probably the last time to set the record straight (21)

(21st in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Tuesday, March 12

Brent, Darlene, and members of the Planning Commission (except Ms. Cohen, for whom I do not have a permissible email). Lawyer Durso has been informed of my request below through her firm’s web site.

Good People:

Take #4

Since I have provided all parties with access to substantive materials that indicate that a Northside Commuter Lot, though not in the parking plan submitted to and approved by the City and apparently unknown to the Director of Planning and Zoning, is part of the Lehigh parking plan rolled out to employees in September 2018,

and since Lehigh has announced plans to initiate its parking plan around April 1,

and since Lehigh’s implied denial of the very existence of that lot in their thinking about making up for lost parking spaces on campus made me look rather foolish in front of the Planning Commission, the public, and the press,

I respectfully request that 124 E. Morton be added to the agenda for the Thursday March 14 meeting.

It will probably be the last time to set the record straight before Lehigh’s plan becomes operational.

Ms. Heller and Chairman Melosky, I will be glad to make a presentation based on the presence of the Northside Commuter lot in Lehigh documentation if that is permissible.

Ed Gallagher

“you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development” (12)

(12th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Paige Van Wirt is a Bethlehem City Councilwoman, physician, and small business owner.

Dr. Thode,

Since we have never met, it stands to reason that you are not aware of my positions about walkability and downtown development. I don’t know where you got incorrect facts.

“Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

Stephen Thode”

I am not on the record opposing high rise development of any kind in urban cores of Bethlehem.  Please, show me where I said that? I voted FOR the Benner/Parks project on West Broad Street, which went against HARB recommendations, precisely because I do believe we need increased amounts of downtown residential development. My remarks at the time of the vote reflect this belief.  I am for the use of the Boyd for market rate housing.  I voted FOR the vacation of 2nd avenue for the Armory project. I have never once said I oppose high rise development in Bethlehem.  I have been on council for one year and my voting record is crystal clear for all to see. Please, be sure of your facts before having them published, in a blog or otherwise.

I am a physician for nursing home patients.  I take care of patients at over 25 different nursing homes and ALFs in the Valley. You can bet that if they were in one walkable radius, I would be walking there. How inconvenient for my personal transportation beliefs that they are spread from Sellersville to Hometown.

I shop for groceries at the Wegmans. I would be more than happy to shop at a local food market, such as C Town, if there was one in North Bethlehem.  But there is not, which is why my husband and I joined the Bethlehem Food Co-op, to help establish a market in a food desert.

I live in the heart of downtown Bethlehem, a choice my husband and I made so we could walk to as many activities as possible. The fact that you cast aspersions on how I live my life without even knowing me gives me great pause. I do not understand why you took your feelings on Bethlehem’s walkability to Bernie, without even bothering to have a conversation with me about this.  You are substantively and factually incorrect in your assertions.

Dr. Thode, I am deeply surprised that an educator such as yourself would not do the research before making assertions.   The sad thing is, we share the same beliefs about what would make Bethlehem better in terms of walkability.  If you ever would like to sit down with me and hear my own beliefs and then come to a conclusion on their validity, I would be more than happy to make the time.

Paige Van Wirt

The developer needs to be treated the same as the homeowner (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

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.


So, I guess Mr. Thode (for whom I have a great deal of respect) believes in unequal application of the law as well? Because, what both Bethlehem Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron have been battling is exactly that issue. Neither one is anti-development, but those who are attacking them are trying their best to portray them in that fashion.

Both zoning and historic district ordinances have requirements. In historic districts you are supposed to build to the scale and mass of the resources that qualified those areas to become National Register Historic Districts in the first place. In zoning certain uses are permitted in certain areas. These laws are not being applied equally in this City, and both Negron and Van Wirt see that, and many residents do as well.

Mr. Thode makes absolute sense with his assessment. And, for example, there was no public argument against the development directly across from the Fowler Center on East Third Street, because it was not subject to Historic Conservation Commission review and subject to the local Historic District ordinance. Both the 6 story office building and public parking garage on South New Street were. 510 Flats is a fantastic development that “fits” where it’s built.

And then to compound matters, everyone involved with the South New Street office development, including the City administration and five Members of Council, conveniently buried their heads in the sand when an unauthorized expansion of the 6th floor restaurant was undertaken without the proper review. The citizen commission recognized the faux pas and refused to endorse it because it contradicted the highly negotiated compromise of the original Certificate of Appropriateness!

So, the difficult part of Mr. Thode’s observation for Bethlehem is that both central business districts are also in whole or in part located in National Register Historic Districts. Studies have shown that a sense of place, including preservation of historic buildings and areas, is critical to these areas being successful. In these cases you can’t have it both ways, and that is exactly the position both Councilwomen have taken. You can build higher around them but shouldn’t within them. It’s that simple.

As far as Councilwoman Van Wirt’s use of her vehicle to do her job vs. her endorsement of walkability, these are totally different issues that can coexist. When your employment requires you to work at various locations throughout the Lehigh Valley, it’s plain and simple, you drive. Schedules, services, accessibility and appointments do not make walking conducive from say downtown Bethlehem to the Gracedale County Home, and public transportation options are limited. So, you drive your auto from one to the next point of service because you have to meet the obligations of your employment.

However, what you also do is walk from your residence to City Hall, restaurants on Main Street, visits with friends, parks, etc.

The bottom line is that both Van Wirt and Negron are not anti-highrise, density, or development. They want compliance with City ordinances and City Hall’s complicity with developers stopped. They want the developer to be treated the same as the homeowner who needs a permit to add a porch, or build a garage, or a historic district property owner who wants to paint their home. All they have been advocating for is equal treatment under the law. Nothing more, nothing less!


Challenging Bethlehem walkability (10)

(10th in a series of posts on Walkability and Bikeability)

Stephen Thode is recently retired as director of the Murray H. Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies at Lehigh University. These comments appeared today in the Lehigh Valley Ramblings blog.

Several factors mitigate against increased “walkability” in Bethlehem. Let’s walk through them:

1) The urban cores of both the North Side and South Side have relatively low population densities (both residents as well as day visitors and workers) resulting in

2) A paucity of mass transportation AND a paucity of resident services in the urban cores, i.e., supermarkets, medical services, shopping, entertainment, etc. resulting in

3) The automobile becoming the default mode of transportation for all residents who can afford a car (or know someone who can drive them around).

Bethlehem will not become more “walkable” unless:

a) The urban cores become much more densely populated by residents as well as office, retail and shopping venues which will only occur if

b) A substantial number of high-rise apartment buildings and office buildings (with first-floor retail) are developed in the urban cores, and;

c) Mass transportation becomes frequent enough and broad enough to be a viable option for people to take to and from the urban cores.

Since Councilperson Van Wirt is on record opposing high rise development of any kind in the urban cores of Bethlehem, good luck with that.

I wonder how many miles Councilperson Van Wirt logs on her car each year. Where does she shop for groceries? Where does she go for medical services? Where does she shop for household items? Where does she go to see a movie, or hear a concert? Does she walk to these places? Does she take LANTA? Or, does she take private transportation?

Stephen Thode

Will the Planning Committee reconsider the Lehigh Northside issue? (20)

(20th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

from the Planning Commission meeting 2/21/19

The gadflies of the insect world are nasty, pesky critters. Your Bethlehem Gadfly of the homo sapiens world is surely earning his sobriquet (good SAT word) with this thread on Lehigh University.

And you may be tired of it.

What’s your beef, Gadfly Gallagher?

There are two elements to this “case” bound to engage a gadfly:

1) what seems like conscious and willful inconsistency between Lehigh’s statements and the actuality

2) what may be (not sure) potential unfairness to the “little guy”

In relative briefness, let me lay it out once again:

Lehigh is constructing three major buildings on existing parking lots and, in total, by its own published figures is thereby losing 518 existing parking spaces on campus, almost the equivalent of the new New St. Garage. Lehigh’s July 18, 2018, parking study, approved by the City, indicates that Lehigh meets all zoning requirements and that all lost parking space will be absorbed on campus. That claim of absorbing all lost parking spaces on campus was affirmed by Lehigh before the Planning Commission, even when questioned by Gadfly at a meeting.

However, when Lehigh rolled out its new parking plan in a September 10, 2018, memo to employees and in perhaps a score of large and small group meetings with employees in the Fall, there was in the plan an off-campus Northside Commuter Lot at 123 W. Lehigh St., ¾’s of a mile and a good 15-minute walk from Farrington Square at the very bottom of main campus – a lot not mentioned in the July study submitted to the City. In the documentation circulated on campus to employees, bus service from that Northside lot to Farrington Square, where employees can connect with other buses to their work location, is described.

It seems clear from Lehigh documentation that all parking demand cannot be satisfied on campus and that the Northside lot is part of several elements to resolve that shortfall. In addition, the new Lehigh parking plan involves an annual fee of $500 for most spaces close to work locations. Some people might choose to park in the Northside lot because it is free. But it’s possible that others – among them Bethlehem residents and taxpayers – will be forced into that lot because they can’t afford the fee.

The fundamental problem, though, is that neither Lehigh or the City has recognized the inclusion of the off-campus lot in testimony before the Planning Commission, despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it is part of the Lehigh plan. Gadfly would like to see the existence of the off-campus lot recognized before the Planning Commission at which time any potential unfairness to Bethlehem residents and taxpayers can be addressed. There may be no unfairness, but we won’t know that without focused discussion.

Well, that wasn’t so brief, was it?

So here’s audio of the public comment section of the 2/21 Planning Commission meeting:

  • in the beginning “with-it” PC members do ask about parking
  • Gadfly makes his soulful pitch for the underdog (min. 1:20)
  • the Lehigh lawyer responds (min. 6:55)
  • there is a brief interchange between the lawyer and Gadfly (min.8:20)
  • astute PC members question again, and City official Ms. Heller resolves the discussion for the PC (9:20)
  • an astute concerned PC member, though, suggests an addition to the main motion before the vote, indicating still some uncertainty about parking (min. 12:25)
  • also comically (to Gadfly anyway) interesting is the Lehigh lawyer implying bike parking as part of the solution to the specific question about the specific kinds of people Gadfly is concerned about (min 13:50)

Lehigh plans to begin parking allocation around April 1 (3 weeks) for a July start to the new plan.

The Planning Commission meets next this Thursday March 14.

If anything is to be done, the time is now.

As you might note from his last letter to Lehigh, the City, and the PC, Gadfly has asked that the authorization given at the 2/21 meeting be revoked till the issue of the Northside lot and potential unfairness to City residents and taxpayers is thoroughly aired.

Selective preservation of history (6)

(6th in a series on Martin Tower)


While I recognize the need (or desire) to demolish Martin Tower in order to redevelop the 50+ acre site on which it stands, it also raises the issue of the very selective and at times ignored preservation of history in Bethlehem. History is Bethlehem’s singular most important asset when it comes to marketing this city, yet building upon it seems to be secondary to convenience.


Toppling the (Martin) Tower (5)

(5th in a series on Martin Tower)

Nicole Radzievich, “Martin Tower will be imploded; mayor says could happen by end of April.” Morning Call, March 7, 2019.

Nicole Radzievich, “Why Martin Tower’s historic designation doesn’t preclude its demolition.” Morning Call, March 8, 2019.

The denouement inches forward.

Gadfly lives in the debris path. Sigh.

The resistance: Refuse To Patronize Anything On the Martin Tower Land Without The Tower Remaining

People who have any connection with the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, or Bethlehem Steel, are very unhappy with the news that Martin Tower is said to be taken down in 2019. As a result of this news, we, the signatories, do not wish to support or patronize any businesses that will build on the Martin Tower property after it has been taken down. We want to see this building renovated, and turned into something beneficial to the community.

Martin Tower is an important part of the city’s history. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a landmark that can be seen for miles. It is an important part of Bethlehem Steel’s history, just as much as are the Blast Furnaces. This building could be an attraction, such as a Visitor’s Center, offices, and provide living space. Martin Tower is a local treasure and should be treated as such.

Facebook: “Save Martin Tower”

Martin Tower is a skyscraper in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that was built as the world headquarters for Bethlehem Steel. Since Bethlehem Steel closed and left the Tower, other companies occupied the Tower until the last tenant left in 2007. The Tower has now been vacant for several years and was taken off of a protection list. This page is for anyone who feels this building is worth saving and reusing. I believe that it is a historical symbol of the Lehigh Valley and the Steel company. You may voice your opinion here, and please like and share the page with as many people as you can! You are free to share stories, memories and photos. I believe that together, the citizens of the Lehigh Valley and beyond can help to save this beautiful building! Thank you for your time and your appreciation!