Southside grocery will be “Ideal”

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

selections from Christina Tatu, “Former Ahart’s Market in Bethlehem to become Ideal Food Basket.” Morning Call, May 4, 2021.

Ahart’s Market in south Bethlehem will become an Ideal Food Basket after being purchased for $2.3 million last week by Juan Diaz, the owner of CTown supermarket.

The new market is slated to open this year. Renovations will take about six months.

Diaz will continue to operate CTown as a separate store on East Third Street, about a half mile from Ahart’s, 410 Montclair Ave.

Redevelopment plans for the full-service grocery store include exterior and roofing repairs; demolition of the interior space; new refrigeration, heating and cooling systems; changes to the store’s layout; and new store colors and logo.

The Bethlehem location was critical, however, for an area that is considered a food desert, without ready access to fresh fruit and vegetables. City officials sprung into action to identify a buyer for the property who would keep it a grocery store.

“Access to fresh food and healthy groceries at affordable prices is paramount to Southside neighborhood residents,” Mayor Robert Donchez said in Tuesday’s news release. “Maintaining and building sustainable neighborhoods remain a constant focus for city administration. I am thrilled Ideal Food Basket chose to locate here.”

Diaz said he’s excited to expand his footprint in the neighborhood.

“The opportunity to purchase this location was too good to pass up and I am pleased to be able to offer a full-service grocery store to the residents of South Bethlehem,” he said in Tuesday’s statement.

In the meantime, as residents wait for the store to open, the nonprofit Kellyn Foundation, based in Tatamy, will operate a Real Food Mobile Market 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday in Ahart’s parking lot.

The mobile market started last week and is expected to run until the new store is open.

Key Southside grocery site will live on

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Kudos to the Mayor, the Administration, Council members, and residents who sprang into action when Ahart’s folded.

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selections from Christina Tatu, “Ahart’s Market in Bethlehem sold for $2.3 million with plan to keep it a grocery store.” Morning Call, April 30, 2021.

A buyer has closed on the former Ahart’s Market in south Bethlehem, paying for $2.3 million for the property with the intent of keeping it a grocery store, a listing agent and Bethlehem officials confirmed Friday evening.

The market, long considered a staple in south Bethlehem at 410 Montclair Ave., closed after 20 years last month. Steve Clipman, a real estate broker with TRUE Commercial in Lancaster, which listed Ahart’s, said a new buyer closed on the property Thursday, buying it for $2.3 million. It will take about six months before a grocery store is opened there again.

The Bethlehem location was critical, however, for an area that is considered a food desert, without ready access to fresh fruit and vegetables. City officials sprung into action working to identify a buyer for the property who would keep it a grocery store.

The 24,535-square-foot-building will undergo extensive renovations.

The property was only listed for two months before Thursday’s sale and attracted plenty of attention, he said.

Mayor Robert Donchez confirmed the sale Friday evening, though he also declined to identify the buyer. City officials have been in contact with the buyer for several weeks and they hope to make an official announcement soon, he said.

“I impressed upon this individual that it was very important to keep the facility as a full-fledged grocery store that serves a large clientele in Southside Bethlehem and Fountain Hill,” Donchez said. “He was very receptive. Over the last three weeks, our conversations were always positive and we knew they were getting very close to finalizing.”

Friday evening, Donchez said he was elated the deal finally went through and he looks forward to making an announcement.

“I grew up on the Southside and my mother shopped at that store until the day she died,” he said. “It’s one of the anchors of the Southside community.”

In the meantime, as residents await the re-opening of the market, the nonprofit Kellyn Foundation, based out of Tatamy, will operate a “Real Food Mobile Market” in Ahart’s parking lot every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The first mobile market is planned for this Saturday and will likely operate until the store re-opens, said Eric Ruth, head of the Tatamy-based Kellyn Foundation.

The nonprofit has a mission of bringing fresh and nutritious food to areas lacking reliable access. The mobile market will be filled with locally grown produce as well as healthy prepared foods, like plant-based cuisine, salads and breads.

City officials also partnered with Kellyn, providing $55,000 in Community Development Block Grant COVID funds to start a coupon program for eligible residents. Under that program, qualifying residents of the city can fill out an application to get a $20 coupon they can use weekly at the mobile market, explained Alicia Miller Karner, Bethlehem’s Director of Community and Economic Development.

Weigh in on Southside planning

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem

Lot’s going on on the Southside — weigh in!

selections from Charles Malinchak, “South Bethlehem’s 6-year neighborhood development plan proceeds to finalization.” Morning Call, April 28, 2021.

The next six years could see a south Bethlehem with improved playgrounds, more activities on the Greenway and rehabilitated housing in a plan discussed Tuesday night by representatives of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem.

The plan is called the Neighborhood Partnership Program, which works with city officials and resident input to design a six-year revitalization program to guide development of not only buildings but also amenities to neighborhoods.

The virtual discussion was designed to gain further input from residents and business owners on the plan, which has been in the creation phase since last year.

Besides what was discussed, Yari Colon-Lopez, director of the Community Action Development Corp of Bethlehem said the plan already includes several proposed projects.

“Keep in mind that this will be a plan and theme for the next six years … and what we want to know is, Does this address the community’s concerns?” Colon-Lopez said.

The concerns already provided from residents through surveys are: affordable housing, improving youth engagement in the community, having more events or festivals, small business development and retaining those businesses.

She said another element expressed by residents is, “A general concern is change is happening and they [residents] may not have a voice in this change.”

Emily Folenta, senior planner for the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said the plan will be available for public view on the CADCB website, but some examples contained  in the plan include:

    • Buying buildings to create landlords invested in the community.
    • Rehabilitating renter-occupied or private homes.
    • Improving playgrounds and other public places.
    • Expand the farmers market on the Greenway.
    • Arrange affordable family events on the Greenway and other public places.
    • Improve neighborhood walkability and lighting.
    • Improve streetscapes.
    • Develop a partnership with organizations to help resolve food insecurity.
    • Create youth education programs to develop workforce skills.
    • The public is encouraged to provide input to the plan on the CADCB website or in-person at its Bethlehem headquarters at 409 E. Fourth St., until May 4. The plan is expected to be finalized by May 12 or 13.

Plan on the table for Hill to Hill bridge renovation

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly wonders if a public meeting would be in order. Pretty complicated. See the virtual public meeting video embedded in Christina’s article

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selections from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem’s Hill to Hill Bridge plan calls for $74.4 million in repairs and addition of a second span.” Morning Call, April 23, 2021.

A $74.4 million plan to fix Bethlehem’s Hill to Hill Bridge would add a new, two-lane bridge parallel to the 100-year-old span over the Lehigh River.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which is working with the Federal Highway Administration, is asking the public to weigh in on the proposed plan, which was the finalist among several PennDOT has been studying.

The public has until May 7 to comment on the plan, which is available on the PennDOT website.

It would rehabilitate the existing bridge and add a new parallel bridge on the southern side to provide additional width with two northbound travel lanes and a sidewalk. The new span would taper back and tie into the existing bridge just before the northern truss.

The proposal would also widen the left turn lane onto the 2nd Street ramp and add a right turn lane to westbound 3rd Street.

Other plans under consideration were to just rehabilitate the existing span, but that didn’t address significant traffic congestion issues.

Engineers also considered installing a new parallel bridge that runs the full length of the Hill to Hill Bridge, but that would inflate the cost to $100 million and require removal of the Fritch Fuel sign and its silos, which qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.

Mike Alkhal, Bethlehem’s Director of Public Works, said city officials have been working closely with PennDOT to identify the main issues, which include the need for increased vehicular capacity and wider turning lanes. Other key issues include pedestrian access and increasing capacity on the 2nd Street ramp.

Morning and afternoon rush hours are always an issue in the area, and city and state officials have been trying to come up with solutions for years, Alkhal said, adding that he can remember traffic studies on the area from 10 or 15 years ago.

The project is complicated for many reasons.

Numerous utility lines, including fiber optic, telephone and cable lines, use the bridge to cross the Lehigh River, and four Norfolk Southern rail lines run underneath the bridge on the north and south sides of the Lehigh River.

The Delaware & Lehigh Canal Trail and planned Bethlehem Greenway are also near the bridge. The South Bethlehem Historic District must also be protected.

Officials also want to protect the Hill to Hill Bridge’s unique architecture, which qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places with its Hudson Trusses and closed-span arches.

The Hill to Hill Bridge provides a critical link for residents, businesses and services, and is important for the city’s many festivals, including Musikfest. PennDOT studies show that 300-350 pedestrians and 60-100 bicyclists use the bridge each day.

During Musikfest, up 150-250 pedestrians use the bridge per hour. The development of the Bethlehem Greenway trail is expected to increase pedestrian use.

Angela DelGrosso, senior vice president of the Bethlehem Chamber at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest request she hears from North Side and South Side business owners is the desire to provide a pedestrian-friendly connection between the two downtowns.

Reducing traffic congestion when trying to get between the two downtowns is also crucial, she said.

DelGrosso was happy to see a six-foot-wide sidewalk included in the plan for the new, parallel span, but she and others in the business community want to see a dedicated pedestrian bridge. A pedestrian bridge is something city officials have been exploring for several years, but it would be separate from the PennDOT project.

Southside ruminations (2)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Kim Carrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!

ref: [Anna] Smith’s Song of the South(side)
ref: You tell ’em, Kim!
ref: Southside ruminations (1)

continued . . .

Installment 2

I had a lot of questions last time, which I posed for folks who might be inclined to think of the Southside as a place that needs “saving.” I got caught up in the public, commercial areas last time, as I thought about the assets that might be unfamiliar, or invisible, to folks who don’t work, live or play on the Southside regularly — those who don’t really know the people, spaces, and connections that exist here. But then I thought: what about the people, and how they live as a community, as neighborhoods of connected residents (or not!)? What about the spaces beyond the commercial corridors? Which leads me to more questions…

To start with, have folks who are predisposed to think of the Southside as a place that needs saving actually explored the neighborhoods outside the commercial district? Could they decipher the historical clues that tell us about life here in the past, as they explore residential life in the present (the ethnic churches, the corner stores, the gorgeous views of the city and The Steel from St. Michael’s Cemetery?)? Do they know where the original synagogue on the Southside lies, hidden beneath the white brickcoat façade of what is now an apartment building? Have they walked down the 400 block of Montclair to see the impressive stone façade rowhomes built for merchants and professionals in the early twentieth century? Have they gone up Hayes Street, looking at CADCB-facilitated façade improvements that foreshadowed a 19% jump in homeownership on that block, to see the pride folks show in their homes (Flowers! gardens! Creative paint jobs! Porches with holiday displays all year long! Black Lives Matter flags! Trump flags! Pride flags! US and Puerto Rican flags!)?

Have they walked along the (very real) Southside street where you might notice the two mom’s with the Pride flag on their porch, who regularly call out to passing neighbors, living next door to the black family with three grade schoolers who race bikes up and down the hill, next to the older couple with the adult son with an intellectual disability who calls to neighbors whenever he sees them, living next to the Latinx man who likes to chat with everyone, next to the neighbor with four-year-old twins who was inspired to try her first flower garden because of the flowers she saw planted next door, who lives next to the young couple with a baby who are bilingual and talk with neighbors in both languages, sometimes in the same sentences? Do they know about these neighbors and neighborhoods, and do they think about the residents as people? Or do they think of “Southsiders” as a monolith wrapped in poverty, crime, and ill intentions?

Are they aware of the way small business flourishes in vibrant neighborhoods, as the handyman who installed a door for a landlord soon was working on the nearby house after chatting with the residents? The cement contractor who gets the next job, a few houses down? The radon abatement guy who gets the job up the block, the roofer who repairs the place next door when he’s done the big job at the neighbor’s house?

Do they know about neighbors who have a texting group so they can share family news, flag controversial new development proposals and city council activities, watch out for a neighbor who has mental health issues, and send requests to let one another’s dogs out?

Have they walked up State Street and met the Portuguese man who has two full lots of terraced gardens on the steep mountainside –full of vegetables, a grape arbor, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and fruit trees –all immaculately kept?  Do they know about the extraordinary views up on First Terrace, and do they know that if you walk that street on the summer evening you will probably pass a young professional couple, he with dreadlocks to his waist, and she in professional attire, pushing a stroller as they walk from their home through Lehigh’s campus? Or perhaps they would see a senior resident with the amazing deer proof gardens who grows a remarkable number of diverse foods and flowers. (Have they seen the four-legged neighborhood watch patrols, the herds of deer that wander through our allegedly “urban” streets?!) Do they know about the pileated woodpeckers and other remarkable birds that swoop through our neighborhoods – even the occasional bald eagle high overhead — and the woods on our hillsides, with trails for mountain bikers and hikers?

I’d invite skeptical or curious folks to visit with some of us Southside boosters: take a walk with us, grab a coffee, eat a meal over here. Or just go shopping and talk with merchants, buy things! Stop in a corner market to get a drink. But also explore the neighborhoods. Greet people and look them in the eye. Admire the yard ornaments as well as the grand historic churches, the cool old Victorian buildings, and the comfortable, connected twins and rowhomes . . . the gardens, the trees. Appreciate the porch life, the stoop-sitting, the parks filled with people playing and talking, the music, and the peaceful coexistence of diverse long-term renters, homeowners, short-term residents, and the occasional college students; feel the neighborhood vibe. If you do this often enough, you might feel like you belong. And maybe you’ll begin to sense the assets — from our diverse residents to our historical and contemporary material surroundings, and from services and businesses to human connections — that make this such a positive place to live, work, and play.

Sure we have deficits, but let’s try to identify assets, and enhance them, and then figure out what local residents may think the deficits are for their quality of life and their stable neighborhoods, and work as a community to develop positive, community-engaged changes. Please don’t come here to save us; come here to join us. Then we can work on these things, together.

By the way, my apologies for repeatedly referring to folks who don’t know the Southside well as “they,” in my questions: it’s pretty “othering” (as sociologists say), isn’t it? We know a thing or two about that over here on the Southside. But we need to mutually rise above that polarization; I pledge to look for more asset-minded language to refer to folks who don’t know what they’re missing on the Southside. And assets-based reasoning suggests that if folks who are predisposed to be deficit-minded thinkers can get to know us and our part of town, Southsiders won’t always be “those people.” And then perhaps the Southside won’t seem to require saviors anymore . . .

Kim

Southside ruminations (1)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Kim Carrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!

ref: [Anna] Smith’s Song of the South(side)
ref: You tell ’em, Kim!

Gadfly,

I fervently hope your wastebasket thumping will continue, as we ALL work on seeking out and coming to understand our Bethlehem community assets, rather than getting stuck in a deficit-based mindset. As Kiera Wilhelm suggested, Bethlehem folks definitely need to actively work against the conscious and unconscious bias that sees the Southside as a place that needs “saving.”  In my experience, deficits-based thinking about the Southside arises when people don’t actually spend time in this part of town (other than for an occasional restaurant visit), nor have they really talked with the folks who live, play, and work here. I think those who live in or frequent the Southside might share a very different view of this place, based on our terrific assets, appealing quirkiness, eclectic historical architecture, great small businesses (we can always use/support more!), and generally very good quality of life. Pondering this gap has led me to a lot of questions. Lots. Apologies in advance.

Do the deficit-based-savior-thinkers know about the Greenway that runs like a ribbon across this side of town – I mean, really know what it is/does/means for the Southside and the city? Have they observed the folks walking, running, playing, chatting with one another, sitting on a bench and watching the world go by while greeting passersby, or have they stepped off at Bonn Place or Dinky’s for a quick beer or a snack? Do they say hello to the folks they pass, or do they put their heads down or clutch their wallets?

Have they shopped and observed the summer market that CADCB runs on the Greenway, where the director chats with passersby and gets to hear what’s going on in the neighborhoods, while folks hang out in the shade of the CADCB canopy and sip drinks and eat ice cream? Have they visited the fabulous new park area with great play structures that lie behind the former Holy Infancy School? Have they visited the community gardens behind Litzenberger House, where they might chat with the folks who sometimes sit beside them, admiring the plants, while chatting with the gardeners? Do they greet the friendly residents of Victory House who sit out in their garden, or do they turn their heads as they walk by?

Do they get their hair cut in a barbershop, because if they do there are myriad choices on the Southside, where you can get local news, talk with a barber-landlord with a million dollar portfolio, see children doing homework, maybe hear multiple languages at once, all while seeing Lehigh students and staff, as well as diverse residents, getting a shave, a trim, a shapeup.

Have they looked (really looked, and that means looking across streets and up at buildings!) at the eclectic streetscapes that tell the story of our city’s past? Do they see the potential to enhance those great buildings, to adaptively reuse those which are underutilized (especially above the retail spaces)? Or do they see “old” as outmoded, without really thinking about these structures? Do they only see one building or space at a time, disconnected from the human setting, or do they see the impact of buildings and eclectic historical architecture within the whole streetscape? Do they see the people in these places and on these streets, or do they imagine other people, in their place?

Do they hang out in the historically restored Deja Brew Coffee House and Deli, or at Lit with its nationally renowned baked goods, or Cafe the Lodge with its dynamite outdoor Serenity Garden (just off the Greenway!), or have they eaten at Casa de Campos with its bountiful, inexpensive food, or La Tia’s Dominican restaurant across from St. Michael’s, or maybe at Macchu Pichu, beside Peruvian families with children giggling and playing between tables? These are all places where so many Southside community members meet up. They are places where residents may meet with Lehigh folks, or perhaps they simply peacefully coexist in the same space, places where students descend after class for lunch, or where moms with babies meet to destress in the afternoon, where remote workers find quiet havens and free wifi, where friends connect.

Do the defict-based-savior-thinkers know where we buy groceries, or dance salsa? Do they know the fun of picking up a last-minute item, and winding up with far more, from the Dollar Max? Have they heard you can buy the most stylish glasses in the Lehigh Valley over here? Do they know where to get homemade sausages, whole octopus, or fresh wild caught salmon for $7.99 a pound? Have they stopped for fresh pan sobao, or impulsively picked up some tembleque or pineapple cheesecake when they’re in the Four Blocks International (Quatro Bloques) area? Do they perhaps buy that occasional three-course Dominican lunch for about $6?

Have they talked with the resident next to the great little park with the domino tables that was created by CADCB, about the facade grant that allowed her to fix up her house with an historically accurate porch roof that lends beauty and functionality to her home and the streetscape? Did they ever come to the annual tree lighting in that little park, where you hear Broughal singers and Three Kings sing carols in English and Spanish, and afterwards families walk down to the Southside library to make crafts and drink hot chocolate?

But I still have other questions, about what folks might be missing beyond our commercial areas and the Greenway. There’s so much more to understand about our people, our neighborhoods. But I’ll save those for the next post . . .

Kim

to be continued . . .

You tell ’em, Kim!

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

“It was recently brought to my attention, by a wise and insightful individual (who also happens to be a Southside resident, and one deeply involved in its community), that it is not uncommon for people to speak about the Southside, even subconsciously, as if it needs ‘saving’.”
Kiera Wilhelm, Gadfly Forum #5

You may not know this.

Gadfly does.

There is gang activity on the Southside.

I call them the Southside Warriors.

The membership includes Olga Negron, Stephen Antalics, and

Kim Carrell-Smith.

When it comes to slurs on the Southside, Kim showed at the April 8 Planning Committee meeting that she can be deliciously and politely feisty.

Finished with her professional comments on the proposed project at 404 E. 3rd., Kim put on her warrior hat:

  • the developer said something that got my hackles up
  • long-time resident, love the Southside
  • prefer not to hear developers say such things as “neighborhoods of no consequence”
  • because we live in those neighborhoods
  • and we value them
  • and we find them very safe
  • and secure
  • and our crime rate is lower than the north side
  • you are feeding an unfortunate perception
  • your perceptions are perceptions not reality
  • I hope you will not be feeding students (tenants at 404 E. 3rd) that same perception
  • I hope that you will give them a sense that they are in a great location
  • with a lot to do
  • and that those neighborhoods are not antagonistic toward them

It was a great moment, I tell you — Gadfly was hooting, hollering, and drumming on his wastebasket on his side of the Zoom!

Makin’ an utter fool of himself, he was.

In this vein and in this mood, Gadfly recommends that you re-read Kiera’s fine mini-essay on the Southside in Forum #5.

“Borinqueneers, venga lo que venga!”

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

selections from Andrew Scott, “Bethlehem honoring Borinqueneers, segregated Puerto Rican unit that fought in Korea, with memorial.” Morning Call, April 13, 2021.

“Borinqueneers, venga lo que venga!”

Army veterans Enrique Vasquez, 93, and Santiago Rosario, 95, both of Bethlehem, remember that battle cry, which in English means, “Borinqueneers, whatever it takes!”

Both men served with the Borinqueneers, or the 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Puerto Rican unit that fought in both world wars, Korea and the Global War on Terrorism.

The Borinqueneers were largely ignored for years until 2014, when former President Barack Obama awarded the unit the Congressional Gold Medal for serving with distinction. Individual members have received Purple Hearts and Silver Stars, some posthumously. The name Borinqueneer comes from Borinquen, the indigenous Puerto Rican native name for the island.

Vasquez, a Purple Heart recipient who served in the Korean War, and Rosario, who served in World War II and part of the Korean War, joined Bethlehem officials Tuesday at a groundbreaking for a memorial honoring the unit. The memorial, to be unveiled in September, will be a domino table mural surrounded by benches.

“I still have the scars from the shrapnel in my back,” said Vasquez, who arrived with a walker and sat on one side of Bethlehem City Council member Olga Negron as Negron led the groundbreaking ceremony.

Vasquez fought with the Borinqueneers in Korea, where the unit was overwhelmed and repelled by enemy troops while defending the hill at Outpost Kelly in September 1952.

“I spent a month healing at a hospital and went right back out on the front lines,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Vasquez was with the unit in November 1953, when it successfully counterattacked enemy troops in the Numsong Valley and held its position until the war’s end.

“I joined the Army at 16 in 1943 and served 10 years in the Army and later in the Army Reserve,” Rosario said. “I helped the Borinqueneers defend the Panama Canal against the Germans. I served in Aruba, Trinidad and other places. Korea was a hard fight. A lot of the time, we were outnumbered with limited firepower.”

Vasquez and Rosario shared their memories with a diverse crowd of about 100 people, including local and state elected officials, waving Puerto Rican flags and gathered at the greenway at Taylor and Mechanic streets for the groundbreaking. The location is overlooked by a high-rise in the heart of Bethlehem’s diverse South Side community, not far from the Wind Creek casino.

“This is a testament to the centrality and import of Bethlehem’s Puerto Rican veterans and their families to our civic history,” said Mary Foltz, director of the South Side Initiative.

The groundbreaking comes after Congress passed legislation Jan. 1 designating April 13 as National Borinqueneers Day.

“I have had conversations with members of our community about creating some kind of monument to the Borinqueneers here in our city,” Negron said. “We decided on a domino table since the game of dominos is a Puerto Rican pastime and key part of our culture.”

On the Southside, size matters

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly hates himself for that title.

One reason he’s retiring.

Starting to cater to the prurient interest of his followers.

But there is, he must say, powerful concern about size of construction on the Southside.

The City, bless ’em, is trying to bring zoning ordinances more in line with the historic conservation district ordinances.

For instance, zoning now permits buildings in the Southside CB district (see map) 150ft. high, perhaps 14 stories, whereas, as we have seen abundantly even very recently, the historic guidelines and the HCC Commission are counseling 2-5 stories.

For a good point of reference, the Zest/Benner building at 3rd and New (306 S. New) is 88ft. high, 6 stories, and the Flatiron building is 75ft.

This draft plan proposes dropping the 150ft height allowance in the CB district to 90ft (6-8 stories, cf. the Zest/Benner building) in the section you see carved out by the dotted lines and to 60ft (4-5 stories) in the rest of the district. In addition, the draft plan proposes a “step back” of the top floor in the taller buildings.

Listen to the consultant outline the proposed zoning changes:

Though one developer spoke in favor of keeping the taller height and one resident made a strong case for doing so to create affordable housing, over a dozen residents spoke strongly against the proposed 90ft height allowance in the part of the CB district. Seth Moglen, for instance, spoke for Gadfly when he found the proposed 90ft height allowances “mystifying” from his sense of public opinion on the topic.

This was another one of Gadfly’s favorite occasions — the public spoke fairly and forthrightly against the 90ft part of the proposal, and the meeting ended with a promise that the city and the consultant would revisit the proposal on the basis of what they heard and that there would be further and with hope fuller dialog in the future.

———–

“The latest edition of Southern Exposure which shows what South Bethlehem would look like with all these huge bigger buildings scares me.” (Roger Hudak)

“I really worry about the building heights . . . The more we develop South Bethlehem, the more we lose our little pockets of green space . . . I worry about putting up tall buildings by the really few green spaces that we have left.” (Rachel Leon)

“I would have thought if you interviewed people who live on the Southside, almost everybody would say 90ft is too tall.” (Seth Moglen)

“I wanted to ask about the eastern side of New St. It struck me as strange that that area was included in the 90ft height . . . was that cutout made specifically for the current proposal there?” (Anna Smith)

“It’s almost universal that everybody regrets [the Zest/Benner building] . . . 90ft is too much . . . environmental issues . . . cavern effect . . . will remove the character, the charm, the ambience. (Dana Grubb)

“The 90ft is really too big . . . vista down to the steelworks, an amazing gateway to Bethlehem, a remarkable way to experience the Southside as you come across that bridge, I would really hate to see a bunch of tall buildings thrown up in front of that vista.” (Kim Carrell-Smith)

“When looking at the 90ft proposal zone, it is directly in front of the two bridges that are coming in to the Southside, and so . . . you are going to enter in to a small city that is full of very generic looking tall buildings that hide all the beauty of all of the older, lower-rise buildings. (Joe Lule)

“I’d like to see the role of the Conservation Commission be stronger.” (Anne Evans)

“If you put 90ft across from [Lehigh Pizza and the Banana Factory], you will be in a huge shadow.” (Beth Starbuck)

“Would it not be more feasible and more appropriate to lower the height [to work with developers on density bonuses for affordable housing}.” Grace Crampsie Smith

” I worry if you have a 60ft height limit stacked up along the Greenway right where those parking lots are, which presumably could happen if the city sold those lots, it would really diminsh the quality of the Greenway. (Breena Holland)

“Approve one, it sets a precedent for others. If we let one builder do 90ft, well, then, the next builder is going to want to do the same. My other concern is the amount of additional traffic . . . going to take away the small town feel that Bethlehem is kinda noted for.” (Lou James)

“I really champion your cause for lowering the height of those buildings . . . you have an asset over there, and your architecture is part of it, and I think your future is in the smaller building area.” (Bruce Haines)

City presents draft report on Southside historic core

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Seems like a lot of Southside planning going on these days. Which is good. Your tax dollars at work.

Gadfly has tried to cover all the meetings. Click Southside on the right-hand sidebar and scroll backwards to come up to speed.

The City held a public meeting Thursday night April 1 to present the draft of a report on the historic core.

The meeting was well attended (c. 50), but, parenthetically, there were complaints about the meeting not being well publicized. Attendees complained of learning about the meeting late or by chance. Maybe some interested parties did not learn of the meeting at all. The City promised to work on better communication.

Here are a few of the slides from the beginning of the City presentation (sorry, bound to cause eye strain, I know): a summary of a resident survey, identifying concerns to balance, and culminating in the ever growing attention to affordable housing.

Gadfly will come back and focus on what he’s now hearing referred to at meeting after meeting as “the elephant in the room”: building height.

Notice that under consideration in addressing the “serious concerns” about affordable housing is offering the developer the incentive of increased building height.

             

             

             

to be continued . . .

On the Southside, how high is too high?

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly has nudged you a couple times about this meeting tomorrow night.

But he does so again after noting how Kim Carrell-Smith is promoting it: “How high is too high? Find out what the city is proposing for Southside building height limits this Thursday night. And let the city know your opinion!”

How high is too high?

Gadfly is more than ever intrigued now.

Do you suppose the consultant report will make a recommendation about the thorny question of heights?

We have tall buildings on the Southside — Rooney and Zest, etc. We have one approved but not built at 4th and Vine. We have at least 2 proposed. The historic guidelines talk of a 2-3 story kind of norm. Official discussions sometimes speak as if a 4-5 story is acceptable size. One tall building is used as an argument for another tall building. Developers talk of needing to feed their business models.

Such fun.

Got something to say? You know you probably do.

See you there?

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Let’s view the draft consultant report on future of Southside downtown

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly covered the front half of this information gathering process in some detail (click here and look for several subsequent posts as well). Let’s see what fruits were borne.

from Anna Smith:

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

Thursday, April 1, 5PM
https://zoom.us/i/93739962164

New additions to the Arts Trail!

Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem

Urban Arts Trail

Two new murals will be unveiled on the Southside next Friday, First Friday April 2.

Click here for more info about the works, the artists, and where the murals will be located.

“Rebuilding & Remembering”
By: Devyn Briggs
“The piece celebrates the families that have joined our community after Hurricane Maria. It is also about growing up in two cultures, and the strength that comes from being rooted in family, community, and culture,”
————
“Diversity”
By: Maltas Con Leche
“This image brings to life (with respect to) the SouthSide community, culture and spirit. We wanted to show diversity, and what we have in common. In the Valley – that’s food and our scenery.”

Keeping the Southside grocery store ball rolling

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Southside Grocery Store Survey / Encuesta

from Anna Smith:

UPDATE ON AHART’S CLOSURE

INFORMACIÓN ACTUALIZADA SOBRE EL CIERRE DE AHART’S (español abajo)

Mayor Bob Donchez and Bethlehem City Council announced on Tuesday that they will do everything they can to secure a new grocery store for the Ahart’s location. The City government is currently in communication with the property owner and their real estate broker, and would like to provide input from Southside and Fountain Hill residents on what is most important for a new store at the Ahart’s location.

Following the closure of Ahart’s Market on April 30, the City of Bethlehem has arranged for Kellyn Mobile Market to provide access to fresh fruits, vegetables, pastas, beans, bread, and other products at a site near Ahart’s up to two times a week beginning May 1.

If you live in South Bethlehem or Fountain Hill and/or are a regular shopper at Ahart’s, please fill out the questions below to share your opinions about a possible new store and the Kellyn Mobile Market.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT FOR A NEW GROCERY STORE FOR SOUTH BETHLEHEM!

El alcalde Bob Donchez y el Concejo Municipal de Bethlehem anunciaron el martes que harán todo lo posible para conseguir un supermercado nuevo para la ubicación de Ahart’s. El gobierno de la ciudad está actualmente en comunicación con el dueño de la propiedad y le gustaría recibir información de los residentes de Southside y Fountain Hill sobre lo que es más importante para una nueva tienda en la ubicación de Ahart’s.

Tras el cierre de Ahart’s Market el 30 de abril, la ciudad de Bethlehem ha hecho arreglos para que Kellyn Mobile Market brinde acceso a frutas frescas, verduras, pastas, frijoles, pan y otros productos en un sitio cerca de Ahart’s hasta dos veces por semana a partir del 1 de mayo.

Si vives en South Bethlehem o Fountain Hill y/o eres un cliente de Ahart’s, favor de completar las preguntas a continuación para compartir tus opiniones sobre una posible nueva tienda y Kellyn Mobile Market.

¡GRACIAS POR TU APOYO PARA CONSEGUIR UN NUEVO SUPERMERCADO PARA EL SOUTHSIDE!

Southside Grocery Store Survey / Encuesta

Move to replace Ahart’s off to a fast start

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

“We have 500 signatures and counting,”
Anna Smith

The Mayor and City Council president Waldron lead off Tuesday’s City Council meeting by immediately assuring everybody in the audience that everybody in the City power structure was already behind the “Ahart” resolution on the agenda and already working on a replacement grocery store.

Calling in were Fountain Hill Board member Will Rufe, Bethlehem Food Co-Op officer Heather Terrible, Mayoral candidate Dana Grubb (reminding that Covid relief funds might be applicable), petition co-organizer (with Veronica Moore) Anna Smith, resident Delia Morrero, resident and City Council candidate Rachel Leon, and resident and Lehigh staff member Carolina Hernandez.

Anna Smith announced that “We have 500 signatures and counting” on the petition letter to the Mayor and City Council.  (What a network!)

Followers will find Dana Grubb’s “Replacing Ahart’s Grocery Store” Facebook post quite interesting. Lots of relevant facts and info there.

The move to save a crucial grocery source in the west Southside is off and running nicely.

selections from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem officials searching for grocery to replace Ahart’s Market.” Morning Call, March 16, 2021.

Bethlehem officials are actively working to find a replacement for Ahart’s Market in south Bethlehem, an area already known as a “food desert” which will become even more starved for fresh fruit and vegetables should the community grocery store close its doors at the end of next month.

A resolution was introduced during Tuesday’s City Council meeting urging city administrators to investigate incentives that would keep a grocery store operating at Ahart’s 410 Montclair Ave. location. The resolution, sponsored by Councilman William Reynolds and Councilwoman Olga Negron, comes about a week after the store announced it will close its doors by April 30.

Mayor Robert Donchez said city officials have been investigating feasible incentives for continuing operation of a grocery store there since the closure was announced.

“I support council’s resolution and we are already investigating all options for incentivizing a new grocery store at this location. We are prepared to work with the right tenant to offer all the tools in the toolbox,” Donchez said.

He announced Tuesday that the city has arranged for the Kellyn Foundation to increase healthy food access in Bethlehem. With financial assistance from the city’s Community Development Block Grant COVID funds, the Kellyn Foundation will be adding another day or two to its current “Eat Real Food” Mobile Market, which already makes a stop in the South Side.

Since Ahart’s announced its closing, city officials have also connected with the property owner and put them in contact with potential grocery tenants, Donchez said. His administration is also working with LANTA to identify South Side bus routes that residents can use to access other grocers around the city.

They are also working with the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and the SouthSide Arts District to map out existing fresh food options and publicize them to residents, Donchez said.

Residents Anna Smith and Veronica Moore started a petition that’s being circulated by the CADCB urging city officials to ensure a grocery store remains at the Montclair Avenue location. As of Tuesday evening, Smith said the petition had more than 500 signatures.

“This supermarket is an essential institution on the South Side and provides access to food for 25% of the South Side population that would not otherwise have walkable access to a supermarket,” says letter circulated with the petition.

“It’s a South Side thing. Everyone goes here,” but Ahart’s is closing — it’s time to act!

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Dear Friends of Southside Bethlehem,

As you may have heard, Ahart’s Market will be closing at the end of April. This supermarket is an essential institution on the Southside and provides access to food for 25% of the Southside population that would not otherwise have walkable access to a supermarket.

When Food Lane closed at the same location in 2001, the Bethlehem mayor used every incentive available to attract a new supermarket to the location. Please join us in encouraging Mayor Donchez and City Council to once again do all that they can to secure a new supermarket for the Ahart’s location by doing one or more of the following:

  1. Add your name to a letter from community members to the Mayor and Council
  2. Call in during public comment at a City Council Meeting. Next meeting is Tuesday, March 16 at 7 pm
  3. Email the Mayor and City Council at: rdonchez@bethlehem-pa.gov and cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov

Questions? Concerns? Ideas? Send me an email and let’s chat!

Please feel free to forward to any friends who might be interested.

In solidarity,

Anna Smith
annaafflecksmith@gmail.com

————

selections from Christina Tatu and Ryan Kneller, “Longtime Bethlehem grocery store closing amid pandemic.” Morning Call, March 10, 2021.

The Bethlehem location of Ahart’s Market is closing at the end of April, a manager at the store confirmed Wednesday.

The South Side store at 410 Montclair Ave. has been a staple of the neighborhood for 20 years.

It will close April 30 because of slower sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic, manager Luis Morales said. Fewer students have been shopping at the store as Lehigh University switched to remote learning during the pandemic, which also affected sales, Morales said.

Customers at the store Wednesday afternoon were shocked and saddened by the news. The closure of Ahart’s leaves South Side residents, many of whom are low income and without transportation, with one major grocery store, C-Town, on Third Street.

“I hope they find someone to buy and keep it open. A lot of older people walk here,” said Donna Cardenas, who has been shopping at Ahart’s for eight years, ever since she moved to the area from New York.

Cardenas said she will miss the fresh baked bread that’s available every Sunday morning.

Jessica Bonilla, who lives one block from the market, said she’s been a shopper almost every day for seven years.

“It surprised me when I heard they were closing,” she said. “It’s a clean store and I like the bread.”

Latoya Murry has been shopping at the store since she was a child, when it was still a Food Lane. Now she shops there with her children.

“It’s a South Side thing. Everyone goes here,” she said. “It’s sad to see them close. I do hope someone does something with it. It’s just part of the South Side. Everyone kind of knows each other here.”

In discussing the imminent arrival of Ahart’s in October 2001, then-Bethlehem Mayor Don Cunningham noted that the former Food Lane was the only supermarket in South Bethlehem. It was heavily relied upon by residents and Lehigh University students.

So crucial was the store, Cunningham said, the city was provided low-interest loans and other financial incentives to lure Great Valu to south Bethlehem.

“In that neighborhood, it was critical for us to attract another supermarket,” Cunningham said, “So we created some incentives.”

We need eyes tonight on a proposed Southside project again

Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St

Tonight!
Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2

First meeting tonight on a major Southside project in the historic district: 14-18 W. 3rd.

The two smaller buildings on 3rd St. wall to wall with the new Benner/Zest building at 306 S. New.

The proposal is to demolish the two buildings in sad shape and construct a new 8-story building with retail on the ground floor and 80+ apartment above — aimed at students.

Gadfly reminds you of the wonderful Smith Principles — Anna Smith, that is — to help us think about new development on the Southside (see links above).

Anna’s discussion of this proposal in regard to each of her principles in the above referenced posts is delightfully fresh, just like thinking out loud.

Gadfly suggests that you read through her posts again.

She raises several questions that she looks for the HCC to seek answers for at this meeting.

Her conclusion: “With the help of the HCC, the Planning Commission, and some resident voices, I think there’s potential to turn this into a project that truly adds to our neighborhood. Maybe reduce the height a bit, secure some first-floor tenants, commit to finishing up the Greenway and integrating it into the building plans, and think about whether undergraduate student housing is truly the best use for a building in this location. Maybe even make it a green building! What do you think?”

The community smartminds turned out nicely for the HCC consideration of the proposed development nearby at 319-327 S. New.

And we could use that good presence again.

———–

Here are some more images.

First, the layout:

What about the thorny issue of height? The side view makes anything less than matching the Zest building look a little weird, no?

Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 2

Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St.

Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

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

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”
ref: Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. a good addition to our community? Part 1

continued . . .

6) Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design

I am a bit confused by the early renderings of this project, and I hope that additional clarification is offered by the developer’s presentation. The project extends along the South Bethlehem Greenway’s final yards, and the renderings seem to show a potential integration of a seating area for a small business on the Greenway. If the developer plans to finish this section of the Greenway as a part of their project, I think that would be fantastic. We’ve been waiting on this final section of the Greenway for too long, and, unfortunately, no requirements to finish the Greenway seem to have been included in Dennis Benner’s approval for the adjacent building.

However, another one of the renderings seems to show a small sliver of Greenway as a walkway between the building and a parking lot. I hope that this is not the plan, since it would likely prevent the public from using this piece of the Greenway if it is perceived to be a private walkway for residents of the building to get to their cars.

How does the developer plan to integrate the Greenway into their development? I look forward to hearing more.

7) Support projects that are developed in response to community needs identified by residents and stakeholders, and that engage residents and stakeholders in idea development and the design process

I’m not sure that anyone thinks we need substantially more student housing on the Southside. I’m not sure that we need any more large commercial spaces that are not built out and are unaffordable for most local, small businesses. I suppose that this project would place more students in the downtown area, but I’m not sure if they will really spend much more money at local businesses. My conversations with students and surveys conducted over the years indicate that there is a small range of small business types that truly benefit from student presence in their neighborhoods—mostly restaurants, bars, and cafes, with an occasional targeted hair or nail salon, laundromat, barber shop, gym, or fitness studio. Yes, we have a lot of these on the Southside, but will moving students onto Third Street make a difference in their business? I’m curious to see. I would be more likely to support one- and two-bedroom apartments targeted at a broader population than undergraduates in this location, since I think it would have more of an impact on the local business community.

Like most development projects in our community, I doubt that the developer will consult with community members to see what residents would like to see in this location. They might do focus groups with students to see what types of businesses they would like to see on the first floor, but I will continue to emphasize that responsible development should take into consideration the ideas and perspectives of the people that live in a community.

8) Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate. Examples: The Flatiron Building

Thus far, this project does not address this point. I hope that the developer’s presentation will include an analysis of the environmental impact of the project.

9) Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses

No businesses or residents will be displaced through this project, so that is definitely a plus.

10) Do not use projects that are nearly universally considered planning and design failures as precedent for elements of new development (e.g., Urban Renewal projects like Rooney building, Litzenberger House, Lehigh’s Brodhead House, Rite Aid shopping center)

While this project seems to be designed to avoid the pitfalls of the Southside’s ugliest developments (street-facing parking lots, massive towers, character-less architecture), it does use a controversial, non-historic property as precedent for height. I suspect that the HCC will address this at their meeting, and I look forward to hearing their analysis.

————

All in all, this isn’t a bad project, but it’s not a very exciting one either. I still have a lot of questions, and parking is a big one. If these are mostly students, hopefully there won’t be too many cars involved. I know that some could be parked in the garage next door, and others in the Mechanic Street lots, as the developer of the last project to come before the HCC had mentioned (but what if that project had been approved?). One image suggests that the developer is planning on building a lot behind the building, which would be unfortunate for the extension of the Greenway.

With the help of the HCC, the Planning Commission, and some resident voices, I think there’s potential to turn this into a project that truly adds to our neighborhood. Maybe reduce the height a bit, secure some first-floor tenants, commit to finishing up the Greenway and integrating it into the building plans, and think about whether undergraduate student housing is truly the best use for a building in this location. Maybe even make it a green building! What do you think?

Anna

Is the proposed 14-18 W. 3rd. St. project a good addition to our community? Part 1

  1. Latest in a series of posts on 14-18 W. 3rd. St.

Historic Conservation Commission meeting
Monday, March 15, 2021, 6PM

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

ref: Another opportunity to apply the “Smith Principles”

Gadfly:

Another month, another development proposal for South Bethlehem. This time we’re looking at an 8-story building proposed by local developer Joseph C. Posh for the partially-vacant triangle adjacent to Dennis Benner’s Third and New Street building. The project would require the demolition of two vacant properties, one of which most recently housed “Style You Need” printing company, which was another small Bethlehem business lost to Easton. The properties are in pretty bad shape, and the apartments have been vacant for at least five years, according to the developer. The proposed structure would include what appear to be two commercial spaces on the first floor and a fitness center for tenants, and the upper floors would include a total of 38 studio, 38 one-bedroom, and 11 two-bedroom apartments with study lounges and community rooms on each floor. While they do not specify it in their application, it appears that the project is designed to be student housing.

Given the location of the project within the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation District, the project requires the approval of the Historic Conservation Commission, whose members will consider the request to demolish two properties as well as the historic appropriateness of the proposed structure at their March 15 meeting.

Here’s another test for the responsible development principles I developed a few weeks ago. Is this project a good addition to our community? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. The developer has not included a narrative describing the project, so there are significant missing pieces when we think about the overall benefit to our community.

  1. Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses

The renderings of this project show two large commercial spaces on the first floor, but there is no indication yet that the developer has confirmed specific plans for these storefronts. One of the storefronts seems to include glass doors opening on to a seating area along the Greenway, which suggests that the developer may be planning for yet another restaurant or café.

The persistent vacancies at the adjacent property and the well-known difficulty of finding local business tenants for first-floor commercial properties following construction makes me wary about these storefronts. I will be looking for confirmation from the developer that there are small businesses included in the planning of these storefronts in order to ensure that they are built out to meet the needs of specific businesses. Otherwise, we may be dealing with a repeat of the neighboring structure—and adding even more vacant storefronts to the gateway to our side of town is not a great look for our community. Research shows that many residential developers prefer to keep first floor commercial properties vacant for financial reasons, so we need to keep an eye on this part of the project. On the bright side, however, this project would not displace any existing small businesses.

  1. Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties

This project would require the demolition of two historic properties, but much of the building would be developed on vacant land. Both historic properties are in pretty bad shape, so the likelihood of someone acquiring them and rehabilitating them to the point that they are truly inhabitable by residential or commercial tenants is slim. The historic properties look quaint and a bit strange along a corridor that has lost much of its historic architecture, and which is slated to lose more with the construction of the new Banana Factory/ArtsQuest complex. I am concerned about the precedent of encouraging demolition of historic properties in a historic district. But, is this a good place for development? Overall, I think this is a pretty good location for development, and I’m not too concerned with the demolition of these particular historic properties. Maybe there’s a way to include elements of the historic facades in the design of the new structure. I’ll look to the HCC for their thoughts on that.

  1. Encourage new development that does not exceed the size of surrounding properties and blends with historic architecture in order to create a cohesive sense of place and encourage walkability

While coming in at 8 stories, this project is designed to be the same height as the 6-story building next door due to the difference in story-height between commercial and residential floors. I moved back to Bethlehem right as the Benner building was being approved, and I remember residents speaking out with major concerns about height. Since the project was constructed, I’ve heard regrets from a wide range of individuals who initially supported the project but didn’t realize just quite how big and out of place the building would look. I’ve heard a lot of folks say that they will make sure something this size doesn’t happen again in the neighborhood, since it doesn’t match the surrounding historic buildings that max out around 4 stories. A proposal of the exact same size and height doesn’t fit the character of our historic district. I suspect that the HCC will ask the developer to consider going a couple of floors shorter, but it may be hard for them to back up that request given their approval of the Benner building next door. I would like to see something a bit smaller.

I don’t know too much about design, but I don’t think the proposed design is terrible. I will rely on the HCC and other more knowledgeable people to give more feedback on that point. The glass tower at the western end seems a bit weird to me.

  1. Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population

While the developer does not indicate proposed usage of the building, it appears that the apartments are designed to be student housing, given the study lounges on each floor. While Lehigh has indicated their intention to expand the student body significantly over the next several years, they have also committed to housing all of the additional students on campus and are actively working on several dormitory projects. Where will the 87 students come from? Will this free up housing in the neighborhoods for other renters? I’m not sure—I don’t see students who live in 5-bedroom party houses being the first to sign up for a studio, so I suspect that they will draw from elsewhere. Depending on the rents, they may be able to attract some graduate students who currently live far from campus. If they offer furnished apartments, they will probably be able to attract international students. The one and two-bedroom apartments at Lehigh’s new Southside Commons dorm were reserved quickly, so I expect that these will also be popular. If the developer is committed to student housing, however, there is little to no likelihood that families or non-student individuals will live there due to perception issues. This is not an affordable housing project, but it seems to be designed to serve an important part of our local population—our college students—without causing displacement of residents or quality of life issues for neighborhoods.

As far as the commercial component goes, as I mentioned above, I’m anxious to see what the developer has planned and I hope that they take the commercial component of the project seriously.

  1. Support adaptive reuse of historic buildings

This is not an adaptive reuse project, and doesn’t seem to have potential to be one.

to be continued . . .

Council makes noise quietly

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly’s posting this one for the future Bethlehem historians who will consult this blog in the archives for a sense of Bethlehem in the short sliver of time between 2018 and 2021 that he was on the beat.

The last night March 2, 2021, City Council meeting wasn’t the most exciting patch of city governing that you can imagine.

It would be easy to say that not a lot happened.

But our Councilors made a lot of noise quietly.

The student housing ordinance passed 7-0.

There was no discussion.

Of course, the ordinance had been well talked out several times before, so there was no need of discussion.

But notice should be taken.

In his three years, Gadfly has come to see the quality of life in neighborhoods as a paramount issue.

The Southside needed this ordinance (Gadfly vividly remembers an emotional plea by Councilwoman Negron).

But its arrival was long and hard.

Gadfly doesn’t know everybody who deserves a tip o’ the hat.

He thinks of Anne Evans, Stephen Antalics, Anna Smith, Seth Moglen, Alicia Karner, Darlene Heller.

Who else?  Please let him know.

Student housing around Lehigh University is now regulated at last.

The Southside residential neighborhoods in the area finally have some protection.

Well done.

Testing the principles for responsible development on the S. New St. project, part 2

Latest in a series of posts on 319-327 S. New St.

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

ref: Establishing Community-Centered Principles for Responsible Southside Development
ref: Testing the principles for responsible development on the S. New St. project, part 1

continued . . .

5) Support adaptive reuse of historic buildings

According to the HCC, only one property slated for demolition on this project has relevant historic value, and the developer has incorporated its façade into their design. Adaptive reuse seems to be off the table for this project (and debatably not an option), but, of course, there’s always the possibility of looking elsewhere for a historic property to rehab.

6) Support projects that incorporate green space and/or the development of public spaces into their design

It’s clear that the developers of this project were told by City staff that they need to think creatively about the adjacent South Bethlehem Greenway. The developer has repeatedly assured the HCC that they will work to “activate the Greenway” through events or contributions of some sort to its livelihood, although the details have not been made clear. Despite these assurances, I’m interested in exploring the impact of a massive, looming structure that will be built nearly on top of the Greenway. Will this be a good addition? The Greenway will certainly be a fantastic asset for the residents of this building, but I’m not so sure about the impact of this new building on the users of the Greenway.

7) Support projects that are developed in response to community needs identified by residents and stakeholders, and that engage residents and stakeholders in idea development and the design process

I’m sure that there are business owners who are excited about this project. 82 apartments-worth of residents living in the middle of the business district! I get the appeal to local businesses who envision hosts of new regular customers. However, luxury apartments have not been among the “needs” or even “wants” that residents have identified throughout recent community visioning processes. Affordable housing, youth-serving organizations, and “everyday” retail and service businesses usually come out on top. Restaurants are also popular, so the food court would undoubtedly have fans among some residents. I’d like to see the developers engage the community in the development process. Although this seems like a long-shot for this particular project, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation of developers—at least the kind of developers that will build what’s most wanted in our neighborhoods.

8) Support projects that prioritize sustainable development practices and take proactive approaches to addressing challenges presented by our changing climate

Based on the developer’s initial presentation, I am not aware of any attempts to prioritize sustainable practices or address the climate impact of their project.

9) Avoid projects that cause displacement of long-time residents, low-income residents, and locally-owned businesses

I discussed the potential displacement in earlier responses, but, as a reminder, this project stands to displace three small businesses and an unknown number of residents. Tenants of the apartments at 325 S. New Street were evicted three years ago when the developer’s business partner acquired the property. Ideally, a proposal like this would take advantage of vacant land to build, rather than displacing existing businesses and residents.

10) Do not use projects that are nearly universally considered planning and design failures as precedent for elements of new development

Yes, there are massive apartment buildings in south Bethlehem. The Rooney Building, Litzenberger House, and Broadhead House at Lehigh were all constructed during the Urban Renewal period and would never be approved today due to their design. Since then, urban planners have shifted to recognize the value of place-making and the importance of historic conservation, and I would hope that this developer sticks with contemporary research when modifying their project, rather than depend on obsolete examples.

Maintaining the Southside as a good place to live, work, eat, and play

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem

“What’s your vision for the Southside?”

ref: Southside Vision
ref: “What challenges are we currently facing on the Southside?”
ref: “What are the ways we can improve the Southside in the next year?”

Here Gadfly finishes up with his coverage of the CADCB February 18 discussion of the future of the Southside as part of their preparation for their latest Southside Vision Plan.

After the small-group breakout sessions, the 40 or so attendees gathered for a plenary session, and each group did a quick recap of their individual discussions.

This sharing session contains several dozen interesting ideas, and certainly provided CADCB some important things to think about.

Gadfly encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to feel the pulse of the people.

The meeting ended with a description of these 5 CADCB committees and an invitation, an exhortation to get involved and to help continue the the important work of making the Southside an even better place, as one attendee put it, to live, work, eat, and play. Contact Yari Colon-Lopez at ycolonlopez@caclv.org.

Well done CADCB!

Testing the principles for responsible development on the S. New St. project, part 1

Latest in a series of posts on 319-327 S. New St.

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

ref: Establishing Community-Centered Principles for Responsible Southside Development

Gadfly:

New York-based Chef Rafael Palomino and developer Jeffrey Quinn have proposed a 12-story mixed-use development project for South New Street that includes 82 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a first-floor food court made up of Palomino’s restaurants. The current proposal includes a roof-top terrace, basement fitness center, and two community rooms for residents. The project requires the demolition of four structures: 319-323 New Street, which includes a single-story retail property currently occupied by JC Jewelry and Gifts, and a three-story structure with Lara Bly Designs and Car Village Title and Notary on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors; 325 New Street, which is a three-story structure that was acquired several years ago by the developer’s local business partners, Juan Carlos and Cara Paredes, and has been left vacant ever since, but which previously housed a bar on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors; and 327 New Street, which is a single-story building that was home to Pat’s Newsstand. The project will also extend to cover Graham Street from the third floor upwards.

Here’s the first test for the principles for responsible development that I proposed in a prior post. As the project winds its way through the Historic Conservation Commission and the Planning Commission’s approval processes, let’s think about what this project means for quality of life on the Southside. Is this a project that aligns with principles for responsible development?

1) Support projects that incorporate locally-owned businesses into their plans, and that lead to a net increase in small businesses

The proposed project would add a food court owned by Chef Rafael Palomino, which he says would feature several options–Mexican, Vegan, Italian, Tapas, and American. Data shows that restaurants tend to keep more money in the local economy than other types of small businesses since labor makes up a significant portion of their expenses, and the food court would likely create some jobs. I imagine that a sort-of fast casual food court would be popular with college students and folks working on the Southside, and the location is easy walking distance from Lehigh’s campus. The idea seems sound from a business perspective, and the fact that the developer is also the owner of the food court means that he will build out the space to the appropriate specifications. That is, if the developer sticks to his plan, I don’t think we’ll be dealing with vacant storefronts.

However, the project will result in the loss of several small businesses—a jewelry shop, designer-owned clothing store, and a notary. All three are women and/or minority-owned businesses, which is a category that receives special consideration by organizations promoting small business development. Will these businesses survive the cost of moving elsewhere? Will they find another place on the Southside? Maybe, maybe not. Are these businesses that we want to keep in our community? I’d like to hear the thoughts of Southsiders on this point.

I appreciate the integration of small businesses into the planning, but I do have concerns about other businesses being displaced without an option to relocate in the new development.

2) Prioritize development of vacant industrial properties over demolition of historic properties

Rather than choosing a vacant site on which to build, the developer has decided to demolish properties in the heart of the downtown, although the properties slated for demolition have less historic value than many other Southside landmarks. From a City perspective, however, I would rather see a development like this proposed for an empty lot in the redevelopment areas.

3) Encourage new development that does not exceed the size of surrounding properties and blends with historic architecture in order to create a cohesive sense of place and encourage walkability

While the developers have made an effort with the design, and their willingness to integrate the one historically-relevant façade into their project deserves recognition, I’m afraid that the massive scale of the project cancels out most of the efforts made on design. Twelve stories in an area characterized by 2, 3, and 4 story historic properties just doesn’t seem appropriate. The impact of a huge, out-of-place building on the street-level feel and sense of place on New Street will be significant. Rather than a quirky, small-town neighborhood feel, the narrow street will be darkened by the shadow of this monolith and converted into a channel that funnels walkers from Lehigh to the Fahy Bridge.

4) Support projects that incorporate diverse residential and commercial offerings that are accessible and affordable to South Bethlehem’s population

This project proposes 72 two-bedroom and 10 one-bedroom apartments with approximately 10% slated to be affordable housing (9 apartments). Once the height is reduced (as it would have to be to conform to the HCC’s requests), the number of affordable apartments will inevitably decrease as the 10% rate is maintained. The first floor will contain a food court that will serve the broader community, although judging from the portfolio of restaurants owned by Rafael Palomino, pricing will likely be on the higher side in comparison with the average of 50+ other Southside dining establishments.

So how does this project fare when analyzed from an accessibility and affordability perspective? According to the most recent Census data available, 32% of South Bethlehem residents live below the poverty line (an annual income of $26,500 for a family of four). 72% of homes on the Southside are occupied by renters, and 45% of them are classified as “cost-burdened”—in other words, they pay more than 35% of their income in rent. That is, their housing is, by definition, unaffordable. Median rent hovers around $1,000. The data makes it clear: there is a huge need for more affordable housing in South Bethlehem. When the developer says that they will add affordable units, this sounds like a no-brainer. We need affordable housing, and here is someone willing to build it! But there’s a lot more to consider here. Let’s talk a little more about affordable housing in south Bethlehem.

The City of Bethlehem offers zoning-based density incentives to developers who are willing to include a minimum of 10% affordable apartments in their developments. By federal (and City) definition, “affordable” means that the rents will not exceed 30% of the income of families making 80% of Area Median Income, and the rent will not exceed Fair Market Rent. For a one and two-bedroom building, this translates to a maximum rent of $891 for a one-bedroom (which is affordable for a family making over $35,640 a year) and $1,139 for a 2-bedroom apartment (which is affordable for a family making over $45,560 a year). Applicants for these apartments would be restricted to 80% of Area Medium Income based on family size: that is, a maximum income of $43,800 for one person, $50,050 for two people, $56,300 for three people, and $62,550 for four people. Now, I don’t want to diminish the value of building housing that conforms to these definitions of “affordability,” since these numbers do represent lower rents than many luxury apartments throughout the City. However, we have to take these numbers into the context of this proposed development, which is not occurring in a vacuum.

The proposed tower would displace two buildings that contain multiple apartments. While I cannot find public information on the total number of apartments at 321 and 325 New Street, a conservative estimate of two per floor multiplied by four floors would suggest a minimum of eight apartments. When the developer’s business partner acquired 325 New Street, he gave all of the tenants 30 days to leave. One of the tenants solicited my assistance since he had nowhere to go and was concerned about finding another place that he could afford as a single person making $10 an hour. At the time, he was paying somewhere between $300-400 per month. While I don’t have concrete data on all the existing apartments, I think it is fair to assume that the existing apartments could be rented out at more affordable prices than the proposed new development, given the costs of demolition and construction of a new building.

Affordable housing is extremely difficult to build. Having spoken to affordable housing developers and collaborated on a team that was seeking to build workforce housing in south Bethlehem, I know just how challenging it is to make the numbers work—even with generous subsidies and zoning incentives. Construction is expensive, and contingency funds are often eaten up by unexpected costs that are par for the course when you’re building in small spaces, demolishing old structures, and potentially dealing with environmental contamination issues. It’s understandable that this new project would limit its affordable apartments to the minimum necessary and maximum rent possible to obtain zoning benefits and improve the optics of the project.

But we are considering this project from a community perspective. If affordable housing is so tough to build, we should make sure that we preserve as much existing affordable housing as we can, and create incentives to prevent apartments that could easily be rented out affordably from sitting vacant. If we consider this project from an affordable housing perspective, our community will be demolishing affordable apartments to build unaffordable ones. Once older, affordable apartments are gone, there’s no bringing them back.

Affordable housing is complicated. We desperately need more, but we need to carefully analyze every proposal that comes before us to ensure that the end result is truly beneficial to our community. What would I like to see? Prioritize new construction of apartment buildings for vacant land, and incorporate 10% affordable apartments where it will be a net addition to the community. Don’t knock down existing affordable housing to put up less affordable housing.

to be continued . . .

“What are the ways we can improve the Southside in the next year?”

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem

“What’s your vision for the Southside?”

ref: Southside Vision
ref: “What challenges are we currently facing on the Southside?”

Here is another part of the breakout session that Gadfly attended during the CADCB February 18 meeting on a vision for the Southside.

The question this time was “What are the ways we can improve the Southside in the next year?”

Most of the talk intensified points brought up in the previous question.

Not in the facilitator’s notes on the discussion were suggestions to improve communications among business owners and improving cleanliness.