A tip o’ the hat to the Historic Conservation Commission

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

All this Gadfly talk about moving City meetings around time-wise so that they can be more accessible to the public.

All this Gadfly talk about making sure that when City committee members come up for reappointment that Council have evidence of performance before reaffirming.

All this talk — Gadfly — a sensitive man (he says insensitively) — feels he may be creating the impression that in general the City ABCs (Authorities, Boards, Commissions) are not to be trusted.

Not so, not so.

Surely Gadfly followers feel his love for the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), for instance.

And, after last night’s meeting, Gadfly must give a belated, well-deserved tip o’ the hat to the Historic Conservation Commission.

There were three items on last night’s agenda.  One item dealt with a seeming small detail of an awning, a second with major reconstruction that, in fact, was an amalgam of small details. We’ll deal with the third in another post.

If it weren’t for the third item, Gadfly would have skipped the meeting after looking at the agenda for the outdoor joy of an exquisite summer evening.

(As it was, the Gadfly indulged in that natural beauty anyway by slowly walking the mile back and forth to Town Hall — remember him just saying that he was going to put more walking in his life?)

The amount of care, knowledge, experience, and concern exhibited over the smallest details by the HCC was just truly remarkable.

Nothing dramatic, nothing spectacular — just scrupulous, patient attention.

Gadfly has witnessed this before. This was not a one-time thing.

A great example of your non-tax dollars at work.

Chair: Phil Roeder. Members: Seth Cornish, Craig Evans, Roger Hudak, Gary Lader, Jeff Long, Tony Silvoy, Beth Starbuck. (I hope that’s right.)

Large Bethlehem Manor addition approved by Planning Commission

(The latest in a series of posts on Neighborhoods)

Sara K. Satullo, “West Bethlehem nursing home clears first hurdle to expansion.” lehighvalleylive.com., July 12.

Last week Gadfly called attention to this proposed huge addition to Bethlehem Manor at the old Rosemont School. He remembered the neighborhood uproar 3-4 years ago on the original proposal and expected the same now — no, he expected more uproar.

August 12, 2015:

But, surprisingly, there was no uproar, and an increase of 70% in the number of beds was approved by the Planning Commission. The proposal still must go to the Zoning Board and then back to Planning.

Two residents – including the neighborhood association president – spoke favorably, one neighbor, the only property adjoining the Manor, had concerns.

In these two audio clips, the attorney for Bethlehem Manor introduces their project, indicating the catalyst for the 54-bed, 3-story addition to the facility is the desire for residents to have single rooms. All of the spaces in the existing facility are multiple occupancy. He reviewed traffic and parking and indicated the addition should cause no additional concern. The variance needed is for the number of additional beds.

The President of the Rosemont neighbors group said they had “grave concerns” at the time of the original project, but he now had good things to say about relationship with the Manor management. He mentioned concerns about parking, storm water, and that it remain a personal care business. There are, he said, no red flags at the moment as long as things remain “status quo.” Another neighbor reiterated the “good mesh” between the Manor and the neighbors and related only concern about the back-up alarm nuisance with the fire trucks and ambulances, alarms that can not be disabled (but the nuisance will surely increase with the additional beds).

The adjoining neighbor had three concerns: a 6ft. privacy fence that was never constructed, deliveries on the north side that were not to be allowed, and storm water.

The PC will forward this neighbor’s concerns to the Zoning Board, but discussion about them brought controversial developer Abe Atiyeh to the microphone. Gadfly had read about Atiyeh in regard to several other disputed projects but had never seen him in action. Perhaps the same with you. So Gadfly includes this video in which you will see Atiyeh make the case for not providing the privacy fence that he was supposed to.

He makes an interesting case.

Again, Gadfly, must express surprise that such a large increase in this residential area is going down so far so smoothly.

He will post an alert when the case comes before Zoning (August 14?), just in cause there is still ignorance of the project or lurking discontent over it.

Update on the meeting time conundrum

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Executive Director Tony Hanna reports that the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority will change its meeting time from 3PM to 5PM for 2020.

Good work!

Gadfly has been slow to see another benefit of the Mayor suggesting — along with later start-times — live-streaming and archiving such meetings (while there has been some hesitation about changing meetings times, the committee meetings Gadfly attended registered no problems with this).

Gadfly has strongly urged scrutiny of performance when committee members are up for reappointment. The video records can be used as evidence of performance. Council members can now access concrete documentation of performance.

Good work!

 

 

Public meetings should be scheduled for the convenience of the public

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

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.

Gadfly:

The reply to these excuses you mention is simple. These are called “public meetings” for a reason. They are not “staffers meetings” or “convenience for the boardmembers” meetings

Quit your city job or move into the city if you are being inconvenienced as a staff person. Resign from the board or authority if you are being inconvenienced as a boardmember. As a former city administrator I attended all kinds of public meetings AND blockwatch meetings. It is pure selfishness and/or complete disregard for the community and the public by anyone to not schedule public meetings for the convenience of the public.

Dana

Gadfly just needs to be clear that in these discussions no city staffers registered concern about a time change. It was committee members who registered concern for the staffers. Thus, it is not clear that any staffers had any problems with a change.

The Meeting time conundrum

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

The City has a whole bunch of citizen-membered Authorities, Boards, Commissions, and Committees at which your business is done.

They meet at various times Monday through Thursday from 3:00 to 7PM.

Specific attention has been focused on those ABCs that meet late afternoon from 3-4, during a time in which many people work: for instance, Planning Commission, Water Authority,  Historical and Architectural Review Board, Redevelopment Authority, Parking Authority, and the Bethlehem Revitalization & Improvement Authority.

A time-period limiting attendance by the public, many of whom work during that time.

Now most of the meetings of these groups are routine, and public attendance is sparse or non-existent.

But sometimes, of course, there are “hot” items that the public not only wants to witness but to participate in. And that is difficult or impossible for many people when the meeting is early.

Responding to urgent suggestions by some residents and Councilwoman Van Wirt that no meetings should start before 5PM, the Mayor asked those early-meeting ABCs to consider moving their start times for 2020 (meetings dates are set and advertised for the entire year). The Mayor also suggested that the meetings be live-streamed just as City Council meetings are now.

Gadfly previously reported how the Mayor’s request for changing the meeting time gave BRIA the “meeting time blues.”

The Mayor’s request was discussed by the Planning Commission on Thursday, and unresolved since two members were absent, but the general points of issue with the Mayor’s request are clear and uniform.

Here is a recording of the discussion of the Mayor’s request at Thursday’s PC.

The general discussion on the Mayor’s request has been basically the same across the three meetings that Gadfly has attended .

  • The most prominent objection to changing the meeting time to a later hour is concern for city staff members, who have “families to get home to” and for whom it will be a “long day.” But City staff members do now attend other meetings that start in the evening. And if this is a problem, Gadfly wonders if “comp time” for City staffers would be a reasonable solution.
  • Live-streaming (and subsequent archiving for later review) has been offered as meeting the goal of transparency without changing the meeting time. But video access to the meetings does not enable the public to participate, to interact at the meeting. Gadfly does not see live-streaming as meeting the goals of the Mayor’s request.
  • Keeping the early hours as scheduled but moving meetings with “hot” agenda items to later hours on an ad hoc basis has been offered as another option. Some ABCs have done this. But it is not always possible to recognize a “hot” topic beforehand. And a topic may be “hot” only for one individual or group of individuals rather than the wider public. And they may be unfairly shut out.
  • There is some restiveness among ABC members themselves about facing later hours because of their own family or personal situations, but all agree to be flexible if a decision is made to change the meeting time.
  • There has been a question of logistics: can all the ABC meetings be scheduled at 5, 6, or 7 in the limited meeting space and without some meeting at the same time? Not a trivial concern. To be determined by City Hall bureaucracy.
  • The City representatives at the ABCs have fairly represented the Mayor’s request, its origin, and its goal. Which is good.

Followers might remember that Gadfly’s post on the BRIA discussion contained one troublesome member comment.

There was one at the PC too: “I think if the public has a true commitment to voicing their opinion, in most cases if I was the public trying to come to a meeting because I was concerned about something, I would somehow get myself there at 4 o’clock. There might be a small percentage of people who can’t leave work to get here at 4 o’clock, but I think the numbers may be small. And I think the people who are committed to making their voices known have come to those meetings at 4 o’clock.”

Gadfly gathers that the Mayor has ultimately left the meeting time change for the early ABCs up to them.

That may be too soft an approach.

Given resolution of the logistics, the Mayor might need to mandate this change to no meetings before 5PM in order to achieve the important goal of transparency as well as enhancing the means of public participation.

 

Polk Street: future development, market rates, revenue reports, and legal authority (91)

(91st in a series of posts on parking)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Good questions, Gadfly!

The “future development” justification assumes that the city should provide parking to increase profits for developers — an entirely inappropriate use of public fund.

“Market rates” — The rates you mention are not true market rates, they are actually rates based on subsidizing private development. Total cost of land acquisition, design, & construction spread out over a 20-year period is one way to calculate what the cost should be; another is what it would cost for a developer to provide parking at its own expense.

Revenue reports — Have we not yet seen reports covering revenue & utilization for the New Street Garage? (I remember you asking for these months ago.) Actually, why doesn’t BPA publish them on their website or the city’s website every month? Would they prefer RTK requests every month? Why doesn’t the council require these on a monthly basis? —the city is failing to provide the oversight needed for this big-budget, big-impact city entity.

Does the BPA actually have the legal authority to build a parking garage that is outside their mandate. Why would the city allow this? (Maybe it’s time to decertify BPA as a city agency.)

Peter

Gadfly’s questions: blowin’ in the wind? (90)

(90th in a series of posts on parking)

But Gadfly’s list of questions are — if you will pardon the move from Dylan to Shakespeare — are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

For if the BPA progresses to construct the Polk Street Garage with a private loan as planned, City Council apparently has no say, has no oversight.

BPA does not need City Council approval for a private loan.

And does not need to answer such questions.

Though it would still be good to have the answers laid out.

Very good, in fact.

The only involvement for City Council is with the fixing of the parking fine structure.

And BPA does not need the money from a fine increase to build a garage.

A fine kettle of fish. (Anybody old enough to remember this one?)

So, what’s it all about, Alfie?

(Allusions abounding this morning!)

Gadfly supposes that unless there’s some legal hitch with building outside the CB district or with violation of some Sunshine Law, we will have a Polk Street Garage courtesy of the BPA.

PVW’s laudable budget-consciousness notwithstanding.

Or is Gadfly missing something?