Gadfly imagines a defibrillator moment at the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

Armory 1

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Armory logo

So there was considerable kumbaya from the Head Table at the end of last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory, what is probably the last public meeting before construction begins.

Two of the Commission members really and no doubt sincerely applauded the value of the resident participation.

For example, just before the vote that perhaps once and for all green-lighted the developer, one member said, I “really appreciate the comments from the public today, some very good suggestions, some great dialog here today . . . we’re communicating.”

Whoa! Not so fast.

The residents spoke. But the best they have is hope that the developer was listening and will/might act on their recent ideas and suggestions.

What the neighbors were left with was hope.

Why couldn’t the Planning Commission add some conditions based on resident input?

For instance, the neighbors thought they had a “verbal agreement” with the developer to work together on the barrier fence between the new construction and the adjoining properties.

Likely, nobody mentioned that agreement to the architect. She said that the fence “probably will be that shadow-box type of fencing” that apparently the neighbors had previously talked about.

Probably.

It is not obvious that the developer remembers such an agreement. And Gadfly is no expert in voice tones, but the developer’s “I’m open to discussing it with the neighbors” doesn’t sound to him all that enthusiastic. Listen, see what you think.

And all the PC chair can say, while explicitly agreeing with the neighbors, is that kind of fence “would be something I would hope the developer would consider.”

Hope.

Why could it not have been a condition of approval that the developer and neighbors agree on the fence type?

Period.

Then no need for the neighbors to hope.

A second example.

The subject is tree removal.

Look at how in these words from the PC chair, hope — fragile hope — is the soft pivot (literally in the center of his statement) around which glittering encomiums (good SAT word) about the value of resident ideas orbit.

“The dialog that we’ve had here this evening is important. It’s so important to hear what the neighbors and the taxpayers and the citizens have to add. One thing that was mentioned . . . I hate those lantern flies. I hope the developer does something to remove those trees so that those things don’t come back. Little things like that, those are details, and I won’t even say like small details, those details are vital.”

Damnation, if what the neighbors had to say is so important, if the tree “little” detail is so “vital,” then why not make it a condition of approval that the developer do a certain action?

Period.

Instead of hoping that it will be done.

Does not the PC have that power?

A third example.

And the most significant.

Jeff Pooley describes the “suburban strip-mall type parking area” along Second Avenue in the proposed design and says the “Planning Commission has the opportunity to prevent what could be a kind of a self-inflicted wound,” for all authorities would agree that best practice is to move the building to the street and put parking behind. Even Gadfly knows that from his summer reading in Jeff Speck that he reported on in these pages multiple times.

But all Jeff can do is hope. “Putting suburban strip-mall parking along the street is a great mistake,” you heard in his conclusion, “and one we hope you would prevent.”

Hope.

Now this is a big point. A major revision of the design. And one determining the look and feel of a gateway to the West Side.

If ever there was an invitation to “great dialog,” there it was.

Wouldn’t it have been a great moment — for Gadfly a defibrillator moment —  if the PC chair had turned — politely — to the architect and asked for her professional response to Jeff’s comment?

Instead there was a polite “Thank you, Mr. Pooley,” and the chair moved on.

That kind of design comment/question might as well be spoken in another language in meetings like this.

Gadfly is reminded of his recent muddle over 548 N. New (see the sidebar to refresh on this pertinent series of posts). By the time that Bill Scheirer, Kim Carrell-Smith, and Jerry Vergilio questioned the design, it was too late in the process.

The process is then too far along for a proposal to be questioned much less for it to fail.

Something is wrong with such a process in which such significant and informed public commentary is not aired and addressed earlier.

Planning Commissioner backpatting was well meaning but a bit self-serving. Communication is two-way. The PC didn’t act when it could have. Didn’t speak when it should have.

Armistice on the Armory

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The neighbors might not be totally happy — and for sure a “still deeply demoralized” Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley fired a last shot, looking back at 2017 and 2018 when the Zoning Hearing Board approved variances seemingly “over the objections of the entire neighborhood” and making “a mockery of the zoning code” — but peace apparently has come to the dispute over development of the Armory.

Jeff Pooley:

Last Thursday the Planning Commission approved plans from Peron for the development of the Armory site on the West Side, ending about three years of discussion, some of which was quite tension-filled.

Former Mayor John Callahan, Director of Development for Peron, summarized the project, emphasizing that the plan is going forward under historical guidelines and has been presented to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission — which was music to Gadfly’s ears.

John Callahan:

At the meeting approximately a half-dozen residents asked questions, offered statements, and made constructive comments on such topics as parking, traffic, traffic visibility, bike parking, green space, appropriate trees, view blocking, environmental pollution, and walkability.

Concluding comments by the Commission members framed the project and the resident participation in positive terms, and Gadfly would especially call your attention to the comments by Mr. Malozi in the following clip, in which he finds “quite a lot of net positive for this type of project” (“urban infill,” “adaptive reuse of a historic structure,” “walkability,” desirable “density,” sufficient parking, safety, LANTA enhancements, traffic calming, possible boon to the downtown and feet on the street).

Planning Commission concluding statements:

It just might be that Thursday marked the last meeting on a long and sometimes bumpy road.

But Gadfly says look for at least one more post as he reflects on this meeting and the planning process related to the Armory and development in Bethlehem in general.

Nicole Radzievich, “Redevelopment of Historic Bethlehem armory approved 3 years after it was proposed.” Morning Call, November 14, 2019.

The historic Floyd Simons armory in west Bethlehem would be recast as an artist’s studio and living space surrounded by 70 apartments, under plans the Planning Commission approved Thursday.The 10,000-square-foot drill hall would include a studio and apartment for painter and sculptor Emil Lukas and his wife, who now live in Stockertown.

In addition, the basement of the armory, which once housed a rifle range, would be converted to a fitness center, meeting rooms and other amenities, according to owners Peron Development.

The project would also include 70 apartments built in and around other armory structures at 345 Second Ave. That would include 64 units in four-story building attached to the former armory, and six apartments converted from two garage additions at the existing armory.

A portion of the area of Second Avenue that widens would be narrowed and a landscaped median installed to slow down traffic. There would be 101 parking spots available, and grassy patches would replace some stretches of macadam, producing a smaller impervious-surface footprint than what is there now.

In justifying his support for the land development and subdivision approval, Planning Commission member Matthew Malozi said the project contains a lot of the themes the city has been pushing: historic redevelopment, walkability, and the density of housing near the downtown.

Jeff Pooley, who lives on Prospect Avenue near the armory, questioned, among other things, why the off-street parking is close to the street like a suburban strip mall. Modern urban design, he said call for buildings to be closer to the street and parking behind.

According to the Historic Register nominating form, the art deco-style building is a good example of the structures designed for military training before World War II, and the architectural details would be retained in its reuse.

“The Rose Garden is the centerpiece of West Bethlehem”

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Press Release from State Rep. Jeanne McNeill:

BETHLEHEM, Nov. 14 – State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Lehigh, has announced that a $210,000 state grant has been awarded to the Rose Garden Park in Bethlehem to renovate the facility.

The Rose Garden Park is an eclectic park that has a play area and has a replica of the first home in Bethlehem and a Civil War monument. The garden features more than 100 variety of flowers.

“The Rose Garden is the centerpiece of West Bethlehem,” McNeill said.  “The park will undergo some improvements that all can enjoy including walking and biking paths, a picnic area, and additional shade in front of the bandshell for concertgoers.  I was very happy to work with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to secure the funding for this treasured park in my district.”

The grant was awarded through DCNR’s Community Conservation and Partnerships Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to local governments, river and trail organizations, and trusts, and other nonprofits for planning, acquisition and development of park, recreation, conservation and greenway project.

——

An email from the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association spreading the good news contained this litany of thanks:

Lots of thanks are needed for this wonderful support for our Rose Garden Project.
Thank you, Jeanne for getting this through the State.
Thank you to Amy Zanelli and Phil Armstrong in Lehigh County.
Thank you to Mayor Donchez and our City Council members who voted unanimously to give us $!00 k in matching funds so this project could go forward.
Thank you to Darlene Heller (City planner), Cindy Smith (former City arborist), Chris (from public works) for putting the details in the plans. And I’m sure there are others .

AND THANK YOU CHRISTY ROYSDON FOR ROUNDING US ALL UP AND GETTING US TO WRITE OUR PARTS OF THE APPLICATION!

THANK YOU! THANK YOU, EVERYONE!

Emergency shelter for the homeless not permitted to open early

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A post on the Next Door Mauch Chunk blog urges residents to attend the November 19 City Council meeting to discuss this.

Sara Satullo, “Complaint forces Bethlehem cold-weather homeless shelter to ditch early opening amid frigid temps.” lehighvalleylive.com, November 15, 2019.

Bethlehem’s emergency shelter for the homeless hoped to open for the season early due to the Lehigh Valley’s deep freeze but a neighbor complaint thwarted the effort.

In 2017, the shelter at Christ Church United Church of Christ, 72. E. Market St., got zoning approval to operate from Dec. 1 to March 31 each year. On average, the church houses 65 men and women from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. each night.

Posts on the group’s Facebook page indicate the shelter hoped to open on Friday evening as the region’s been gripped by frigid air with temperatures dropping well-below freezing at night. Overnight temperatures Friday and Saturday are set to dip to lows of 26 and 25 degrees.

But it seems a neighbor complained, forcing the shelter to adhere to the schedule approved by the Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board.

“All of us who support BES and our mission to serve our street neighbors are deeply disappointed in the situation that forced us to delay our opening until December 1. However, the board is requesting that people refrain from making any disparaging comments about those in the neighborhood or others who have voiced concerns about the shelter,” Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering board chair Rodney Conn said in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page. “We have and continue to work with the community to ensure that the Shelter operations provide security to our neighbors, the Church, our volunteers, and our guests. Thank you for your cooperation.”

The nonprofit group began hosting rotating shelters for men and women at area churches in 2009. It was a realization of a dream when in December 2017 the nonprofit opened a permanent co-ed shelter in the heart of the city’s Historic District.

The shelter and the city began requiring anyone staying at the shelter to first register at the nearby police station to obtain a voucher last year in response to neighbor complaints. Police run a criminal check to ensure a person does not have outstanding warrants or is a sex offender.

The church also hired professional security guards last year and installed surveillance cameras in response to neighbor complaints.

Ron Yoshida on his Japanese journey

logo (8th in a series of posts on Ron Yoshida’s pilgrimage) logo

Yoshida 5

We followed follower Ron on his 88 temple henro.

And now he tells all.

“88 Buddhist Temples”

at the Hi Neighbors series

First Presbyterian Church
2344 Center Street

Monday, November 18, 11AM

Temple 3

“Please wear the clothes of the Buddha’s great compassion.”
Kukai (Kobo Daishi)

Buddha: “I am the awakened one.”

More wonderful Bethlehem women

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The Secret

The Secret begins one day, in late nineteenth century Bethlehem, when sixteen year-old, Helen Wolle, mother of H.D., entered a Moravian Seminary classroom to rehearse a song she looked forward to performing. Much to her shock and, in fact, trauma, she was roughly told to be quiet, to end “this dreadful noise” by her pastor grandfather, Papalie. And Helen, who loved to sing so much and so well, would never sing again in public. The focus of the panel will be on women in leadership. We will connect the panel to the play via a question that Mamalie (Hilda’s maternal grandmother) asks Hilda in the beginning of the play, and H.D. asks the audience at the end of the play: “Who will follow the music?” 

Gadfly is not done with showcasing the outstanding Bethlehem women who participated in the panel that followed a Festival Unbound performance of “The Secret,” the play about H. D.’s life. You will remember from our two previous installments here that moderator Jennie Gilrain gave the eight panelists about five minutes each to talk about their “dreams, hopes, works” and perhaps to recount a time when they were “encouraged or inspired or discouraged and oppressed from following your music.” Short biographies of these women can be found here.

Emily Santana, a woman from a modest household who dreamed of impossible things and, when accepted to college, was told by someone very, very close to her, “O, wow, I didn’t realize you would amount to something” — causing her to think about who decides your value, and about challenging expectations people have, not just of her, but any category of person, especially of our children.

Margaret Kavanagh –who has “a little job,” is “just a custodian” and doesn’t “know why I am here” — tells kids to be kind, help each other out, and if you can’t do random acts of kindness, “just don’t be a jerk.” Margaret  beats herself up sometimes but has an awesome therapist. Advice: be a positive influence on people around you.

to be continued . . .

Festival UnBound
Closed but never forgotten

Discussion of the golf course budget drifts off the fairway

logo 9th in a series of posts on the 2020 Budget logo

Before going any further, Gadfly invites you to spend a light few minutes with the public comment by Jack Hoy (Huy?) at the last City Council meeting.

82-year-old Mr. Hoy gave us all a few chuckles as, bringing several clubs as exhibits, he proclaimed his pride and appreciation in the Bethlehem Golf Course that signaled the dramatic, positive change there over the past year.

Hoy was such a great warm and sincere salesman for this major part of our recreational system that at Wednesday’s budget hearing Council members quipped that he was a plant by Business Manager Eric Evans to support the Golf budget statements.

You might remember that back in 2018 the golf course was a hot issue. It was losing money and deteriorating in quality. Should we sell it, lease it, dedicate a pot of money to it??  Tricky issue. And a high priority for many vocal residents.

There was a meeting in which Town Hall was filled with angry and concerned golfers, the like of which Gadfly hadn’t seen and won’t soon forget.

Business Manager Eric Evans seemed to take charge of the course’s fate, advocating for a viable future path. The decision was to make the course operate as a business and to be self-supporting, and Larry Kelchner — a retired businessman — was hired to manage the course.

Mr. Kelchner was impressive at the budget hearing Wednesday, and the performance of the course over the year has even changed Councilwoman Van Wirt’s mind about it — because last year she was skeptical about the course’s future.

So Mr. Kelchner pretty much simply received plaudits and engaged in congenial conversation till it was if someone stepped on a landmine unobtrusively planted in a fairway and for several minutes the meeting blew up.

Please go to the City video of Wednesday’s budget hearing #2, part 4 min. 21:20 to the end and part #5 up to min. 12:15.

You know that an important part of Gadfly’s mission is to help and encourage you to know your Councilpeople so that when it comes time to vote you are doing so as well informed as you can be.

This 15 mins. is well worth viewing in this respect.

Councilman Callahan raised a legitimate question about the difference in cost between adults and kids for greens fees and season passes but not at the driving range and claimed that was driving (no pun intended) kids away from golfing there.

For instance, a round of golf on the 18hole course is $24 for adults, $16 for kids, but at the driving range it’s $10/bucket for both — same price. At one point BC seemed to be asking for a reduction to $5, on the grounds that the differential in the other fees made the case that we recognized that kids can’t afford the same as adults.

And, said BC, the consequence was that the kids were not using the facility because of the cost — kids whom BC wanted there to keep them off the streets.

So far so good.

On its face, that is not unreasonable.

Then things went out of bounds.

At one one point BC seemed to be saying that there were no kids at the course because of this fee differential while LK was saying that there were plenty of kids there.

In answer to BC, EE and LK said the fee at the driving range was “industry standard” and documented various examples of their generous involvement with and solicitation of junior golfers.

But BC wouldn’t seem to accept that explanation and pressed on.

Tension escalated when Councilwoman Van Wirt tried to get the discussion to move on, which met with a curt response from BC, and pretty soon there were hard words between President Waldron and BC, including suggestions that BC was arguing for special interests — for example, “paving” was mentioned, seemingly totally unrelated to the golf discussion.

Odd. Where did that come from? One of those times where other people know things you don’t. Other issues bubbling under the surface. And you feel left out of the conversation.

Paving?

Gadfly was not sure of what AW spoke, but he immediately thought of BC at the first budget hearing indicating twice that major road work was needed. Major paving.

Had BC been promoting paving interests there?

In any event, BC was rather heatedly defensive, and protested unfairness.

Now Gadfly — as always — suggests you go to the tape yourself and make judgment if judgment needs to be made.

Perhaps Gadfly will only say that there is a “history” of BC interactions with Council members that has resulted in short fuses among his colleagues.

Tempers escalate quickly.

After a previous Council flare-up involving BC (the Zoning Board nomination issue about which Gadfly devoted 10 posts), Gadfly responded to President Waldron’s invitation (to us all) to comment on the way he handles discussion.

Gadfly suggested that President Waldron consider a discussion rule based in Roberts Rules:

  • a limit of 10 minutes, then others are given an opportunity to speak
  • after others have spoken or passed on the opportunity to speak, another 10 minutes
  • any further 10-minute time after that only with majority vote of the other Council members

After you view the tape of this heated episode, however, Gadfly suggests that you go back and bask in Mr. Hoy’s ray of golf course sunshine again.

Gadfly bets his game is as sharp as his wit.