Pilot study to consider closing a portion of Packer Ave. in front of Lehigh U

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Public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at the
Broughal Middle School Auditorium

Nicole Radzievich, “Should Bethlehem close this major street near Lehigh University?” Morning Call, January 16, 2020.

Lehigh University wants to close a portion of Packer Avenue for 45 days this spring, a move aimed at making its south Bethlehem campus more pedestrian-friendly.

The temporary closure, between Vine and Webster streets, would run between March 9 and April 30. During that time, officials would assess the impact on parking, traffic patterns and pedestrians on that section of Packer that brushes Lehigh’s Asa Packer campus.

Lehigh says about 1,200 people cross that street daily, and the Bethlehem Parking Authority operates metered parking there. Lehigh says that about 85% of those vehicles parked along that stretch are affiliated with the university.

Lehigh plans to present its plans at public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Broughal Middle School Auditorium. City Council would ultimately have to decide on the closure.

Mayor Robert Donchez said he supports the study but has not taken a position on the permanent closure of that section of Packer Avenue. He said he would like to see whether the cars that had been parking in the metered spots will spill into the neighborhoods. He also had questions about how the loss of parking meter revenue will impact the parking authority.

He said the move could build upon a larger effort of Lehigh’s to blend the campus into the south Bethlehem community. In recent years, Lehigh has contributed money toward the beautification of South New Street. Lehigh has moved into offices at the Flat Iron building and the Gateway at Greenway Park building attached to the South New Street garage.

Adrienne McNeil, Lehigh University’s assistant vice president of community and regional affairs, said limiting traffic on that part of the street would help bring the campus closer to the downtown and would be another step in a yearslong effort to make the campus more pedestrian-friendly and environmentally sustainable.

Lehigh has been revamping its transportation system. In the last year, the shuttle buses have been making stops every 10 minutes from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. and added stops at Farrington, Vine and Webster streets. Three additional shuttles were introduced as part of the effort.

McNeil said ridership has doubled on campus, and the university has moved to a zoned permit structure where parking permits are only good for certain areas of the campus during the peak times.

to be continued . . .

Good development news

Here are two articles about noteworthy improvements around town that accumulated in Gadfly’s newsbag while he was behind the moon for a couple weeks.

(Did you notice Gadfly’s absence?) (Tip o’ the hat to those who did!)

The golf course:

Nicole Radzievich, “Course correction: How Bethlehem turned around its cash-strapped golf course in one year.” Morning Call, December 26, 2019.

Remember that 1-2 years ago there was serious talk about the future or non-future of the City golf course. Gadfly remembers Business Administrator Evans and Councilman Callahan keeping the faith,  and taking the lead, and the hiring of manager Larry Kelchner seemed a major turning point.

During recent budget hearings even prior skeptics had turned into believers.

Remember especially the worry about cutting down trees? We were asked to trust Mr. Kelchner. And to Gadfly’s eye, the tree work has left the course looking smart as he drives by.

There was another article in the paper yesterday about changes in management and improvements in the restaurant at the course.

That “recreation row” on Illick’s Mill is surely beautiful. Councilman Callahan asked again at the last Council meeting about moving the Recycling operation out of that stretch of good road — sounds like a good idea.

The Flatiron building:

Ryan Kneller, “Bethlehem’s newest brewery, featuring a rooftop beer garden, nearing completion at former parking deck.” Morning Call, December 26, 2019.

Remember the scary parking garage there across from Ahart’s on the Southside?  Looked like a haven for rapists and rodents.

Big change in the works.

Gadfly remembers being very excited at a Planning meeting where designs were laid out.

Though he wonders how many Brewing companies the world can sustain.

Feels like main attention has been focused east on 3rd and 4th streets. Could this mean something’s starting to cook westward?

Bethlehem treasure LEPOCO on 4th St. on the other side of the Flatiron is — last Gadfly heard — losing its lease — so what’s going on in this area?

That business strip on Broadway heading toward Wyandotte and then around the corner on Wyandotte going toward Hill-to-Hill could use a bit of brightening.

Gadfly’s often been grinchy in these pages about “developments,” but he feels pretty good about these two doin’s.

Quick further thought — Gadfly sees exterior work being done on a building on Brodhead near 3rd, across from Comfort Suites — another nice and needed development.

Southside magistrate has difficulty dispensing equitable justice in marijuana cases

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Nicole Radzievich, “District judge questions how Bethlehem treats minor marijuana offenses.” Morning Call, December 16, 2019.

We thought that the difficulty with decriminalizing uses of small amounts of marijuana in Bethlehem would come because of our bi-county status.

Because of the different views of the respective District Attorneys, marijuana use in Lehigh County Bethlehem would remain a criminal offense whereas in Northampton County Bethlehem it might only be a summary defense at the discretion of the arresting officer.

Different legal jeopardy on two sides of the same Bethlehem street, as it were.

Gadfly has not heard problems or complaints about this anomaly, however.

But the disparity is of another kind — unregarded, though probably easily enough foreseen, when the legislation was discussed.

In the following letter, Southside magistrate Nancy Matos Gonzalez points out that Southside residents are penalized much more severely than Lehigh students for the same marijuana offense.

Lehigh generally charges students under the city ordinance with a summary offense on the order of a traffic ticket. But city officers, with discretion to file either a summary or a criminal charge, choose the criminal charges against Southside residents 3+ times more than Lehigh police do against Lehigh students.

The disparity is so great, says Matos Gonzalez, “that the differing policy practices between the two agencies has, in my professional opinion, brought forth a situation which constricts my ability to dispense equitable justice.”

In short, it would appear that the Lehigh students are getting a break that Southside residents aren’t from our well-intentioned legislation to decriminalize use of small amounts of marijuana.

By a big margin.

Sensitive to the “vastly differing” demographics “between both communities” unarguably based “on race, ethnicity, and economic levels,” Matos Gonzalez asks how this disparity can be justified.

The differential financial burden of a criminal charge is severe, as Matos Gonzalez documents, but the part of the decriminalizing legislation rationale that Gadfly remembers most vividly from City Council discussion as well as the horror stories at the local public hearing held by Lieutenant Governor Fetterman was the “residual sanction of a resulting permanent criminal recordfor using a small amount of marijuana.

By and large, Lehigh students are being spared that career impediment.

Hmmm.

Gadfly remembers vigorous public comments last year at Council meetings by Jeff Riedy, Executive Director of Lehigh Valley NORML and would welcome hearing from him again on this situation.

And also some expanded remarks on marijuana enforcement by the Chief beyond what he said about drugs in Bethlehem during the recent budget hearings (the last few minutes of this video).

The question would seem to be whether enforcement practice by Bethlehem police is undercutting the intent of the legislation and whether that enforcement practice is different on the Southside than in other parts of the City.

A tip o’ the hat to Magistrate Matos Gonzalez for calling attention to a possible “systemic issue” that should be addressed.

Gadfly always recommends going to the primary source. The magistrate’s full letter is printed below.

Dear Chief DiLuzio,

I recently received your letter referencing my previous discussions with both yourself and Mayor Donchez. To be clear, I initiated contact to voice my concern regarding a noted potential for disparity in sanctions, permanent records, and financial cost for Individuals prosecuted for small amount of marijuana. This noted potential for disparity is solely based upon which one of the two police departments operating within this district prosecutes the case. Further, expressed that the differing policy practices between the two agencies has, in my professional opinion, brought forth a situation which constricts my ability to dispense equitable justice.

As you are aware, Bethlehem Police and Lehigh University Police both operate in South Bethlehem. Understandably, as independent agencies, each has its own Standard Operating Procedures. I am fully cognizant it is not my role, practice, nor desire to critique those procedures. I do, though, unabashedly feel compelled to illuminate what is potentially an undetected consequential result of policy implementation and absolutely believe it is my role to speak out to systemic matters affecting my rulings and sworn oath to uphold justice.

As the presiding Magisterial District Judge in this district, I offer the following summary of happenings since the enactment of the law up until the date of meeting with the Mayor on September 26, 2019. These are the pertinent factors relating to these case filings on which I base my concerns:

  • Lehlgh University PD has by general policy and practice filed the local summary ordinance in the Small Amount cases, which decriminalizes the possession of marijuana.
  • Bethlehem PD policy allows for “Officer discretion to use ordinance, state law or both. By practice, the Bethlehem Police officers have, in this district alone, filed the criminal grading of Poss of a Small Amount at a rate” of 3.25 times more often than the ordinance offense. Additionally, for cases that a Bethlehem Police officer has filed a Poss of Drug Paraphernalia charge related to Marijuana, the officer is 7 times more likely to file the criminal Poss of Small Amount charge.
  • Defendants who are charged with a city ordinance of Poss of a Small Amount of Marijuana are ordered to pay a set fine and cost amount of $116.25 for a first offense and a maximum set fine and cost of $241.25 for up to a offense within one calendar year.
  • Defendants who plead guilty to the criminal charge of Poss of a Small Amount of Marijuana can be ordered to pay fine and cost of up to $1073.75 and up to 30 days incarceration.
  • In an effort to balance the scales for parties prosecuted for the criminal charge rather than the summary offense, I, by practice, set the fine at $1.00 minimal amount. Unfortunately, once the cost for criminal processing fees are attached the total minimal amount due is $574.75. These parties are subject to cost almost 5 times higher than the summary cost and they are subject to a potentially more serious residual sanction of a resulting permanent criminal record.
  • Unfortunately, there are many individuals who wish to plead guilty to the charge at the Preliminary Hearing but do not have the means to post the $574.?5 fine and cost assessment. The district court does not supervise fine and cost collection of criminal cases and those parties, more often than not, waive their preliminary hearings, often by necessity to have time to raise some funds. In the interim months awaiting their case, they are subject to bail and with the potential for supervision with specified conditions. Once their case comes to resolution, they are subject to a significant increase in cost at the higher court level.
  • For the defendants who do not dispute the merits of the case but are interested in preserving their record, they often chose to waive their Preliminary Hearing to the higher court and seal: the ARD program. They are then subject to the assessment of bail with potential conditions, often subject to further cost to hire legal counsel to maneuver through the process of the higher court application process; face even more significant court cost at the higher level; and may be Subject to probationary Supervision.

For the sake of transparency, I will state my motive in addressing my concerns is not based on a philosophical stance regarding how Marijuana cases should be prosecuted. Undoubtedly, the approach towards the prosecution of Marijuana cases is in a transitional time period on the national, state, county, and city level. I am also aware that has complicated circumstances specific to the City of Bethlehem, which lies within two differing counties. My motive is purely to strive for an equal playing field for all who appear before this District Court. Right now, that does not currently exist and the result is polarizing. To be as frank as possible, if you are arrested for the charge at hand by Lehigh University, which is a long standing prestigious academic institution, you will likely, by far, be subject to less sanctions, court supervision, and permanent effects than if you are a citizen in the same circumstance from the city streets charged within the same Magisterial District that is all contained within a one square mile radius. I ask how that can be justified. I will not ignore that the demographics between both communities are unarguably vastly differing based on race, ethnicity, and economic levels. Therefore, I stand by my comment made earlier that there is a systemic issue to address here, of which I do not wish to be complicit. I remain hopeful this writing will prompt a closer look at the circumstances at hand and potential for disparity, particularly with the order “Officer discretion to use ordinance, state law or both.”

Sincerely,

Nancy Matos Gonzalez

Sorely needed grant to study South Bethlehem

x-posted from Councilwoman Van Wirt’s Facebook page

Last night at Bethlehem City Council, we approved a $40k grant to study South Bethlehem, in terms of zoning, growth and housing. It is sorely needed, as South Bethlehem bathes in the light of sudden and strong developer interest, and at the same time struggles with escalating housing costs, loss of neighborhood character and out of scale buildings. In this article below, a vulnerable swath of NYC has been given new life with affordable housing, ample community benefits and preservation of neighborhood character. It wasn’t easy, but it can be done here, scaled to our amazing city. The requirement: involvement from the citizens who live there, from the ground up. “This project is a reminder that what can seem like kneejerk public resistance to new developments, even ones that promise affordable housing, can’t simply be chalked up to NIMBYism. If residents don’t know how, or whether, a project fits into some shared, participatory, longer-term vision for a neighborhood, then the most modest new condo tower can become a call to the barricades.” Let’s be inspired by successes in other cities- we CAN have a strong and clear vision for our city, and that means holding developers to that vision, and never losing sight.

Paige Van Wirt

Councilman Callahan’s response to the proposed South Bethlehem Planning Study

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City Council meeting, Nov 6, 2019, part 2
mins. 1:01:22 – 1:30:35

The recommendation of the contract for the South Bethlehem Planning Study came to Council in a memo from the head of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Councilman Callahan asked the City Planning Director to come to the podium.

BC did not want Council to authorize $25,000 for the study without Council doing “due diligence,” that is, assuring themselves by first reviewing past studies of the Southside that this new study would not duplicate work that was already done.

He wanted data that would presumably result in a proposal of narrower/cheaper scope.

BC asked the PD if she could forward past studies of the Southside to Council for such review in time for final action on the proposal by Council at its next meeting.

(The Comprehensive Plan, the Speck report, and others are readily available on the City web site where Gadfly has often consulted them, and one would assume that any new Councilperson would think of them as first-term homework.)

BC made that request several times during the conversation, affirming that his intention was not to block the proposal.

And he eventually made a motion to postpone consideration of this proposal till the November 19 meeting.

The motion to postpone was defeated 5-2, Councilwoman Crampsie Smith joining BC.

Let’s look at what was behind BC’s action.

It took a while for the real reason to come out, and it came out in a startling and, Gadfly believes, quite disconcerting way. See if you agree.

BC wondered — since there were only 3 (2?) new developments on the Southside (Five10 Flats, Polk Street Garage) since the past studies — what changes warranted a new study.

Why was a new study necessary?

He was concerned about:

  • whether historical structures would be added
  • whether the historic district would be expanded
  • whether there would be changes in zoning mapping
  • whether there would be changes in height limits
  • whether there would be limits to demolition
  • who would be deciding about any proposed changes

The cumulative effect of these concerns seemed to indicate to Gadfly that BC — an unabashed proponent of and friend of development — was worried about restrictions to development.

Go to min. 1:26:40.

This root cause of his concern gradually came directly out into the open after the defeat of his motion to postpone:

  • when he asked who will be making up the study committee
  • when he kind of demanded to be on the committee
  • when he indicated uncertainty over who the next Mayor will be
  • when he reminded us of “garbage in, garbage out”
  • when he worried about influences on and pressure on entities voting on Requests for Proposals
  • when he revealed a personal discussion with the Mayor
  • when he admitted a “big concern” with where this study was going with the Head of DECD “at the helm”
  • when he referred to “highly unethical” behavior by the Head of DECD with members of the Parking Authority
  • when he stated that people in Allentown went to jail “for behavior like that”
  • when he boldly and directly asked the Head of DECD (who was in the audience) — “did you, or did you not?” —  whether she did such behavior
  • when he registered uncertainty about where this study was going
  • when he expressed discomfort with the Head of DECD and some things done lately

This crescendo of concern climaxes in, ironically, BC bringing up “one of things I’m not going to bring up right now.” Why? “Because I have asked the Mayor for an investigation.”

Gasp. Huh?

Left field heard from.

All of this — what President Waldron called “dirty laundry” — in service of BC’s bottom line request that a Council member be on the study committee.

“All I’m asking for is that we have Council representation on that committee.”

Such a simple request.

Gadfly doesn’t understand BC sometimes.

Why did he take that route to get from there to here?

Wasn’t it likely, reasonable that the Mayor would ask a Council member to serve on such an important committee?

Ok, If not reasonable and likely, and if BC has legitimate concerns about the working of the committee, could not BC have just asked that it be so?

Instead of kind of going to war and needlessly shadowing a City administrator’s character in the process?

Now “we” are all left imagining dark deeds.

Gadfly often says that a reason to pay attention is so that you will be the most informed voter you can be next time ’round.

This is one of those instances.

South Bethlehem Planning Study: “a proactive response . . . the answer to my prayers”

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City Council meeting, Nov 6, 2019, part 2
mins. 1:01:22 – 1:30:35

So what’s this South Bethlehem Planning Study all about?

The proposal sayeth its purpose is to “review current planning and zoning policies and ordinances in South Bethlehem and provide recommendations for revisions to address compatibility between new development and historic district ordinances and policies.”

In her interaction with Councilman Callahan the City Planning Director elaborated on that purpose in these ways: the study is an attempt “to answer some new questions for us about that type of development that we’re seeing in the Southside. Do our current ordinances and policies really support our goals and objectives? . . . how to balance demand for historic preservation and development.”

The PD spoke of anticipating future development, how to make development more compatible with surrounding areas, pointing out that some of our most liberal zoning is around historical districts, referencing in general some recent “challenging projects,” and indicating it would be helpful for developers to know exactly what we want.

Balancing historical preservation and development — O, Yeah!

Go down Memory Lane with Gadfly.

Remember the impact on Gadfly when at the City Council meeting May 22, Louis James, President of the South Bethlehem Historical Society, presented this polite but forceful letter to the Mayor and City Council in a likewise polite but forceful manner.

005

This letter hit Gadfly hard, he did a series of responses to the letter, and he has reprinted it several times since May 22, lest we forget.

Councilwoman Negron made an unusually long response of her own to that SBHS letter at the following Council meeting that Gadfly found very moving.

Go to min. 1:48:41 on the video.

——

It was this letter — the plea in this letter — that Gadfly thought of when he understood the purpose of the proposed South Bethlehem Planning Study.

Gadfly criticized the Mayor for a soft response to this SBHS letter, but he now wonders if that letter is at least partly behind the City’s proposal for this study.  For instance, Gadfly remembers Councilwoman Negron later alluding happily to a productive subsequent meeting with City officials and Southside people that she attended on this very subject.

In last night’s meeting, Councilman Reynolds indicated that the balance between development and historical preservation is “a question that a lot of people are talking about” — and that we need a “blueprint.”

Last night, memorably, Councilwoman Negron referred to this proposed study as “a proactive response” to her concerns, “the answer to my prayers.”

So what’s the beef?

Gadfly points your attention to discussion of proposed South Bethlehem Planning Study

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When Gadfly was 9 years old his father took him fishing for carp in the pond at Glen Providence Park, Media, Pa. His father had a new rod and reel. His father was a patient man. We waited for what seemed to be hours for a nibble from what he knew was the “Big One” nosing in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Finally, nature called. He fashioned a “Y” from nearby twigs, propped his new rod and reel in the notch, and headed to the pavilion rest room. During his brief absence, Little Gadfly witnessed that new rod and reel shoot into the middle of the pond. Gadfly will never forget his father’s face. Little Gadfly should have learned a lesson: never leave your post.

Gadfly Diaries, vol. 1, The Larval Years

Last night.

We were about 2hrs./20 minutes into the City Council meeting. And that’s after an hour of a Committee of the Whole meeting before the Council meeting.

Gadfly thought to take advantage of a string of seemingly innocuous resolutions on the agenda just prior to adjournment to answer nature’s call.

And the bureaucratic equivalent of a rod and reel shooting into the Glen Providence pond occurred.

The subject was resolution 10.i, approval of a $47,000 contract to URDC ($22,000 of which were grant funds) for a South Bethlehem Planning Study: “to review current planning and zoning policies and ordinances in South Bethlehem and provide recommendations for revisions to address compatibility between new development and historic district ordinances and policies.”

Gadfly returned to find Councilman Callahan and the City Planning Director butting heads, not like two rams atop an Alpine mountainside, mind you, but butting heads nonetheless.

Gadfly was not prepared to do his usual crack self-reliant audio-visual work, so this is a handy opportunity to refer you to the City archiving of these meetings. For he needed this great resource to fill himself in this morning.

Please view mins. 1:01:22 – 1:30:35 here below for what for several reasons Gadfly thinks you will find much of interest and relevance.

As usual, Gadfly suggests you visit the primary source on your own before he comments.

Back soon for reflection on what happened here.

Overall, this was a very good Council meeting. Several important things happened that Gadfly will eventually report on (damn final preposition).

But he chooses to start here.

Your comments welcome at any time.