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APRIL 8, 2003 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Tuesday, April 8, 2003 – 7:30 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President Gregory called the meeting to order. Mr. Callahan offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Ismael Arcelay, Jean Belinski, John B. Callahan, Robert J. Donchez, J. Michael Schweder, Magdalena F. Szabo, and James S. Gregory, 7.
Mr. Arcelay, communicating that tonight he looks forward to start serving the community, stated that, as a member of the community, he is aware of the many issues presently facing it. Mr. Arcelay continued on to advise that he spent this past weekend reviewing the past minutes associated with tonight’s discussion. Mr. Arcelay stressed that tonight he looks forward to hearing the most important part of the discussion that is the people present at the meeting this evening.
Public Parking - City Hall Garage
President Gregory, stating that he would like to address a memorandum he sent to the Mayor, read the memorandum, as follows: “Would you please consider my request to have the gates to City Hall Garage open and a Police Officer stationed at the entrance so that citizens who are coming to the Public Hearing that will begin at 7:30 PM can park in the City Hall Garage.” President Gregory read the response, as follows: “Your request to have the gates open at City Hall cannot be granted. The gates at City Hall will remain closed for the following reason. The current national threat level remains at orange, and the Department of Homeland Security continues to stress the need for heightened security at all public buildings. In the event the Department of Homeland Security reduces the threat level in the future, the Administration’s position will be reevaluated. As Police Commissioner, I am the person responsible for the safety of visitors and employees in the City Hall complex. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not take precautions to protect their safety.”
Time Limits for Speakers
President Gregory advised that he would address the issue of time limits. President Gregory confirmed that he made a request of Council to limit the time of speakers this evening to approximately five minutes since he felt people should be able to say what they have to say in five minutes. Noting there is a Vote Yes group and a No Mall group, President Gregory explained he would assume if they wanted to speak in a sense as a group, then 20 people times 5 minutes provides about an hour which he thought would be sufficient. However, President Gregory informed the assembly that Members of Council did not want to limit the time. President Gregory continued on to advise that, if speakers want to continue on with their comments, he would probably ask them to please get to the point because sometimes when speakers continue on other speakers do not get the opportunity to have their say. President Gregory remarked he would not want people to have to be at the meeting this evening until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. because one person decided they needed a half hour to speak. Affirming that, as a result, he is not going to request a time limit, President Gregory communicated he would ask everyone to try to do their best to let everyone be heard tonight. President Gregory said, from his perspective, since there are no limits, he will be at the meeting until the last person leaves tonight, and added that he wants to complete the meeting tonight.
President Gregory explained to those present that no vote will be taken tonight by City Council because it is a Public Hearing. The first vote will take place at the next City Council Meeting on April 15, 2003.
Mrs. Belinski, remarking she would be prepared to stay until 6:00 or 7:00 AM, pointed out that many people have to go to work in the morning. Mrs. Belinski recalled that, at the beginning of the meeting last year on this topic, a cutoff time was established of 11:00 PM by which time if there were many more speakers to be heard then the meeting would be continued to a second evening. Mrs. Belinski continued on to recount that at 11:00 PM last year, after a show of hands, Council voted to decide to continue the meeting and it ended at 11:45 PM. Mrs. Belinski wondered if Council could do the same tonight in setting a time for the meeting tonight to conclude and then continue the meeting to another night so that everyone has a chance to air their concerns and speakers are not being limited to five minutes.
President Gregory, highlighting the fact that many of the No Mall group also felt the meeting should be divided into two sessions, expressed he disagrees but pointed out that Mrs. Belinski has the right to make any motion she wishes.
Motion - Time of Ending the Meeting
Mrs. Belinski moved to end the meeting at 11:00 PM unless it is seen that the public comment portion is almost at the end and then a vote could be taken to continue the meeting.
Mr. Schweder seconded the motion.
Mr. Donchez, commenting he does not know that he is in favor of ending the meeting at 11:00 PM, said what Council should do is what was done the last time and is what he thought Mrs. Belinski meant which is at 11:00 PM Council should evaluate how many people still want to speak and make a judgment at that point, rather than making a decision now. Mr. Donchez advised he would be willing to go to 12:00 or 12:30 AM.
In response to Mr. Schweder, Mrs. Belinski restated her motion as follows: that at 11:00 PM Council reevaluate and decide then how many additional people would like to be heard, and as to how long Council would spend at tonight’s meeting.
Mr. Schweder seconded the motion.
President Gregory, asserting “we can’t have the best of both worlds. We invited all these people to come tonight. I asked that we limit their speeches so we could get by before 11:00 PM, but nobody on Council wanted to limit the time so now I’m saying if we’re not going to limit the time it’s going to be a long meeting…In my opinion, we either do one or the other, we ask that the speakers limit the time or we do not limit the time of the meeting.”
Mrs. Belinski wondered whether the speaking time for the developer would be limited and highlighted the fact that the developer’s presentation at the Planning Commission meeting took two and a half hours.
President Gregory, highlighting the fact that Mr. Petrucci is the developer, expressed the belief that Mr. Petrucci had said he needs an hour this evening. President Gregory, denoting he is going to ask Mr. Petrucci to do his best to keep his presentation as short as possible, stressed he is asking everyone here to do that tonight.
Mrs. Belinski asked whether President Gregory is going to allow the pro mall and no mall groups, who are organized and have a well-organized presentation, their time to do their presentations as Mr. Petrucci is going to be allowed to give his presentation.
President Gregory responded everybody outside of the developer who has signed up will be able to speak as their names come up, and if they did not sign up they can speak afterwards. President Gregory advised he is not giving any particular special time to one group or the other, as is the case at every other Council Meeting.
Mrs. Belinski advised that Attorney Donald Miles, who had a conflict and is unable to be at this evening’s meeting, personally hand delivered a letter to her home. Mrs. Belinski said she would like the letter entered into the record of tonight’s meeting.
Attorney Christoper Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, affirming that the letter has been received, noted there will be segment of the agenda where that will be acknowledged and made a part of this record.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Callahan, Mr.
Donchez, Mr. Schweder, and Ms. Szabo, 6. Voting NAY: Mr. Gregory,
1. The motion passed.
Motions – Limiting Time of Speakers
President Gregory moved to limit the time of each speaker to five minutes. There was no second to the motion.
President Gregory moved to limit the time of each speaker to six minutes. There was no second to the motion.
President Gregory expressed the hope that Council is going to take his point into consideration that anyone who wants to tie up the meeting can do so and pointed out that is not what everyone is here for. President Gregory informed the assembly that, if he sees that happening, he will do his best to restrict that from occurring.
Ms. Szabo moved to limit the time of each speaker to ten minutes, because of the fact that there are so many people who wish to speak. President Gregory seconded the motion.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Gregory, 3. Voting NAY: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Schweder, 4. The motion failed.
Public Hearing – Rezoning Former Durkee Tract on Eighth Avenue - LI Light Industrial to IR Industrial Redevelopment (19.77 Acres) and RT Residential (12.87 Acres)
President Gregory called to order a Public Hearing to consider a request of Tiger Den Partners, LLC to rezone from LI Light Industrial District to IR Industrial Redevelopment District approximately 19.77 acres bounded on the east by Eighth Avenue, on the north by Rosemont Manor Subdivision, on the west by lands of Tiger Den Partners, LLC, and on the south by lands of Norfolk Southern Railway Company; and from LI Light Industrial District to RT Residential District approximately 12.87 acres bounded on the east by lands of Tiger Den, LLC, on the north by Rosemont Manor Subdivision, on the west and south by lands of Norfolk Southern Railway Company.
7 A. Lehigh Valley Planning Commission – Rezoning Request - Former Durkee Tract on Eighth Avenue - LI to IR and RT
The Clerk read a letter (Communication 7 A) dated February
28, 2003 from Frederic
Brock, Assistant Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, as follows:
"The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission considered the
above referenced matter at the
February 27, 2003 meeting pursuant to the requirements of the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). The Commission voted to return the following comments for your use. The Commission finds that the following comments, expressed in a September 28, 2001 review of a previous rezoning proposal for this site, are also relevant to the current proposal. 'The proposed rezoning is intended to enable the redevelopment of a site formerly in industrial uses. The Comprehensive Plan for Lehigh and Northampton Counties supports the redevelopment of existing vacant industrial sites. The Commission finds the proposed zoning district(s) to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The proposed rezoning would enable site development in a way that would result in a considerable traffic impact. The City should assure that the traffic impacts of the rezoning and the subsequent development are mitigated. Further consideration is needed to satisfactorily resolve these issues.'"
7 B. Planning Commission - Rezoning Request - Former Durkee
Tract on Eighth Avenue - LI
to IR and RT
The Clerk read a memorandum (Communication 7 B) dated March 21, 2003 from Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, as follows: "At its March 19, 2003 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 3 to 1 to recommend that City Council approve the rezoning of 1001 Eighth Avenue, the Durkee property, from Light Industrial to Industrial Redevelopment and RT - Residential as proposed. It was a difficult decision for the Commission and each member gave detailed, well thought out reasons for his or her decision. One member expressed concerns about the residential zoning in the rear portion of the lot because of its proximity to existing industrial uses and the proposed I-R Zone, but decided to recommend approval of the overall project because of their strong feeling that the I-R Zoning is sorely needed in the front portion of the lot."
Planning Director Comments
Ms. Heller stated that the rezoning request proposes that the front 19.77 acres of the former Durkee spice plant site be rezoned from LI Light Industrial to IR Industrial Redevelopment, and the rear 12.87 acres be rezoned from LI Light Industrial to RT Residential. The entire parcel is about 33 acres. It is currently all zoned Light Industrial. It is bordered by residential uses in the RG zoning district to the north, Eighth Avenue to the east, rail lines and other light industrial properties to the south and the west. Route 378 ramps enter onto Eighth Avenue immediately south of the property. Route 378 is a limited access highway. Eighth Avenue is a State road and is an arterial north-south corridor. The parcel is currently landlocked to the rear, and is a relatively low spot compared to Eighth Avenue elevations or the elevations of the residential properties to the north. Eighth Avenue corridor is largely commercial in nature. Ms. Heller, noting she received some criticism for that position at the Planning Commission meeting, said she believes that it is true, and added that the site is within a mixed use area. Ms. Heller stated that any rezoning proposal should take the mixed use nature of the area into consideration, and ensure that any future uses are compatible with the wide array of currently existing uses.
Ms. Heller reiterated that the front 19 acres is proposed to be rezoned to IR, to accommodate a home improvement center, a bank, and a restaurant. Affirming that the IR zoning district was created to facilitate the redevelopment of abandoned or underutilized industrial sites, Ms. Heller said the specific purpose of the zoning district reads “to promote the economic revitalization of underutilized heavy industrial properties. In order to accomplish this purpose, a variety of land uses will be permitted within the district, and flexible design standards will be applied during site plan approval process.” Ms. Heller continued on to say that, at the Planning Commission meeting, the public correctly pointed out that this site is zoned Light Industrial rather than Heavy Industrial. But, Ms. Heller explained, the intent and purpose of the zoning district is applicable here. The zoning district permits a variety of commercial, retail, office, and light industrial uses. It specifically does not permit what are considered to be the more noxious industrial uses. The district also allows some flexibility in area, yard, and building requirements, and in off-street parking requirements. Ms. Heller observed that a significant portion of the Comprehensive Plan is devoted to discussion of the reuse of the City’s older, industrial properties. Although much of the text is directed at reuse of the Bethlehem Steel property, Ms. Heller noted that the same importance for the reuse of the industrial land applies at the Durkee site. She noted that the site is at a prime location for reuse for commercial, or light industrial redevelopment due to its location on an arterial street, and its immediate access to a limited access highway. The rezoning of the parcel to IR will facilitate the reuse of a valuable but abandoned industrial parcel. Ms. Heller stated that the IR zoning district is therefore an appropriate rezoning change for this property.
Ms. Heller, turning to the rear 12.87 acres of the site, confirmed it is proposed to be rezoned to Residential RT. Ms. Heller explained that the zone is actually L shaped, and there is an approximate 120 foot wide piece that extends along the northern line in an easterly direction to the proposed Martin Court that would be the public street that enters into the site. This abuts the RG zoning district to the north, but there is no proposal to connect the two districts. Ms. Heller observed that the abutting RG district is mostly single family attached and detached dwellings. She advised that both districts permit single family and multi-family dwellings. However, Ms. Heller noted the density permitted in the RT zoning district is greater than that permitted in the RG district. The proposed sketch plan shows 200 multi family units on the lot in three story buildings. Ms. Heller expressed that the Comprehensive Plan notes that Bethlehem’s livable neighborhoods are its greatest amenity. She communicated that the City must encourage quality housing as opportunities for a variety of residents, and quality housing is the building block of any neighborhood. Ms. Heller observed that a major thrust of the plan is to set the stage to achieve opportunities for all in the housing market. She added that, as noted in the text, if allowed and encouraged, the private sector can apply its creativity to issues of density, design, and diversity. If the property is ultimately rezoned to RT, Ms. Heller acknowledged that careful attention will have to be given to the design and layout of the lot to ensure its compatibility with its surroundings. She observed that the developer has shown in the sketch plans ample landscaping, a well landscaped entranceway, and additional site details that should be included in the ultimate rezoning of the lot to RT.
Ms. Heller, focusing on traffic, affirmed that a detailed traffic study has been completed by the developer that has been extensively reviewed by the City’s traffic consultant and the City’s traffic coordinator. Ms. Heller advised their comments indicate that the current submission has substantially enhanced the proposed traffic improvements from the former Bethlehem Town Center plan. Additional improvements include total reconstruction of the Martin Tower driveway, an additional left turn lane at the developer’s driveway, development of an exclusive left turn lane on Eighth Avenue from north of Eaton Avenue to the developer’s driveway, and an additional traffic signal at the northbound Route 378 off-ramp. Ms. Heller stated that these additional improvements along with the improvements proposed in the original 2001 traffic study will vastly improve safety on Eighth Avenue for both motorists and pedestrians. She added that these traffic impacts and proposed public improvements are commented on in more detail by both the traffic coordinator and the traffic consultant.
Ms. Heller restated that at its March 19, 2003 meeting the Planning Commission did vote to recommend that City Council approve the rezoning of this site from LI to IR and RT as proposed. In addition, the Planning Bureau, the City Administration, and the Mayor also support this project as it is before City Council.
Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick, attorney for the developer, said that in fairness to Council and the public, and in recognition of the thorough job the Planning Commission did in hearing the developer’s presentation, and in realizing that Council and the public will have access to all of the exhibits, reports, data, submissions, and studies previously filed, he wants to acknowledge that Council for the most part is well familiar with the site. Attorney Fitzpatrick, commenting that less than a year ago City Council was pondering a rezoning and is familiar with its physical attributes and its history, thought that as a matter of law Council can take judicial notice of its proceedings at that prior consideration and there is not the need to renew or review every aspect of the proposal. Attorney Fitzpatrick, referring to motions made earlier, said from the developer’s standpoint there is no question that delay is at least an indefinite denial. Attorney Fitzpatrick expressed concurrence there is no need for supporters to take ten minutes to express their support. So that the proceedings can move in a prompt fashion to the supporters or proponents of what Mr. Petrucci is asking for, Attorney Fitzpatrick suggested that no filibusters are required.
Attorney Fitzpatrick said “we’re here tonight
with a self-explanatory petition to rezone.” Attorney
Fitzpatrick advised that the proposal is not the same as a
proposal last year starting with the truth that there are
two zoning districts proposed for the tract, neither of which
was before Council last year. Attorney Fitzpatrick, stating
that the 32.6 acre parcel of land is currently zoned LI, affirmed
it is requested that the Eighth Avenue frontage of the property
be rezoned to IR being approximately 19.79 acres, and the
rear portion, largely the portion abutting near residential
development on Stanford Road, be rezoned to RT, multi-family
residential, which is about 12.78 acres. Attorney Fitzpatrick,
making reference to exhibit AX and noting there are extra
copies of it, identified that the exhibit is an aerial map,
available to the public at the Lehigh County Assessor’s
Office, at the GIS office. It shows an area in the immediate
vicinity of Eighth Avenue and Route 378 and depicts the former
Durkee plant. It also depicts neighborhoods to the north and
west on the opposite side of Route 378. Attorney Fitzpatrick
stressed it is key to note that the parcel is not an isolated
non-residential use in a sea of neighborhoods and is a mixed
use. To the west of the property and along Route 378, and
not counting schools or recreational areas, there are any
number of industrial, employment, and commercial uses including
the B. Braun complex, Synthetic Thread company, and Apollo
Metals. Attorney Fitzpatrick denoted that to the far east
in the aerial photograph it shows the entire industrial complex
along the creek just west of the Moravian College campus,
and in the middle the most daunting and obvious feature is
the looming shadow of Martin Tower next to the Dun and Bradstreet
complex at former Bethlehem Steel offices that is directly
across the street from the site in question. Attorney Fitzpatrick,
stating that the aerial photograph is worth three hours of
his argument and witnesses testimony, said “we are in
the middle of a gigantic commercial, industrial swath that
cuts through a commercial and industrial and neighborhood
city.” Attorney Fitzpatrick, advising that the IR use
is appropriate, said “this is underutilized commercial.
Before you tonight we are not presenting any land development.
We are not presenting anything other than this rezoning with
the subdivision on an informational basis as we described
at the Planning Commission. In capsulizing this rezoning request,
Attorney Fitzpatrick said, "number one, the non-residential
component is clearly smaller than the prior non-residential
component. More importantly, you are looking at a Lowe’s
store which is the smallest Lowe’s prototype…It’s
a 116,000 square foot retail area, with a 17,000 square foot
office and storage component plus an outdoor garden center
area…The prior retail application before you with the
CS zoning designation called for 222,000 square feet of retail
and commercial. We are asking for a branch bank on a pad,
a sit down restaurant on a pad, and a 116,000 square foot
Lowe’s retail store with an outdoor garden center that’s
not incorporated within that.” Attorney Fitzpatrick
noted there will be testimony briefly to the fact that traffic
will be improved, and movement, handling of congestion, physical
improvements to the traffic, network, and grid in this area
of the City will be improved with the construction of improvements
contemplated under this rezoning. Attorney Fitzpatrick, pointing
out there are a number of letters of support from State legislators,
County and local agencies, including the Lehigh Valley Planning
Commission, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation,
the Brownfields Coalition, and so on, asked that those letters
be taken note of as the witnesses are heard.
Stephen Pany, project engineer for the on-site improvements, said the company’s address is 609 Hamilton Mall, Allentown. Attorney Fitzpatrick posed a number of questions to Mr. Pany whose responses follow. Mr. Pany affirmed he is a professional engineer registered in Pennsylvania and numerous other states, and is the supervising professional engineer for the Petrucci rezoning and the anticipated land development project. Mr. Pany explained that exhibit A1 is the existing features plan that depicts the Durkee site, approximately 34 acres, and the current improvements on the site which include a 255,000 sq. ft. building with interior mezzanines of about 20,000 square feet, parking lots, railroads, on-site rail sitings, perimeter rail which is currently vacated, and other general features. Turning to a current 2003 photograph of the former Durkee building, and affirming he also has a practice that concentrates in structural engineering, Mr. Pany summarized that although the building is robust, it is basically inefficient and could be utilized but the feeling is it does not belong there any more. The property has been vacant possibility about nine and a half years. Mr. Pany acknowledged that while the building has general employment center and general industrial employment facility application, it is basically non-functional. Mr. Pany explained that the building was probably initially built circa 1950 with subsequent additions into the 1970’s, it had a specific purpose at one time, and was for a specific industry. However, it has seen its days. There are 30 loading docks. The railroad tracks that border the building to the south have been abandoned. Norfolk Southern owns the right of way but no longer provides service to the site area, and there is the intention that the tracks will be removed. Mr. Pany confirmed there are adequate sanitary, storm water and electrical easements, and gas, phone and water utility availability along Eighth Avenue which will all be reutilized. Affirming that the breakdown of IR and RT zoning as requested in the petition is set forth in descriptions and depictions prepared by Mr. Pany’s firm, Mr. Pany said the zoning exhibit depicts the IR zone, areas and distances, as well as the RT zone.
Attorney Fitzpatrick affirmed that existing features plan is marked A1, the back of the photograph showing existing plant conditions is marked A2, and the rezoning plan is marked applicant’s exhibit A3.
Mr. Pany explained the plan reflects two proposed zones, IR to the east of the property that will front Eighth Avenue, and RT to the west of the property which will border a railroad and the residential neighborhood.
Attorney Fitzpatrick denoted he has a subdivision plan for informational purposes before City Council as it was for the Planning Commission meeting, and is marked A4. Mr. Pany, confirming that he prepared the subdivision plan, explained that it reflects lot one that would be a site to accommodate two pads; i.e., a restaurant and a bank, lot two will accommodate the Lowe’s, and lot three will accommodate the residential development. Mr. Pany affirmed that the acreages Attorney Fitzpatrick mentioned in his introduction were accurate and are reflected in Mr. Pany’s plans. Mr. Pany, agreeing he would concur with the information presented with respect to the size of the proposed retail center, commented there is a proposed Lowe’s building which is 134,000 square feet under roof, plus an exterior garden center of about 26,000 square feet. Attorney Fitzpatrick, affirming that he said it was 116,000 sq. ft., noted that the 134,000 sq. ft. includes approximately 17,000 sq. ft. plus of office with which figures Mr. Pany expressed his concurrence.
Mr. Pany advised there will be landscaping along the north boundary line that will abut the residential district, it will be a solid barrier division, and very dense screening will be proposed along the north property line for the full length of the property. Mr. Pany, turning to drainage facilities, explained that, predominately, the site slopes downward to the south and water from the site drains to the railroad right of way, some of the water drains under the railroad to PennDot property, and ultimately to the Monocacy Creek. Other water drains to the railroad and follows the railroad right of way to the Monocacy Creek.
Mr. Pany, focusing on site access, informed the assembly that a high volume drive, called Martin Court, is proposed that will align with the light serving Bethlehem Steel’s Martin Tower facility. The Martin Court will be a public street for roughly 500 feet, and then turn into a private street to serve the residential component. An emergency drive will be proposed that will align with the current Durkee’s driveway, will follow the railroad right of way to the residential component, and will loop around the site. Mr. Pany affirmed that the improvements and upgrade of the site will comply with the City’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO) and zoning requirements, and stated “we can comply with all SALDO requirements without needing any waivers.”
Greg Richardson, of Traffic Planning and Design, 4647 Saucon Creek Road, Center Valley, PA took the podium. Attorney Fitzpatrick posed a number of questions to Mr. Richardson whose responses follow. Mr. Richardson affirmed he is a professional engineer licensed in Pennsylvania and his specialty is transportation planning and highway design. Mr. Richardson, confirming he has some history with the site, verified that he spoke with Members of Council within the last calendar year. Mr. Richardson summarized what has been done to improve the traffic situation as it exists now, anticipating traffic development if the rezoning and subsequent land development occurs, and compared it to the prior traffic proposal, focusing on site and off-site improvements. Mr. Richardson recounted that the previous application was primarily commercial, and restated that the current application would include a residential and commercial component. The current proposal would generate a plan with much less traffic than the previous plan the main reason for which is the reduction of roughly 75,000 sq. ft. of commercial space and the addition of the residential component. However, Mr. Richardson said it is important to note that although the number of trips and commercial square footage has been reduced, the client, Tiger Den Partners, is willing to comply with the offering of certain roadway improvements. Of the improvements proposed by the previous applicant, J&L Development company, the improvements along the Eighth Avenue corridor will remain the same with the exception that the client will pay for additional improvements to address some of the concerns that came up based on comments from Council last time in voting down the previous rezoning request. Focusing on signalization of the northbound ramp, Mr. Richardson said the client is willing to pay for that improvement. In addition, he has been working very closely with the owners of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation property to not only address the proposed development’s impacts on the Bethlehem Steel Corporation property and the possible reduction in their property value, but keeping in mind that this study accounts for the expansion of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation facility or full use of the Martin Tower office building not now under full use on a person to square footage basis. Mr. Richardson added that additional traffic and parking spaces from an increased number of employees in the future has been included. Mr. Richardson restated that the impact of Bethlehem Steel’s facility has been included in with the client’s proposed traffic improvements. Mr. Richardson, affirming that his client has to mitigate his traffic impact, said “we believe we have mitigated the impact from a traffic perspective, we’re solving existing deficiencies, those being the deficiencies that exist at the Route 378 ramps, and difficulty to turn from the ramps onto Eighth Avenue. We are going to be providing a coordinated signalized system along the Eighth Avenue corridor that will provide good progression along the corridor and promote safe and efficient flow along the corridor.” Reiterating that the current proposal would generate less traffic, Mr. Richardson said, however, his client is willing to implement more improvements, and added this is a better plan from a traffic perspective than the previous application submitted.
Attorney Fitzpatrick noted that the developer does have a detailed and signed letter of understanding with Bethlehem Steel Corporation, finalizing the agreement, and there is an express understanding with Bethlehem Steel relative to the jug handle and signalization improvements that will occur not only at the entrance to the former Durkee site but also in conjunction with the utilization of Martin Tower.
Mr. Richardson, continuing on with his responses to Attorney Fitzpatrick’s questions, communicated that the revised plan for Mr. Petrucci’s rezoning and ultimate land development is superior in virtually all aspects compared to what City Council saw before. Mr. Richardson’s detailed findings and supporting data have been filed with the City and reviewed by staff. Referring to Ms. Heller’s summarization of the traffic submission and the developer’s need to comply with City and Planning staff comments, Mr. Richardson affirmed he is capable and willing to do so on behalf of the developer and is in the process of doing so right now.
Attorney Fitzpatrick advised he has copies of detailed exhibits referred to by Mr. Richardson, premarked as Exhibits A6, A7, A8 and A9, showing the corridor improvements, and added he will place them for examination.
Attorney Leo Devito, 38 W. Market Street, noted he is representing Woodmont Properties for the residential component of the proposed rezoning of the former Durkee site. Attorney Devito said there are two people who he would like to have speak to the Members of Council: Louis Zlotnick, Executive Vice President of Woodmont Properties, and Timothy Wentz, architect from the Martin organization in Philadelphia.
Lewis Zlotnick, Executive Vice President of Woodmont Properties, 119 Cherry Hill Road, Parsippany, New Jersey, noted that Mr. Wentz, and Michael Perucci, who is a principal with the development, are also present this evening. Mr. Zlotnick advised that Woodmont Properties has been in business for 40 years and is owned by Eric and Donald Witmondt, a father and son family owned business. The company develops both single family and multi-family products in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The company proposes 200 high quality apartments for the former Durkee site, ranging from 825 to 1,300 square feet, from one to two bedrooms, and renting for $1 per square foot per month. The primary candidates for rental would be singles, newly formed families, and empty nesters.
Timothy Wentz, principal of the Martin Architectural Group, 240 N. 22nd Street, Philadelphia, referring to sketches, noted there are 200 apartment units, and explained the site is unique in that it is triangular shaped which has caused the development of relatively small buildings with 20 units a piece. They are three story, walk up, luxury apartments with 14 attached garages on the sides in each building, and walking paths. There would be the opportunity for a clubhouse of approximately 3,500 square feet with a pool, and pocket parks. Mr. Wentz showed sketches of the fronts of the buildings, and side elevations. Landscape buffers would be provided throughout all the edges of the site, and in particular to divide the residential portion from the retail portion. Pointing to the sketch, Mr. Wentz explained the buffer would be approximately 50 feet wide, allowing for an eight foot high berm with landscaping on the top. Mr. Wentz, emphasizing that the fronts of the buildings do not show any garage doors, continued on to describe the building materials of a combination of clapboard siding and brick, along with a hip roof, and some of the architectural details. He also showed the side elevations, and stressed the company is trying to provide as attractive a building as it can to provide an interesting streetscape.
Attorney Fitzpatrick informed the assembly that he has reduced scale drawings from Mr. Richardson showing the corridor improvements, and corrected the exhibit numbers to read exhibits A5 through 8, instead of A6 through 9.
Jim Petrucci, President of J. G. Petrucci Company, 171 Route 173, Asbury, New Jersey, and also 22 South Commerce Way, Bethlehem, took the podium. Attorney Fitzpatrick posed a number of questions to Mr. Petrucci whose responses follow. Mr. Petrucci advised that he started the firm in 1987, came to the Lehigh Valley in 1988, and indicated the company has been the most active industrial developer in the City of Bethlehem in the past 10 years, having completed seven industrial buildings that includes five in the Win Drive area, totaling about 200,000 square feet of industrial space, and including three New Jersey companies that relocated here, with a total job creation of about 125. In addition, the company developed the former Petrilla Fuel site into the Perkins Restaurant on the South Side.
Mr. Petrucci affirmed that he has owned the former Durkee property outright since July 16, 2002 having taken title at that time. Mr. Petrucci, explaining the rezoning request, thought the site represents a fantastic opportunity for a long term future investment in the City, and noted that, in his conversations with various individuals in the City, the long term has been the focus. Mr. Petrucci added that the proposal is a tremendous balance between the immediate benefits and relief needed in the City for the people who live here as well as long term, and a long term foundation for the City’s future. Mr. Petrucci, noting one of the criticisms he heard was that the company did not pay enough attention to a variety of uses but came in and immediately charged forward with a Lowe’s project, said that really is not the truth. Mr. Petrucci advised that he looked at a variety of uses, both permitted and not permitted, and settled on the proposal as the most balanced and defensible, and the best in all aspects, specifically traffic, that could be put in front of City officials. Stressing that “we know industrial development”, Mr. Petrucci continued on to communicate that he spends a good part of his day in industrial parks and buildings, and added that his company designs and builds them. Mr. Petrucci asserted that the worst case scenario is what needs to be dealt with if the building were to be left as is. He communicated there is a big difference between the shoes that he is in and those of the last person who submitted a proposal to the City because the last person never owned the property. Mr. Petrucci continued on to say he recognized that if a rezoning application was made and denied he would be left with the site as it is. In fact, he stated, if the rezoning is denied the building will remain. Mr. Petrucci explained that the project by Lowe’s permits the demolition of the building, completion of the various remediations, and replacing what is there with something new. If not, Mr. Petrucci said “the building will stay and we will make do.” Mr. Petrucci, stressing it is a “crap shoot” as to what will go at the current site if it is not rezoned, highlighted some of the issues involved in evaluating the worst case scenario such as truck traffic, outside storage, noise, and 24/7 operations. Mr. Petrucci remarked he would not want to be in a meeting listening to people yell about a trucking terminal at the site having had the opportunity “to do a great project like this”. Mr. Petrucci, advising this plan is the not the same as the last plan, pointed out there is 77,000 square feet less retail on the site than the last time.
Mr. Petrucci noted that, as he told the Planning Commission, he had “somewhat of an unfair advantage in that we were able to review very extensively the transcripts from your meetings and from the previous Planning Commission meetings. When we took all that into consideration…to come up with what really would be the best thing, residential kept coming up…and I think that we’ve done a good job of choosing a fine developer who also has a long term track record and investment profile for this project. To those that would say these apartments are never going to be built, I say you’re wrong. We have a developer who has a contract, who is ready to set up and upon approval move ahead with the project that’s in front of you.” Observing one of the other things that was an issue last time was that there always seemed to be a “moving target”, for example, whether or not there would be a supermarket, and what kind of plan was really being put forward, Mr. Petrucci expressed he has tried to rely on his track record and hopes that the credibility that has been established over the ten years his firm has been working here demonstrates that “what we say we’re going to do we’re going to do, and we stake our reputation on it.” Asserting that his company is local and is not going anywhere, Mr. Petrucci said “it is simply not an option for us to tell you one thing and turn around and do something else.”
Of the various endorsements the presently proposed project has been given versus the previously proposed project, and noting that some individuals and institutions have “flat out changed” from a negative to a positive, Mr. Petrucci pointed out the one he thinks is most significant is Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Mr. Petrucci, correcting the statement made earlier by Attorney Fitzpatrick, advised “we actually have a signed agreement, not letter of understanding. It is a signed, enforceable agreement with Bethlehem Steel. We did not have that when we were before the Planning Commission. We had a letter of intent…but we are prepared to enter that into the record as an exhibit.” Mr. Petrucci recalled that in April 2002, several Members of Council cited the issue Bethlehem Steel’s property at Martin Tower as being the primary reason for not supporting the project. Mr. Petrucci remarked he is proud to say “that we took that on as job one and we not only have a signed agreement with them, but we have a letter that’s in your record which says that they believe that this will enhance the value of Martin Tower.”
Mr. Petrucci commented he has gotten the sense that what limited objection there is to the new plan is not so much based on traffic or commercial use but is on the concept of a “big box” store and what a big box store represents. Mr. Petrucci, expressing that to his company what Lowe’s home improvement store represents is an excellent employer, highlighted the Lowe’s track record in employing senior citizens, a benefit package for approximately 75% of its employees, and indicated that the project has the support of local labor unions. Further, Mr. Petrucci pointed out that Lowe’s has a tremendous track record in the area of local charities. Mr. Petrucci, advising that he has taken the cue from the Mayor and the Planning staff with respect to a variety of upgrades for the project, informed the assembly he believes this Lowe’s store, as shown by the model at the meeting, is the first in the area and certainly the first in Pennsylvania with a brick face, added there is one other in New Jersey. Mr. Petrucci said that represents a significant concession in economic terms and an upgrade to the neighborhood and the project. Mr. Petrucci, noting that the Lowe’s would sit almost where the current building is located, said there would be a dramatic difference in terms of the City view. Mr. Petrucci stressed that a tremendous amount of time has been spent with landscaping that will feature different colors and blooming seasons. In addition, Mr. Petrucci agreed to install Victorian style lighting through most of the project, and a pattern concrete sidewalk scheme, all of which he said are upgrades not normally seen that would highlight and signature the project as a gateway.
Mr. Petrucci, asserting that the tax implications are dramatic and stating he has met with the Lehigh County and City tax assessor, indicated there would be approximately $800,000 in tax revenues generated by the project. Recounting one of the issues of the project previously proposed was that tax revenues generated would be squandered by dealing with the traffic situation, Mr. Petrucci said he is “happy to say that by virtue of our agreement with Bethlehem Steel the improvements that are going to be made are going to be made at our expense. City condemnation, which was a feature of the last proposal before you, is no longer an issue.” Mr. Petrucci, highlighting the fact that the Perkins project on the South Side did not need public funding, as is the case with the presently proposed project, said he is very proud of that fact.
Focusing on opposition to the project, Mr. Petrucci said he does not “feel it in the street”. Referencing the name of the opposition group called No Mall, Mr. Petrucci remarked he does not “think that the No Mall name works any more. This is not a mall. This is a Lowe’s store.” Given what is there, Mr. Petrucci stressed he cannot see any way but to look at the project as an upgrade to the site. Mr. Petrucci, with reference to comments that it would be a “mega store”, explained it is 133,000 square feet versus the current building that comprises 270,000 square feet. Turning to the community effort that has materialized in support of the proposal, Mr. Petrucci noted two public meetings were held both of which were over two hours in length at which people asked for very specific details about traffic, internal circulation, and so on. Mr. Petrucci advised that petitions circulated in support of the proposal contained the plan on the back so the signers saw the plan and were educated about it. Mr. Petrucci, noting the No Mall group had collected over 1,000 signatures, thought tonight will demonstrate that is not the majority opinion on the project.
Recounting that Attorney Thomas Maloney, representing Bethlehem Steel Corporation, had addressed City Council last year expressing concern about their property, Mr. Petrucci stated that issue is off the table. With reference to arguments that a mall at the site would put other stores in the City out of business, Mr. Petrucci pointed out that his project involves a single use property which is going to minimize the competition with existing businesses. Mr. Petrucci, highlighting the fact that joblessness has risen dramatically in the past year, communicated it would be difficult to not recognize the distress of the job climate and the job opportunities that the proposal represents.
Mr. Petrucci, confirming that “we bought this site” said he thinks “that puts us out of the category of making a quick buck. We recognize that we were in this for the long term and we were going to persist, and work through, and compromise. We’ve earned a reputation in this Lehigh Valley, one that I’m very proud of, for tackling tough projects and doing everything that we set out to do. Your responsibility as a City Council is to straddle that fine line between immediate benefits, popular opinion at this time, and long term future implications, and I really believe that this addresses all three. You have overwhelming public support, you have immediate jobs and tax benefits for a City that needs it, and you have a tremendous long term investment by a…company with major infrastructure improvements and aesthetics the likes of which this City has not seen.”
Mr. Petrucci expressed his thanks to those who took the time to meet with him, commented he was impressed that politics have been set aside, and asked Council on behalf of its constituents to vote yes.
Attorney Fitzpatrick said he would like to move the exhibits through A8 into the record. Attorney Fitzpatrick, asking City Council to look at the petition, the traffic study, and the facts, stressed “this is a rock solid good planning and zoning proposal”. Attorney Fitzpatrick marked the Lowe’s benefit package referenced by Mr. Petrucci as exhibit A9.
Mr. Callahan, affirming that today the Members of Council received the pedestrian traffic study, conducted by Traffic Planning and Design, Inc., pointed out he has not had the chance to thoroughly review it, and asked how the numbers were derived showing less traffic with this project versus the previously proposed project.
Mr. Richardson advised that the purpose of the traffic study was to determine, based on existing and projected conditions, what the impact of the site will be on the roadway network from a traffic perspective. The local data was counted at a number of intersections along the Eighth Avenue and Schoenersville Road corridors, with essentially the same scope used previously. The major difference of this traffic study is the different uses that are proposed, and the fact that the previous study did not include the future expansion of the Bethlehem Steel parking lot. As a result, there is additional traffic that has been accounted for and not just the traffic associated with the site. A number of other developments along the Eighth Avenue corridor have been included, specifically just north of Eaton Avenue such as the proposed office building and Wawa market. Mr. Richardson explained the study was based on review of proposed traffic volumes that are projected out ten years regardless of whether the site is built and what could happen if other developments are built that are unknown at this time. Noting that is a requirement of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot), Mr. Richardson informed the assembly that plans and the traffic study have been submitted on a preliminary basis to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that is currently reviewing them. Highlighting the fact that his client will be required to obtain highway occupancy permits as well as revised traffic signal plans that have to be reviewed and approved by PennDot, Mr. Richardson advised there are two levels of review, the first of which is at the municipal, or City of Bethlehem level, and stated that the City staff has provided a thorough review. Mr. Richardson said that he believes all of the comments of the City staff can be met and addressed, and the City can be provided with a plan and improvements that not only mitigate the impact of this land use that will generate less traffic than the previous application, but which also accounts for the Bethlehem Steel issue.
Mr. Callahan, asking Mr. Richardson to address the peak weekday AM and PM traffic, observed that people would be leaving the proposed apartments to go to and from work at the same time as students would be going to and from Nitschmann School located at Union Boulevard and Eighth Avenue.
Mr. Richardson advised that the numbers for the morning peak hour occur between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. The primary hours for the commercial uses are typically in the evening hours and on the weekend. There will be additional traffic associated with this development on top of what was proposed before but there is a reduction in the square footage of uses. Mr. Richardson said the morning peak hour was not analyzed with the previously proposed plan because it was not believed those proposed land uses would have a heavy impact. Mr. Richardson stated that 75% of the traffic associated with the proposed use is not going to go near the Nitschmann School intersection. Mr. Richardson confirmed to Mr. Callahan it will come on and off Route 378 and to the north. Mr. Richardson notified Mr. Callahan that the firm is working with the School District to provide improvements needed. Mr. Richardson said the key point is that there are “major improvements that were designed to occur based on the results of what is going to be generated there and be weekday evening peak hours or Saturday peak hours”, and added that will be accounted for in the design of the traffic signals along the corridor. Mr. Richardson advised that four traffic signal systems along the area as requested by the City and PennDot, and the morning peak hours, will be specifically accounted for.
Mr. Callahan inquired whether it can be said that there will be more traffic in the AM weekday peak period with this plan than with the previously proposed plan. Mr. Richardson replied “there is more traffic but it’s not an appreciable difference”. Mr. Callahan asked if the road improvements are significant enough to offset the increase in peak traffic. Mr. Richardson, responding yes, said the improvements are more than proposed before for less overall traffic. Mr. Callahan, explaining when he looked at the plan last year his biggest concern was the Nitschmann School students, observed that a benefit of last year’s 100% commercial proposal was that most of the traffic would occur at non-peak times. In further response to Mr. Callahan, Mr. Richardson stated with this type of development the major traffic generator, regardless of the peak hour, is going to be the commercial use. Consequently, while there will be traffic associated with the morning peak hours, it is not going to be at such a level that will create a situation where additional improvements based on increased volume will be needed. Mr. Richardson, pointing out there is less commercial use under the present proposal, recounted some of the morning traffic that would have resulted under the previous proposal such as that from the health club is not a factor but on the other hand the current proposal contains a residential portion that will generate some traffic. As a result, Mr. Richardson felt it is a “wash” in terms of traffic during the peak hour.
Recalling former estimates of $800,000-$900,000 of road improvements under the previous proposal, Mr. Callahan asked the estimate under the present proposal. Mr. Richardson enumerated that, with the addition of a new traffic signal, widening, and improvements at Bethlehem Steel property, the estimate is over $1,000,000. Mr. Callahan expressed he is encouraged that the traffic improvements have increased.
Nitschmann School Students – Project Citizen
President Gregory stated that, if Council so decides, he would at this time recognize students from Nitschmann School to make a presentation on their submittal for Project Citizen of a project involving reuse of the former Durkee site.
Among the students who introduced themselves were: Leigh Schlener, Ana Medina, Katlyn Snyder, Nicole Geist, Laura Lightwood Mater, and Alex Roysdon. The students explained that Project Citizen is a group of students who find a problem in their community that they would like to fix or make better. The group won the State competition last year and went on to the national competition, and this year is defending their title. The problem was the empty former Durkee spice plant on Eighth Avenue. Choices for reuse of the site were a pool, mall, community center, restaurant, recreation, park, Lowe’s home improvement store, car auction center, skate park, and ice rink. The majority of the students picked a mall or a community center, and the decision for the project was to follow through with the community center. The students listed pros and cons for a community center, along with apartments around the center, and explained the depictions on the various poster boards they brought.
Mr. Schweder asked how many additional spaces would be at Martin Tower. Mr. Richardson, replying 750 spaces, informed Mr. Schweder that traffic volumes were derived from a study provided by Bethlehem Steel’s traffic consultant.
Mr. Schweder, observing one of the concerns was the northbound exit ramp off Route 378 and the ability to make a left hand turn into the proposed project property, said it appears the solution is signals at the end of exit ramp. Acknowledging that is one purpose of the signal, Mr. Richardson explained a purpose of the signal is to allow motorists to turn out into the traffic without having to merge or conflict with volume on northbound Eighth Avenue. Adding that the purpose of the signal is not necessarily to get people into the proposed site although it will help, Mr. Richardson advised it is to solve an existing deficiency. Noting the previous study and design had a driveway and left turn lane at 100 feet away while this one is at least 180 feet, Mr. Richardson added the firm is exploring other issues to try to maximize that distance as much as possible.
Mr. Richardson affirmed to Mr. Schweder that, traveling northbound on Eighth Avenue, there will be five traffic lights between Union Boulevard and Eighth Avenue all of which will be coordinated so as not to create congestion in between.
Mr. Schweder asked if the letter of agreement with Bethlehem Steel carries forth to their successors in view of the fact that there will no longer be Bethlehem Steel on April 22, 2003. Attorney Fitzpatrick replied yes, and highlighted the fact that his earlier statement was corrected that there is now a signed agreement, instead of a letter of understanding, and restated it is binding on successors.
Mayor Delgrosso stated he is supporting the proposal for two reasons; i.e., the mixed use that includes the quality residential component as well as the Lowe’s project, and what it will do as far as employment and taxes. Mayor Delgrosso, expressing his appreciation for Mr.
Petrucci’s comments as far as the aesthetics of the Lowe’s project, said Bethlehem has now, at least through this developer, established a difference in projects outside the downtown area so they can meet requirements asked for in the City applicable to lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping. Noting the developer has met those requirements with his proposal, Mayor Delgrosso expressed the hope that would continue with other projects. Mayor Delgrosso pointed out that the City real estate and mercantile tax dollars associated with the proposed project of $221,500 are a little higher than with the previously proposed project estimated at $209,000.
President Gregory inquired what is the School District property tax amount. Mayor Delgrosso said the figures he was given today show City of Bethlehem of $204,000, Bethlehem Area School District $447,000, and Lehigh County approximately $143,075, for a total of $794,075. Mayor Delgrosso added that the Lowe’s project is anticipated to provide 170 jobs of which 70% would be full time, 15 employees at the proposed restaurant, and 10 employees at the bank.
Mr. Callahan expressed his appreciation for all of the people at the meeting in support of the proposal. Mr. Callahan, recalling that the previous proposal was estimated to create 511 jobs, noted there would be less than half that number with the current proposal. Mr. Callahan, saying he is still going to support it, remarked he thinks something is better than nothing, and added that the mercantile tax would be cut in half under the present proposal versus the previous proposal. Stating that the residential plan looks pretty good, Mr. Callahan said he hopes it will stay that way over the long term. Mr. Callahan, commenting he is concerned from a land use perspective injecting a high density residential use in the midst of a commercial and industrial swath that is bordered by Apollo Metals and a commercial site on the other, advised he does have some concern about the long term viability of the housing and its looking fresh in the long term. Mr. Callahan noted his concern about a drain on City services under the proposed apartments. In addition, he observed that the apartments could have an affect on the school district in terms of the need to build larger schools and an offsetting increase in school district taxes.
Council Solicitor Comments
Christopher Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, stated he has been informed there are a number of letters and recommended they be made part of the record in this proceeding.
Motion - Letters Becoming Part of Record
President Gregory made a motion that all letters received pro and con become part of the record. Mrs. Belinski seconded the motion.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Schweder, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Gregory, 6. The motion passed. (Mr. Callahan was absent during the vote on the motion.)
President Gregory, at the request of Attorney Spadoni, announced the letters are available for public inspection.
. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Ted Morgan, 925 Prospect Avenue, advising he is one of the spokespeople for the group No Mall which stands for Neighborhood Organizations Mobilized To Assure Local Livability, communicated that therefore the name of the group is still applicable. Noting that last year City Council voted against rezoning the property in question from LI Light Industrial to CS Shopping Center District, Mr. Morgan felt being patient and trying to find appropriate zoning for West Bethlehem and for the long term interests of the City shows good planning principles that the long term vitality of the City is based on finding good jobs, maintaining vital healthy retail areas of the City in appropriate centers, strong neighborhoods, and maintaining the historic and cultural traditions of the City that make it distinctive. Mr. Morgan recounted that the grass roots citizens group did a great deal of research, provided a great deal of evidence, had strong support from over a thousand residents of West Bethlehem, and worked in a mutually respectful manner with the Members of Council to try to come up with a better alternative for the site. Mr. Morgan related that immediately after Council’s vote last year against rezoning the property in question from LI Light Industrial to CS Shopping Center District, the vote was attacked “by well placed advocates of the original zoning proposal and an effort was made to discredit Council for inviting in much worse kinds of developments to this site.” Mr. Morgan expressed the opinion that those attacks along with subsequent events like clearing the site have helped to orchestrate strong public support for rezoning. Mr. Morgan enumerated that most of the members of the No Mall group will draw on research, consultation with professional developers and traffic engineers, economists, and others to argue and show this proposal has virtually the same impact as last year’s proposal and is not really very different. Mr. Morgan expressed that he respects those wearing yellow T-shirts who are in favor of the rezoning request and are at the meeting tonight to present their perspective. Noting that those in favor of the rezoning request have said they want convenient access to a Lowe’s home improvement store, Mr. Morgan said Lowe’s is not the issue and his group has no problem with their having access to Lowe’s. Rather, Mr. Morgan explained the issue is location and the nature of this site. Mr. Morgan asserted that for the very reason of the amount of traffic encountered when one drives along Route 191 to go to Home Depot “it would be a terrible mistake if this City Council decided to introduce that kind of development to Eighth Avenue in West Bethlehem.” Focusing on the petition presented by No Mall last year that was no longer circulated after being signed by 1,000 citizens in opposition to rezoning the site from LI to CS, Mr. Morgan informed the assembly that of those citizens contacted at least two to one favored No Mall’s position. Mr. Morgan added that No Mall noticed that support for its position “was a little stronger the closer you got to the site than it was farther away from the site.” Mr. Morgan suggested that, whatever number of signers the Vote Yes group obtained for their petition in favor of the present request to rezone the site from LI to IR and RT, a few thoughts might be considered such as how far away from the site do the signers live, and what have people been told when they raise questions about the proposal. Mr. Morgan stated his group has received reports that when people questioned the amount of traffic under the present proposal they were told that the amount of traffic would be the same as when the Durkee spice plant was in operation at the site. Mr. Morgan said that is “patently not right”. Mr. Morgan denoted that people may have signed the Vote Yes petition based on misleading information. Making the observation that there has been an orchestration of support for the rezoning in that the rezoning has been supported by the former Mayor and currently supported by the developer, Mr. Morgan stated that is not the same as a grass roots movement. Mr. Morgan felt that Council should make a decision on the merits of the case.
Mr. Morgan asserted that rezoning the front of the property to IR “…is in fact inappropriate, if not illegal”. Reading from the City of Bethlehem’s Zoning Ordinance Section 1317A that addresses IR, Mr. Morgan highlighted the fact that the IR zone is for “the economic revitalization of underutilized Heavy Industrial properties” and stressed that the property is currently zoned LI Light Industrial. Additionally reading some of the uses allowed under HI, Mr. Morgan said that is not what the site in question contains or can contain. Furthermore, Mr. Morgan said the IR zoning allows greater flexibility in terms of the development of the site which is a concern. Mr. Morgan, recalling that in 1996 City Council created IR zoning for the explicit purpose of giving Bethlehem Steel Corporation maximum leeway so that its property could be redeveloped, recounted there was criticism on Council about the wide latitude IR zoning provided. Mr. Morgan, pointing out that Mr. Donchez voted against it, quoted from remarks made by Mr. Donchez that “Council would be abrogating its responsibility of control in protecting the public interest” and further quoted remarks made by Don Cunningham, a Council Member at that time, that IR zoning gives “very little control into the future”. Mr. Morgan expressed the opinion that this shows “how inappropriate IR zoning is to this site”. Questioning why the section of the property requested to be rezoned to IR is separated into two plots, one for Lowe’s and the other for a bank and a restaurant, Mr. Morgan wondered whether it is because Tiger Den can try to make the legal case that the front half is not a shopping center; and, if not, does that not allow them to have a smaller number of parking spaces. Mr. Morgan said it does come in several hundred parking spaces under the requirement which he thought might make it look like it will generate less traffic than it will. Inquiring why IR zoning is being requested when the developer is planning to build retail at the site that it is CS Commercial Shopping, Mr. Morgan wondered if it is being done to avoid legal action because Council rejected rezoning the property to CS one year ago. Noting that the answers are for Council to decide, Mr. Morgan suggested that Council investigate the questions fully until it is satisfied with the answers. Mr. Morgan summarized that the front portion of the property is Commercial Shopping, it should have several hundred more parking spaces, and the Lowe’s store is the same size or larger than the Lowe’s store of last year in that the comparison made by Attorney Fitzpatrick to last year’s plan was to the total square footage of retail being 220,000 square feet that is not the Lowe’s piece but rather the total square footage. Mr. Morgan remarked if that is the case then the only real difference is the proposal to rezone the rear section of the property to RT Residential.
Mr. Morgan said the developer’s argument that the proposal will generate less traffic, is mixed use, is a compromise for different interests in the City, and that retail is contained “are dependent on the fact that the rear property is in fact zoned and constructed and occupied and successful as residential property” which he felt was a big burden for that section of the property. Mr. Morgan, asserting that the property is not mixed use, enumerated what planners consider mixed use and stressed that mixed use would be ideal development for the site. Mr. Morgan added that the City’s Historic Officer, a professor at Lehigh University, once contemplated having her students design a mixed use project for the site. Stressing that his group’s issue is not with the Woodmont Company that does quality structures, Mr. Morgan said “if you build it they won’t come”. Mr. Morgan stated that the proposed residential development is “three to four times the density of other sites like Lehigh Street…or Marvine Village, two of the more densely populated complexes in the City…[,and] it’s behind a huge Lowe’s right next to the loading platform…and…Synthetic Thread [company] to the immediate west, but a whole series of light industrial factories to the west, a very busy highway to the south, and it shares the single entrance and exit from busy Eighth Avenue to the east with shoppers at Lowe’s. Who is going to pay a high rent to live there.” Mr. Morgan related that one of the developers he talked to who was considering building high-end empty nest residential apartments or condominiums on the whole site “laughed at the idea of trying to do that behind the Lowe’s”. Mr. Morgan said the real question about the proposed residential development is whether it is "real, is it a phantom, is it an illusion, what will happen down the road”. Mr. Morgan, stating that Council must satisfy themselves with their answer to that question, expressed the hope that “it will be the right one and you will reject this rezoning”.
John Ladics, 1527 Kaywin Avenue, remarked that “for most of us it’s a dream to have a Lowe’s and a commercial development” at the site. Mr. Ladics, noting that he signed the petition in favor of the rezoning, advised that he lives six blocks away from the site and Mr. Morgan lives a little further away. Turning to the presentation made by the students from Nitschmann Middle School, Mr. Ladics noted that the first choice was for a community center while the second choice was a mall project. Mr. Ladics, recalling it has been one year since some Members of Council were persuaded to vote against developing the abandoned former Durkee spice plant site into commercial retail by the No Mall group, said the group was right in that “the proposed development is not a mall”. Mr. Ladics pointed out that a mall is connected by buildings with large parking lots and anchored by several large department stores, and remarked that the proposed plan is not a mall or a mega store. Mr. Ladics stressed that the proposal is for three unattached buildings architecturally designed to give an appealing appearance. Mr. Ladics communicated that one year has passed, there is still an abandoned building at the site known as a brownfield, there have been no improvements to Eighth Avenue, taxes have increased, unemployment rises, and Bethlehem Steel retirees have lost benefits. Continuing on to say there is no competition or convenience for Bethlehem residents to benefit from, Mr. Ladics asserted that “townships and boroughs surrounding the City [are] cashing in on what the No Mall mega-store people reject.” Mr. Ladics highlighted the fact that traffic will never be eliminated from the Eighth Avenue area in question. Mr. Ladics stressed that any Light Industrial development of the site would look much like it does now with box-shaped buildings, no buffer zone, no proper landscaping, pollution, noise, and industrial traffic. Mr. Ladics, commenting that the No Mall group would have people believe that commercial development would harm local business, noted that yet people will go out of their way to shop and dine in the various townships surrounding the City. Mr. Ladics wondered what visitors think when they come into the City and see an abandoned factory sitting idle at this location for almost a decade. He further said most elected officials “would be ashamed to show this site to visitors but would welcome a commercial development as proposed by Mr. Petrucci with the Lowe’s as an anchor.” Focusing on Bethlehem Township and the recently opened Route 33 interchange, Mr. Ladics highlighted the fact that the Township commissioners did not hesitate to approve a commercial development at the location. Mr. Ladics continued on to remark that townships have a nice tax base, its employees get a little more money than City of Bethlehem employees, and there are jobs there.
Turning to a commercial development in Lower Saucon Township past Wyandotte Street, Mr. Ladics enumerated there are movie theaters, a food store, restaurant and other commercial enterprises and pointed out that there is one traffic light, an extra turning lane and no overwhelming traffic developing there. Recalling three home improvement type stores that had been in Bethlehem, Mr. Ladics highlighted the fact that they are gone. Mr. Ladics, communicating that young and old alike are employed at Home Depot, acknowledged they are not making $20 an hour but they are employed. Quoting from a letter to the editor in the Morning Call in which it was stated that the newspaper wants a Lowe’s in order to gain more adverting fees, Mr. Ladics said that is not true citing that one basic flyer is used to advertise products at multiple store locations. Recalling that one year ago people were told that development of the abandoned Durkee site was “waiting in the wings of City Hall”, Mr. Ladics said that is not true in that only one developer, Mr. Petrucci, came forward and had the foresight to purchase the brownfield, pay taxes on it, and plan a development that benefits all of the residents of the City of Bethlehem. Mr. Ladics pointed out that Mr. Petrucci has worked with the Planning Commission, zoning, and residents of the area to make the development plausible for all concerned, and added “yet the No Mall people continue to find everything wrong and attempt to convince you that his plan is not good for the residents….of Bethlehem.” Mr. Ladics asked Council to consider in favor of Mr. Petrucci’s plans and give him a chance since he is willing to work with Council and the residents to develop the land into something of which the residents of Bethlehem can be proud, or “reject his plan and be faced with industrial development that holds no boundaries”. Mr. Ladics felt that if industrial development were to occur at the site it is something that the No Mall group will regret.
While expressing his agreement with comments made at a past meeting by Mrs. Belinski that Nitschmann Middle School is a shining star of middle schools in the City, Mr. Ladics said she forgot to mention Northeast, East Hills, and Broughal Middle Schools. Mr. Ladics, with reference to the presentation made by students from Nitschmann Middle School, communicated that ignores the fact that the owner, Mr. Petrucci, not City Council, must be convinced what to do with the land if the commercial development is rejected. Mr. Ladics felt that people should not be swayed into thinking that industrial development is better than commercial development. Mr. Ladics pointed out that Lehigh University and Moravian College have continually encroached on the City’s neighborhoods, purchasing properties, buildings, and parking lots for their new developments, and they pay no taxes. Mr. Ladics said he did not hear any complaints from the No Mall group about the safety of Broughal Middle School students when a parking garage, retail, commercial, and dormitory development that added traffic was proposed on Morton Street at Lehigh University. Mr. Ladics queried whether Lowe’s management would be willing to hire Bethlehem Police on grand opening day when 28,000 vehicles are going to pass through there so that some of the traffic congestion can be alleviated. Mr. Ladics said it is up to City Council whether they want an abandoned factory brownfield, a well-planned commercial development, or industrial development with no boundaries. Mr. Ladics communicated that Mr. Petrucci should be given a chance, and described him as a gentleman, upfront, willing to listen and correct problems that may arise. Encouraging people to check Mr. Petrucci’s website and the projects he has completed in the Lehigh Valley, Mr. Ladics said Mr. Petrucci is concerned with the future of the residents of the City.
Michael Galio, business representative for the Lehigh Valley Carpenters Local 600, 528 Linden Street, said he speaks as a businessman with a business address in the City, a representative of nearly 800 tradesmen in the local who work in the Bethlehem area and Lehigh Valley communities, and a spokesperson for about 68 members from the local who live in the City. Mr. Galio said “we are here to voice our support for the Lowe’s project for some reasons of self interest and some reasons of what we feel is common sense and sound planning.” While acknowledging that the Lowe’s project offers opportunities for work for the members, Mr. Galio observed it is not just or sufficient cause for Council to render a decision, and added there are other compelling reasons. Mr. Galio pointed to the use of automobiles for the populace and use of trucks for shipping as reasons for diminishing the need for business to have rail access and ending the need for businesses to be located in the center of a large population area. Referring to the use of cheaper foreign labor instead of domestically produced products, Mr. Galio stressed that “with large numbers of abandoned factories, closed plants, and various other brownfield sites, the likelihood [that] one of the few manufacturers in this country looking for a site might choose this property is slim to say the least.” Mr. Galio, while asserting that in the Lehigh Valley many acres of prime flat virgin farmland are being offered at prices that make this site unattractive to many potential customers, further stressed that every other brownfield site is available for the taking which gives a manufacturer a wide range of choices to pick a site that best suits their needs. Mr. Galio questioned what are the chances that the floor space span between the columns, specific dimensions of the area inside the building, height, access to loading docks, outside access, or outside storage would be suitable for a particular manufacturer. As time passes and business needs change, Mr. Galio asserted “we must adapt. Many old sites are now suited better for a different use than originally chosen. The abandoned Durkee property with its close proximity to a large population base is now a better site for retail and commercial development rather than manufacture. The Lowe’s company is a good fit for this site. Lowe’s has a 100% track record for their stores remaining in business after being built with the only exception being when they close one store to open another larger store in its place. Lowe’s is a well run company with its number one concern being customer satisfaction. Lowe’s restricts their receiving hours [so] that they do not adversely impact the neighborhoods. Lowe’s, as almost all retail, [is] non-polluting, and, finally, Lowe’s, as all retail, adds to the tax base.” Turning to the issue of additional traffic and its impact on the school zone, Mr. Galio pointed out that throughout the country schools are built, run, and maintained in cities with far more dense populations than that of Bethlehem. Mr. Galio stated that the added traffic is not an unmanageable situation. Mr. Galio said “we support the Lowe’s project and we believe it is a good fit for this site.”
Glen Womer, Sr., 650 Ontario Street, stated he has lived in the City for about 20 years, and went to Broughal and Liberty High Schools. Mr. Womer, expressing the opinion that the Lowe’s project is a great venture, said he has to travel five miles to get a piece of lumber. Mr. Womer, noting that he owns two houses on the South Side, questioned why he should have to travel to get a piece of lumber, and highlighted the fact that there used to be several lumber yards in the City. Mr. Womer, informing the assembly he is a truck driver, advised that he has been dealing with Lowe’s for 16 years and said “they are probably one of the best companies…for a truck driver to get in and out of.” Mr. Womer pointed out their receiving hours are from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Mr. Womer communicated that a Lowe’s is needed in this area mainly because traffic outside the City is bad as one travels to Home Depot stores. Stressing that Lowe’s is one of the largest companies in the country and employs thousands of people, Mr. Womer said their employees are very friendly and knowledgeable, and their products are very good. Mr. Womer said he proposes that the Lowe’s be built.
Marty Smith, 2073 Blossam Lane, said he has lived in the City for about five years and likes living here. Mr. Smith expressed a main reason he is here tonight is his focus on the future of the City. Mr. Smith felt that rezoning the site to IR allows for the best use of the property, and revitalization of this portion of the City. Mr. Smith encouraged the Members of Council to consider both sides of the argument, listen to what the engineers have presented, and come to the best decision.
David Silliman, 2004 Fernway Avenue, said he has been a resident for about four years. Mr. Silliman, focusing on the unemployment rates that are higher than they have been, thought that the Lowe’s project will help that situation. Mr. Silliman said more important to him is the quality of the employer that Lowe’s is from research he has done, and noted they are a top quality employer that offers good, competitive benefits, and values their employees. Mr. Silliman expressed his support for the rezoning, and remarked he would say yes.
Kenneth Beadle, 1589 Kadel Drive, noted he is a retired City firefighter. Mr. Beadle, informing the assembly that he went door to door in the rain, snow, and cold with a petition, read from the petition, as follows: “I, the undersigned, have reviewed the development plans (see the reverse side) for the proposed project including a Lowe’s, restaurant, bank, and residential units, and we support this project.” Mr. Beadle advised that when homeowners found out he was with the say yes group he was greeted “with open arms”. Mr. Beadle said “these people told me they are in the majority, not the minority…, and asked me to take this message to the City Council and let you know that the majority is speaking right now. Out of the 70 people who I contacted, 66 signed my petition…That’s 94%. They said to me why should we have to go out of the City, even out of the State, to go to a home improvement center. We need Lowe’s…Say yes City Council tonight, and vote yes next week.” Noting that most people he talked to were senior citizens, Mr. Beadle pointed out they talked about the tax base and how the taxes from this development would help Bethlehem. Mr. Beadle, remarking he wants the very best for Bethlehem, said “I want Lowe’s. Lowe’s is the very best. Lowe’s will be the crown jewel of Bethlehem.” Mr. Beadle added “just vote yes when you vote”.
Ken Kirst, 72 W. Elizabeth Avenue, focusing on the residential portion of the proposal, advised that he was frequently in the Marvine-Pembroke residential development during two years when he delivered pizzas, and any apartments that had attached garages was always well-maintained and a good place to go to get a good tip. Mr. Kirst encouraged Council to vote yes.
Vince Paden, 521 Ninth Avenue, noted he is a life-long resident of Bethlehem and became involved because of Council’s vote a year ago. Mr. Paden remarked that he allowed himself to assume that Council would do what is in the best interests of a majority of the citizens of Bethlehem, not a minority. Mr. Paden, advising that he became involved with neighbors on both sides of the issue due to his residence location, expressed something that disturbed him was the pitting of neighbors against each other. Expressing his sadness at the decline of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the empty real estate on the corporation’s property, the abandoned former Durkee site, Five Points, etc., Mr. Paden said “the town is in a downward spiral”. Mr. Paden stressed that with loss of payroll taxes, real estate taxes, school taxes, and rising unemployment, the City will be forced to make hard decisions about its economic future very soon. Mr. Paden recalled that, in the past, Bethlehem Steel Corporation assisted the City with many major municipal projects and improvements for the quality of life of citizens when the “money was not there”, including Town Hall, and the library. Mr. Paden highlighted the fact that Bethlehem Steel is gone. He expressed that an attempt should be made to try and create a tax base that the citizens of Bethlehem can live with. Mr. Paden, focusing on the need for economic development and fair tax rates in the City, enumerated several issues facing Bethlehem's citizens including increased health care costs that must be paid by Bethlehem Steel Corporation retirees, and stressed that potential investors at the Bethlehem Works site would be observing how businesses are received in the City. Mr. Paden questioned why development should be feared when there are City officials who can control it such as City Council, Zoning Hearing Board, Planning Commission, City traffic coordinator, Benchmark Engineering that is the City's traffic consultant, and many departments.
Focusing on a press release of October 11, 2001, Mr. Paden remarked No Mall left the impression that the City would be attracting Light Industrial companies to the former Durkee site. Yet in a No Mall flyer that he received at his home last Sunday, Mr. Paden pointed out it says there are two parties interested in building residential homes on the site. Mr. Paden queried what happened to the Light Industrial development. Mr. Paden further questioned where were the two companies interested in building residential homes on the site when it was on the market. Mr. Paden said if he took the numbers presented in the No Mall flyer received at his home last Sunday it would tell him there are 28,000 cars per day on the average on Eighth Avenue and 32,000 cars per day on MacArthur Road. As a result, Mr. Paden calculated if he were to stand at MacArthur Road at 4:00 PM on a Tuesday afternoon and count the cars for 60 seconds it works out to 22 cars; and, if he were to stand at Eighth Avenue at 4:00 PM on a Wednesday the next week and count the cars for 60 seconds there will be 19 cars. Mr. Paden questioned if he is "really to believe that there are 3 cars a minute more on MacArthur Road than are going to be on Eighth Avenue. [MacArthur Road is] a six lane highway. Eighth Avenue is four [lanes]". Mr. Paden, listing the commercial developments in the vicinity of MacArthur Road such as Lehigh Valley Mall, Whitehall Mall, developments on Grape Street, and five miles of strip malls along Route 145, queried "am I really to believe that a home improvement store, a bank, and a restaurant is going to create 3 cars less an hour".
Mr. Paden, referring to comparisons of the townhouses proposed in the development plan with residential developments on Lehigh Street and in the Marvine Village area, said the way he interprets it is "the NIMBY attitude which is not in my back yard and an…insinuation that I don’t even want to address." Mr. Paden asserted that "reality is with the new road improvements and the access at the new proposed entrance to the Durkee site it's going to make Martin Tower that much more viable to a potential investor." Mr. Paden further remarked "reality is this whole thing is nothing more than the rights of a private citizen who owns property and wants to develop it and market it as he deems fit and within the laws set forth by the City of Bethlehem, and controlled at every step of the way by the City of Bethlehem…It is not up to anyone's discretion what they want in that person's site."
Mr. Paden communicated it was thought the last time Council voted on a proposal to rezone the former Durkee site they "would do the right thing and pass it but you didn't. Some people took it as a negative. I became involved with a group of neighbors. We didn't even have a name". Mr. Paden continued on to communicate that his group of neighbors does not have a spokesperson or an agenda "other than doing what's right for the City of Bethlehem… ". Mr. Paden stressed "we're not happy about what happened as a group." Mr. Paden, urging Council to vote yes, said "do what's best for all the citizens of Bethlehem." Mr. Paden added that he sent an e-mail to the Members of Council regarding the rezoning matter. Mr. Paden, making reference to a group called Pennsylvania Environmental Network, quoted from the purpose of the group, as follows: "to support and encourage local grassroots activism throughout Pennsylvania by networking individuals and groups across the state on a variety of…environmental issues. The main focus of PEN is to empower citizens to work towards and promote environmental justice not only within their own communities but in everyone's back yards." Mr. Paden noted that, in the northeast area, No Mall is listed as a reference point and a group to call for information. Mr. Paden said he also found out through the website that people can network to websites that help people fight big box retailers, cell phone towers, and so on. Mr. Paden stated he "is a little confused with what housing and light industrial development has to do with environmental issues." Mr. Paden again urged Council to vote for what is good for all of the taxpaying citizens of the City.
Jeanne Brugger, 638 Franklin Alley, said she has lived in Bethlehem all her life and on the west side since 1980. Ms. Brugger advised she would like to reiterate some of the things she said before the Planning Commission regarding the matter. Ms. Brugger, turning to the question of what will the project accomplish, stated there will be tax revenues, and City dollars would not have to be used to install new lights and make some roadway improvements. Most importantly, Ms. Brugger stressed, is "we're going to get some jobs. Jobs that pay benefits…". Ms. Brugger communicated there has been a willingness of the owner of the site "to try and work with the neighbors who live north of this, who…have put up with around the clock the industrial site there for years, Durkee's, [with] traffic in and out, smells, sounds, lights, horns…Why didn’t they complain all these years. You know why. Their friends, their families, their neighbors were employed there…". Ms. Brugger added those employees earned good wages and received benefits. Pointing out that the former Durkee spice plant building has sat vacant for years, Ms. Brugger said now "somebody wants to put something in to bring some revenue back into the City and all of a sudden it's…too much traffic, too much lights, too much of this, too much of that." Ms. Brugger expressed her disappointment that neighbors have taken this opportunity to bring that point out so much after the developer has taken the time to talk to those neighbors, and offered to put up buffers. Ms. Brugger, stressing she would hate to think what is going to go on the site if "we don't get what's proposed", wondered what kind of industry would go there, what kind of traffic, smells, or sounds "will we then be dealing with". Ms. Brugger stated her hope "that this is a good project for all of Bethlehem. Not just the neighbors on the west side…, and it does keep you in Bethlehem, spending some of your money in your own town, instead of going to a township or to another city to shop." Ms. Brugger also communicated it would be nice to have a chain restaurant where families could go for a reasonable price.
Jack Gambino, 537 Prospect Avenue, said he would like to speak against the proposal for the development of the former Durkee property by focusing on one intersection; i.e., Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard. Expressing his thought that everyone would agree there is a problem at the intersection, Mr. Gambino highlighted the fact that Nitschmann Middle School is located there within the "commercial and industrial swath" as, he noted, was referenced by Attorney Fitzpatrick. Stressing this is a key issue on which there needs to be focus, Mr. Gambino communicated it concerns "the children of all of us in this community." Mr. Gambino, referring to photographs, pointed out the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard as shown at dismissal time at 3:00 PM and "kids are lined up to dash across Union Boulevard". Mr. Gambino advised that a crossing guard was added by the efforts of many people in the wake of the last series of discussions on the matter. Mr. Gambino pointed to a photograph showing a walk sign and said "a car is dashing through". He continued on to say this has been corrected. Mr. Gambino stressed "but you have to…recognize the extent to which the additional traffic will add to this particular problem". Mr. Gambino, showing photographs of children "dashing across Union Boulevard", communicated that children's minds are on afternoon activities and they do not pay too much attention to what is going on. Turning to another photograph, Mr. Gambino remarked it shows "a common occurrence with many of the children crossing Union Boulevard which is dashing across diagonally to the opposite end." Mr. Gambino said he would like to submit the photographs before Council as a visual representation of the problem that, in part, has been addressed but that he asserted is still a problem. Mr. Gambino continued on to say that to increase traffic on the Eighth Avenue thoroughfare will only exacerbate this problem. Mr. Gambino expressed the hope that Council gives its most serious consideration to this problem and that Council keeps before them in everything that they think about "the children that will be crossing these streets."
Mary Lo Hatcher, 925 Prospect Avenue, said she is the parent of two children who attend Nitschmann Middle School. Ms. Hatcher informed the assembly that she is a member of the school's safety committee that has been meeting for the last two years and is primarily the experience from which she wants to speak. Ms. Hatcher said over the last two years the parents committee along with the Nitschmann administration, and also various components of City government, including Frank Barron, the Traffic Coordinator, and the City traffic advisory committee, have worked to make improvements to pedestrian access and safety around the school site. Ms. Hatcher, continuing on to say there have been some very concrete and important improvements, enumerated that a four way pedestrian walk was retimed, a crossing guard was hired to be present at arrival and dismissal time, white lines were painted along Union Boulevard as a traffic calming strategy, and vehicle access to Ninth Avenue was reconfigured. Ms. Hatcher said all these things have greatly increased the safety for the children who walk to school. Ms. Hatcher advised there were some other safety requests made by students but turned down by the City. She informed the assembly that a four way pedestrian stop at Eighth Avenue and Broad Street, and a pedestrian crossing lane somewhere along Union Boulevard west of the school so that students were not protected just at the school site but along the corridors leading from the school to neighborhoods were turned down because they "hamper the level of service to motor vehicles", and pedestrian signage and assistance would further denigrate these intersections to motor vehicle traffic. Ms. Hatcher, expressing the belief that "all of us here are interested in preserving the character of West Bethlehem", said to her "…an important piece of that is the gridded streets and the walking neighborhoods…Improved and widened roads will bring greater traffic volume and greater speed of traffic." Ms. Hatcher, observing that often the needs of pedestrians and of motor vehicles are at cross purposes with one another, stated she is concerned about pedestrian traffic. Ms. Hatcher stated she is "actually not as concerned about the intersection right at Eighth and Union where the school sits as I am about the corridors leading out from the school…". Ms. Hatcher said she is also concerned about the traffic that will cut through neighborhoods to avoid the busy streets south of the school. Ms. Hatcher felt that the City will want to increasingly work on the efficiency of moving motor vehicles through that segment and there will be greater pressure on the City to bypass pedestrian friendly signage in favor of motor vehicle signage. Ms. Hatcher encouraged Council, as they think about what improved roads will look like and their votes on the proposal, to advocate for as well as improved motor vehicle passage through the area, improved pedestrian passage and not just for school children. Because she thinks the swell is too great to allow pedestrian traffic, Ms. Hatcher said she finds herself continuing to oppose the rezoning of the property for such a high density use. Ms. Hatcher expressed that she is moved by the attention and patience of Council to the many residents who have come before them.
President Gregory expressed the hope that the Administration looks at making West Goepp Street one way out which he noted was one of the most serious concerns he had about the matter last year.
Dean Bruch, 625 Hawthorne Road, noted he is a registered master plumber in Bethlehem for quite a few years, and added that he took his drivers test on Eighth Avenue. Mr. Bruch, remarking he would let the developer worry about whether buildings will be rented, said "we get the taxes from him no matter what he does with it." Mr. Bruch expressed his opinion that the agenda should be more tax revenues.
Peter Axiotis, 1835 Richmond Avenue, advised he has lived in Bethlehem for 34 years of which he lived for 29 years in West Bethlehem. Mr. Axiotis, noting he has a business in downtown Bethlehem, advised that he drives through the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard many times a day and expressed there is not a traffic problem. Mr. Axiotis highlighted the fact that there is not a place to buy lumber in the City. Mr. Axiotis, informing the Members that he collected about 200 signatures, advised that everyone he went to were thanking him for doing something about the matter because they said last time all they heard from was the No Mall people.
Doug Roysdon, 421 Second Avenue, queried "what do we really know about the future traffic and safety of the Nitschmann School area." Advising that he looked over the latest plan for broadening the road, changing light timings, and redirecting students, Mr. Roysdon said he has heard "how it will help the flow of traffic and how it will block the flow of traffic, how it will work and how it won't work. But what about all those traffic details that are sure to be affected by a significant increase of traffic at Nitschmann School." Mr. Roysdon questioned what happens when it rains and many parents pick up their children, making the corner even more busy. He continued on to question what happens if parents determine that the Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard intersection is not safe and "they come in droves to pick up their kids and add to the numbers." Asking what protection will there be for the kids who do not arrive and leave Nitschmann at the same hour, Mr. Roysdon stressed that many leave around 4:30 or 5:00 PM when there will be a new more intensive rush hour. Mr. Roysdon continued on to query what happens on the side streets when the students walk home and cars are trying to avoid the intersections, and how this will increase the traffic effect and these situations. Mr. Roysdon stressed that knowing what is going to happen at the intersection is a lot more complicated than the timing of a light. Mr. Roysdon communicated if there was a real pedestrian study perhaps "we would know what our kids are about to be up against".
Mr. Roysdon, focusing on the proposed development at the former Durkee site, remarked "it's a full sized, evidently popular new Lowe's store with a restaurant or two, and a bank, it's a thousand new parking spaces at Martin Tower. It’s a new build-up at Eighth and Schoenersville Road with a Wawa…It's an apartment complex three to four times more dense than any other in Bethlehem. And, it's a possible IR zoning in which the sky is the limit for the developer. Do we really need to count imaginary cars to believe that something big is about to come down through the intersection of Eighth and Union…Is it possible that an outside, reputable, independent pedestrian study really ought to be part of this decision, a study not conducted by the person who has the most to gain from this situation, the developer…". Mr. Roysdon stressed that an independent pedestrian traffic study does not exist. Mr. Roysdon expressed his belief that most West Bethlehem residents "base their support of this development on the idea that such a study has been done,… that the City and Planning Commission and especially the School District know what they're doing, that they have the facts and have done their homework. And that if this development is okay with them it must be okay for the kids. But I can tell you that nobody in this room has [brought] and nobody is going to bring anything into this room that is anything like a complete and professionally unbiased picture of what are kids are in for…". Mr. Roysdon advised that for two years citizens of the West side "lobbied for a good, clean pedestrian study" but have failed. Mr. Roysdon thought that in great measure "we're here tonight because of the absence of this document." Mr. Roysdon expressed he does not believe there would be support for the mall if it were ever shown conclusively that the community's children and grandchildren were at risk. Conversely, Mr. Roysdon communicated it is possible that opposition to this development may never have reached the peak to which it has risen "if it was shown that there were no substantial increase of danger to our children." Mr. Roysdon reiterated there is big piece missing from this debate that is a professionally researched and objectively described picture of what children will encounter if the rezoning goes through. Mr. Roysdon, querying who will step up and question why "we can't wait until we have a true, unbiased opinion on what our kids will be facing at the corner of Eighth and Union" further questioned "who among us believes there is anything to lose by calling in an outside opinion on this subject for a proper pedestrian study for Nitschmann School."
President Gregory showed the study titled "Eighth Avenue Mixed Use Development Traffic Impact Study". President Gregory commented he would assume that a few Police Officers could be hired for those times when students would be walking in the vicinity.
Hanna Stewart, 537 Prospect Avenue, said she is at the meeting to urge Council to vote against the proposal. Ms. Stewart stated she is at the meeting with a lot of neighbors who are parents of her children's friends. Ms. Stewart advised she is "here mostly as a mother" of Nitschmann students. While confirming there is a crossing guard, Ms. Stewart informed the Members that the crossing guard is there only at arrival and dismissal times but is not there when students arrive before school starts or leave later after school ends depending on their school activities. Ms. Stewart, expressing it worries her that those are particularly peak times for customers of a home improvement store, said "it is particularly the Lowe's that I think is not appropriate for this site." Ms. Stewart, noting that Nitschmann Middle School would not be allowed in its present location given today's standards such as setback regulations, stressed the fact is "that little sliver of land between Eighth Avenue and the east wall of the school wouldn't meet regulations today." Ms. Stewart, remarking there will be more traffic and that is why improvements are proposed, pointed out that another 14 feet will be taken away from the small sliver of land. Ms. Steward stressed that the students "come piling out at 3:00 onto what is already quite a dangerous and difficult corner, one that will be even smaller, even closer to the front door of the school when it leaves 14 feet off of that." Ms. Stewart, pointing out that trees will be taken away, stated that trees could stop cars that have gone out of control, and added that the corner would be potentially more dangerous. Highlighting the fact that the east side of the school is not air conditioned, Ms. Stewart communicated that the loss of 14 feet means that cars and trucks will be idling within "spitting distance" of students desks. Remarking there will be noise and air pollution, Ms. Stewart advised that closing the windows causes classrooms to heat up making it very difficult to have class; or, the windows are left open and the students cannot hear the teacher. Ms. Stewart expressed her fear about vehicles "gunning to be able to make the light…". Urging Council to "consider the safety of our kids", Ms. Stewart enumerated there are "all kinds of places we don't put schools. What we ought to think about is whether or not this project on this piece of land with this school is a wise plan, and I would urge you to vote against it."
Motion - Continuing Meeting Beyond 11:00 PM
President Gregory, with reference to the discussion at the beginning of the Meeting concerning ending it at 11:00 PM, indicated that he would accept a motion.
Mrs. Belinski made a motion to continue the meeting. Ms. Szabo seconded the motion. Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Schweder, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Gregory, 7. The motion passed.
Attorney Fitzpatrick, referring to Ms. Stewart’s comments, pointed out that the exhibit he would mark as A-10, shows the Nitschmann intersection improvements which also includes a concrete barrier wall intended to separate traffic from the school property. Attorney Fitzpatrick, adding this is part of a submission made to the School District and he would make it available to Council or anyone else who is interested, stated it is a matter of public record.
Martha Christine, 264 Tenth Avenue, said she wants to speak for herself as a resident of West Bethlehem and also wants to speak for her former Calypso School students who now attend Nitschmann Middle School. Ms. Christine, advising she is concerned about more than just the intersection, said she is also concerned about the area north of Nitschmann. Ms. Christine stated she wants "to make sure all those traffic lights along Eighth Avenue are going to be safe for our students to cross too". Ms. Christine, informing the assembly that she and her son walk every Friday afternoon from their house to piano lessons near Westgate Mall, noted she sees quite a few pedestrians along Eighth Avenue. Ms. Christine remarked she does not "think it's going to be very pleasant for pedestrians to be walking down Eighth Avenue if this proposed rezoning goes in." Ms. Christine, explaining that she walks to the library and various places downtown, said she is concerned that rezoning this area so close to the downtown area will detract from people going downtown. Ms. Christine asked how long the property was available at a reasonable price for light industrial use. She also asked if this property is rezoned how would it impact other sites within the neighborhood and would the area become more commercial. Ms. Christine felt these are issues that need to be discussed and considered for the future.
Jeff Horning, 532 Third Avenue, stated it occurs to him that everyone here has the same things in common; that is, what would be best for Bethlehem. Mr. Horning said "we all want to see the needs of our City judiciously served when you cast your vote." Mr. Horning, communicating that Bethlehem is composed of neighborhoods where growing up everyone knew everyone else, remarked that neighborhoods can take on that old characteristic when they feel threatened. Mr. Horning continued on to say when this happens it is necessary that attention be paid to many and all concerns. Such attention has been paid in this situation by the spokespeople of the No Mall group and by members of that group. In addition, all of City Council and many members of City government have paid attention to these neighborhood concerns. Mr. Horning said attention has also been paid to these concerns by Mr. Petrucci and Lowe's. Mr. Horning felt that Mr. Petrucci has shown, by his actions so far, that he realizes the sensitivity of this issue and moreover has exhibited a willingness to work with City Council, City Planners, Engineers, traffic people and citizens both for and opposed to his plan for this site, his object being to make this project the best that it can be in order to meet the needs of our entire City. Mr. Horning felt that Mr. Petrucci’s efforts will continue, and expressed that everyone should look upon these efforts favorably when making a decision. Focusing on a concern of the No Mall group that a Lowe’s store would have an impact on local businesses, Mr. Horning observed he supposes that the possibility exists that the impact will be far less than anticipated if there is any impact at all. Expressing the hope is that a Lowe’s will not affect the businesses in any tragic way, Mr. Horning said "if it does it will not be Lowe’s fault, it will be ours for not continuing to support those stores as we do now. It is up to us to make room for a Lowe’s and at the same time keep smaller stores selling similar products in business." Mr. Horning felt that the City of Bethlehem can do both. While highlighting the importance that small businesses play in the community, Mr. Horning remarked that to exclude one business because it may adversely affect another is simply not good business or good government. Turing to another concern of No Mall about Nitschmann School and its students, Mr. Horning observed that they paint a picture of New York style traffic jams leaving the impression that because of increased traffic due to Lowe’s children’s lives will be in jeopardy. Acknowledging it stands to reason that traffic will be affected, Mr. Horning pointed out that any potential traffic changes should be a consideration and a concern of City Council but should not halt the retail development of this site. Mr. Horning expressed his confidence that, with all of the intelligent and variously expert minds in this room and the City Government, the safety of all children and pedestrians cannot only be met but beyond that made even better than it is presently. Mr. Horning queried, with upwards of a million and half dollars in road and traffic improvements factored into this development and its affect on the Eighth Avenue Corridor, how can the current situation not be made better. Mr. Horning thought that Mr. Petrucci and Lowe’s have gone out their way to present the City with a plan that is over the top in addressing the needs and desires of the entire City while being very mindful of the neighborhoods this development may affect. Mr. Horning asserted that Lowe's market research has no doubt indicated very simply that there is a market to be had on this site, sizeable enough to justify the expense of building and maintaining one of their stores. Regarding the alternatives, Mr. Horning pointed out that in the years the Durkee lot has been abandoned the only concrete plans have been the one before Council now and the preceding plan, both based on a Lowe’s store. With respect to the feelings of those opposed or hesitant or waiting for something better to come along, Mr. Horning expressed the opinion that any so called alternatives are mere pipe dreams disguised as alternatives when compared to this solid ready to build development proposal. In terms of benefits to the City, Mr. Horning said he can see no down side in that there would be more jobs, more tax revenues, road and safety improvements, an attractive, well-landscaped, environmentally conscious store design among others, instead of pipe dreams and a derelict lot. Mr. Horning thought that the basic motivations of the No Mall group are concerns that Bethlehem may in the future be overrun by this particular kind of development; namely, a retail one. Agreeing it is true there is a nice, and not so little anymore, town in Bethlehem, Mr. Horning agreed it is important to pay attention to its future. Mr. Horning, remarking that balancing idealistic notions and realistic ones is never easy, believed that the Lowe’s development is a realistic compromise, and thought it will move the City forward in a favorable direction. When the time comes, Mr. Horning said he would urge all Members of Council to vote yes to this proposal. By doing so, Mr. Horning thought Council will be doing what is right for Bethlehem, not to mention for an overwhelming majority of City residents. Mr. Horning commented that the No-Mall group has manifested its opposition for this project and its predecessor in many ways, trying and succeeding in holding off the bulldozers to this point. While advising that he fully respects their right to dissent, Mr. Horning urged them to recognize that many City residents do not share their opinion. Mr. Horning believed that, if all of the parties concerned about the proposed Lowe’s development worked together, an intelligent, well-executed plan to minimize, improve or eliminate any concerns about the impact of this development can be achieved. Mr. Horning said this, combined with the ability to adapt to change, can make this proposed Lowe’s project a resounding success for everyone.
Jim Carolan, 507 W. Union Boulevard, said he is a member of No Mall. Remarking that he is not an environmentalist, Mr. Carolan stated he would like to clarify something that was said earlier about No Mall being part of an environmental theme. Mr. Carolan explained that, when the group started researching and trying to fight the initial proposal last year, they went to the internet and typed in malls. They found a site that basically fought Walmart’s and learned from that site. As a result, the No Mall name was added to a list. Mr. Carolan recounted that the property was not on the market very long, the previous rezoning proposal was rejected last April, and Mr. Petrucci had an agreement for the property last July. Mr. Carolan asked, if approval for IR rezoning is given, would it open up a can of worms for every other developer that comes down the line to receive approval for rezoning to IR. Mr. Carolan expressed that, in reality, the site if approved should be a retail spot, not an IR spot. Mr. Carolan respectfully asked Council to look at the legal arguments that Attorney Don Miles put forward. Mr. Carolan requested that, if necessary, the proposal be tabled until the legal arguments are settled because it will save lots of taxpayer dollars down the line when the matter goes to court and gets overturned.
David McGuire, 815 Beverly Avenue, representing the Sierra Club, advised that the Lehigh Valley Group of the Sierra Club has followed this land use controversy almost from its beginning, and added that the membership includes over 1,500 with 250 of them from Bethlehem. Explaining that they are interested because having strong cities is the best way to stop sprawl, Mr. McGuire stated the best way to enhance cities is to protect the vitality and cohesiveness of neighborhoods. Mr. McGuire stressed that, as Council is well aware, if the land is rezoned there will be no control over the development no matter what the intentions of some people might be. Mr. McGuire, recalling that IR zoning was specifically brought up to facilitate the under-utilized Heavy Industrial zoned properties of Bethlehem Steel, highlighted the fact that the site in question is currently zoned light industrial, and asserted this is an inappropriate application of the IR Zoning. Mr. McGuire urged Council to defeat this current proposal so that an appropriate development might take place. Acknowledging that everybody would like to have a development and a better use of the former Durkee’s site, Mr. McGuire stated that the question is simply finding a zoning that best sustains and strengthens the core neighborhoods of the West Side. Mr. McGuire expressed that this open-ended opportunity of IR zoning does not benefit neighborhoods. Mr. McGuire enumerated shopping centers already located in the area that he characterized as declining grayfields and which he said are further weakening neighborhoods. Mr. McGuire communicated that he would like Council to take a larger view to recognize that some forms of development are detrimental and degrade neighborhoods and the tax base. Mr. McGuire expressed that a vote for rezoning to IR is a vote to put one and a half to two million dollars into the pockets of the investor pool. Referring to a letter from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), Mr. McGuire noted it stated that anything developed at this site fits in with the county master plan. Continuing on to note that LVPC also looked at the traffic, Mr. McGuire pointed out that LVPC believed there are a lot of significant impacts and urged the City Planning staff to contact LVPC about these matters. Mr. McGuire remarked that, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission took a look at the proposal and does not have their usual glowing statements about such matters, and recommended that be considered.
Wayne Maura, 826 W. Union Boulevard, stated he is returning with a different perspective. In trying to contemplate what he might add to this discussion, Mr. Maura observed that the recurring theme of truth kept coming back. To that end, Mr. Maura's hope was that everyone gets a very detailed explanation of what took place at the Planning Commission, and that Council follows up with a careful review of all the zoning issues. If there is not an understanding of all of the complexities of this issue, Mr. Maura hoped that Council would do all that it takes to get to that point and to the truth before taking a vote. Mr. Maura asked that Council make a decision based on feeling very confident knowing all of the dynamics involved in this situation.
Mr. Maura asked how many have spent time at this site between the hours of 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM. Mr. Maura felt the traffic issue alone should not be the only consideration. Mr. Maura remarked that, when the Planning Commission met last year, the issue of a possible residential application for this site was put forth. One of the members questioned the validity of such a proposal stating that he wondered who would want to live next to Route 378. Citing from Article 6, Section 604 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Mr. Maura highlighted the fact that it states in subsection 1 that the statutes exist to promote and facilitate any or all of the following: public health, safety, morals, and the general welfare, coordinated and practical community development, and proper density of population. He continued on to note that in Subsection 2 it states that the statutes serve also to prevent overcrowding of land, blight, danger and congestion in travel and transportation, and so on. Mr. Maura stated that, when the Durkee site was active and functioning, the traffic issue was different then versus now with additional businesses in the area.
Mr. Maura remarked he is appalled at the political nature that this issue has taken. Mr. Maura, noting he has spent some time in the building business, commented there are certain townships in the State where if a developer came forth with veiled references to what people might get if they do not approve what is proposed they would get nothing. He suggested that is what is happening here. In addition, Mr. Maura felt that the reckless characterizations made last year by the former Mayor, members of Council, and the media led to much of the public outcry. Focusing on remarks made tonight that the City’s Traffic Engineer is not concurring with the developer’s study, Mr. Maura expressed his displeasure with the way traffic engineering has been conducted of late, and stated there is more traffic in the City. Mr. Maura acknowledged that his neighbors have every right to come out in support of this project, and applauded their involvement. With reference to Mr. Callahan's comments that if the supporters would have been here last year things may have turned out differently, Mr. Maura said, in fact, Mr. Petrucci may not have been able to buy the location for the two million dollar savings. Expressing that those who are not in support of the proposal extend the invitation to others to meet as neighbors, Mr. Maura advised the group would be happy to sit down any time and any place and go over the information, and would like to see that happen prior to Council taking its vote.
Mr. Maura proceeded by reading a letter for the record, as follows: “We ask you to consider that from California to New Zealand, city planners have halted construction of big box retail stores and centers to reevaluate their efforts on towns and local communities. The alarm is sounding that all too often quick fixes to generate money development gradually over time create a downward slide and communities suffer ugly effects. The reality is that the hope for economic boosts quickly fills the pockets of out of town developers while local businesses suffer. Traffic problems develop into the city’s ongoing nightmare to finance pedestrian traffic becomes risky, avenues turn into traffic highways, quiet neighborhoods transformed by the invasion of the touring cars. Traffic, litter, street noise and pollution invade seven days a week, morning noon and night, and ultimately the city suffers economically as neighborhoods decay. Please consider at this point in time traffic volume is burgeoning throughout the valley. Why deliberately vote for how many more cars per day to clog the 378 exit ramp, and turn Eighth Avenue into a congested highway. The population of the City has not increased dramatically since 1964. How much development is economically warranted when Westgate Mall, Lehigh Shopping Center, local merchants struggle for business. Too late for hindsight, city planners are discovering that miscalculated zoning decisions may cause a city to shoot itself in the foot. That can happen very easily here in Bethlehem. Stable, contributing neighborhoods are devalued as a vital component necessary for a city’s economic health and well being. Petitions signed by a thousand citizens is testimony for serious concerns about rezoning the Durkee property. That said petition represents taxpaying, voting citizens who want to avert the big problems that this kind of development breeds. One thousand people expect government to represent their best interests, too. Months of research and expert opinion recommends that big box development is ill-suited within that particular Eighth Avenue area. In March 2002, after many meetings and after considering presentations given by both Lowe’s and citizen opposition to rezoning the Durkee site, Council voted no to rezone for big box development. Council reached that decision for valid and sensible reasons. Council was congratulated for its vision. Unfortunately, a year later and with another cast of players, the same rezoning issue was again slated for rehashing. Curiously, when plans are examined, the new proposal is essentially the same old build-out proposal presented last March, perhaps worded a little differently. This new proposal includes a residential component thrown in the mix. However, to be questioned is the description of ‘quality residential buildings’ to be located between dumpsters, loading docks and highways. For elected administrators to consider rezoning the Durkee site for big box commercial development is contradictory to the Comprehensive Plan. When was it decided to ignore the Comprehensive Plan. It seems on one hand the City is trying to revitalize the South Side and enhancing its charm, while on the other hand at the same time is considering rezoning for big box commercial that will undermine the west side, including the Rose Garden’s charm. Big box is certainly not unique nor charming, and ultimately down the line presents more problems than it solves. Bethlehem’s Comprehensive Plan designates light industrial or residential development for the Durkee’s site. This decision was formulated after considerable research and debate by intelligent government. Planners agreed that certain types of development are suited for particular sites and locations within the City to avoid quick fix spot rezoning. We have witnessed the pattern of urban flight and the whole of economic deterioration affecting nearby cities. We hope to avoid that same type of erosion and fear that the West Side is poised on a slippery slope. It seems by presenting the same proposal again and again, disguised as a new scaled down proposal, the strategy to continue to drag out and wear down any opposition until Council approves the zoning change for a quick fix is at hand. The faster negative development occurs, the faster the developer realizes mega-profits. The Comprehensive Plan supports growth and wise development in Bethlehem but is aware of the lure of just such quick fix proposals that dazzle with the promise of bigger, better, easier but that don’t provide the solid money base that light industrial jobs or residential development gives back to City coffers. Good progress comes from wise choices. The Durkee site is a serious commitment of land development. Light industrial development provided stability for the City, and Durkee’s was an unobtrusive and contributing neighbor that provided good jobs. Folks aren’t against the wise development, or a Lowe’s per se, or restaurants, or banks, and it is not a question of NIMBY, not in my back yard, but issues of children’s safety at the Nitschmann School, issues of local business losses, issues of existing traffic problems that are an accident waiting to happen. Furthermore, even if existing traffic problems are corrected and paid for, who would be fiscally responsible for the ongoing and increasing traffic problems generated by the demands of big box commerce – the taxpayer. Voters expect responsible government expect responsible government to consider all ramifications of big box development to question endorsing quick fixes. It’s been quoted, act in haste, regret at leisure. To rezone a site that is ill-suited for this type of commercial development when light industrial and residential is recommended by a well thought out Comprehensive Plan would be counter productive. Note that light industrial/residential is not zoned for auto auctions, cement factories, hog haves, or any other worst case scenario scare tactic that has been publicized to confuse folks into believing that it’s either a Lowe’s or an auto auction. As our elected officials, we trust the Council Members will scrutinize and question the wisdom of rezoning, and resist the quick fix philosophy of politics.” Mr. Maura informed the assembly that Marie Maura wrote the letter he just read.
John Gatewood, 926 Seventh Avenue, advised he would be speaking on the issues of economics, tax base, and will be the projected or likely consequences. Mr. Gatewood said those who oppose this particular zoning request are not opposed to economic development. Rather, they want to focus on which kind of economic development makes the most sense for this particular site, and what is best for the long-term vitality of the community. He felt that those types of questions should find agreement with everyone. Mr. Gatewood reviewed a money flow comparison between two different kinds of developments, three ways that this site might be developed, and what might be their tax revenue consequences. He began with the first comparison of the difference between light industrial development and some kind of commercial development. He focused on a commercial development that has to do with non-locally owned businesses. Pointing out that what occurs with light industrial development is basically manufacturing a product that is purchased by someone in the country or the world, Mr. Gatewood observed that, ultimately money that used to be outside of the City ends up in the city where the product is manufactured. By contrast, Mr. Gatewood said if one looks at non-locally owned commercial development, the money trail can be followed. Instead of staying in the community, Mr. Gatewood explained that a certain fraction of every dollar spent is for profit that leaves the area's economy. In the case of Lowe's Mr. Gatewood said it will go mostly to North Carolina and ultimately it will go to stockholders of the corporation. Mr. Gatewood highlighted the fact that the key issue is that it leaves the Lehigh Valley, while the manufacturing type of operation brings money into the Lehigh Valley. Comparing the quality of jobs that light industrial development creates as opposed to the kind of jobs that retail creates, Mr. Gatewood observed that with light industrial there are good jobs with high paying wages. However, with commercial development the average wage is about $8.75 per hour. Consequently, he pointed out that people who work at Lowe’s would not be able to afford to live at the apartments that will be built behind it. He then turned to how many services are required by the two kinds of developments. Mr. Gatewood stated that light industrial requires less City services, while commercial operations on the other hand require much more services which is what the taxes are paid for. Mr. Gatewood next focused on the impact on existing business. He pointed out that a light industrial plant coming in and setting up a base in the community is good for everybody, and does not take anything away from anyone because it is simply additive. By contrast, Mr. Gatewood explained that particularly with a big category type operation coming in most of what it sells will not be new sales. Instead, that operation is taking away sales from other stores that already exist in the community. Consequently, it does have a big impact on existing local businesses. While acknowledging that both will increase the tax base, Mr. Gatewood pointed out that in comparing the tax revenue estimate for both of these developments there are different kinds of components to the tax base. The major components for the tax revenue with retail plus the apartments is as follows: property tax on assessed value of the land, wage taxes on the people who work in the stores, mercantile tax on any sales, and Bethlehem Area School District taxes. He noted that the proposed residential development will have property, wage, and school tax. Focusing on mercantile tax, Mr. Gatewood noted that the mercantile tax could stay the same in cases where there are no actual new sales such as when someone purchases an item at Lowe’s instead of purchasing that same item at another Bethlehem retailer. Under a manufacturing operation, the same taxes will be paid except for the mercantile tax. He next turned to how much of the sales can be expected to be new sales. Nationally, Mr. Gatewood said if you look at Walmarts, their sales are only about 16% new. When a Walmart comes in and locates it takes away business. In the case of Lowe’s and Home Depot, Mr. Gatewood said he does not have exact numbers available. Advising that Home Depot's new sales vary from region to region, Mr. Gatewood advised that about one-third of their total gross sales are actually new, and is what was used to estimate the mercantile tax. Taking gross sales multiplied by percentage figures for the tax will show adjusted mercantile tax. He also included a multiplier for the wage tax using 1.2%. Mr. Gatewood then distributed handouts to Members of Council. Mr. Gatewood stated that the first page shows how the calculations are made. He pointed out that shopping centers and malls cost more in services required to the City than do factories. Likewise, he said high-density apartments cost more than just about anything from the cost side viewpoint. Observing that in some of the proposed 200 apartments there would be children, Mr. Gatewood estimated that one-third of the apartments will have a total of 67 school age children. Informing the assembly that he spoke with the Bethlehem Area School District, Mr. Gatewood said they reported that it costs about $8,500 for every student in school in the Bethlehem Area School District. Of that cost, local revenues pay 77.42%. As a result, Mr. Gatewood calculated that if there are 67 children out of the 200 apartments each one of these 67 students is going to cost $6,580 per year that they are in school. Mr. Gatewood concluded that, instead of being a hands down winner on tax base, the apartments are the least desirable of the three alternatives from a tax base viewpoint. He pointed out that cost does not apply to manufacturing and it does not apply to the empty nesters living in apartments. Mr. Gatewood observed that police, fire protection and street maintenance costs would apply to all three developments. Mr. Gatewood asserted that none on the three developments will produce a big windfall profit for the City. Mr. Gatewood stressed that, if the tax system in the City is fair, it is time to give up the talk of windfall profits, broadening the tax revenue, and how that is going to keep him from paying another dollar. He pointed out that with the traffic comparison there is a very clear difference in what can be expected from the developments.
Jo Horning, 532 Third Avenue, noting that she has lived in Bethlehem for 30 years, observed this City is no longer the way it was when she moved here. Ms. Horning communicated that present problems should be addressed instead of trying to keep things the way they used to be. Ms. Horning felt that Mr. Petrucci has bent over backward trying to address all of the concerns of everyone. Ms. Horning said as far as she knows the residential use did not come up until the first developer was turned down last year. Ms. Horning recalled at that time Mr. Schweder remarked he would like to see some kind of residential development. Ms. Horning continued on to say that after Mr. Petrucci bought the land he met with the No Mall group in order to see what their concerns were. Noting that the No Mall group told him they would like to see some housing and Mr. Petrucci tried to comply, Ms. Horning said now she feels that they are complaining a little too much about it. Ms. Horning related a conversation that she had with someone who was asked to sign the petition to not allow the project to go through. When that person asked the No Mall representative holding the petition if the No Mall person would want to shop at the Lowe's store, the No Mall person replied of course they were going to.
Donovan Remaley, 1403 Stanford Road, advised he is an adjacent dweller to the proposed project, and is not affiliated with a group. Mr. Remaley advised that he discovered the plans on his dining room table. Mr. Remaley felt that this does not seem to be the right place for the proposed development. Mr. Remaley said in his estimation when Durkee’s was located there it was very non-intrusive. Mr. Remaley pointed out that the density of the houses is his concern. While expressing he is not concerned about a Lowe’s, Mr. Remaley asked if this is the right place for it. Mr. Remaley expressed that whether people are for it or against it, research must be done, and there cannot be dependence on numbers from other people. Mr. Remaley communicated that people have to be willing to work together to see what is best for the overall community in the long run. Mr. Remaley urged everyone to take a look at the plans and to make an informed decision.
Al Wurth, 525 Sixth Avenue, felt that the most important
issue is about rezoning, and that the rezoning is not in any
way binding the developer to any of the proposals that have
been seen. Mr. Wurth recalled that the former Planning Director,
Samuel Guttman, described the IR district as removing zoning
restrictions as much as possible without dispensing with zoning
altogether. Mr. Wurth further recounted that Frederic Brock,
Assistant Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission,
in 1996 said that he thought IR zoning was somewhat precedent
setting in the openendedness of it. Mr. Wurth noted that Mr.
Donchez at that time had indicated that if the rezoning request
was approved for IR at the Bethlehem Steel it is being said
in a sense that there is no zoning. Focusing on redevelopment
of the former Bethlehem Steel property, Mr. Wurth felt that
should be a lesson to the City about granting this type of
zoning to any sites, person or property in the City. Mr. Wurth
expressed that the City may end up with an absentee owner
who does not care about Bethlehem and making decisions about
what will be built there. Pointing out that the zoning is
not about Lowe’s, Mr. Wurth stated that Lowe’s
has decided to move into the Lehigh Valley and there will
be a Lowe's whether it is here or elsewhere. Remarking that
the reason Lowe’s likes the Eighth Avenue site is because
it is one of the three busiest streets in the City, Mr. Wurth
stressed that should be a good indication as to why it should
not put there. Turning to the price of the property, Mr. Wurth
acknowledged the property is worth something but said it would
be worth a lot more if it is given the green light and stressed
this is a two million dollar decision. Mr. Wurth argued that
it should not be developed as proposed because it should not
be located right next door to a school. He pointed out that
traffic cannot be added to this street and expect it to be
made safer. Highlighting the fact that all pedestrian safety
studies suggest that streets be narrowed to make them safer
to cross, Mr. Wurth pointed out that, instead, it is proposed
to add a lane and made the curb radius wider so that trucks
can make the turn faster. Mr. Wurth expressed his agreement
with Professor Gatewood's comments about the economic side
of the argument, including taking sales away from one business
and giving it to another. Mr. Wurth, contrasting retail with
light industrial development, enumerated the high number of
tractor trailers that leave and enter a retail site on a daily
basis, and the number of customers’ cars that come and
leave the stores to take away the delivered goods. Expressing
that the developer could develop the site for light industrial
since that is the developer’s expertise, could be Mr.
Wurth felt that the matter should be put on hold for the time
being, and put on the site what is appropriate and safe for
the neighborhood and community. At the least, Mr. Wurth felt
that, before making a decision, a determination must be made
about what will happen with pedestrians, and issues at Nitschmann
School. Referring to the letter from the Planning Commission
dated March 27, 2003, Mr. Wurth pointed out it states that
the City should make sure all relevant pedestrian issues are
addressed. He continued on to advise the letter also states
that with the proximity of Nitschmann Middle School to the
site, safe pedestrian movement is an important objective.
Mr. Wurth asserted that requires an independent pedestrian-oriented
study of the entire region. Stressing that IR would allow
potentially anything to go into the site, Mr. Wurth observed
that if the Lowe’s turns into a shopping center, the
traffic will increase about 30%. Mr. Wurth contended that
a vote for IR is not a vote for Lowe’s but instead is
a vote for the next owner and the possibility of even more
traffic. Mr. Wurth stressed that the City should not be dealing
with the IR zoning. Mr. Wurth added that he has some quotes
that he read tonight from the minutes that he would like to
submit for the record of the public hearing.
Mr. Callahan, indicating his concern about rezoning the property to IR, expressed that IR is a special zoning designation created in 1996, was controversial at the time, and expressed the belief that it is a carte blanche type of zoning. Mr. Callahan felt that if the property is to be rezoned for commercial uses then it should rezoned to CS rather than IR. Mr. Callahan, expressing the thought that everyone should be concerned about the potential for the property as IR, observed that IR zoning does not exist anywhere else in the City other than the 160 acres at the Bethlehem Works site in South Bethlehem. Pointing out that IR was created to help redevelop old, heavy industrial brownfields, Mr. Callahan highlighted the fact that is not the case for this property. Observing that the property is under a great deal of demand, Mr. Callahan pointed out it is a prime piece of real estate in the City. Mr. Callahan communicated that rezoning it to IR does set a precedent.
Glen Remaley, 1403 Stanford Road, noted that he also is speaking for his father who resides at 1417 Stanford Road. Mr. Remaley noted it had been indicated earlier that Members of Council received a letter from his attorney, Don Miles. Mr. Remaley informed the Members that Attorney Miles is the Solicitor for the Planning Commission in Lower Macungie Township and consequently could not be at tonight's meeting. Mr. Remaley pointed out that, in Attorney Miles' letter, he has questions about the legality of this meeting tonight in view of the fact that a zoning appeal was filed by several neighbors.
President Gregory affirmed that Members of Council received the appeal and it has been turned over to the Solicitor.
Mr. Remaley continued to explain that he lives right next door to the site and has been a life long resident of the City of Bethlehem. He chose to live there and did his homework and knew about the light industrial zoning. Mr. Remaley commented that he liked the idea of a car dealership at the site. Admitting that Mr. Petrucci is a class act and has built some beautiful buildings, Mr. Remaley said it is not a question of whether Mr. Petrucci does a beautiful job or about Lowe’s because it is a great store, rather it is a question of zoning. Mr. Remaley thought that this hearing was a public forum where he would find seven Council persons that were impartial, listening to the public, weighing both sides, and not bantering back and forth. Mr. Remaley stressed it is a question of what is best for that area. Mr. Remaley said he was told that zoning needs to be considered by itself and not with a project in view. Mr. Remaley related that he heard a lot of opinions tonight, and a lot of people saying how this is going to be improved. Noting there was a petition sent around in favor of the rezoning with a drawing on the back, Mr. Remaley asked if anyone has taken the time to see what was filed, and stated that it is nothing like what appears on the back of the petition. Focusing on last year's proposal, Mr. Remaley there was 220,000 square feet of shopping center on thirty-seven acres. In contrast, Mr. Remaley calculated that the current proposal for approximately 150,000 square feet on twenty acres has the greater impact on the community. In addition, Mr. Remaley highlighted the fact that high density residential is also planned for the site. He added he is not speaking in favor of last year’s plan either. Mr. Remaley advised that Attorney Miles reported he has found at least 30 zoning violations in this new plan. Recounting comments tonight that something is better than nothing, Mr. Remaley stressed, in his estimation, something is not better than nothing, and the right thing even if it takes times is what is needed. Initially, Mr. Remaley noted the concern last year was having a buffer between the development and residential neighborhoods. Mr. Remaley highlighted the fact that his bedroom happens to be next to the area in question. Mr. Remaley, observing there is no buffer in the current plan between the IR and the residents, questioned how the proposal will impact the standard of living in his neighborhood. Mr. Remaley communicated that the neighborhood is being ruined, and he hopes that it is not going to be done with Council’s blessing. While indicating he has no problem with apartments or a Lowe’s, Mr. Remaley reminded everyone that it is a vote for rezoning and for anything that can go into that zoning designation. He continued on to point out that, as a result, if the property is rezoned to IR or, for that matter, even to CS, it is not a question of whether or not Mr. Petrucci is going to build something that is very nice. Rather, Mr. Remaley stressed the concern is about what happens as it moves forward, what will happen if Lowe’s moves out, and the uncertainty about what will go into that site with an IR zoning. Restating it is a question of whether the zoning makes sense, Mr. Remaley urged the Members of Council to read and reconsider the letters that have been sent, and consider all possibilities and implications that are included. Mr. Remaley said vote yes for Lowe’s and no for rezoning.
Katherine Cameron, 926 Seventh Avenue, remarked that the proposal represents the same old plans and problems. She enumerated there are intersections that cannot be fixed, widened intersections that put cars even closer to students at Nitschmann School, traffic problems that push 7,000 to 9,000 cars that make short cuts through neighborhoods, noise and light pollution for the houses on Stanford and Ralston Road that lie behind the Lowe’s, minimum wage jobs in big box stores instead of a living wage at industrial plants. Ms. Cameron observed that this plan is touted as a compromise and better than before because it is built as a mixed use with the addition of a residential component of 200 apartments. However, Ms. Cameron questioned who in their right mind will pay in excess of $1,000 a month to be sandwiched in between an industrial plant and a Lowe’s. Ms. Cameron remarked this plan is not mixed use in anyway that an urban planner would understand. She pointed out that in new construction mixed use means capturing the quality of small time life so that neighborhoods where people live are near where they work and shop. Such developments are small scale and people oriented. Those who build big mixed-use neighborhoods combine home residences with office space and retail along with sidewalks and green space. Ms. Cameron pointed out that big box stores have not been a feature of these kinds of developments. She added that urban planners have proposed mixed-use plans for decaying urban neighborhoods and old shopping centers. Advising that the No Mall citizens group had a meeting with Mr. Petrucci in January about his plan, Ms. Cameron informed the Members that the No Mall group asked Mr. Petrucci about developing the site either for light industrial or mixed use. Ms. Cameron related that Mr. Petrucci said that he could find industrial tenants or buyers but he did not want to go that route, and also said he would not consider strictly residential plans where people buy but do not rent. Ms. Cameron, saying she did not understand Mr. Petrucci's reluctance to think beyond a standard commercial concept, stated she could only assume that for him the bottom line is that commercial is so much more lucrative than the alternative even though the alternative is better for the west side. To the arguments of pro-mallers that a Lowe’s is needed or wanted five minutes from the areas homes, Ms. Cameron said be careful for what you wish. Turning to the City Planning Bureau, Ms. Cameron asked why concessions not been made with the owners of vacant sites that have been mentioned before. Asserting these sites could be right or even made right, Ms. Cameron questioned why the City cannot find a vacant property so that this tired, recycled and unimaginative proposal for commercial development can finally and irrevocably be put to rest.
President Gregory asked if Mayor Delgrosso supports the proposal that includes rezoning to IR.
Mayor Delgrosso replied, as it stands yes.
Gene Mater, 434 Second Avenue, advised he is at the public hearing to talk about traffic and to give an evaluation of Greg Richardson’s traffic study. In addition, he would also like to answer some of the questions that Mr. Callahan was asking. In view of the lateness of the hour, and the fact that his fifteen minute presentation is heavy on facts, figures and schematics, Mr. Mater offered to make his presentation instead at the next City Council Meeting.
President Gregory stated that he would allow Mr. Mater to be the first speaker at the next City Council meeting.
Attorney Fitzpatrick, raising a question about procedure, inquired about a second hearing.
President Gregory explained that he meant the next City Council meeting.
Attorney Fitzpatrick, affirming that he understands there will be two readings of the Ordinance at the next two Council meetings, noted there is a point where testimony closes in a public hearing and thereafter procedurally there are readings of the Bill.
Christopher Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, commented that the offer was made that Mr. Mater could speak at the next City Council Meeting at the Courtesy of the Floor, prior to the First Reading of the Bill that evening.
Attorney Fitzpatrick requested clarification that is not to indicate however that the hearing would either reopen for testimony or the hearing would be continued to another night or indefinitely.
Attorney Spadoni replied no.
Attorney Fitzpatrick asked whether the Public Hearing is closing this evening.
Attorney Spadoni, responding the answer would be no at the current time, pointed out it is not yet known how many more individuals want to speak this evening. Consequently, the determination on ending the Public Hearing this evening cannot be made at the present time. In further response to Attorney Fitzpatrick, Attorney Spadoni confirmed that Mr. Mater would speak at the next City Council Meeting under the first Courtesy of the Floor but not with the intention of extending or continuing this Public Hearing, or delaying First Reading.
Mr. Schweder added that every citizen has the right to come to next Tuesday’s meeting and what is being done is the same procedure followed under any other proposal before City Council.
Attorney Fitzpatrick queried whether Mr. Richardson would
be able to respond to Mr. Mater’s presentation at the
next City Council Meeting.
President Gregory replied certainly.
Kathy Martucci, 1402 Elliott Avenue, stated she is at the
meeting representing thousands of City residents who very
strongly support the project before Council tonight. Ms. Martucci
advised that she and her husband, Gary, became involved in
the process towards the end of the rezoning request made by
the previous developer last year. Ms. Martucci, stating the
current proposal is a very different application, said it
has much less retail and less parking spaces. The Lowe’s
is bricked-faced, is facing Eighth Avenue, only eighteen acres
are proposed to be rezoned to IR, and housing units are a
part of the plan. Observing some might say that this is the
same plan as before, Ms. Martucci commented that ignores the
facts. Ms. Martucci continued on to note that to say this
plan will change the character of Eighth Avenue or affect
Historic Bethlehem would make sense if there were a cornfield
surrounded by houses or if it was downtown, but “it
is a rusty mess of a building across from a twenty story building
next to [Route] 378”. Ms. Martucci advised that many
people who have signed the petition in favor of the rezoning
request have said that they regretted having signed a No Mall
petition the last time. Stressing there is the absence of
a No Mall petition this time around, Ms. Martucci explained
the reason why is because even people who reasonably disagreed
the last time can see that this new plan does make sense.
Ms. Martucci, expressing she was amazed at the Planning Commission
meeting to hear the few objectors say that the Route 33 site
in Bethlehem Township was a far better site for a Lowe’s,
pointed out she was amazed because these same people went
out and objected to that plan, too. Ms. Martucci asserted
the bottom line is that, except for the few people who hope
this will go away, this project has City-wide support. Ms.
Martucci communicated “we want you to hear us, and we
want you to act as quickly as possible so that this opportunity
to create jobs, get road improvements at no cost to us taxpayers,
and have a great class project in our neighborhood doesn’t
pass us by. Please remember that many of our City residents
are out of work and many of the Steel employees and retirees
are in the middle of a real crisis. Please send a message
that you’ve heard them.” Reiterating that she
is here representing many people, Ms. Martucci said she would
like to show the Members of Council it is not just the people
in this room. Accordingly, Ms. Martucci said she is happy
to present with the petitions that have the plans of the project
on the back with 3,656 people who have signed their names
to it. Ms. Martucci asked that Council please listen to the
majority when they say vote yes.
Rick Dow, 1503 Budd Avenue, stated he would like to speak about the quality of life that may be influenced by the change to an IR zone. Mr. Dow thought that the IR zone is actually going to end up in many cases as commercial with the risk that in the future it could become a big problem. Mr. Dow said the quality of life that now exists in Bethlehem means that he can get to the airport on a decent day in fifteen minutes, to Westgate Mall in ten minutes, as well as all over the Lehigh Valley, except when he gets stuck in traffic on Linden and Center Streets. Mr. Dow suggested that the convenience of getting to a commercial area, specifically Lowe’s, a few times a year is going to be outweighed by the many times that he will be inconvenienced when trying to get to Westgate, or any place else in the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Dow, expressing he did not think that Lowe's is expecting to get its support from Bethlehem citizens, remarked that Bethlehem citizens were not able to support a Triangle’s or a Rickles home improvement stores. Rather, Mr. Dow expressed the belief that Lowe’s will be supported by the people who are coming into Bethlehem. As a result, Mr. Dow asserted “the same traffic that we find when we go to Whitehall and when we go on Linden, that traffic is going to be in our neighborhoods when people from out there are coming in.” Mr. Dow suggested that this traffic problem is going to diminish the quality of life in his City.
Tom Morganelli, 922 W. Market Street, stated he is one of
the many people who were outraged last year when the commercial
development on the former Durkee Food site was denied. Mr.
Morganelli, remarking that people could not believe an opposition
group would have that much influence, noted it was thought
that the proposal would be a great boon to the area, and it
was assumed everyone would naturally vote in favor of the
project. Mr. Morganelli stressed that now people need to voice
their opinion that the community wants this and that most
in the community think this is a great idea. Mr. Morganelli
stated “we want to shop at Lowe’s, we want to
see that the site has something other than an eyesore, and
we’re glad to see development in the City instead of
in the outlying townships.” Mr. Morganelli felt this
plan is appropriate for that location. He pointed out that,
from the standpoint of the sensible engineering and planning,
the proposed improvements at Eighth Avenue, the creation of
good jobs, and the convenience of the location, it has been
endorsed by the City departments as a worthwhile project.
In addition, Mr. Morganelli stressed there is a reputable
developer who will choose to do what is better than what is
cheaper, and who has a strong reputation for keeping his word.
Mr. Morganelli continued on to say, inasmuch as professionals
planned and reviewed this project, and found the designs to
be sound, many of the concerns of the detractors of the former
plan are accounted for in this present plan. Remarking, however,
that the opposition continues, Mr. Morganelli expressed that
the opposition is from a group who has no experience or track
record in land development but still feels the need to tell
the community what to do. Mr. Morganelli, asserting that the
No Mall group can no longer claim to have the popular support,
said they are now using propaganda and illegal maneuvering
to insist on having their way without accountability for the
outcome, and the City will pay the price. Commenting “we
don’t have to wait that something better might come
along, it is here for you now, in front of you”, Mr.
Morganelli asked that the Members of Council please serve
the community properly and vote yes for this project.
The earlier referenced letter from Attorney Donald Miles, dated March 14, 2003, addressed to Members of City Council and Members of the Planning Commission follows:
“Enclosed please find a Zoning Appeal filed today with the City, requesting the Zoning Hearing Board to provide zoning ordinance interpretation and/or appealing from decisions of the Zoning Officer/Planning Bureau regarding applications for preliminary/final approval filed by Tiger Den Partners, LLC, for one 3-lot Subdivision and two Land Development plans for Lots 1 and 2 of that subdivision, on the 32-acre lot known as Ward 13, Block 1 (Lehigh County Tax Parcel FllSW4C-I-1), located at the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and Pa. Rte. 378.
Under Pennsylvania law, Section 915.1(a) of the Municipalities Planning Code, enacted in 1968, the filing of this Zoning Appeal stays (halts) "all land development" involving this lot until the appeal is resolved, after hearings, by a decision of the Zoning Hearing Board or judicial review (see, Orchard View Estates West Residents et al. vs. North Whitehall Board of Supervisors et al., Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, decided December 31, 2002, per Hon. Carol K. McGinley, Judge [copy attached] ). As provided in that state statute and recently confirmed by the Lehigh County court, therefore, neither the Planning Commission nor City Council may take any official action with respect to these Plans or the related pending request for rezoning of this lot until the many zoning issues raised by this appeal are resolved.
Appellants would have preferred to seek this review of the many significant zoning violations proposed by these Plans more than two days before the Planning Commission meeting scheduled March 19, 2003 to consider these Plans. However, revised Plans were filed only 21 days ago (February 24) by the landowner and the Planning Commission meeting was scheduled a mere 23 days after that. The final Planning Bureau reviews were not completed until March 14. Thus, my clients sought this review by the Zoning Hearing Board at the earliest possible opportunity under the rapid schedule set by the landowner and the City. We did not set up this short schedule.
Pennsylvania law provides a clear structure to insure that land development occurs in accordance with long-standing land use planning rules enacted by the state and each local government: the planning commission and governing body of the municipality consider subdivision/land development issues such as streets, utilities, stormwater and parks; the zoning hearing board reviews issues involving the zoning ordinance -- proper zoning district, lot configuration, buffer yards, parking, access and traffic flow, noise/glare/pollution controls. If the Zoning Hearing Board is not asked to review these zoning ordinance issues before the subdivision/land development issues are decided by the governing body, they may not later be questioned.
Since more than 30 zoning ordinance sections present significant zoning issues involving these 3 Plans - suggesting violations involving, to cite just some examples: multiple uses not permitted in this zone, insufficient parking spaces and truck-loading areas, total lack of required buffer yards between non-residential and residential uses, dangerous pedestrian and traffic access and traffic flow, signage, storage - and these Plans will severely impact the adjoining and nearby residential landowners, an appeal seeking Zoning Hearing Board review of the Plans was imperative at this time. These important zoning issues involve the largest development currently before the City for approval and those issues deserve proper review.
Recently-amended Section 908 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. §10908, provides that such hearings before the Zoning Hearing Board must be commenced within 60 days of the filing of the appeal and that each subsequent hearing must be held within 45 days of the prior hearing. Section 908 also provides that the appellants must complete their side of the case within 100 days of the first hearing and that appellants must be afforded at least 7 hours of hearings; persons opposed to the appeal are then afforded for their response 100 days after the completion of appellants' side of the case. Either party may request additional time and each side must be afforded an equal number of hearings. The Zoning Hearing Board must render its decision on the appeal within 45 days of the final hearing. Section 1002-A of the Municipalities Planning Code provides that review of that decision may be sought in Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the Board's decision. Please also refer to my attached cover letter to the Zoning Hearing Board and Planning Bureau at the time this appeal was filed.”
The President Gregory announced that the appropriate Ordinance will be placed on Council’s Agenda for First Reading at the next City Council Meeting on April 15, 2003.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:09 a.m.