On “Giving Tuesday” support public art on the Southside

Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem

“it’s a cool and eclectic and kind of funky place. So keep South Bethlehem funky.”
Kim Carrell-Smith

Southside Arts District Public Art project

PLEASE  DONATE HERE

Each year we work tirelessly to create opportunities for local artists to transform the streetscape of South Bethlehem into their canvas. Over the last three years the Southside Arts District has completed the following projects:

  • artistic designed flowerpots
  • downtown murals
  • Greenway ArtsWalk
  • artistic designed bike racks
  • public piano

 

 

PLEASE  DONATE HERE

 

 

 

 

Southside voices (5): Kim (Think “funky”)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Kim Carrell-Smith (9 mins.)

We want a vibe that’s not just generic every place. Steel and glass is a lack of identity. History is how Bethlehem has branded itself already. History is a great way to create a sense of place. 30-year resident, I have a lot of feelings about this Southside stuff. We have a great stock of historical buildings, and I would encourage you to figure out some way to enhance those historical streetscapes. Historical guidelines don’t square with the zoning ordinance. Need to start with changing the zoning ordinance. Can’t have towering buildings that overshadow the sidewalks. For many folks darkness is perceived as unwelcoming. We need to think about things like height and shadow. We have great streetscapes, we just need to tweak the buildings we have. The other thing we need to think about is historical vistas. Vistas provide a validation for life and work. Gives us identity. Distinctive. No franchises. Cultivate small businesses. We want smaller locally owned businesses that can serve local folks. Places to buy socks and underwear. What about sports facilities. Like Iron Lakes — drop off kids, then go shop. We don’t often serve youth in South Bethlehem. More places for kids to stay occupied. Need well marked walking paths and well marked parking to bring people in to the core. Greenway is starting to show us that that works. Need affordable housing, not just luxury apartments. We don’t need to serve student population, but empty-nesters and people like that. We need affordable housing for families, for young people. Arts District people working hard. Please help us keep what makes this distinctive. And don’t turn us into every other place in the United States. No franchises, anonymous glass. We’ve got cool stuff now to improve upon. Cool, eclectic, and kind of funky place. Keep South Bethlehem funky.*

* We need a vision for South Bethlehem, something we can define in a word or phrase on which we can focus our thinking. Kim has used that term “funky” before in presentation at Council. It’s vision that resonates. What does “funky” mean to you? Interestingly odd. Unconventionally stylish. What place comes to mind as an example of a funky place? Gadfly thinks we should pursue this vision.

———-

Gadfly says try to keep your body still while listening. That’s what I’m talking about.

“Funky Town”

Gotta make a move to a town that’s right for me
Town to keep me movin’
Keep me groovin’ with some energy
Wont you take me to
funky town

Southside voices (4): Larry and Roger

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Larry Eighmy (5 mins.)

We want to have some new overlay, new development, on top of the old while preserving it. Zoning codes are regressive, we want to think about being progressive. [History of plans over last 20 years.] Wonderful things. What we have now is a position of strength. We have created a success. Parking. Commercial. We’re trying to create vibrancy. What we need to do going forward is celebrate our successes, continue to do the things that we have done, and then think a little bit differently about the component Esther Lee talked about [the Black strip on buildings on Brodhead]. Need to push out the industrial base by Perkins. Critical. Change of Hill to Hill bridge. Lehigh-New St corridor. Big things. Lets say what can do. Instead of dictating what we can’t do, let market take care of what we wnt to do. We have “great” problems. This is critical time for this conversation.

Roger Simon (3 mins.)

Allow higher buildings closer to Lehigh campus. Might relieve pressure of students living farther afield and developers outbidding homeowners. Preserve scale of 3rd and 4th Sts. as much as possible. Keep taller buildings uphill.

Southside voices (3): Carolina and Margarita

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Carolina Hernandez (3 mins.)

Bethlehem is chosen home. Keep South Bethlehem “funky” (Kim Carrell-Smith’s line that we’ll post later). Don’t make it like Miami. Relatives and friends who visit all love it. Incredible diversity, history, beautiful facades. This is what people fall in love with. South Side Proud. What makes us unique should be amplified not shut down. Walkability. Greenway. Don’t bring in what makes us sterile. Enforce historic nature. Take care like we did the North side. Amplify the beauty of this community. Recognize the power, the privilege, the history, the prestige that it is to be a part of this wonderful community.

Margarita (5 mins.)

Bethlehem reminded her of her small town in Puerto Rico. Wants to continue to have that kind of feeling. Realizes too that we need to move forward and progress. Detriment holding on to the past. Can build places that resemble other places but that are modern on the inside. Can architects keep it at a reasonable height and build facade to be historical. As opposed to all glass and metal. Keep facade of how the buildings were way back. Attract even more tourists. Parking garage with businesses on first floor but park appeal open with hanging plants and trees on second floor. No high rises. Not like New York. Parking here is terrible. Join parking and nature.

Southside Voices (2): Esther and Anna

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Esther Lee  (4 mins.)

Building heights are out of line. Makes plea for “the Southside Black strip.” Across from the Comfort Suites on Brodhead. Find a way to restore this section. The first Black folks who came to Bethlehem had businesses right there. Building heights are humpty-dumpty. Traffic is upside-down. Need to do something about homelessness, housing.

Anna Smith (4 mins.)

Tracked vacancies in her former job and wherever there was new development, there was persistent vacancies long past construction. Simultaneously, we see storefronts like George’s Light-Lunch in persistent demand, never off the market — beautiful, historic facade. The demand is there on these streets. The issue is that business owners who live on Southside to serve Southside, the numbers just don’t work for them in new buildings. The historic buildings offer smaller, more accessible storefronts more accessible to people who were unable to attain bank financing. Women, POC, immigrant entrepreneurs unlikely to receive financing. If want to support business that serve local community, if we want to serve the core of our community (Southside now 43% Latino, 10% Black), we need to offer affordable options. None of the new developers have been able to offer that. We need to think about what types of business owners are actually able to start businesses in our neighborhoods. Because it is those business owners who have made the Southside the kind of place that people want to invest and come to. Agrees with Esther Lee — Black strip — that’s the way to go.

Southside voices (1): Lou

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Lou James, President of the South Side Historical Society (12 mins.)

There are many good things being done, but SBHS has many concerns. Grateful to the City, Sands, Wind Creek, Arts Quest, etc., in preservation efforts. Many residents impacted by change going on. Traffic bumper-to-bumper. Many properties that were once affordable have been bought up by outsiders hoping to cash in. House rates and values have tripled. People looking for affordable housing have to look elsewhere. Beautiful row and single family homes are disappearing or becoming run-down, left to rot, as owners wait for development. Need to encourage housing that is affordable to the common person. Could be made a model for small town revitalization like Northside. Emphasis on history is the way to do it. Beautiful storefronts on 3rd and 4th streets — could this be outlet for destination shopping? Small town atmosphere is better. We’re stuck on bigger is better. People moving here from New York and Philadelphia moving here to get away from that atmosphere. New construction is beautiful but out of proportion. Emphasis needs to be fitting in to the community. Church project at State and 4th is model example. SBHS supports that endeavor. Must be way to re-purpose buildings instead of tearing them down. Modern is beautiful and understandable that developers want to make money but must be respectful of our history. Once gone can’t be brought back. Not against progress but must eye any project for preservation of rich history. Building height. Against small skyscrapers that are monuments to developers. Tall buildings defeats purpose of historic district and destroys neighborhood atmosphere. Auto-Zone proposed at 5 Points is stupid idea. Need homeless shelter badly. Need affordable housing for working class people.

Planning the Southside’s future

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

This was Gadfly’s kind of meeting on the future of the Southside historical district last night.

40+ people giving ideas.

That felt like a real tonic in this period of destructive politics and pandemic.

(And speaking of such, Gadfly reported the Lehigh University spike yesterday. The news today is that Lehigh has gone totally online in reaction. Sigh.)

Upbeat. Looking to the future.

Gadfly is not sure of the genesis of the study.

But you may remember as he does the poignant letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society worrying about heritage-damaging development in the Southside.

And Gadfly has reported in the past several times of “conversations” between Councilpeople Negron and Callahan on their different visions of the Southside.

But recently we have seen action on the student housing problem around Lehigh.

And now this.

Good news.

Gadfly will report on some of the discussion, but, for now, he’ll just mention a few things that he heard that float to the surface: there is a discrepancy between Zoning regs and the Historical Commission guidelines, a 14-story building would be allowed under current regs, the Historical Commission guidelines are “shoulds” not “shalls,” Litzenberger and Rooney buildings grandfathered in not license for other tall buildings, AutoZone proposed for 5 Points.

Ugh.

Work to be done.

Lets put some boom in the Zoom! Tonight . . . 6:30

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Zoom meeting

ref: Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem wants to know from residents what they think the South Side should look like.” Morning Call, November 18, 2020.

ref: Kim’s shout out!

Damn pandemic.

We can’t put “butts in the seats” these days.

But we can put our “boom in the zoom”!

We have a voice.

We used it recently for the pedestrian/bike bridge.

We’re being asked to contribute ideas on the future of the Southside.

We’re being asked to use our voice.

Beat the pandemic.

Lets put some BOOM IN THE ZOOM tonight at 6:30!

Zoom meeting

Urgent! meeting tonight on future of Southside! 6:30 Please Zoom in!

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Zoom meeting

ref: What should the historic core of the Southside be like in 15 years?
ref: Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem wants to know from residents what they think the South Side should look like.” Morning Call, November 18, 2020.

Gadfly:

More voices, more power; more “butts in seats,” more power. 💪

Tonight at 6:30 the City of Bethlehem is holding a meeting with consultants in efforts to shape the future of the Southside (visually, and economically). They want to HEAR FROM LOCAL PEOPLE  who live, work and play here, about what we want the Southside to be: highrises, luxury housing, wine bars? Franchises and a “typical” college town circa 2020? New glass and steel structures? More of the New Street/3rd St Benner building?

(Did you know that currently you can build a 12 story building anywhere in the commercial business district of the Southside? Building height is one specific issue they say they want to hear about!)
 
OR  do we believe that historical areas and buildings with “a sense of place” can be an economic driver (happy to provide some legit studies/articles about this)? Do we think that quirky and eclectic, artsy and funky, with a mix of smaller unique shops,international cuisine restaurants, clothing stores, and basic services that serve year round residents, tourists, AND college students would be our best focus to separate the Southside from more generic, “placeless” development?
  • what ifwe actually had Historic rules that were not “guidelines” but had sticking power, like in the Historic District on the Northside? (not “should” but “shall” language!)?
  • what if we had Zoning Ordinances that supported the historic conservation district guidelines, rather than leaving the door open to challenges?
  • what if we thought about our”gateways” to the Southside business districts in different ways, supporting different styles to allow some opportunity for higher denser development in one area, but preserving the historical vibe in others? Happy to share some ideas folks have generated in the past if you’re interested in what this means!
I hope you will be able to chime in tonight. Multiple and diverse voices are essential to get the ear of the city; I believe the city WANTS to support the historical eclectic Southside, but they need residents and folks who work and play on the Southside to voice their opinions. 
 
Thanks for speaking your piece!  Those who want to participate in the meeting can connect via Zoom with the meeting ID 952 3152 6460 (pass code not required); or by calling 301-715-8592. 
THANKS for caring!
Kim Carrell-Smith

“We have a housing crisis in our [Southside] community”

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly wrapping up for now coverage of the Community Development committee meeting on regulating student housing (click “Southside” under topics on the sidebar for previous posts).

6 of the 7 Council members attended this committee meeting and spoke after the resident input.

Councilwomen Van Wirt and Negron spoke explicitly of getting the proposed ordinance to Council ASAP.

Councilwoman Crampsie Smith was the most eloquent of the bunch in supporting the proposal.

“The Southside was a melting pot . . . rich in diversity  . . . If we don’t do something like this ordinance, we are putting a nail in the coffin of the origins of the city and the ideals and values on which it was built, and, worse, we are utterly disregarding all the immigrants that sacrificed so much to form that rich community that is and still could be the Southside.”

Favoring the proposed ordinance to regulate student housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly loves your voices.

Democracy in action.

Here is a menu of public commentary at the Community Development Committee meeting October 22, commentary in favor of the proposed ordinance to regulate student housing in the city.

The issue is the life of a neighborhood.

Important issue.

Check out these models of citizens making their case.

What is the problem this proposal addresses? (Smith 1 min.)

 

How was this proposal developed? (Smith 1 min.)

 

What kind of neighborhood is it, and what kind of danger does it face? (Moglen 1.5 mins.)

 

What’s the effect of student rentals on a neighborhood. Why don’t people like to live near students? (Jennings 1 min.)

 

What has increased student housing done to your neighborhood? (Evans 2 mins.)

 

How does a first-generation immigrant see the Southside and this proposal? (Malek 1.5 mins.)

 

If this ordinance is passed, can everybody finally relax? Job done? (Grubb .5 mins.)


Those brief clips above cannot capture the good oratory of the Bethlehem residents pleading their cause at the meeting. Please take advantage and listen to the full comments from these models of active citizen participation.

Kim Carrell-Smith (5 mins.)

Justin Collins (3.5 mins.)

Julie Cordero (2 mins.)

Anne Evans (5 mins.)

First Terrace resident 1 (2 mins.)

First Terrace resident 2 (3 mins.)

Dana Grubb (3.5 mins.)

Alan Jennings (5 mins.)

Ham Malek (5 mins.)

Seth Moglen (5 mins.)

Tony Pompa (3.5 mins.)

Marc Rittle (3 mins.)

Anna Smith (5 mins.)

DCED Director Karner: “We found ourselves at the whim of decisions beyond our control”

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

So much going on nationally, right?

But Gadfly doesn’t want to lose sight of the important proposal to regulate student housing in the city of particular importance to the Southside that was discussed in an open meeting of the Community Development Committee October 22.

Quantitative public interest in this proposal was high. The quality of comments at the meeting was very high.

About 20 residents called in, overwhelmingly in favor of the new ordinance. Gadfly covered the few negative comments  a week or so ago.

Gadfly supported the proposal in a series of posts leading up to the meeting. Click Southside under Topics on the right-side sidebar.

And at the meeting itself Gadfly called attention to the potential — finally — for a kind of marriage of a long line of resident agitation on the one hand and a long line of verbal commitment to supporting affordable housing by Council on the other in a specific proposal that could be acted upon (2 mins.).

Gadfly likes to give primacy to arguments opposed to him, but logically he should have started with the City’s presentation of its case for the proposal.

Therefore, he’ll call your attention now to these introductory remarks by Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner in which she lays out the timeline of events from 2014 when she took office to the present (10 mins.).

Karner said that presenting this proposal before a Council committee was not the usual process, and she seemed to indicate that a public hearing might be held in the future. So Gadfly is not sure of the future process, for Council members talked of getting the proposal before Council quickly. Perhaps Council would hold the public hearing since the Zoning Board has already passed on the proposal. In any event, Gadfly was surprised that there was not more comment October 22 from business interests and that there was no Lehigh University voice either. So maybe we’ll hear more later.

But Karner laid out a helpful timeline of events and meetings and consultants beginning in 2014 when she took office. For instance, she described meeting quarterly with Lehigh from 2014 to 2017, a time in which 200 new rental licenses were issued in that area. She described various, shifting Lehigh University announcements, signals, and plans. She described how confusing Lehigh messages about their plans spurred investors. She described a 2018 consultant report that pointed out that the proliferation of rental signage (see Gadfly’s Tour de Rentz) was an unintended message that families weren’t welcome as well as an invitation to criminals. She described the City’s “vulnerability” to decisions out of its control and described the proposal as a solution to an issue that has “dominated conversations in my office for six years.” There are now 623 regulated rental units in the area.

Karner laid a good ground work for discussion of details of the proposal in which both she and Planning director Darlene Heller then engaged.

Gadfly will post about public support for the proposal by beginning with perhaps the most unusual, the most striking example of that support — from a resident who left the city because of the conditions the proposal is designed to address.

We know articulate Murdock Saunders already from appearances on Gadfly describing the conditions of and the dangers to his upper Hillside Ave. residence.

“Meet the ‘Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development'”
July 17, 2019

Now, however, Saunders has regretfully moved away, a casualty of the rental creep. “Don’t let more families like us leave,” he counsels Council (1.5 mins.).

Voices opposed to regulating student housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

proposed ordinance to regulate student housing

Overview of Student Housing Ordinance (1)

video of October 22 Community Development Committee meeting

So now let’s begin talking about the Community Development Committee meeting last Thursday on a proposed ordinance regulating student housing.

Gadfly has spent much energy on this issue. If you missed all that and are shamed and sorry, click “Southside” on the right-hand sidebar.

This issue of regulating student housing has been in the air for decades, is almost as old as Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics, and Gadfly is glad to see it finally “on the table,” and is in favor of its passage.

Public comment was of as high a quality as Gadfly has ever seen it — what Gadfly loves about being a gadfly is amplifying and archiving resident response. It’s usually a joy.

About 20 residents commented at the meeting, the overwhelming majority in favor of the ordinance.

But following Gadfly’s desire for balance and hearing all sides, let’s begin with the three commenters who opposed the ordinance.

Gadfly always wants to know and to weigh positions contrary to his own.

We should understand and respect those positions.

Southside landlord (1) (7 mins.)

A man whose name I couldn’t get but who is associated with a business that owns many properties in Bethlehem doesn’t see the need for the ordinance, though he doesn’t go into detail about the reasons why, indicating that they have been expressed before. If there is to be an ordinance, however, he suggests some changes, such as a problem with the definition of student; if there is to be limitation outside the boundary, there should be enhancement within; the boundaries should be expanded; changes in signage regulations. Changes on these subjects would make the ordinance more practical and more enforceable. Council should ask itself these questions: “What is the real issue we are trying to solve?” “Is this ordinance the best way to solve that problem?”

 

Southside landlord (2) (7 mins.)

A multiple property owner since 2003 (couldn’t catch his name).  “What problem is this ordinance trying to solve?” Parking? Noise? Litter? Overcrowding? Affordable housing? Development? Design? He’s still not clear on the problem its attempting to solve. Perhaps the purpose needs to be honed to effect meaningful change. Broad scope means tough to enforce. Affordable housing seems the main issue, and he’s 100% in agreement. But there is no affordability crisis in Bethlehem. Prices rising nationwide, nothing here specific to Southside. Drill down to the facts. Dozens of homes for sale now in South Bethlehem with mortgages less than rents. He is (was?) part of a City committee on affordable housing. Consultant came up with proposals, and student regulation was not one of them. The City committee has not discussed any of the consultant’s proposals. Only 5% of City rentals are student rentals and are inspected annually, while some of the others have not been inspected for decades. Who’s been advocating for those others? Many in substandard conditions. Ends with defense of students.

 

A DeSales student (2 mins.)

Wants to move off campus to further maturity by providing for himself. People he knows have been robbed by residents. So it’s not fair to assume that college students are causing problems. Wants to further his life experience in college and regulation will limit that possibility.

to be continued . . .

“don’t let more families like us leave,” says former Southside resident

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly will be providing more detail on the meeting. But when, Gadfly, when?

Selections from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem considering ordinance that would limit student housing for the sake of neighborhoods.” Morning Call, October 23, 2020.

South Side residents are urging Bethlehem City Council to swiftly approve a zoning amendment regulating off-campus student housing, saying families are being driven out and real estate prices are being driven up by developers snatching up properties to house college students.

City Council held a special meeting Thursday to hear public comments on the proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in August. It provides a student housing district that city officials said would protect neighborhoods and keep students to more appropriate areas.

City officials have been working for several years with South Side community organizations, property owners and landlords to prepare the amendment. The district would be on the northeast and northwest sides of Lehigh University’s campus, bordered on the west side by Eighth Street to the south, Hess Street to the west and Cress Street to the north; and on the east side by Thomas Street to the south, Pierce Street to the east and East Morton Street to the north.

The new zoning would limit housing to five students per residence in those districts, while three students per residence would be allowed in the central commercial and limited commercial districts to the north of campus. Outside of these areas, city officials are recommending only two college students be allowed in a dwelling unit.

Landlords who already operate student housing outside of those districts could continue to do so as long as they maintain their annual licenses with the city, said Darlene Heller, the planning director.

Anna Smith, a former director for the Community Action Development Corp. of the Lehigh Valley and the owner of a home on Ridge Street, said that in 2018, property sales were up 34% near Lehigh’s campus and prices went up 18%. But the percentage of new owner-occupied homes was low.

“We heard stories from neighborhoods that had previously housed only a handful of students, but where out-of-state buyers were going door-to-door hoping to buy entire lots of homes to demolish and build luxury student townhomes,” she said. “Since 2018, we have seen prices continue to rise with single-family homes now selling for upwards of $300,000 or more to prospective student housing buyers, who will rent them out at up to $1,000 per bedroom.”

Although student housing has been a part of the community for a long time, events over the last couple years have shifted the balance and left longtime residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhood, Smith said.

Murdocc Saunders said he sold his Hillside Avenue home in the South Side last month. It was the only home his sons, ages 6 and 10, knew. He decided to leave after several students moved in across the street and the house next door was turned into student housing.

“My kids still miss their home,” he said. “As someone who still loves the city of Bethlehem, we still come back. … But don’t let more families like us leave. We want to be there and if there was a house in the right community in south Bethlehem, we would be back there next month.”

Speaking against the ordinance, James Byszewski, of Fifth Street Properties, said he doesn’t think it’s fair that it targets students. He also believes it would also be difficult to enforce.

“By limiting it to students, you open yourself up to a list of challenges when it comes to fair housing,” he said.

Good public response at the Community Development Committee meeting

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

In a lengthy Community Development Committee meeting last night, City officials laid out in detail the proposed ordinance to regulate student housing around Lehigh University, approximately 20 comments from the public were received, heavily weighted in support of the ordinance, and six of the seven City Council members made comments or had questions about it. No vote was taken. The meeting was for the purpose of providing information and gathering comment.

Gadfly is hung over this morning from the combination of the long Council meeting followed by the presidential debate and will provide reports on the various commentary in due course.

Another view on the plea for affordable housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Bud Hackett is a Bethlehem resident who raised 4 kids in the City. He recently became very interested in quality of life issues in the city and hopes to offer a balance to the approach City Council is taking.

ref: “A plea for affordable housing”

Gadfly:

  • Yes, we all want free or reduced price stuff, including food, housing and medical care. Where is my application for a reduced price new car? I’ve never had a new car.
  • The single most important factor in the increased cost of housing is government regulations.
  • Just whining about “we want better priced housing” is — just naïve.
  • Another significant factor in housing cost is the unprecedented influx of new people coming to this community from NY & NJ – pushing the price of housing up. Is that in the best interest of our community?

Is your approach another income transfer from higher income to lower income? Is that really fair?

Bud

A follower asks Gadfly to remind you that you can still call in to City Council tonight if you haven’t signed up beforehand: (610) 997-7963. Wait for the committee chair to ask for call-ins.

A plea for affordable housing (Originally posted June 12, 2019)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

view CDC meeting on YouTube tonight 6PM

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

———

Gadfly’s not getting much done today.

Feels like a Limbo-day, to coin a phrase.

Just waiting.

Waiting for the presidential debate tonight, of course. Lot of anxiety about that. Hard to focus on anything else.

But waiting also for the Community Development Committee to pass on the student housing reduction ordinance. Important decision there.

Did you decide what you are going to do?

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at tonight’s Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

If the ordinance passes tonight, the journey is not done. Still has to go to full Council. So the support letter will stay open for signing till then. Pass the word.

In the Limbo mood, I have been thinking about public discussions “we” have had about affordable housing.

There have been some memorable ones.

Take the City Council meeting of August 22, 2019.

Classic.

Stephen Antalics demands an answer from the “silence of the Lambs” to his argument for a zoning change such as the one that is in front of Council tonight. And Councilwoman Negron thanks him “for keeping us on track,” confesses that she has lost sleep after hearing residents talk of their problems, and announces that she is “not going to go anywhere till something is done.”

Wow!

Powerful moments.

There is great stuff in the Gadfly archives. He hopes some future Bethlehem historian will use it to learn about who we were at this moment in time.

But Gadfly’s most moving affordable housing memory occurred at the end of the May 2019 Nitschmann School meeting on Martin Tower.

———–

Originally posted June 12, 2019

The scene:

Remember the long night meeting on the Martin Tower demolition at Nitschmann?

30-some speakers. Some very animated.

Things wound down.

Discussion fatigue enveloping the hall.

The Mayor made concluding remarks, thanking all concerned.

There was generous applause.

There was the rustle of exiters.

It was over.

We were done.

When an elderly gentleman — oblivious to the fact that last call had been given and the lights were going out — approached the stage-left mic.

To make a plea for affordable housing.

And received the loudest applause of the night.

  • I’ve been here in the Valley since 1965.
  • It’s getting to the point that we can’t afford it.
  • We can’t afford what the new housing costs.
  • I would like to see at least a portion of this property [Martin Tower] be put into something that elderly people who don’t have the strength . . . the money . . .
  • We could move . . . but then we have our doctors here. We can’t afford to drive back and forth.
  • You talk about luxury apartments . . .

One minute and ten seconds. But unforgettable to Gadfly.

The sun was setting on his life.

The sun was setting on the meeting.

But the audience was roused from Tower torpor, mightily aroused.

Gadfly wanted to run for office so we could act on that plea.

Let’s keep that muffled elderly voice and the vigorous chorus of audience support in mind as we think about what the City can do to remedy the lack of affordable housing.

There is a problem, and “we” know in our guts something has to be done about it.

———–

———–

A re-run of Gadfly’s “Tour de Rentz”: from Hillside to First Terrace (original post 7/31/19)

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

view CDC meeting on YouTube tonight 6PM

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

On July 31, 2019 — when he was young and the pandemic was not on the prowl — Gadfly took it upon hisself to cross into the devil-land of student rentals on Hillside Ave.

The occasion was proposed development on First Terrace. Remember that?

The idea was to see for hisself.

To go to the primary source.

Not listening to griping neighbors.

And he conducted a Tour de Rentz. (Isn’t that cute? Rentz = Rents. Gadfly was much funnier then.)

Because of the student housing regulation before the Community Development Committee tonight, and for which we are hoping that you will sign a supporting letter and/or call in tonight — this very amateurish Tour deserves re-running.

Gadfly remembers that while he was touring lower Hillside two cars stopped and the drivers jumped out confronting him with questions to his purpose.

Gadfly was not properly credentialed. As if needing permission from the warlord landlords.

The only voices Gadfly heard on this hot summer day in this Southside ghost town of lower Hillside were the representatives of the landlords. Suspicious. Worried. Of little ol’ Gadfly.

———

Gadfly had to see for himself. He had long heard tales of Southside woe from Olga Negron and Stephen Antalics. He recently heard resident fears of the spectre of “lower Hillside” spreading upward with devastating impact. There was even talk of “existential crisis.” How could this be?

Time for Gadfly to follow his own principle. Time to look at the primary sources.

Gadfly’s Tour de Rentz starts at the foot of Hillside Ave. (approx at 531 Hillside Ave.) alongside the Zoellner Arts Center Parking Garage. It proceeds up Hillside past Thomas and Selfridge, turning on Stoneman, and ending on First Terrace.

Join him. The videos linked below are only a few seconds each.

If you know this neighborhood at all, you probably know it speeding through in a car. Let’s slow down. The Tour de Rentz is on foot.

Tour map

1) Foot of Hillside Ave: looking up the hill, student housing as far as you can see. Just about every house “signed.” The few beautifully full trees left may be an indication that at one time this was a handsome tree-lined street.

2) North (east) side of Hillside: we begin moving up on “lower Hillside,” the heavily dense student-housing section that residents of “upper Hillside” fear is in their future.

3) South (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly is struck by the long string of interesting looking houses. One can easily imagine that they were once comfortable family homes.

4) Farther up on the south (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly admits to being something of a “romantic,” but he was taken by the look of these houses — big living room windows, nice porches, once tree-lined. And the porches up high. He talked with a guy perched far above the sidewalk as he passed — lord of all he surveyed. Gadfly had to crane his neck. A feeling of the first floor on the second floor. Interesting.

5) Turning right off Hillside, south on Thomas, uphill into the Lehigh campus: Gadfly quietly orgasmic at the beautiful double that meets him. What an interesting twin. A sense of size and sturdiness. Gadfly quietly admitting to himself that he expected not to be impressed by the original quality of the homes. Gadfly quietly feeling shame at what has happened here to what once were “homes.”

6) Turning left off Hillside, north on Thomas: looks like an apartment house, was this relatively newly built? Looks out of place with surroundings. Looks clean and nice — but out of place. Doesn’t seem to blend.

7) Back up Hillside again: encountering a “pod” of rentals on the north (east) side, a whole block that collapsed from familytude. Gadfly imagines the male householder drifting down to the Sokols for a brew or two.

8) Turning right off Hillside, south (uphill) on Selfridge: 4 out of 5 houses on the block are rentals, the corner property owner looks to be holding on to a cute house. Gadfly imagines tension in that corner house.

9) Turning left off Hillside, north on Selfridge: look at the fence and stone work on the double next to the corner house. Interesting. Gadfly getting more of an appreciation for the art of building houses on hills. Steep hills.

10) We reach upper Hillside: now predominantly homeowners, but rentals have made a breach. A kind of border crossing here. Gadfly wishes his camera had lingered more on the northside homes along Hillside here.

11) Upper Hillside: (Lousy video.) Not dominated by rentals. Yet. Solitary rental property on the right with trash in front faces well kept, flowered home with a guy gardening on the left. Not a pretty composite picture. Like a spot on a lung of this stretch of neighborhood.

12) Turning right (south), uphill, off Hillside on Stoneman: houses owned by Lehigh Properties, of the recent case about a 40-student dorm on First Terrace before the Planning Commission.

13) Gadfly quizzed separately by an adult and two students about what he was up to. They are fidgety, guilty looking. Suspicious of me. And a bit snarky. Gadfly thought it best not to incite by filming the encounters. Gadfly life expectancies are short as it is.

14) Turning right off the top of Stoneman on to First Terrace: this the spot where Lehigh Properties wants to build a 40-student dorm, knocking down 4 homes to do so. Remember that residents made a determined argument against the proposal in front of the Planning Commission to no avail — but that the Mayor broke the norm and effectively shot down the proposal. But what alternative lurks?

15) Farther along on First Terrace past the 4 houses proposed for demolition to build a large dorm: privately owned homes, signs of care for the houses, signs of domesticity, flowers, gardens, neat lawns, this is a neighborhood. So clear that the proposed dormitory development was dead wrong. Did the developer have any regard at all?

16) Farther yet on First Terrace: view across the Valley, unfortunately not video’d, an exhilarating top of the mountain feel. More clear signs of home care, more clear signs that this is a neighborhood — clear signs of the domestic life endangered by the rental scourge creeping up from below.

Please forgive Gadfly the poopy camera skills. He could name one faithful follower who should have had the job.

sign the letter of support here

———–

Att: Everybody but especially Garrison Streeters, First Terracers, Armory-ers, W. Marketers! Southsiders need our support preserving their neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

———-

Neighborhoods are worth fighting for, the Gadfly has always said.

And over the last two years he has joined with you in that fighting in various parts of the City.

Now the Southsiders around Lehigh need our help.

An ordinance to regulate student housing in that neighborhood comes before the City Council Community Development Committee tonight.

The proposal is fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed, and modeled on national best practices.

It has the imprimatur of the City Administration.

It has been approved by the Planning Commission.

It has been approved by the Zoning Board.

All it needs now is City Council approval.

But we can expect that there will be strong business and perhaps institutional forces opposing it.

Please read the following letter to Council signed by several dozen of the affected neighbors.

And then see the ways in which you can help.

To show your support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at tonight’s Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

———–

Need for student housing regulation long recognized — Now’s the time — Please “sign on”

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

———–

When the collective works of Stephen Antalics — Gadfly #1 — are published, researchers of Bethlehem history will find abundant evidence of this warrior’s dogged battles for preserving the quality of Southside neighborhoods around Lehigh addressed in the ordinance coming before the City Council Community Development Committee Thursday evening.

Who can forget Gadfly #1’s descriptions during public comment at City Council meetings of the cancer that has ravaged the Southside as a result of City zoning decisions.

And here below this Gadfly directs you to just two of Gadfly #1’s printed works on this subject that bookend the last decade.

So now before City Council is a fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed ordinance that aims to regulate student housing in a way that preserves the quality of life in those Southside neighborhoods.

And we’re asking a wide swath of the Bethlehem residents to show City Council the strength of support for this long aborning ordinance.

To show that support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

2012

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Bethlehem should revisit its zoning ordinance.” Morning Call, September 4, 2012.

For a city to maintain an environment of stability, safety and a sense of well-being in the community, its zoning ordinance must require a high ratio of family-owned residences compared to rental properties owned by nonresident landlords. This helps reduce transiency, and the high percentage of family homes also adds to a collective civic pride — an essential community element.

The Bethlehem South Side master plan in 2001 recommended that the area would benefit from more family-owned properties and fewer rentals. That hasn’t happened. The city’s zoning ordinance, adopted May 7, allows up to five unrelated people living together in one unit. This zoning designation encourages property owners to rent to Lehigh University students and others. Families, however, bring stability to a neighborhood.

Why does the Bethlehem administration not change its recent zoning revisions to be in line with other communities? Could not the South Side have a limited student overlay district immediately adjacent to the campus allowing five students, while rental properties outside that district are restricted to two unrelated persons? This would make rentals available to traditional families,

2019

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Student housing conversions harming Bethlehem’s South Side.” Morning Call, July 27, 2019.

In the late 1980s, Bethlehem revised its zoning code to allow up to five unrelated individuals to be recognized as a family and live in one housing unit. According to Jeffrey R. Zettlemoyer, who at that time was the fair housing and labor compliance officer for the city, the increase was an incentive for more student housing conversions.

If one were to time-travel back to the mid-1980s prior to the zoning revision, and drive the streets of the core residential section of the South Side, streets such as Carlton, Montclair, Birkel, Vine, Webster, Polk, Morton, Summit, Fillmore, Thomas, Taylor, Adams, Hillside and Pierce, you would see predominantly well-kept pristine single-family homes resplendent with grass green yards of flower and vegetable gardens and well-appointed porches.

Taking that trip today would reveal houses with large placards stating “Student Housing,” backyards with macadam surfaces to allow for overflow parking, alleys such as Boyce and Boyer streets appearing to be massive parking lots and two or three industrial-sized refuse containers on sidewalks before most houses.

Sidewalks are littered with cups and food containers after loud weekend parties. Bed sheets with messages are strung from second-story windows rallying athletic teams to victory over rivals, creating a college campus atmosphere on the city streets. A rather depressing annual sight is to see groups of people scavenging through piles of discards left by students who have departed for summer vacation. The absence of students and the absence of cars parked on the street gives some streets the appearance of a deserted city.

you can sign the supporting letter here

Please sign letter supporting proposal to regulate student housing

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Gadfly, who has supported encroachments on the quality of life in neighborhoods several times in his buzzing lifetime — perhaps your very own neighborhood — asks cooperation from residents across the city in signing the letter below seeking City Council support for student housing regulation at the Community Development Committee meeting Thursday night.
The issue of Lehigh sprawl is hardly new to Gadfly followers. And here we have an eminently reasonable proposal supported and developed by the City Administration and already approved by the Planning Commission and Zoning Board.
All it needs now is City Council approval.
Here’s overview information that will fill you in completely.
Please click on this link to sign the letter below to show your support for this important safeguard to a Bethlehem neighborhood.
——————
City Council: Support the Regulation of Student Housing in Bethlehem

Dear Bethlehem City Council Members:

We live, work, and/or spend our free time in the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. We are familiar with the multiple faces of this unique community, and we believe that the community’s identity as a place where all are welcome, and where all can establish a social and economic foothold, is key to South Bethlehem’s past and future. Southside neighborhoods are home to former steelworkers, young immigrant families, college professors, transitional and cooperative housing program residents, college students, and young professionals. At this critical moment in our nation’s history, the diversity of residents in Southside neighborhoods and the intentional and informal interactions that occur between those residents shine a light on what can make a community strong and resilient, fostering mutual understanding and cross-cultural dialogue.

Over the last four years, residents and community leaders have identified a disruption in the equilibrium that has kept our neighborhoods diverse. The rapid extension of student housing into neighborhoods further from Lehigh University’s borders has placed several of the Southside’s diverse neighborhoods at risk of being converted to exclusively student areas. Student housing companies are purchasing homes at inflated prices, and some intend to demolish existing housing stock to build luxury student accomodations. Residents have experienced the negative impacts of this spike in investment activity. Some low-income families have been forced to leave rental homes to make way for students; long-term renters and homeowners have fled and others are thinking of following them, and prospective residents struggle to find homes to purchase or rent.

Like most communities in the Lehigh Valley, South Bethlehem has a shortage of affordable housing, and the need for it among our families is clear: 93% of students at Broughal Middle School receive free and reduced lunch. While low-income families have historically had a better chance of finding housing in South Bethlehem, 70% of Southside families currently rent their homes, at rates up to five times lower than rental prices for college students. Without deliberate intervention to regulate the expansion of student housing beyond a designated zone, the affordability, as well as general livability of Southside neighborhoods is at risk.

Although college students in South Bethlehem serve as tutors in local schools, patronize local businesses, and may become permanent residents of our city following graduation, they have very different schedules, social lives, and levels of commitment to their adopted neighborhoods. Maintaining a balance between students and long-term residents helps to foster positive community relationships in neighborhoods beyond the immediate campus borders. By establishing a designated area for any new student housing, our community can ensure that students have safe, well-located residences while maintaining rental and homeownership opportunities and livable neighborhoods for families of all income levels.

We ask you to protect the livability of South Bethlehem’s neighborhoods by supporting Mayor Donchez’s proposal to create a Student Housing Overlay District in south Bethlehem and place common-sense regulations on college student housing in our city. Please act now to preserve and strengthen our diverse Southside community and ensure that safe, affordable housing and stable neighborhoods remain accessible to all.

sign this supporting letter here

More information on the proposal to regulate student housing on the Southside and a request for your help

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

“Although [Lehigh] student housing has been a part of the [Southside] community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.”

Regulating student housing

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Yesterday Anna Smith alerted us to an important meeting of the City Council Community Development Committee (Paige Van Wirt, chair, J. William Reynolds, and Grace Crampsie Smith) to discuss a long-standing concern — the regulation of student housing on the Southside around Lehigh University.

A proposal supported by the City Administration and approved by the Zoning Board and the Planning Commission is working its way to the last stop — City Council.

Just one more approval is needed.

Anna has provided us with this wonderful document that provides background on the problem caused by unregulated student housing, a summary of the proposed regulations, a statement of the value of the ordinance, and answers to frequently asked questions. Here’s all you need to know:

Overview of Student Housing Ordinance (1)

Gadfly supposes his followers are well aware of the present housing situation around Lehigh as well as the historical tension between the University and the surrounding neighborhoods. But here is part of the background section of the above linked overview document that Anna provided for us.

In 2018, community members and City staff identified a series of data points and resident anecdotes that indicated a major shift in the student housing market in south Bethlehem. In a single year, residential property sales were up 34% near Lehigh’s campus, sales prices were up 18%, and the percentage of new owner-occupiers was extremely low. We heard stories from neighborhoods that had previously housed only a handful of student homes for the last decade, but where out of state buyers were going door to door, attempting to convince homeowners that all their neighbors had already sold and that their homes would soon lose their value due to major student housing developments planned for the neighborhood. Realtors were emphasizing news of Lehigh’s expansion and encouraging investors to look far beyond the traditional boundaries of student neighborhoods. Although student housing has been a part of the community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.

A group of concerned Southside residents got together to discuss the future of our neighborhoods, and with support from the City and Southside Vision, hired an expert on housing policy from the University of Pennsylvania to analyze policies and practices that other college communities have used to preserve mixed-income neighborhoods while providing for the necessary amount of off-campus housing.

This proposal to regulate student housing needs visible signs of significant public support to push it over the last hump.

Following Anna’s lead, Gadfly suggests that you:

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

and/or

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

Here’s how everybody can help protect the Southside neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

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

Gadfly:

I’m writing to ask you and fellow Gadfly followers for your help to preserve and protect mixed-income neighborhoods with affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for families in South Bethlehem. Following two years of resident organizing and advocacy, the City of Bethlehem has proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to regulate the expansion of college student housing in south Bethlehem. After a comprehensive, community-engaged planning process, the City has finalized a proposal that is now being considered by City Council. Council has asked for community feedback on the proposal at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 pm in Town Hall, and virtually.

Over the past two years I’ve been a part of a broad group of neighbors, community stakeholders, City staff, and consultants that have analyzed data, collected stories, learned about best practices from other communities, and shared thoughts on what policy changes could help south Bethlehem remain a vibrant, diverse, mixed-income community. Our City staff have recognized the importance of regulating college student housing in our community, but the implementation of their plan is dependent upon Council’s approval.

We need residents who understand what makes south Bethlehem unique and who value affordable housing opportunities for all residents to tell Council that they support the regulation of student housing in our City.

Can we count on you and your followers to do one or more of the following:

  1. Speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal (in person or via phone)
  2. Email City Council members at cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov to express your support for the proposed zoning ordinance amendments
  3. Add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

I will soon be sending you several documents justifying and detailing the plan going to Council that you can share on Gadfly.

I hope that we can count on your support for our neighborhoods!

In solidarity,
Anna