lauren Miller and Mark Wood.

Gadfly hopes you will take full advantage of the video and not just browse the excerpts. You know Gadfly loves and respects the way Bethlehem residents comport themselves in these situations. Good examples here.

Lauren is emotional and speaks to ideals. Mark is straightforward and practical.

Put yourself in the position of the Councilmembers receiving this testimony. We always must remember that the developer has rights too. He doesn’t act or sound like a devil with horns. Tough decision. That’s why they get the big money (joke, remember Council is a part-time job and not especially well paid given the time and responsibility).

Think about what you would do. And why.

But wait a couple posts till you hear all the testimony. That’s the Gadfly way.

Lauren Miller (11 W. Garrison)

Lauren had a written text (Miller Re-Zoning Council Meeting), but she spoke forcefully and extemporaneously as well. Gadfly’s excerpts below come from both her prepared and extemporaneous words. There are several potential t-shirt slogans here!

  • I’m here for the best thing for our community.
  • If I would get what I wanted, I would say no to the changing of the zoning of my house.
  • I don’t want to live for what I want, I want to live for what is best for everybody.
  • Beautiful brick homes — just to build something new, I’m against that. I’m against tearing down something old to make something new for economical prosperity.
  • The house that I live in has beautiful windows that will probably never be made again in our time.
  • The brick building next to me . . . there’s a hidden door for when servants . . . used to take care of the household . . . a historical beautiful building.
  • My heart is to preserve what is old and to take care of it.
  • LOVE has been a part of transforming our block. Loving your neighbor as yourself transforms a block. It doesn’t matter what you build on a corner, if love isn’t there. It doesn’t matter how many businesses come in that raises the economy growth.
  • Loving one neighbor at a time will change our community, America and the world.
  • I don’t know what is best for our town and our growth in regards to what we decide to build.
  • The second leading cause of death in America is suicide, and it’s the highest in our teens. The neighborhood kids come over to my house, and I help them with their homework. Can we be a community that does that for our neighbors.
  • I know that when I live in the City in Philadelphia and there was a big building, nobody had time for each other, people just went from left to right, and no one had time just to have dinner with each other. This community has been starting to do that. And I hope to grow it more.
  • I want to live there, and I want to be a part of building this to be a family community.
  • Something special is happening on Garrison St. It’s just the beginning of something beautiful.
  • The community on Garrison St. is a family community. It’s a place where we have time to sit on our front porches and see how our neighbors are doing. That is something worth preserving. That is something worth caring about.
  • Great things are happening in this neighborhood, and bringing forth more housing to overpopulate this neighborhood will change the culture completely.
  • If you visit our community on Garrison St., you will find that it’s a place like the show ‘Cheers.’ It’s a place where everyone knows your name and sadly that’s a rare thing to find anymore.
  • Building a huge apartment complex on this corner will completely change what this community is about.
  • My question for this City is what matters most to them? Does the community and the people that reside here matter, or does ‘economical prosperity’ matter more?

Mark Wood (14 W. Garrison)

  • You’re looking at 120ft. as opposed to regular 2-story houses.
  • And the other problem I have is parking.
  • [The building is] not going to fit in that neighborhood. It’s going to look out of place.
  • If there’s a way that you can guarantee that the parking won’t suffer . . .

So chew on these testimonies. We’ll listen to several more neighbors next.

Festival UnBound

The developer plans for Garrison St.

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(2nd in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)

Garrison St.

The developer seeks rezoning of two residences on Garrison St. as part of a proposal for a 5-floor mixed use building with first-floor commercial + 70-some apartments along New St. between Garrison and North.

Gadfly likes to have an image of the developer (a devil with horns?). The developer’s name is not familiar, but he must have been “at work” for a good while to accumulate that concentrated block of properties. Let’s take a look as he makes his brief presentation at Tuesday night’s Council hearing.

The developer owns the entire 700 block (sigh! makes you feel insignificant, doesn’t it? Gadfly’s house is 20ft. wide) of west New St and the two houses 11 and 15 W. Garrison.

The houses on New are zoned Central Business District, the Garrison houses residential.

The Garrison houses were CB but changed to residential in 2005. The developer’s asking to change them back.


Most of us have not witnessed a public hearing on a Zoning proposal, so let’s take a look at the interaction between Council and the developer to get a sense of the kind of questions that are asked and the kind of concerns there might be.

Especially regarding impact on the existing neighborhood.

We learn that the first floor must be “retail, restaurant, or personal services.”

Though there is the rendering of the project shown above, no specific plan has yet been officially submitted.

As the developer says, he is “early on” in a project — a “journey” — of many steps. He’s at “the very first step.”

So he was a bit vague about some details. For instance, the height of the building.

Parking (a reasonable amount of parking as a convenience) and a certain type of construction (reasonable cost) will limit the height, he said in response to concerns.

He has looked at the City Comprehensive Plan (nice!) and is following a desired use found there in the Center City area: high-density residential.

What kind of tenants does he seek? He’s working with a marketing and financing group doing a demographic study, but he did mention the possibility of federal government programs for veteran housing (some visible signs of sympathy for that).

See approx. minute 10 for Councilwoman Van Wirt raising concern for the integrity of the Garrison St. block.

Yes, that’s what we should think about next.

Festival UnBound

 

Unfortunately, a familiar story-line: “Tension between development and history dominated Tuesday night’s Bethlehem City Council meeting”

(1st in a series of posts about 11 and 15 W. Garrison St.)

It’s deja-vu all over again, as someone said at last night’s Council meeting. Gadfly can hardly get a thread on one of these development situations finished before another one pops up. Use the news stories as a starting point for thinking about the Garrison St. matter.

Garrison St.a five-story, mixed-use building with 72 apts along the 700 block of N. New Street,
between North and Garrison

Sara Satullo, “Bethlehem neighbors want their block’s small-town feel to prevail over big-city apartment plan.” lehighvalleylive.com., September 17, 2019.

The residents of West Garrison Street have built a tight-knit community where kids are sent outside to play. They get homework help on neighbors’ porches and folks open their homes for dinner.

On Tuesday evening, the residents of the street implored Bethlehem City Council not to disrupt their way of life by rezoning two properties — 11 and 15 W. Garrison St. — from high-density residential to the central business district designation they held prior to a 2005 zoning change.

[Lauren Miller] asked city council what matters most to them: the community and people that reside in the city or economic development.

[Developer] Connell envisions commercial retail space fronting on North New Street along with the apartments and 74 parking spaces to the rear. While zoning does not require he provide parking, Connell said, he thinks it is crucial to market the project to tenants.

Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt said she’s concerned about the intrusion of development on a vibrant residential street.

“I really feel for these neighbors and I’m going to stand up for them,” [Bruce Haines] said. . . . This is all about integrity.”

[The properties] sit within the city’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, tax abatement zone as well as a qualified opportunity zone, a capital gains tax incentive, created in the 2017 tax reform law. It is meant to encourage investment and development in targeted economically distressed neighborhoods. With LERTA, taxes on a property’s higher assessment, resulting from improvements, are phased in over 10 years rather than all at once.

Charles Malinchak, “Bethlehem residents say Garrison Street complex would ruin ‘wonderful’ neighborhood.” Morning Call, September 18, 2019.

The picture painted was of a tight, friendly neighborhood that would be lost forever if two properties on a street in Bethlehem were rezoned to allow for construction of a five-story apartment and retail complex.

“I’m someone who cares deeply about this neighborhood. … Everyone knows everyone’s name. It is something special, something beautiful. Kids sit on my porch and color. Say ‘no’ to changing the zoning,” an emotional Lauren Miller, a West Garrison Street resident, told council.

Miller rents one of the West Garrison Street homes owned by Connell and praised the historic character of the home she has lived in for more than three years. She questioned why there’s such a need to “tear down the old for the new. I want to live here and be a part of building this community.” Others from the neighborhood echoed Miller’s sentiments. “I don’t want this. It will bring a lot more people and we won’t feel safe anymore. Our block is like a big family,” West Garrison Street resident Cindy Toledo said.

“This is commercial intrusion into a wonderful neighborhood. This is about integrity of our zoning codes, our neighborhoods and government,” Hotel Bethlehem managing owner Bruce Haines said.

Stephen Althouse, “Potential downtown development causes tension in Bethlehem.” September 17, 2019.

Tension between development and history dominated Tuesday night’s Bethlehem City Council meeting.

The two properties are part of nine contiguous properties [Developer] Connell has acquired over several years on West North, North New and Garrison streets. The acquisitions are required to eventually implement his vision of an important urban redevelopment project.

During Tuesday night’s hearing, Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt said it should come at no surprise that she is “concerned about the loss of residential” properties. She directly asked Connell what would he do if the zoning was denied? Connell attempted to answer, pausing several times before eventually giving up. “I don’t think I could honestly answer that question,” given the situation, he said.

It was a question neighbors who attended the hearing Tuesday night hope becomes more than hypothetical. Speaker after speaker lamented the changes with various themes centering around how it would negatively transform a Bethlehem neighborhood. “This is a commercial intrusion into a neighborhood,” Bethlehem resident Bruce Haines said. “… Ultimately this decision is about integrity.”

Gadfly in a muddle over 548

(9th in a series of posts about 548 N. New St.)

So the Planning Commission response to the proposal for a new building at 548 N. New St. saddened a reflective Gadfly in a different manner for a different reason.

There was no one Planning Commission position on the 548 design, but here is what Gadfly pieced together a couple of posts back from separate comments on the design by the three commissioners.

This is what Gadfly “heard” as a general rationale for approving the design:

548 is not in the historical district, which means that it’s not tied to the past but can be a catalyst for elevating and exciting and even beneficially controversial change, an indication of our commitment to modern progress that will benefit the City economically by attracting urban dwellers who, in the developer’s language, want to “live free” and who will spend money in the downtown.

Gadfly is aware of the legitimate problems with what we might call the “Boyd Theater” block of Broad Street. And of optimism about plans for 120 new apartments there.

He shares that optimism.

For a personal and selfish motive, Gadfly — wrestling with the downsizing demon — would love to see apartments that he would like and can afford in that section of town.

The Planners base their approval of the design precisely on the basis that it will be a change agent in that area:

  • “[548 is] not in the historical district”
  • “This is a new development and hopefully the rest will follow
  • “The design is going to elevate the architecture in the surrounding 70s-designed buildings in the future”
  • “It’s going to improve our overall outlook and image in terms of where we’re going and moving toward

The Planners have Gadfly envisioning this section of the future City in the image and likeness of the 548 style of architecture.

So which is it? Does the modern design of 548 blend in with and complement the historical architecture, as the developers see it? Or is it something new, a consciously chosen break with historical architecture that signals a move in a new direction, as the Planners see it?

Not only which is it, but which do we want it to be?

It’s the dramatic inconsistency of the two messages that bothers Gadfly.

In contrast to the developers, The PC celebrates difference and change and assumes more of it.

It almost sounds as if there is an official plan or consensus evolving of the kind of downtown residents we seek and the kind of downtown development we want.

In approving such dramatic change in architectural design, are the Planners in ad hoc fashion making policy, or are they reflecting principles already agreed upon?

Gadfly has heard the kind of residents we seek (“the type of clientele that we’re trying to have within our City”) as young professionals with disposable income who want to live and spend money in a walkable downtown.

And he guesses the assumption is that such folk will only be attracted by such modern design. Is that a testable assumption?

For it sounds from the PC words like we are moving toward a city with a distinct historical section and a distinct modern section.

Gadfly agrees generally that history is Bethlehem’s brand. So will we have a competing brand? Can a city have two brands?

Carrell-Smith felt baffled. Gadfly feels muddled.

And thus for Gadfly the key question is, where and when does the conversation about Beauty in Bethlehem take place, and who is there when it does?

For by the time that Scheirer and Carrell-Smith get thoughtfully to the microphone, it is too late. That’s what made Gadfly sad. The conversation train had left the station.

Gadfly hopes that conversation is taking place somewhere before the train has gone too far.

For this specific kind of comment from a Planning Commissioner really makes Gadfly anxious: “if nothing else, people who visit Bethlehem will have something more to talk about.”

O, my.

That does not seem responsible planning.

to be continued . . . (Gadfly can really beat a topic to death, can’t he?)

The 548 developers give Gadfly a headache

(8th in a series of posts about 548 N. New St.)

Gadfly began this thread on 548 N. New on September 10 by saying he “found himself very reflective after the Planning Commission meeting of August 26. And — to tell the truth — sad.”

Now that we have a complete overview of the players and the process, let’s put a foundation under those feelings, starting with a closer analysis of the developer rationale for the design.

Gadfly doesn’t feel the developer was prepared for the Planning Commission member’s question about the design.

And his answer was totally inadequate and, Gadfly thinks, insulting and dishonest.

Scheirer and Carrell-Smith deserved better. “We” deserved better.

The developers:

“We understand that [the 548 design] is modern, but when modern design is actually done right we feel it not only enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances the historic architecture. So I mean, we feel that, we understand that people may not like this in the historic downtown, but this is invigorating type design . . . people want to live downtown, be downtown, live free, and spend money downtown. We feel this is, this is the way things are headed. We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem . . . continue enhancing the downtown.”

  • We understand that it is modern, but when modern design is actually done right we feel it not only enhances it, not only complements it, but also enhances the historic architecture. To Gadfly, who has no architectural savvy, this is an astounding claim made totally without example or evidence or data, so it’s meaningless.
  • We understand that people may not like this in the historic downtown, but this is invigorating type design. Gadfly does not understand the relation between the first part of the sentence and the second. This is a type of non sequitur. Precisely what will be the nature of the invigoration, and how will it enhance the surrounding historic architecture? If the second part of the sentence is meant to mollify the antipathy of the people in the first part of the sentence, it is not clear how.
  • People want to live downtown, be downtown, live free, and spend money downtown. What does “live free” mean? Is the assumption here that a differently designed building would not attract such people? If so, no basis is provided for believing so. And Kim Carrell-Smith offered to provide data that historical architecture is an economic driver.
  • We feel this is, this is the way things are headed. To what does this refer? To directions in City planning? Or to trends in urban architecture? Or to what? Not clear. This statement is meaningless.
  • We love design, we love Bethlehem, and we want to invest in Bethlehem. Ends with a love feast. Kumbaya, my Planning Commission, kumbaya. Smoke screen hiding empty argument.
  • We try to be sensitive to the surrounding area [quote by the developer the night of the meeting]. Please. Pu-leeze.

For Gadfly, the developer response to the design question is non-sense.

Yet the Planning Commission did not blink.

The irony is that the developers could have made a good case on each point. Gadfly could write it for them. But there was no effort to do so. Their answer is manifestly skimpy.

And thus we find a rightfully “baffled” Kim Carrell-Smith, “baffled by the developer’s characterization that this modern building fits into the historic downtown and complements it.”

Gadfly feels justified in feeling the developers were insulting in treating “us” as empty heads.

But why does he feel they were dishonest as well?

Because, Gadfly feels, they must have known they should have been making the exact opposite case for their modern design but didn’t feel it would fly.

That modern design is so obviously different from the surrounding area that, if they were honest, they should have been “selling” its difference as a needed and necessary positive change agent in a section of the City that needed a boost.

For, after all, that’s what the Planning Commission did!

Yes, oh yes, my good followers, the Planning Commission made a case for the design 180-degrees from the creators of the design.

O, my aching head, says Gadfly.

to be continued . . .