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

logo Latest in a series of posts about the Southside logo

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”

logo Latest in a series of posts about the Southside logo

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.

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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

logo Latest in a series of posts about Neighborhoods & the Southside logo

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.

Do we have a tenant/landlord mediation service?

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Greg Cook served as a magazine editor with Better Homes and Gardens in Des Moines IA for 20 years before moving to the Lehigh Valley in 2006 as a freelance writer. He participates in the Appalachian Mountain Club, is a member of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op, launched the now annual Monocacy Park Day, brought into being the Monocacy Creek Watershed Coalition, and tours with Vote Common Good.

ref: “Beware the landlord from Hong Kong”

Gadfly:

Yes, it seems this was the resident’s first time trying to access city government, at least publicly. What could we imagine he learned? My guess is that he came away thinking that although he spoke, he wasn’t heard. Is this what we want those with the courage to come before City Council to learn? Or would it be better to respond in a way that shows a working relationship where problems can be worked out together?

Granted, his concern was over a private transaction, not a public complaint. Still, affordable housing is certainly a public concern affecting our city. It would be wonderful if we had a tenant/landlord mediation service in place. If there is such a thing, I am not aware of it. Lacking that, I’m wondering if City Council could have referred this resident to someone in city government who could offer guidance, at least to go over Article 1739 regarding regulated rental unit occupancy or other applicable ordinances.

The lesson there? We’re all in this together!

Greg

Beware the landlord from Hong Kong

logoLatest in a series of posts about the Southsidelogo

How much do you think the rent is for the Southside house on the left?

Fifth st.

The landlord from Hong Kong is raising the rent from $2000/mo. to $2900/mo. come first of the year.

This pleasant but concerned young man came to Council last week  to “start a dialog and see what the City can do to protect residents.”

But all he got was a “thank you.”

It was no doubt his first visit to Council.

And you can tell from his hesitation and uncertainty at the end that he expected dialog.

But all he got was a “thank you.”

Not President Waldron’s fault, I guess, but not good.

There may be nothing to be done for this very worthy sounding guy except to wish him well if he must move to another part of town or, more likely, another town.

But we must try to do better.

The landlords from New Jersey that we heard about a few posts back must be overmatched.

“Why don’t people want to come live on the Southside?”

logo59th in a series of posts on Touchstone Theatrelogo

Unfortunately, Gadfly doesn’t have it on video, but there is a moment while Festival UnBound’s Jennie Gilrain (director of “The Secret”) is doing moderator duty after the “Hidden Seed” play in which she bounds, bounces, twirls, flies from one side of the stage to the other.

Her body dances.

Her mind does too.

Her opening anecdote here will fix your attention on something rather profound.

What do you think about her question?

It’s about more than just our Southside.

  • “Where do you live?”
  • “I’m used to being asked where are you from.”
  • “Deeply ingrained in our American psyche is this idea that where you live defines your status.”
  • “People keep trying to move farther and farther away from each other.”
  • “What is it about moving away from the center of town?
  • “Why do we keep wanting more space, bigger, bigger yards?”
  • “Why do we have to keep building houses in the fields, as John Gorka says.” ***
  • “Why don’t people want to come live on the Southside?”
  • “Why don’t people want to come back and be crowded and close together?”
  • “That’s a real question and not a judgment.”

*** Jennie refers to Gorka’s “Houses in the Fields,” performed here recently and here in original video. Gorka attended Moravian and started his folk singing career at Godfrey Daniels. “Houses” is said to be about his family home on Freemansburg Avenue.

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten