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September 7, 2004 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Tuesday, September 7, 2004 – 7:45 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President J. Michael Schweder called the meeting to order. Pastor Ron Rice, of Advent Moravian Church, offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Ismael Arcelay, Jean Belinski, Robert J. Donchez, Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Gordon B. Mowrer, Magdalena F. Szabo, and J. Michael Schweder, 7.
Prior to the consideration of the regular Agenda items, President Schweder called to order three Public Hearings: 1. Local Law Enforcement Block Grant: $3,700 – Overtime for Schools, Parks, and targeted neighborhoods; $2,000 – Crime Prevention Programs; $6,666 – Bicycle Unit purchases; $6,667 Computer purchases; $2,000 – Training; 2. 2004 CDBG Program Amendment: $23,500 – South Side Lighting Improvements; $2,500 – North Side Planning; $60,000 - South Side Greenway; and 3. Rezoning South Mountain – CS, RM, and RG to RR – Residential.
First Public Hearing - Local Law Enforcement Block Grant
A. Police Commissioner – 2004 Local Law Enforcement Block Grant
The Clerk read a memorandum dated August 13, 2004 requesting consideration of resolutions concerning execution of the $21,033 Local Law Enforcement Block Grant and appointment of individuals to the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Advisory Board who are authorized to make non-binding recommendations to the City for the use of funds under the program.
Francis Donchez, Police Commissioner, presented the 2005 Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG). Affirming that the amount of the LLEBG is $21,033, Police Commissioner Donchez noted of that amount 10% is the matching funds from the City or $2,103. Police Commissioner Donchez, noting that the LLEBG has been cut back every year for probably the past five years, recounted that when he was the Lieutenant who filled out the grant application the amount was about $70,000. He continued on to point out that last year the grant amount was $44,217 versus $21,033 this year. Police Commissioner Donchez, explaining that the amount is based on Part 1 offenses, highlighted the fact that, on a positive note, the City’s serious crimes are down so the amount is less. He added, however, that overall the grant funding has been less. Police Commissioner Donchez enumerated the uses associated with the $21,033 grant amount, as follows. An allocation of $3,700 will be used for Police overtime for schools, parks, and targeted neighborhoods. Police Commissioner Donchez noted it is planned to continue the City’s Yosko Park program that has been very successful, and to expand the program to other parks in the City. In addition, a Police Officer is stationed in the neighborhoods surrounding the four Middle Schools and the High School for an hour each day after school that has been very significant in improving the quality of life in those neighborhoods. For crime prevention programs, an amount of $2,000 is budgeted for supplies, and presentations for the elderly on fraud and identity theft. The amount of $6,666 is budgeted for Police Bicycle Unit purchases including equipment and uniforms. Adding that the Community Policing Program has been very successful, Police Commissioner Donchez noted that maintaining the bicycles and equipment is rather expensive. The amount of $6,667 is budgeted for updated computer purchases. The amount of $2,000 is budgeted for various training programs. Advising that the figures are projected, Police Commissioner Donchez confirmed the amounts can be revised depending on needs in a particular area.
No one from the public spoke to the matter of the first Public Hearing.
President Schweder stated that the authorizing Resolutions will be placed on the September 21, 2004 City Council Agenda.
The first Public Hearing was adjourned at 7:58 p.m.
Second Public Hearing - 2004 CDBG Program Amendment
Dana Grubb, Deputy Director of Community Development, presented a program amendment to the City’s 2004 Community Development Block Grant Program. Mr. Grubb reviewed an appropriation of an additional $36,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for 2004, a transfer of $50,000 from an existing activity, the proposed design and engineering of the Fourth Street park area in the 600 block of East Fourth Street, and the reprogramming of that money as well as the additional entitlement to three new activities. Affirming that the City has received an award from the Pennsylvania of Community and Economic Development of $260,000 under the Elm Street Program, Mr. Grubb advised $235,000 of that amount is dedicated to the projected cost for installation of pedestrian lighting from Hayes Street to Williams Street. Mr. Grubb confirmed one of the requirements for the $235,000 allocation is that the City provide a 10% match to ensure that the project will be accomplished. Mr. Grubb continued on to state it is recommended that $23,500 be programmed for the South Side lighting improvements. Informing the assembly that the other component of the Elm Street funding received by the City is $25,000 for planning, Mr. Grubb explained that funding will be directed to the North Side in the areas surrounding the North Side Central Business District to determine and qualify a particular area under the Elm Street Program. Mr. Grubb, affirming the $25,000 also has a 10% matching requirement, encouraged City Council to support an allocation of $2,500 in CDBG funds for the match. Mr. Grubb continued on to advise that, since the project on East Fourth Street to develop a former Bethlehem Steel Corporation parking lot is not going to be moving forward at this time, it is the recommendation that $50,000 plus the remaining $10,000 from the additional CDBG entitlement be designated for design and engineering of the new South Side greenway, that is the former railroad right of way through the South Side. He added that it is an eligible area and activity for the planning and design for reuse of the railroad right of way. Mr. Grubb summarized that Council’s support is requested in allocating $86,000 to three new activities: $23,500 to South Side lighting improvements; $2,500 to North Side planning; and $60,000 to South Side Greenway design and engineering.
President Schweder asked the location of the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation parking lot.
Mr. Grubb replied it is in the 600 block of East Fourth Street, across from St. John’s Church.
President Schweder, focusing on the South Side Greenway, inquired whether there is a signed contract or agreement with Norfolk Southern Railroad for the property.
Mr. Grubb responded he is not aware that there is a signed agreement that has been finalized.
Mayor Callahan advised that an agreement has not been finalized.
President Schweder stated that the authorizing Resolutions will be placed on the September 21, 2004 City Council Agenda, and the Resolution for the South Side Greenway will be placed on a future Council Agenda.
No one from the public spoke to the matter of the second public hearing.
The second public hearing was adjourned at 8:02 p.m.
Third Public Hearing - Rezoning South Mountain – CS, RM, and RG to RR – Residential
7 B. Planning Commission – Rezoning South Mountain – CS, RM and RG to RR – Residential
The Clerk read a memorandum from Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, as follows: “At its July 8, 2004 meeting the Planning Commission reviewed our office’s proposal for the creation of a new zoning district, Rural Residential Transition Zone (RRT), and the map and text amendments that accompany it. The proposed district is located on the south side of South Mountain. The purpose of the proposal is to limit the height and types of uses in the steeply sloped areas of South Mountain. The proposal and its purpose are described in more detail in the attached transmittals to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission voted 3 to 0 to further a recommendation to City Council that the area proposed to be rezoned should be rezoned to the existing Rural Residential (RR) zoning district rather than create a new RRT district. They concurred with the proposed boundaries of the area to be rezoned but they recommend that our amendment should be revised to RR.”
7 C. Lehigh Valley Planning Commission - Rezoning South Mountain – CS, RM and RG to RR – Residential
The Clerk read a memorandum from Frederic Brock, Assistant Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, as follows: “The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission considered the above referenced matters at the July 29, 2004 meeting pursuant to the requirements of the PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). The Commission voted to return the following comments for your use. The LVPC has been asked to comment on two different proposals that relate to development on portions of South Mountain. The Department of Community and Economic Development proposes to create a new zoning classification, Rural Residential Transition and to rezone certain properties from RM. RG, and CS to the new district. The Bethlehem Planning Commission does not propose to create a new zoning district. It proposes to rezone the same properties as cited above to the RR classification. The LVPC supports the preservation of South Mountain due to its development limitations and its natural values. Both of the proposed zoning ordinance amendments, working together with the steep slope zoning provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance, increase the protection of South Mountain. Given a choice between the two proposals, we would favor the rezoning of the areas to RR, because it is a more restrictive zoning category than the proposed RRT district. Most of the area proposed for rezoning is woodland and steep slopes, recommended for natural features conservation in the old and new versions of the country comprehensive plan. Although the proposed zoning is probably better than the existing zoning, we believe that most of this area shouldn’t be developed. If the current owners are not interested in preserving natures features perhaps the major wooded properties or development rights to them should be acquired by a conservancy or governmental body.”
Planning Director Comment
Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, affirmed that the proposal forwarded to City Council includes a rezoning of the CS – Shopping Center district, and RG and RM Residential zones that currently exist on South Mountain to RR Residential. Ms. Heller explained that, because of some development pressure on South Mountain, an inconsistency in the Zoning Ordinance was called to attention. Ms. Heller, recounting that in 1991 the City adopted Steep Slope provisions that largely applied to South Mountain, confirmed the provisions are relevant and very good. However, she pointed out that, with the RG and RM zoning that is presently existing on South Mountain, the Zoning Ordinance still allows all types of housing. The RM Residential zone, the highest density residential zone, allows all types of housing including single family, multi-family, twins, garden apartments, and high rises. The RG Residential zone is a medium density residential zone, but still allows multi-family dwellings, town homes, and single family homes, and these types of housing are allowed in greater density than is allowed in the RR Residential zone. Ms. Heller highlighted the fact that, on South Mountain, there is concern not only about the steep slopes, but also the heavily wooded lots, storm water problems, narrow roads that are not built to City standards, poor sight distances, and the environmental sensitivity of the area. Ms. Heller pointed out that even a small amount of development will have significant impact in the area. Originally, when the Planning Bureau looked at the area, it was thought that the area could be rezoned to RR rather than to create a new RRT zoning district. However, the Planning Bureau felt that an RRT zone might create some transition between the high density that exists in South Bethlehem and the rural residential areas that exist on the south side of South Mountain. When the Planning Bureau presented the proposed new RRT zone to the Planning Commission, several members of the Planning Commission expressed some concerns that even the proposed RRT zone would not be low enough of a density to be appropriate for the area. Ms. Heller informed the assembly that the Planning Bureau does concur with the Planning Commission that RR really is the best rezoning proposal that should be considered. Ms. Heller affirmed that RR Residential district allows single family homes only in a density of 15,000 square feet per dwelling unit or three homes per acre. Ms. Heller confirmed that the Planning Commission did not have any dispute with the boundaries for the zone that was proposed, but the bulk of the discussion was about the density that should be allowed. Ms. Heller noted that to the north of the area proposed to be rezoned it is very heavily developed, it is RM zoning, and is mostly town homes or attached dwelling developments, although some is single family. However, almost immediately the land is undeveloped, sloped, heavily wooded, and the streets change dramatically. To the east of the area proposed to be rezoned is Saucon Park and to the south, and to the west is land zoned CM that is Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus. The residential land that is yet undeveloped is the area that is proposed to be rezoned to RR Residential.
Ms. Heller, referring to a map, advised that it shows the existing zoning district boundary along with the area proposed to be rezoned outlined in red. Ms. Heller pointed to St. Michael’s Cemetery on Fourth Street, Donegan School, Williams Street, Forte Building, Daly Avenue Bridge, former Bethlehem Steel Corporation property zoned HI Heavy Industrial, and the rail corridor following that boundary. To the south, the land is steeper and closer to South Mountain. The streets are in a grid pattern, the lots are larger, and then the street pattern stops because it was too steep to continue development. To the west of St. Michael’s Cemetery are Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Streets, and Ms. Heller further pointed to open, undeveloped land. Ms. Heller, turning to the boundaries, noted the open area, and said the streets dead end, the area becomes wooded and slopes behind the cemetery. Moving east, Ms. Heller noted there is a development being built now called Riverview Heights and commented that might be the development that spurred the enactment of sloped zoning in the City. The northern piece of the property is to be developed with two cul-de-sacs, and to the south is an open area that will be dedicated to the City for open space. Ms. Heller pointed to the area where the streets end and where there is a jagged line. Ms. Heller advised that all of the area boundaries follow open streets, paper streets, or property lines. She pointed to large lots where she noted there are no streets running through. Ms. Heller informed the Members that the proposal follows exactly the boundary of the lots that are undeveloped, no homes are included in the boundary, and the City is trying to avoid creating any non-conformities. Anything that has been developed, whether or not it is steep, is not being included in the proposal. To the east, Ms. Heller pointed out there is one small piece zoned CS Shopping Center that is undeveloped, has slopes on it, and is heavily wooded. Commenting she does not know why it was zoned CS originally, Ms. Heller said that is the only non-residential piece being included in the proposal. To the east and the south is Bethlehem Housing Authority property that has been developed, and the proposed boundary follows the perimeter of that property. At the corner of Williams Street and Lynn Avenue there is a building that used to be a fire house for the City and has been a commercial use since then. Behind that property there is a water tower where the proposed boundary follows that edge of the Bethlehem Authority property. Ms. Heller further pointed out that the dotted lots are all City owned property that is Saucon Park and zoned Institutional, and the proposal follows the edge of that area around the RG Residential zone. To the east, south, and west it is zoned either Institutional or CM zoning on property owned by Lehigh University, and the boundary of the area proposed to be rezoned follows that back to the west again. Ms. Heller distributed pictures of the area proposed to be rezoned. Ms. Heller explained that each of the areas at the edge of the boundary is immediately undeveloped, wooded, and it shows some of the slopes. Ms. Heller continued on to note that the pictures show some of the road conditions. Ms. Heller highlighted the fact that part of the concern is that the roads are very narrow, with poor sight distance, not built to City standards, and cannot take a lot of additional traffic. Ms. Heller observed that, although as development occurs the City does get some help from developers for improving roadways, it would be extremely difficult to improve these roads to carry additional traffic that could be created from development in RM and RG zoning. In addition, Ms. Heller explained that some of the residents on Creek Road specifically have said they do not want the roads to be improved because they like them the way they are, they like the country feel, and the roads slow traffic because of their current condition. Observing there is a balance, Ms. Heller expressed that the City cannot allow too much development and still retain the rural character. Consequently, development needs to be limited to be able to keep the present feel of the area, and to retain the quality of life that is there. Ms. Heller continued on to say one of the reasons why the area is so attractive is because of the rural nature and the natural characteristics. Ms. Heller, turning to the photographs, pointed to a hairpin turn on Williams Street across from the water tower that shows an example of some of the poor road conditions in the area. Focusing on St. Michael’s Cemetery, Ms. Heller explained the cemetery is flat and open, but immediately at the lot line it is heavily wooded and it begins to slope. Ms. Heller noted the photographs that show a perimeter of the boundary along Williams Street in the more developed areas to the northeast where it is densely developed just north of the boundary of the proposed area to be rezoned. She added that in the area proposed to be rezoned it is wooded and undeveloped land. Ms. Heller, turning to a photograph of the area currently zoned CS Commercial Shopping, pointed out it is natural open land and stated it is not appropriate for CS zoning.
Mrs. Belinski advised that a resident of Sixth Street called her to express concern about two acres of trees that were cut down for the Riverview project at the top of Edwards Street. The resident asked why the trees were cut down because according to the plan they were not allowed to be cut down, and was told “someone signed off on it.”
Ms. Heller replied there is an area to the south that is extremely steeply sloped that is dedicated to the City. Ms. Heller advised there has been no earth moving to her knowledge in that area. Ms. Heller, noting that earth moving has been started in the area of the cul de sac, explained for that area there would have to be an extreme amount of tree removal to put in the cul de sacs and prepare for the development of the housing. Ms. Heller, in further response to Mrs. Belinski, said that a closer look can be taken at the area.
President Schweder inquired what is hoped to be accomplished by the proposal.
Ms. Heller, responding that the current zoning that is permitted is too dense and too permissive for the area, continued on to reply it is hoped to limit the amount of future development in the area. Ms. Heller explained the inconsistency with the steep slope zoning is that, although it does limit the amount of impervious coverage on a lot, it does not limit height, and does not necessarily limit the number of units. Ms. Heller advised that zoning currently in place does allow very dense development in RM and somewhat in RG, and the Bureau does not feel that is appropriate.
President Schweder queried whether the goal would be to have no development.
Ms. Heller, responding in the negative, noted that the proposed RR zoning does not stop development but it does limit development. Ms. Heller, confirming that the Planning Bureau is development friendly, expressed that the Bureau wants to steer development where it is more appropriate, and it is not appropriate on South Mountain. Ms. Heller, affirming that RR zoning does allow single family homes, stated it is felt that is appropriate for that area. Ms. Heller, noting there are some developments that have been proposed but not finalized yet, observed there is still going to be quite a bit of development based on what has been proposed. Ms. Heller continued on to say it is felt there is still development pressure for South Mountain that has not been seen yet, and the proposal will help limit some of that development.
President Schweder, pointing out he has some of those same concerns, asked if there is a better way of limiting what is going to be developed there. Advising that he read the testimony of fourteen years ago surrounding the steep slope ordinance, President Schweder noted the intention was to steer development away from the South Mountain area and to prevent it from occurring. President Schweder queried, if that no longer works and that is the common goal, is the current proposal the best way to do that or is there a better way.
Ms. Heller expressed that, when the steep slope zoning was created, in order for the steep slope zoning to be most effective these areas should have been rezoned at that time. She added that would have been an appropriate follow-up. Stating she does not think that the steep slope zoning provisions need to be changed, Ms. Heller explained that steep slope zoning requires that a developer cluster development to the flatter and less environmentally sensitive areas of the lot, although it still allows some development and limits it. However, the steep slope zoning provisions do not address the type of housing developments, how many units are allowed, or how high the buildings can be since that is what the specific zoning districts address.
In response to President Schweder, Ms. Heller replied there are three development proposals at present. President Schweder wondered how the proposed change would affect those developments.
Ms. Heller, affirming that the proposed zoning district changes would not affect those developments, further informed President Schweder that the proposed developments meet the current zoning requirements for either RM Residential District or RG Residential District. In response to President Schweder, Ms. Heller confirmed that the three development proposals are public files although the development proposals have not yet been placed on the Planning Commission agenda.
Ms. Szabo communicated what concerns her, whether it is the steep slope ordinance or another ordinance, is that it is later discovered there is something in the ordinance that should not have been in it or that it should be now altered. Questioning why the concentration is not on the steep slope ordinance, Ms. Szabo noted the underlying reason for making these changes is because there are a lot of development requests, and there will be a lot more future development. Ms. Szabo expressed the hope that the statements about preserving nature and doing development the right way “will stick to our minds about doing this because we need that mountain. Your kids need that mountain for the future. Don’t fool around with mother nature. We need that land to be trees, and open space. I’d hate to see …that mountain turned into what has been allowed to be turned into on [Lower Saucon’s] mountain…[with] steep roads, and up steep driveways to houses that…all look like they were cloned. And who benefits from it, a few property owners, but the biggest benefit is to the developer who does it and…leaves town…But, we need that mountain. And, what’s wrong with open space.”
Scott Frey, 916 William Street, remarked the way developers make money is to snap up land and put as much as they can on property because it gives them a better return for their money. Mr. Frey said his general impression is that if developers are allowed to build in the area of South Mountain “they’re going to do just that, and make it one big complex.” Mr. Frey observed that occurred in Hellertown where the SMAG apartments and Society Hill complex were built. Mr. Frey communicated that he likes the rural nature of South Mountain and is why he bought his house there. Mr. Frey advised that years ago properties located further up the mountain behind his property were purchased, the property was cleared to build on it, and for some reason the owners were not allowed to build there. Mr. Frey said since that time the runoff coming into his backyard has increased. Focusing on problems in the area, Mr. Frey stressed, if runoff has increased to his property from just three lots that were cleared and on which normal ground cover has grown back but without trees, how much more runoff will occur if a development of any kind is built. Turning to traffic problems, Mr. Frey highlighted the fact that the streets are narrow. He continued on to point out that in the 600 block of William Street his car was hit this past December because it was too narrow for another car to get through. Mr. Frey pointed out that in the area of Eighth Street it is a lane and a half wide with no sidewalks or gutters, the roadway proceeds up the mountain, makes a very sharp 90 degree bend, one cannot see around the corner, and is where his father’s car was hit. Mr. Frey continued on to say proceeding up around that turn, the roadway then makes a 45 degree bend and levels out straight in front of his house. Mr. Frey said there have been numerous cars “that come flying up around that turn, and actually proceed right up into my yard, and hit some of the rock walls in front.” Mr. Frey stated that in the vicinity of the cemetery, the roadway also makes a 90 degree turn, and he has had some very close calls even when trying to hug the inside of the road. Mr. Frey related that, when there is a lot of traffic leaving the baseball fields or from a concert at Lehigh University, motorists use William Street as the back way to leave and “it’s a traffic nightmare.” Mr. Frey stressed that putting more development in is a severe safety risk, unless the City is planning to widen the streets to two lanes, with sidewalks, etc. Stating the Lynn Avenue Bridge that meets Fourth Street is very narrow and there is a traffic backlog at Lynn Avenue and Fourth Street, Mr. Frey observed that traffic flow problems will be increased there as well. Mr. Frey, expressing that he likes what has been proposed, said “at least let’s limit this area to one lot, one house, not one lot and then you put 50 units going sky high. We need to keep the South Mountain preserved where it’s at.” Mr. Frey suggested that, from the aspects of safety and traffic, the roads cannot handle development. Mr. Frey added that his neighbor has recorded and photographed numerous accidents in front of his house because the roadways are too narrow. He pointed out that in the winter when there is ice cover “you barely tap the brakes and there’s no where to go except hitting somebody.” Mr. Frey said on those bases alone, the flooding problem, plus the traffic, he implores City Council to please consider rezoning the areas to RR Residential as presented and keep it low density. Mr. Frey observed that, on Fire Lane near Saucon Creek located downhill from the development being proposed, the road is very narrow. Mr. Frey wondered, if development is allowed, where will sewer lines, at least a two lane road, and sidewalks be put in, in view of the creek and the homes that are there. Mr. Frey, pointing out that William Street and Fire Lane are the only two places where development could exit onto, asserted it will create a severe safety hazard, as well as starting to ruin the mountain. Restating that he implores City Council to vote for the proposed rezoning, Mr. Frey asked that City Council do whatever it has the power to do in order to stop or limit any and all development.
Santiago Rivera, 1349 Lynn Avenue, noted his property is the site of the former fire house at the intersection of William Street and Lynn Avenue. Mr. Rivera said on the new block map it is labeled as P7171A. Mr. Rivera, observing that the lot is already developed as a fire house and recently was approved to be utilized by him and his wife as a commercial business location, stated the name of their business is Magic Woman Personalized Services. Mr. Rivera, informing the assembly that the business is detailed cleaning of commercial and residential properties as well as lawn care, said they thought it would be an ideal location for their business. In addition, Mr. Rivera said they were interested in the property because of its RM zoning that allows a child day care center, funeral homes, and several other allowed uses. Mr. Rivera advised that, because of those reasons, they moved forward with the contract and were interested in purchasing the property. Mr. Rivera expressed his belief that it would be a hardship to him if it were rezoned to RR. Because of the busy intersection and the potential future traffic development along the Lynn Avenue corridor, Mr. Rivera said he does not think it is an ideal location for a single family home. Mr. Rivera stated the rest of the plan seems fine to him and he does not have a problem with it, whether it is RR or steep sloped. Mr. Rivera noted, however, the fact that it is an existing lot with what he understands is a non-conforming building, it would be a detriment to him to try to rezone it to RR. Mr. Rivera said if the rezoning line can be moved up to Lynn Avenue and William Street that would be his preferred option. Mr. Rivera, advising that behind his property the next lot over is P7172A and is a water storage tower, remarked he cannot imagine anyone who would be interested in a single family home that is located underneath a water storage tower on a busy intersection, and located next to a public housing area. Restating it would be a hardship for him, Mr. Rivera asked that City Council consider that in their plan for rezoning.
John Heilman, 1541 East Ninth Street, said he has some concerns about the proposed rezoning of the CS property to RR. Informing the Members he has a piece of property in the CS zone, Mr. Heilman said an updated convenience store could be put there since there is only one store in that area. Mr. Heilman noted the area is fairly highly developed, a lot of people live there, and there is public housing there. Mr. Heilman said it would be a good idea to keep the current zoning in the area that does not have a steep slope. Mr. Heilman queried, if it would be changed to RR, “how would that benefit me, which I don’t think it would, because I could put one or two houses there, maybe three, possibly four. And, if I decide to sell that, would I get out of it what I put in it. As opposed to the way it’s zoned now, I have the shopping center there, or more low income housing, and low income housing is going up all around there. If you change this zoning, all around this is public housing, and a single family home I don’t think it would benefit me or anybody that owns property around here. I really don’t think that would be good. If the boundary would be changed [,as Mr. Santiago said,] to come up William Street to Lynn Avenue where it meets that might be better. The water storage unit is on the other side, [and] the old fire station is on the other side, and then you have…all these other houses. People anywhere that live there have to go two [or] three miles to a store, and to a shopping center is maybe even farther. So, I don’t think it’s a good idea to change that. I don’t think it would benefit me at all. I think if you could show me some statistics that would show me that it would benefit me then I would be all for it, but I don’t think so. This slope there is not as you think it is. It’s pretty flat right there.”
Mary Ann Heilman, 1541 East Ninth Street, focusing on traffic in the vicinity of William Street and Ninth Street, said traffic there is high density traffic and it has been bad for the last hundred years, even before the baseball field was installed. She continued on to say it is narrow and the City never made it wider except once when it was made about two feet wider. Ms. Heilman expressed her opinion that north of the cemetery where it is sloped and dense is not too much of a concern for residents in her area because it is her understanding most of that property belongs to Lehigh University on the other side of William Street, and she does not foresee anything being done with that in the near future. Turning to the Edwards Street area where trees were cut, Ms. Heilman explained that one cannot get an answer, and remarked that the damage is already done. Ms. Heilman communicated she does not understand why people are being stopped from building because of the steeply sloped areas. Ms. Heller informed Ms. Heilman that the number recited earlier was 15,000 square feet per lot in the RR District or about three homes per acre. Ms. Heilman noted she has seen houses being built in the steeply sloped areas, and said at the corner of Ninth Street and William Street the roads have been in their current condition for the about the last fifty years. Ms. Heilman, focusing on safety in the area, asserted that although there are stop signs, motorists do not stop and go right through them. Ms. Heilman said most of the new homes that have been built have on-lot parking for at least two vehicles. Ms. Heilman related there is one store in the area but there are many people, some of whom can drive, some cannot drive, and some take the bus although it is hard for them. Ms. Heilman, stating she does not see a problem with having another convenience store that has more variety and is more modern, explained this would help people who are not as mobile. Ms. Heilman said to take that away she does not know how that would benefit her. Affirming she has a good deal of that property, Ms. Heilman noted she could have houses built there, or she could make it convenient for the community. Ms. Heilman advised she tried to have basketball courts built for the neighborhood but was turned down, and informed the assembly she gets involved with the children. Ms. Heilman communicated that, in changing this property to Residential, her biggest question is “where does that leave me, and…how is this going to benefit me in the end…And, [for] all the people…[in] my neighborhood there is only one store…”.
Allan Karo, 1420 Philip Street, explained the street is very steep and in the winter when the roadway has ice on it “you just go straight down, there is no stopping. It’s horrible.” Turning to James Street that is to be opened and where houses are to be built, Mr. Karo said that is full of deer, rocks, trees, and falcons. Mr. Karo asserted “it just seems silly to just sprinkle a couple of little houses there and tear down…the top of the mountain…”. Mr. Karo, communicating that at William Street where it curves near the soccer fields is “like dead man’s curve”, continued on to express that putting more houses there will lead to a lot of accidents. Mr. Karo, focusing on the top of William Street and James Street, stressed “they don’t really need to put anything there. That’s steeply sloped, boulders, trees, and they’re talking about putting five houses there…”. Mr. Karo added it would be nice to keep a few deer because there are not many left on the South Side.
Bob Kowlowski, 1306 East Seventh Street, said he lives next to the two acre development, and it looks like more than two acres were clear cut. Mr. Kowlowski stressed it was terrible that the area was bulldozed. Mr. Kowlowski, stating the RR designation seems very good to him if there has to be any development on South Mountain at all, remarked that will save a lot of South Mountain if it has to be developed. Observing there is a beautiful park system in Bethlehem, Mr. Kowlowski remarked that South Mountain is also a park for generations of people who grew up on the South Side. Mr. Kowlowski, continuing on to point out there are hiking and biking trails there, highlighted the fact that once that is gone it is gone forever. Focusing on fields by the Lehigh River, Mr. Kowlowski asserted that developing those fields will increase revenue for the City. Mr. Kowlowski stated that, once South Mountain is developed, Bethlehem will not be the appealing place it has been for years, all that area will be gone, and all the people who made the City important will disappear. Mr. Kowlowski, turning to the vicinity of Seventh Street and Philip Street, said the road is washed out all the time, and in back of that area a development is to be built. Mr. Kowlowski added that in the area of William Street the water runoff “is unbelievable at certain times of the year.” Mr. Kowlowski said the proposal to rezone the area to RR, if it has to be done, “sounds like an excellent idea, but I…would say no more South Mountain development.”
Tom Kowlowski, 652 Spring Street, said he fully supports the proposed rezoning to RR. Mr. Kowlowski stated that higher density brings a higher degree of risk and a pyramid of problems that have been discussed, whereas a lower density creates a higher degree of life standard for all citizens. Mr. Kowlowski said that is why he endorses, and hopes that Council will also endorse, the RR zoning.
Joris Rosse, 1966 Creek Road, noted that a few miles south of the City of Bethlehem is located Richlandtown where there is one house for every ten acres. Mr. Rosse, communicating that the RR zone evokes the concept of outdoors and rural areas, asserted that RR in the City is extremely dense development. He continued on to highlight the fact that the nine acres on Creek Road that were approved for development in the RR zoning district with 26 homes “leaves very few blades of grass and a little strip of trees along the road.” He added that, in view of the average $600,000 price of each home, “there is going to be mostly home on that one-third acre…”. Mr. Rosse expressed that, while RR is better than RM and other zoning districts, it is still very dense development, especially in steep slope areas with narrow roads. Mr. Rosse pointed out that not a single car can park along William Street because there is no space. Focusing on the Brookings Institute study of development in the Lehigh Valley, Mr. Rosse pointed out that the long term study shows that per single family home there is an $18,000 per year subsidy by the community to develop the house and to sustain it with police, fire, social and other services. Mr. Rosse thought that owners of $600,000 and more homes are “going to expect lots of services.” Mr. Rosse expressed that if RR zoning is approved not only will it be a traffic and parking nightmare but it is not the right answer. Mr. Rosse pointed out that the Planning Commission recommended that a way be found to purchase the wooded areas, especially to the west of William Street, and the areas downhill that are not as wooded. Mr. Rosse, suggesting that monies from a County Bond Issue could be used to purchase parkland or to preserve open space, asked if the City has tapped into this fund. Mr. Rosse, focusing on traffic problems and promises of traffic calming measures on Creek Road and William Street, said signs helped a little bit in the beginning but after people discover there is not much enforcement then more people take liberties with the signs, and stated that enforcement is needed.
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, said one of the special things about Bethlehem is the natural setting, and the juxtaposition of the river with the trees on the top of South Mountain. Mr. Scheirer remarked “it would really be a shame to lose that.” Mr. Scheirer exemplified that in Berkley and Oakland, California the development including the University of California goes up to almost the very top of the ridge and there are very few trees, and added that is not one of the charming parts of that community.
Jonathan DeRaymond, 1174 William Street, noted that in the area from the water tower to the cemetery there are three houses including his that are all on one acre or more. Mr. DeRaymond advised that Fritz Simmonds of Emmaus, developers, is proposing a 70 unit condominium complex in front of his house on 10.5 acres. Mr. DeRaymond said his recommendation is to have the smallest amount of housing per acreage as possible. Mr. DeRaymond distributed to the Members of Council pictures of accidents on the roadways in the area over the past year. He explained one picture shows the road covered with ice and a car in the woods in front of his house, another picture of a truck that smashed into a telephone pole a week later, and a picture of a car airborn for six feet that smashed into a telephone pole in front of the ball fields. Mr. DeRaymond, noting he also brought with him to the meeting Police reports, advised that highlighted in blue are the accidents on William Street. Mr. DeRaymond expressed he is concerned that, even if the zoning is changed to lower density, “the developments that were proposed can be grandfathered in which will make all this work and all this testimony that we’re providing pretty much useless.” Mr. DeRaymond explained if the wooded area on the 10.5 acres in front of his house is removed for development, it will look ugly and the erosion could possibly cause water runoff not only to the Saucon Park ball fields directly behind it but also to the adjacent properties on Fire Lane. In addition, Mr. DeRaymond remarked that silt and soil erosion are notorious for “messing up trout spawn grounds” because the eggs cannot get enough sunlight when the water is clouded with silt. Mr. DeRaymond pointed out that, if the development proposal is grandfathered, and the City allows 70 units to be built on 10.5 acres, and the road is kept exactly like it is, then there will be a lot of traffic on a very narrow and highly traffic pressured road already. If the size of the road is increased, Mr. DeRaymond observed that another Route 412 will be the result since Williams Street and Creek Road are parallel to Route 412. With development on Route 412 and increased pressure in Hellertown, Mr. DeRaymond asserted the road will become a secondary Route 412 in that motorists will drive on Creek Road, Williams Street, and end up on Route 412 near the Lynn Avenue Bridge. Mr. DeRaymond stressed that if the development is grandfathered in “we’re in a bad situation either way.” Noting it is one of the few fairly level grounds in the whole area that is being proposed to be rezoned, Mr. DeRaymond said in essence “it’s kind of like locking the barn door after the horse got out.” Mr. DeRaymond encouraged the Members to think about there being 70 units on 10.5 acres that is presently wooded and previously farmland. Mr. DeRaymond expressed his agreement with Mr. Rosse that in the short run it seems nice for the City since it is an additional tax base, but one also has to think about who is going to plow the roads, who is going to take care of the runoff, the storm drainage, who is going to maintain the 70 unit condominium complex after the developers make their money and go off to their communities. Mr. DeRaymond asserted “we’re going to be paying it.” Mr. DeRaymond noted one can see the pictures of some of the drainage problems and the danger of the road. Mr. DeRaymond said he found interesting the comments of Mr. Simmonds, the developer, in the Morning Call in which the developer said “we did a town home project near the area, and we had an excellent response. We felt it would be a good area to go back to.” Mr. DeRaymond remarked he does not know who the developer asked “but they sure didn’t ask any of our neighbors that I know of.” Mr. DeRaymond, suggesting that the developer cut the four foot high weeds and grass, and get rid of the abandoned cars, commented if the developer is looking out for Bethlehem’s best interest they have not done a good job cleaning up their property. Mr. DeRaymond thought Mr. Rosse’s idea is a very good one that the City acquire the 10.5 acres that borders Saucon Park so there will be a wooded area plus open space, and the developer could get back his money.
Jim Shak, owner of property on Fire Lane, said he sees a buffer zone in the area marked in red on the maps presented earlier, Lehigh University, Saucon Park, and then high density. Mr. Shak stated that if high density is allowed to go up to those sensitive areas it does not interface well with the general picture. Mr. Shak communicated that people who live in the area want low density, while people who want to make money on their property want high density. Observing there may be some areas on the north border that takes some extra consideration for some business owners, Mr. Shak thought that, in general, “mother nature has said to us…you have a mountain, and you have high density. You want to put the Empire State Building on the edge of that park, is that going to look good, is that the interface Bethlehem really wants to have. I don’t think anybody wants that.” Mr. Shak said it seems low density building is a proper interface for South Mountain.
Joseph Fox, 968 Fire Lane, recounted that years ago an area in back of his property was cleared for soccer fields in Saucon Park. Mr. Fox continued on to say, since then, there was a flood after it was done, but Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, rectified it and it cleared up. Mr. Fox said what he is worried about now is the project that is to be built on top of the mountain and the water flow coming down towards his property.
Chris Stonestifer, 245 Biery’s Bridge Road, noted that Biery’s Bridge Road is very steep and whenever it rains, partly due to the road construction and partly due to the houses in the area, if the rain is more than a drizzle there is a huge pond in the back of his yard. Mr. Stonestifer communicated that one thing nice about the road is that it is very forested and has a rural country feel to it. Mr. Stonestifer explained his fear is that if the South Mountain area were to be developed, the developer would clear out all the trees as occurred on the two acres that were cleared and do so with the entire half of the mountain. If that were to happen, Mr. Stonestifer asserted “it’s going to turn into a Pointe North, or any kind of modern day development…”. Mr. Stonestifer wondered if there is any way to keep it so there will still be a majority of the trees remaining and only clearing out land for a road to go through and a house to be built, and to not level the entire plot of land. Mr. Stonestifer commented if there were any way to keep the area less dense than three houses per acre that would be very helpful to the situation.
Jose Rivera, 1318 East Seventh Street, said focus should be on preserving South Mountain, as Ms. Szabo said. Mr. Rivera noted the only benefit the City will be receiving is extra tax dollars. Mr. Rivera asserted if the zoning is going to be changed it should definitely be changed to RR if anything. Mr. Rivera stressed he thinks he speaks for a majority of people that they would rather see no development at all. Mr. Rivera informed the assembly that he has had flooding in his basement. Mr. Rivera thought that if there is any development, there could be water on Third Street.
Karen Karo, 1420 Philip Street, stated she is worried about the wildlife being jeopardized, runoff, and flooding in basements. Ms. Karo, affirming there is a row of houses behind hers, asserted “we know we’re going to get runoff.” Ms. Karo, while advising at this point she is lucky with the basement, she is sure that will change. Ms. Karo, referring to the five point intersection in the vicinity of John Street, stressed when the roadway is not plowed, motorists cannot stop at the stop sign. Noting that most of the time there is not much traffic at the intersection, Ms. Karo highlighted the fact that if housing is built there will be traffic and accidents at the intersection of Sixth and Williams Street.
The daughter of Ms. Karo said there should not be houses built by the forest because there are animals there. In addition, she said if the forest is destroyed it is just like destroying a town.
The third Public Hearing was adjourned at 9:20 p.m.
4. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The minutes of August 17, 2004 were approved.
5. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (for public comment on ordinances and resolutions to be voted on by Council this evening)
6. OLD BUSINESS
D. Winter Traffic Services Agreement – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
The Clerk read a memorandum dated August 24, 2004 from Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, to which was attached a Winter Traffic Services Agreement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, and the City of Bethlehem for the Winter Seasons of 2004/2005 through 2008/2009.
President Schweder stated that the authorizing Resolution will be listed on the September 21, 2004 Agenda.
E. Assistant City Solicitor – Records Destruction – Police Department
The Clerk read a memorandum dated September 1, 2004 from William Alexander Karras, Assistant City Solicitor, to which was attached a proposed resolution to destroy the records from the Police Department listed on the attached exhibit according to the Municipal Records Retention Act.
President Schweder stated that the authorizing Resolution will be placed on the September 21, 2004 Agenda.
F. Executive Director of Bethlehem Parking Authority – Amending Article 534 - Residential Permit Parking Zone “K”
The Clerk read a letter dated August 30, 2004 from Stephen Nemes, Executive Director, Bethlehem Parking Authority, to which was attached a petition for a revision to the Residential Parking Permit Zone “K”, Section 534.12(k), concerning the 900 block of East Fifth Street.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Ordinance
will be placed on the
September 21 Council Agenda.
G. Community and Economic Development Director – LERTA Ordinances
The Clerk read a memorandum dated September 3, 2004 from Tony Hanna, Director of Community and Economic Development, requesting approval for the continuation of Article 342, Enterprise Development Area, and Article 343, North Side Central Business, for another two-year period, with a termination date of December 31, 2006.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Ordinances can be placed on the September 21 Agenda for First Reading, unless the Community Development Committee wishes to review this matter.
8 . REPORTS
A. President of Council
C. Finance Committee
Mr. Donchez, Chairman of the Finance Committee, presented an oral report of the Committee’s meeting held September 1, 2004 on the following subjects: 2003 Audit; and Six Months Budget Review.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
10. NEW ORDINANCE
A. Bill No. 36 – 2004 – Amending General Fund Budget – Medical Expenses and Fire Department – Grant
The Clerk read Bill No. 36 - 2004, Amending General Fund Budget, sponsored by Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
THE GENERAL FUND BUDGET FOR 2004.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr.
Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No.
36 – 2004 was declared passed on First Reading.
B. Bill No. 37 – 2004 – Maintaining Liability Insurance - $10 Million Minimum
The Clerk read Bill No. 37 – 2004, Maintaining Liability Insurance - $10 Million Minimum, sponsored by Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM, COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, REQUIRING THAT THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM MAINTAIN LIABILITY INSURANCE AT A MINIMUM AMOUNT OF $10,000,000.00 AND PROVIDING FOR THE PROPER OFFICERS OF THE CITY TO TAKE ALL REQUIRED, NECESSARY, AND/OR DESIRABLE RELATED ACTION IN CONNECTION WITH THE MAINTENANCE OF SUCH MINIMUM LIABILITY INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM IN THE AMOUNT OF $10,000,000.00.
Mr. Leeson, confirming that he supports the Ordinance fully, advised he has a few minor suggestions for changes as he was unable to attend the Finance Committee meeting when it was discussed. Mr. Leeson, encouraging the Members of Council to vote in favor of the Bill, said in the next two weeks he will circulate changes for review and comment.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 37 – 2004 was declared passed on First Reading.
Motion – Considering Resolutions 11 A through 11 G as a Group
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Donchez moved to consider Resolutions
11 A through 11 G as
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
A. Transfer of Funds – Non-Utility Capital Budget – Building Maintenance – Truck
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,455 which transferred $1,495 in the Non-Utility Capital Budget from Mechanical System Upgrade Account to Equipment – Buildings Maintenance Account to award a contract to purchase a truck for the Buildings Maintenance Bureau.
B. Transfer of Funds – Golf Course – Temporary Help
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,456 which transferred $6,000 in the Golf Course Enterprise Fund from the following: $2,500 – Equipment Maintenance Account, $2,500 – Plant Maintenance Account, and $1,000 – Unforeseen Contingency Account, to Golf Maintenance – Temporary Help Account, to continue ball-picking operations at the Driving Range through the end of the year.
C. Transfer of Funds – Communications Center – Overtime
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,457 which transferred $10,000 in the 911 Fund Budget from the Temporary Help Account to the Overtime Account to cover the cost of overtime due to sick leave, vacation, and unexpected vacancies.
D. Transfer of Funds – Water Fund – Collection and Treatment – Overtime
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,458 which transferred $14,000 in the Water Fund Budget from Capital Appropriation Account to Collection and Treatment – Overtime Account, to provide funding for patrolling on weekends and holidays through year-end and removing the Wild Creek intake screens for cleaning.
E. Transfer of Funds – Water Control – Overtime
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,459 which transferred $15,300 from the following: $2,700 – Capital Appropriation Account, $3,900 – Prior Year Encumbrances Account, $4,700 – Professional Services Account, and $4,000 – Administration – Training/Continuing Education Account, to Water Control – Overtime Account, to pay for projected overtime to the end of the year.
F. Transfer of Funds – Water Capital Budget – Sidewalk/Trench Restoration
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,460 which transferred $22,000 in the Water Capital Budget from Telemetering System Upgrade – Phase 2 Account, to Sidewalk/Trench Restoration Account, to accomplish the full scope of work in 2004 for this project.
G. Transfer of Funds – Recycling Bureau – Overtime
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer sponsored Resolution 14,461 which transferred $10,000 in the General Fund Budget from Recycling Bureau – Other Expenses Account, to Recycling Bureau – Overtime Account, to cover overtime costs for the remainder of the year.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 11 A through 11 G: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolutions passed.
Motion – Considering Resolutions 11 H through 11 K As A Group
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Arcelay moved to consider Resolutions
11 H through 11 K as
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
H. Certificate of Appropriateness – 13-15 East Third Street
Ms. Szabo and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,462 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace windows at the rear of 13-15 East Third Street.
I. Certificate of Appropriateness – 17 East Third Street
Ms. Szabo and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,463 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install signs at 17 East Third Street.
J. Certificate of Appropriateness – 316 Brodhead Avenue
Ms. Szabo and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,464 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to alter the front of the building at 316 Brodhead Avenue.
K. Certificate of Appropriateness – 13 East Fourth Street
Ms. Szabo and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,465 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to tile the storefront at 13 East Fourth Street.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolutions passed.
Motion - Adding Resolution 11 L
Mr. Leeson and Mr. Donchez moved to add Resolution 11 L to the Agenda.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
L. Authorizing Accounting Investigation - BEDCO
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,466 that directed the City’s outside independent auditors, Parente Randolph, LLC, to conduct a forensic accounting investigation of the bank accounts and financial records of the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation, the cost of such services to be paid from the professional services account of City Council, at a cost not to exceed $10,000.00.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution passed.
12. NEW BUSINESS
Map of Watershed
Ms. Szabo requested a map from the Bethlehem Authority that will show what is involved in the actual Watershed area, designating property owners and parcels.
Stephen Salvesen, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Authority, replied that he will supply a map that delineates the various watershed areas.
Lehigh Riverport Project – Former Johnson Machinery Building
Mr. Leeson stated he thinks the conversion of the vacant
former Johnson Machinery Building on Second Street into the
Lehigh Riverport is a great project, is happy to see it come
to fruition, and it will be a tremendous asset to the South
Side. However, Mr. Leeson said he has a few questions and
comments about the process and the scope of public commitment
to the project. Mr. Leeson expressed his understanding is
that it is 180,000 square feet, 172 private residences that
will rent from $800 to $1,800 per unit, and a commercial component
with a restaurant and fitness center that will accommodate
about 15%-20% of the entire project. Mr. Leeson observed that
means about 80% to 85% of the project will be middle to upper
income private residences. Mr. Leeson, restating that his
issue is not whether he supports the project because he supports
it 100%, advised his issue is with the scope of the public
commitment, and the 15% to 20% of the project only relating
to commercial and retail space. Mr. Leeson, reciting some
history about Bethlehem, public financing of development,
and the federal history of financing and development, noted
from the 1960’s to the 1980’s government programs
were very generous in terms of allowing for tax free financing
for almost any project a developer wanted to put together.
In time, Congress conducted investigations and found that
private developers were using a lot of government financing
to construct private residences for middle and upper income
individuals, and the Congress concluded that was not necessarily
the best use of government funds. Certain financing options
were kept open for financing, particularly for low income
projects. The Federal government later eliminated a lot of
the tax free elements for government financing for residential
projects. The City was for the most part in lock step with
the Federal government in its philosophy about financing residential
projects, and using public resources to benefit residential
projects until recently. Mr. Leeson said he is under the impression
that the City has now changed that policy. Historically, Mr.
Leeson communicated it was always his impression, although
it was an unwritten policy, that public resources of a local
nature were committed towards commercial, industrial, and
retail projects where
development could be facilitated by leveraging public funds for parking, for infrastructure, and for job creation. Mr. Leeson noted that, similarly, Congress in changing many of the laws also focused on job creation in terms of leveraging public resources and investment. Mr. Leeson thought that the rule of proportionality is one that would have been the better rule in a case like this. Mr. Leeson, noting that he welcomes the State’s contribution to the Lehigh Riverport project, expressed that he salutes and congratulates the persons responsible for it. Mr. Leeson commented that to the extent the State and the County want to commit their funds to the project he says “amen and halleluiah.” But, when it comes to local resources, whether it be from the City or from the Bethlehem Parking Authority, Mr. Leeson stressed “we only have a finite capacity in terms of funding of public infrastructure, whether it be parking garages or some other type of infrastructure. And, when we make a commitment of public resources for one project, that necessarily means that we have a limited amount of resources for other projects.” Mr. Leeson enumerated his questions are whether the City has changed its policy; and, if the City has changed its policy, what are the criteria and the standards used to determine when it is going to invest public funds in a private, residential project for middle and upper income people, essentially building driveways and garages for middle and upper incomes residences; should the City refocus the commitment of public resources towards job creation, rather than towards driveways and garages for middle and upper income residences. Mr. Leeson asked the Mayor’s thoughts, has the philosophy of the City changed, and what is going to be done in the future.
Mayor Callahan, agreeing it is a wonderful project, observed it is difficult to be against the garage but for the project because without that level of public subsidy and commitment to the parking garage the rest of the project would not happen. Mayor Callahan expressed his belief that it is the role of government to invest in infrastructure, and to intelligently “prime the pump” for private sector investment. Mayor Callahan explained that the project, which ultimately will be upwards of $25 million for the City and will be 100% ratable from day one, would not happen without this level of public subsidy. Mayor Callahan, restating it is difficult to be for the project but against the garage or against that level of investment, remarked “that would continue to be a 180,000 square foot vacant machine shop in a very key area of South Bethlehem.” Mayor Callahan, stating there are two islands of prosperity in this area of South Bethlehem, noted there is the Perkins Restaurant, Banana Factory, and Union Station area, and the Bethlehem Technology Center. Mayor Callahan pointed out that the Johnson Machine shop project links those two islands. Mayor Callahan advised that the money is not going to garages or driveways, but rather it is going towards a public parking garage. Mayor Callahan communicated that the State has been very careful as to what investments they make from economic development dollars. Mayor Callahan explained the City made the pitch to the State and the State understands the importance of attracting approximately 400 people a day living, working, and playing in an urban corridor in the downtown. Mayor Callahan stressed it is hard to overestimate the economic impact that would have. Mayor Callahan remarked “we’ve spent a lot of time in South Bethlehem trying to get people to rethink South Bethlehem, to rethink the shops there, and get a different sense of what’s taking place there through First Fridays, and trying to get people to visit South Bethlehem. Well, now we have an opportunity to have them living there every day, shopping, eating in restaurants, etc…You can only get so far with visitors. You can only get so far with tourists. And this is an opportunity to bring…400 individuals living in market rate apartments in the urban corridor of your downtown. And, I think that the merchants and business owners in the Central Business District of Bethlehem differ, Mr. Leeson, greatly, in the sense that this is economic development. And, I think the State would differ greatly because they committed dollars for the purposes of economic development. We recently were one of only two communities in the State to have been awarded the Keystone Innovation Zone designation. And, when Secretary Yablonski came to speak about that, one of the most important components of any KIZ, and what I think…separates our KIZ from any other in the….Commonwealth is that residential component. Because, if you’re going to bring innovation, if you’re going to bring technology to the downtown, you have to have unique places and spaces for people to live. And, Riverport provides that, and I would envision a fourth Tech Center, a fifth Tech Center, and a truly knowledge neighborhood which is what we’re trying to create…in South Bethlehem. With Lehigh University as its anchor, and those Tech Centers as our partners, with the City of Bethlehem, and with LVEDC, an opportunity where people could live at Riverport, work out of Riverport,…go to work in the Tech Center, go meet on Third Street, and then go home, that’s really what it’s all about. The residential component of that is the keystone…I don’t think that the City’s changed direction at all. If we’ve evolved a bit, I think that we’re evolving with others who are really seeing the value of having a strong residential component in the urban core. And,…to get down to the brass tacks of it, the Bethlehem Parking Authority…is going to have a $5 million parking garage for $2 million. And, this parking garage will make money long before Walnut Street, and long before North Street, simply because of the amount and level of public subsidy. So, I think this is an appropriate commitment of public dollars. Certainly, the State believes that, the County believes that, and I think that it will…help alleviate some of the parking problems that we have in that area now which are fairly significant when there’s events around Fourth Street, around Third Street, and around the Banana Factory. We’re building a parking garage, and certainly some of those spaces will be contracted out for use by this project. And, I think it’s a perfectly appropriate use of funds, and one that I’m quite proud of.”
Mr. Leeson inquired, under the assumption that a residential project is built in the ten story former Bethlehem Steel office building on Third Street, and the developer wants the City to do the same thing for him as was done for Riverport, what standards and criteria will the City use in the future to evaluate when parking garages will be built for private residences.
Mayor Callahan responded he thinks there’s always a subjectivity to any of it. Stating he has made the case for why he thinks this project made sense given its relation to the Sasaki Plan, and pointing out that the project has exactly what the Sasaki Plan says, Mayor Callahan noted there are twin anchors in Lehigh University and the corridors where there are islands of prosperity with the Technology Centers, Banana Factory, and Perkins Restaurant. Mayor Callahan advised “this completes those two anchors and allows…it [to] fit into the greater plan of what Sasaki had for South Bethlehem, and obviously what I believe makes sense for South Bethlehem.” Affirming that every project is evaluated on a case by case basis, and some level of priority must be assigned in view of the fact that there is only so much money to go around, Mayor Callahan stated that a project is objectively reviewed and it is determined, based on the conditions, advice from others, and from planning, what makes the most sense. Mayor Callahan recalled, when the original TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) was created for the Bethlehem Works project, there was a provision that, in the future, if development occurred at the rate it was hoped it would, there would be shared parking and structured parking. Mayor Callahan communicated when that proposition occurs it would be evaluated. Mayor Callahan highlighted the fact that the Parking Authority is considering the purchase of various lots at the former Bethlehem Steel site in order to facilitate economic development. Mayor Callahan restated that, in the future, if it is necessary or feasible to undertake a structured parking lot project, if it makes sense, and if the economics were there to support it as they are for the Lehigh Riverport project, the City might evaluate it.
Mr. Leeson queried whether the Mayor is telling Council that he is open to doing public financing of parking garages for private residential complexes in the future.
Mayor Callahan, commenting he thinks Lehigh Riverport is a very unique project, said if a similar project presented itself as an adaptive reuse of a historic building, and the finances worked out, he would certainly be open to it.
Mrs. Belinski stated that, as Council’s liaison to the Parking Authority for seven years, she has been at the meetings when discussions took place about the bond financing, and plans for building the parking garage. Mrs. Belinski, noting that an in-depth financial analysis was done, said there was assurance that, with the money coming from the State, County, and the City, the revenue generated from the public parking will be able to take care of the payoff of the Parking Authority’s bond issue. Remarking “this is supposed to be a wash”, Mrs. Belinski added “let’s hope it turns out that way…”.
Mayor Callahan observed that, because the garage is so heavily subsidized through other areas of funding, it is a $5 million parking garage project but essentially $2 million of Parking Authority money. He continued on to point out there is a guaranteed amount of spaces to be contracted out that also makes the financing work out better. Mayor Callahan, adding it is based on predicted occupancy rates, explained that predictions are made for the occupancy of the non-contracted portion of the garage. Mayor Callahan noted that, typically, structured parking garages are loss leaders, in that money is not made on them until long after the bond is paid off. He stated it could cost as much as $15,000 to build a space in a parking garage versus $1,500-$2,000 in a surface lot. Mayor Callahan, commenting that usually surface parking subsidizes structured parking, said he does not anticipate this project will be different. Adding that the occupancy rate increases over time, Mayor Callahan related that about a 30% occupancy rate of the public portion is assumed moving forward.
Mrs. Belinski restated that the Parking Authority was assured there would be enough revenue generated from the public parking in the garage to pay off the bonds that will be issued.
Turning to Mr. Leeson’s observation about the tax exempt status, Mayor Callahan said “rest assured that we’ve looked at all of that, and the public monies that are going towards this garage will fall well within those guidelines, and we’re sure that we have the necessary status required.”
Mayor Callahan confirmed to Mrs. Belinski that the full amount of taxes will be received from the inception.
Mrs. Belinski, while agreeing it is a unique project, remarked as to anything in the future she does not know.
Mayor Callahan, acknowledging it is impossible to predict
what would happen in the future and there is a certain amount
of speculation, restated it is objective and a determination
is made on a case by case basis. Mayor Callahan further stated
he is confident the Lehigh Riverport project “will be
a national model for others to look at [for] adaptive reuses
of old machine shops…”.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
South Side and Other Issues
Eddie Rodriquez, 436 Pawnee Street, noted that he represents
a lot of people. With reference to a newspaper article, Mr.
Rodriquez stated he does not ramble on. Focusing on the Five
Points traffic study and proposed changes, Mr. Rodriquez asserted
if the changes were to occur there will be an increased amount
of traffic and no parking whatsoever. Mr. Rodriquez asked
that the meters be removed in the 400 block of Broadway in
the vicinity of Pete’s Hot Dog shop to the Five Points,
so that traffic can flow, and the roadway would be widened
eastbound and westbound. Mr. Rodriquez exclaimed that the
proposal to make the roadway one way is “crazy”,
will increase the traffic problems and accidents, and will
make emergency vehicle access more difficult. Turning to Route
378 southbound at Wyandotte Street, Mr. Rodriquez questioned
how there could be a highway going into the Five Points intersection.
Mr. Rodriquez suggested that the City purchase the Bethlehem
Transmissions property or the Ale House property in order
to build a parking deck, or build a parking deck on West Fourth
Street at the site of the Wachovia municipal parking lot.
Mr. Rodriquez suggested that the curve in the roadway on Broadway
be eliminated and the roadway be straightened, and paint the
one way only sign on the roadway on the left leading to the
left side of Route 378. Mr. Rodriquez queried what is being
done about the increased amount of speeding in the Five Points
and other areas of the City. Mr. Rodriquez, turning to Madison
Park, enumerated there are constant problems of drugs and
speeding. Mr. Rodriquez, acknowledging he has received results
since he has been coming to City Council Meetings from some
City officials, communicated that results are not evident
in other situations. Mr. Rodriquez expressed that more drug
rehabilitation centers are drastically needed rather than
putting people in prison. Mr. Rodriquez questioned how will
the community respond to the City’s needs if the drug
problem is not addressed. Mr. Rodriquez asked that the Inspections
Bureau staff conduct a site visit to the Jischke Street area
and investigate the garages that have no permits to do automotive
work, and added
that “in those garages there’s drug problems because they’re selling hundreds and thousands of dollars in that area of drugs…”. Mr. Rodriquez, thanking the Police Commissioner for addressing the 353 Broadway area, said it was a job well done. Mr. Rodriquez stated “there’s dirty politicians out there.” Recalling there was a ramp onto the Hill to Hill Bridge from the area of Third Street, Mr. Rodriquez observed that now someone may be proposing another ramp and questioned whether that is “the way to go.” He later asserted that the bridge must be free of obstacles which are a ramp and a light. Mr. Rodriquez requested that the green lights be synchronized at Brodhead and West Third Street, at New Street and West Third Street, and Polk and East Third Street in view of the increased traffic that would result from the building of offices for St. Luke’s Hospital, to allow traffic to flow better. Mr. Rodriquez said that the disrespect with dispatchers was resolved through Captain Miller. Mr. Rodriquez inquired whether Graham Street and East Mechanic Street that are one way westbound towards Brodhead can be turned around the other way so that one street goes up and the other goes down in order to divert traffic away from that area at the Hess Gas Station. Mr. Rodriquez suggested that the bus stop heading eastbound and westbound in the 400 block of Broadway be moved down further by the bank since two bus stops are not needed in that area.
South Side Issues and Development
Lucy Lennon, owner of the Dancing Fish Restaurant on Third Street, with reference to Mr. Leeson’s comments, stated he forgot to thank someone very important for the Lehigh Riverport project who is the developer, Lou Pektor. Ms. Lennon communicated that, hopefully, Mr. Pektor will bring “some of the Northsiders over” to the South Side. Ms. Lennon remarked anyone who would say a parking garage is not needed at the site is not spending any time in the area. Ms. Lennon informed the assembly that she waited four years for a parking permit for a lot. Ms. Lennon stressed “we have no parking over there.” Ms. Lennon, expressing it would be very beneficial to have year round residents, said “we don’t have them. We starve in the summer because the people that are over here [on the North Side]…don’t think to go over to the South Side unless it’s First Friday.” Ms. Lennon exclaimed “we need all the help we can get [on the South Side]. We work very hard over there…We really need parking over there, we need the Riverport over there, we need restaurants over there, we need people who live in houses that cost between $800 and $1,800 a month. We don’t need any more student housing.” Ms. Lennon, advising that people do not want to walk a mile away to park in a former Bethlehem Steel lot and park there when it is dark, restated that the garage is needed as are residents who will live at the Riverport building. Further, Ms. Lennon stated that someone like Lou Pektor, the developer, is needed who thinks enough of the South Side and is willing to put money into the project. Pointing out that Mr. Pektor has done a beautiful job with his projects on the North Side, Ms. Lennon said “let him spread the wealth over to the South Side.” Ms. Lennon, with reference to Mr. Rodriquez’s remarks, said she thinks everybody does a great job, including the Police Officers, Firefighters, City Council, and the Mayor. Ms. Lennon, noting she has lived in a lot of places, stated she has lived in Bethlehem for four years and can appreciate what Bethlehem has. Ms. Lennon suggested that if Mr. Rodriquez cannot see the good in the City he could move.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:16 p.m.