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October 17, 2006 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Town Hall – 10 East Church Street
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 – 7:30 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President J. Michael Schweder called the meeting to order. Reverend Gordon B. Mowrer offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were, Jean Belinski, Karen Dolan, 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 a Public Hearing on the Proposed Action Plan for 2007 that includes funding under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership Programs.
Communication 7 A - Housing and Community Development Planner – Proposed 2007 Action Plan -CDBG and HOME Programs
The Clerk read a letter dated September 28, 2006 from Irene Woodward, Housing and Community Development Planner, attached to which was the proposed 2007 Action Plan for CDBG and HOME Programs. The letter stated that program budgets were formulated using the best estimates for 2007 and are projected at $1,500,000 for CDBG and $560,000 for HOME Investment Partnership Program. In addition, it was recommended that $378,556 in CDBG funding and $21,226 in HOME funding be reprogrammed. The summary of the 2007 CDBG Program proposal was as follows: Administration/Planning - $178,000; Affordable Housing - $185,000; Economic Development - $700,556; Public Facilities - $225,000; Public Services - $235,000; Infrastructure - $355,000; Total - $1,878,556.
Irene Woodward, Housing and Community Development Planner, stated that the Public Hearing is part of the Citizens Participation Plan to seek public input for the activities funded under the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnership Program. She noted the Proposed Action Plan is available at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, the City Clerk’s Office, and in the Department of Community and Economic Development, and will be on display until November 6, 2006. Public comments can be delivered to the Department of Community and Economic Development until November 6, 2006. Ms. Woodward advised that the Action Plan budget was completed in anticipation of additional funding cuts by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) similar to 2006. Ms. Woodward informed the assembly that many of the programs and activities remain the same as in the 2006 Action Plan. Ms. Woodward listed the new activities, as follows: CDBG - Visual Impairment and Blindness Services - $25,000 - funds for acquisition of a new building at 260 East Broad Street; New Bethany Ministries - $25,000 - funds for a new roof; HOME – HOM, Inc. - $150,000 - funds for construction of two affordable townhomes on the South Side. Additionally, there is funding for the purchase of a new ambulance in the Proposed 2007 CDBG Action Plan Budget. The remainder of most of the activities in the Action Plan are similar to those in 2006.
The specific activities contained in the Proposed 2007 Action
Plan are as follows: CDBG: Acquisition/Demolition - $ 10,000;
Saucon Park - $75,000; Southside Recreation Coordinator (SSRC)
- salary and program costs - $25,000; Curb Ramps - $75,000;
Evans Street Reconstruction - $145,000; Street Overlays -
$100,000; Public Works Engineering - $20,000; Street Trees
- $15,000; Police Services - Community Policing - $155,000;
EMS - purchase of an ambulance - $150,000; Accessibility Counseling
- Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living - $25,000; Financial
Services Counseling - Community Action Committee of the Lehigh
Valley, Inc. - $25,000; HOOP - Neighborhood Housing Services
of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. - loan intake/ processing - $10,000;
Start Your Business Counseling - Community Action Development
Corporation - $25,000; VIABL - acquisition costs for new building
- $25,000; New Bethany Ministries – roof - $25,000;
Housing Rehabilitation - Staff and delivery costs - $120,000;
Redevelopment Authority - $157,556 for: Administration/delivery
costs for ADA Compliance, Blighted Property Review, Urban
Renewal, Loan Servicing, Affordable Housing activities, TIF/HUD
Section 108 Loan management; Economic Development - Staff
and delivery costs - $150,000; Economic Development - BEAR
Program - $150,000; Economic Development - Facade Improvement
Program - $109,000; Economic Development - FRED Program -
Program Administration - $143,000 for: Program and staff costs including salaries, benefits, publications, advertising Single Audit, Central Services Cost Allocation Plan, copier and service agreement, travel expenses, and other miscellaneous costs; Program Administration - Community Development Consultants - $35,000; Total 2007 CDBG Program - $1,878,556; HOME Activities: HOM, Inc. – construction of two townhomes - $150,000; Habitat for Humanity – Acquisition costs and site improvement costs for affordable housing opportunities for home buyers - $150,000; Housing Rehabilitation - $281,226; Total 2007 HOME Program - $581,226.
President Schweder asked is there any significant difference in anything that has been done in either increasing spending or decreasing spending over last year’s plan.
Ms. Woodward responded the majority of the spending is fairly stagnant, nothing was increased, the Department tried not to decrease anything as much as possible, and tried to maintain many of the programs in operation.
President Schweder observed it is probably too early to determine what assurances there will be that the funding will be provided by the Federal Government.
Ms. Woodward, replying it looks as though there will be funding, acknowledged she is not sure how much funding at this point. She added that from her reading it appears the CDBG program will remain, but a cut is still being considered by the Federal Government.
Dana Grubb, 2420 Henderson Place, questioned the boundaries on Evans Street for the reconstruction.
Ms. Woodward noted the boundaries are between Third Street and Hayes Street.
The Public Hearing was adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
4. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
5. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (for public comment on ordinances
and resolutions to be voted on by Council this evening)
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, said at the meeting of Bethlehem Citizens Association last week it voted 10 to 1 that the funding for the Comprehensive Plan should be in line with the amounts spent by cities of comparable size, and that the consultant should be from outside the City. Mr. Scheirer, pointing out that he has been involved in the awarding of numerous similar studies, asserted that $159,000 is too little for a good Comprehensive Plan, especially in view of the revisions to the Zoning regulations that will be part of the effort. Mr. Scheirer felt the budgeted amount will only pay for a plan that would be too general. Mr. Scheirer added that the chosen consultant, Urban Research and Development, has done so much work for the City that it would be beneficial to obtain an outside perspective.
Robert Pfenning, 2830 Linden Street, observed that if a low dollar amount is paid for the Comprehensive Plan then the City will probably not get as good a plan. Mr. Pfenning pointed out that the present Comprehensive Plan depicts the corner of Eighth Avenue and Eaton Avenue as Residential but it was recently rezoned to Commercial zoning. Mr. Pfenning, stating that comprehensive plans should be comprehensive and look at the whole community, was not sure that stitching together individual plans and then filling in the blanks will produce a comprehensive result. Mr. Pfenning expressed his assumption that a Comprehensive Plan would consider issues such as green space.
Certificate of Appropriateness - 254 East Wall Street
Holly Sachdev, 1410 Calypso Avenue, advised she is on the Historic and Architectural Review Board. Ms. Sachdev, turning to the Certificate of Appropriateness on this evening’s Agenda for 254 East Wall Street, explained this gentleman, Mr. McArdle, has come before the Historic and Architectural Review Board twice, and twice the Board moved to deny his request. Ms. Sachdev explained that Mr. McArdle has unfortunately removed an original front door and replaced it with an inappropriate door. Recalling that on May 17, 2006 City Council voted to deny a Certificate of Appropriateness as recommended by the Historic and Architectural Review Board, Ms. Sachdev stated she would like City Council to deny the present request. Ms. Sachdev highlighted the fact that Mr. McArdle has lived in the Historic District since the early 1990’s.
Dana Grubb, 2420 Henderson Place, communicated concerns about the amount of funding for the Comprehensive Plan. Mr. Grubb said funding in his estimation, that of the Planning Director cited at a past City Council Meeting, and that of others he has contacted, for a plan for a city the size of Bethlehem should be approximately $300,000 down to about $250,000 dependent on staff involvement. Mr. Grubb commented that, while the existing neighborhood studies are helpful, one is five years old, and they would need to be updated. Mr. Grubb continued on to say that consultants also felt the zoning revision costs should be included so that any update would be meaningful. Mr. Grubb, notifying the assembly that he knows the firm of Urban Research and Development well, stated he has the utmost respect for them. However, Mr. Grubb thought that a firm from within the City of Bethlehem may not be as well prepared to do the Comprehensive Plan as someone from outside the City. Mr. Grubb expressed his opinion, and noted it is also the opinion of the principals of the firms he contacted, that public participation will be greatly limited at that level of funding. Mr. Grubb stressed it is paramount to moving forward on a Comprehensive Plan to have the public involved as much as possible, and added that comprehensive plans should not be driven by elected officials or city staff. Otherwise, he pointed out, it is not good public policy.
6. OLD BUSINESS
City Hall – Landscaping Plans
Ms. Dolan, referring to a memorandum dated September 11, 2006 from Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, concerning the plans to renovate the entrance to City Hall as approved by the Historic and Architectural Review Board and City Council said she has received a number of telephone calls, and the City has received three letters. Ms. Dolan expressed her concern that a project of this magnitude and visual impact on Church Street should be looked at more closely by City Council. Ms. Dolan explained the action she will propose is to rescind the approval given by City Council for the recommendation of the Historic and Architectural Review Board. While stating that the action will not stop the plan from going ahead, Ms. Dolan expressed her hope that the matter could be referred to Committee and the Members of Council would have an opportunity to hear from citizens, and to hear from the Administration why there is the need to cut down all of the trees in front of City Hall since they are causing mold and allergic reactions. Ms. Dolan said she knows that many citizens residing on Church Street and other citizens do not feel comfortable that questions have been adequately answered. Ms. Dolan informed the Members that she will be bringing up the action to rescind Resolution 14,867 passed June 20, 2006 under Resolutions this evening.
Lowe’s Project at Eighth Avenue - Landscaping
Ms. Dolan, noting that several weeks ago she spoke to Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, about the landscaping at Lowe’s on Eighth Avenue, advised that she viewed the yards of residents nearby the Lowe’s property, and obtained a site plan from the Department. Ms. Dolan said she is also concerned by the tone of the letter sent by Jim Petrucci, developer of the Lowe’s project, to Mr. and Mrs. Williams, as was Mr. Leeson. Ms. Dolan noted the September 8, 2006 letter explained that with regard to doing whatever can be done in reference to fulfilling the obligations, the account was checked and it was seen “that legal fees have eaten up my resources we might have utilized to exceed our municipal obligations.” Ms. Dolan questioned whether the City is requesting the developer exceed the legal obligations, or that the developer live up to the legal obligations as shown in the site plan.
Ms. Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, while noting she has not seen the letter, advised that the landscaping is not completed, and other work needs to be done. Ms. Heller stated that the escrow for the landscaping has been retained. Ms. Heller pointed out that the landscaping improvements will have to be made before any additional escrow is released.
Ms. Dolan, commenting she will look forward to an update perhaps by the next Council Meeting, said she knows that Tracy Samuelson, Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning, who is following up on the matter thought the work would be done by the end of October.
Mrs. Belinski, informing the Members that Mr. Williams telephoned her about the issue and read to her the letters, stated she advised Mr. Willliams to copy the letters and send them to Councilman Leeson because he has been asking if the developers have completed everything they were supposed to be doing with the landscaping. Mrs. Belinski further noted that Members of Council received a copy of a follow-up letter sent by Mr. Leeson to Mr. Petrucci, which she pointed out was very well written, expressing that Mr. Petrucci should fulfill his promises. Mrs. Belinski highlighted the fact that the weeds and grass are two and three feet high, the trees were cut down, the noise comes through from Route 378, and the traffic has increased the noise as a result of the completion of the Lowe’s building.
B. Business Administrator – 2006 State Aid – Pension
The Clerk read a memorandum dated October 31, 2006 from Dennis
W. Reichard, Business Administrator, advising that a check
for State Aid for Pension Funding was received September 25,
2006 in the amount of $2,662,306.39. The proceeds have been
allocated as follows:
Police - $1,578,082; Fire - $987,311; Pension Bond Payment – May 1, 2006 - $96,913.39.
President Schweder stated that authorizing Resolution 11 A is listed on the Agenda.
President Schweder asked for an update of the portfolio of the Pension Funds investments, and changes within the last year.
C. Zoning Map Amendment - 625-633 Montclair Avenue – I Institutional to RM - Residential
The Clerk read a letter dated October 11, 2006 from Attorney Michael F. Corriere, containing the Petition of Housing Opportunity Movement, Inc. (HOM, Inc.) to amend the Zoning Ordinance to rezone 625-633 Montclair Avenue from an I Institutional Zone to an R-M Residential Zone.
President Schweder referred the matter to the Planning Commission and to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Mowrer moved to schedule a Public Hearing on Tuesday, December 5, 2006 at 7:30 PM in Town Hall. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
D. Economic Development Coordinator – LERTA Recertification
The Clerk read a memorandum dated October 13, 2006 from Howard Lieberman, Economic Development Coordinator, requesting that City Council review and re-certify the LERTA Ordinance authorizing tax abatement in certain defined areas of the city to promote redevelopment of commercial and industrial areas. Only commercial and/or industrial uses will qualify for LERTA Tax Abatement. The current LERTA Ordinance expires at the end of 2006. Approval of the new ordinance will require the support of the Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County, and Lehigh County. A map was attached to provide a visual overview of the proposed LERTA areas that were developed in conjunction with the city's efforts in planning for the renewal of the Enterprise Zone. The memorandum outlined the LERTA areas proposed to be retained, removed, added, and reduced, as follows: Add – area along Monocacy Creek north of Union Boulevard, light industrial area off 14th Avenue; Remove – North Side Central Business District; areas of South Side zoned Residential or Institutional, commercial area along East Broad Street, Stefko Boulevard Corridor-Northern Portion, Railroad property and right of way between Lehigh River and Bethworks Development, Route 412 interchange property and commercial development sites; Retain – Eastern Gateway on the South Side zoned residential, industrial areas along Southern portion of Stefko Boulevard.
8 . REPORTS
A. President of Council
C. Public Safety Committee and Community Development Committee
Mr. Donchez, Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, presented an oral report of the Committee’s meeting held on October 11, 2006 jointly with the Community Development Committee on the following subjects: Proposed Revisions – Noise Ordinance: Amending Article 509 – Enforcement and General Penalty, and Amending Article 717 – Noises.
Chairman Donchez also presented an oral report of the Public Safety Committee’s meeting held on October 11, 2006 on the following subjects: Proposed Revisions to the Police Civil Service Rules and Regulations; Overview of the proposed upgrade of Public Safety Radio System; Updates from the Police Department, Fire Department, and EMS Bureau including Staffing Levels and Vacancies, Overtime, Training, and Equipment.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
A. Bill No. 23 – 2006 – Amending Community Development Budget – Comprehensive Plan
The Clerk read Bill No. 23 - 2006, Amending Community Development Budget – Comprehensive Plan, on Final Reading.
Ms. Dolan questioned whether the City is spending enough for the Comprehensive Plan, and recalled that the City received a LUPTAP grant and is matching the amount.
Ms. Heller responded that the Department worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) representatives. Ms. Heller, recounting that a proposal was drafted in 2003 to request funding for a Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance update, said at that time the City worked with DCED to apply for a LUPTAP grant. Ms. Heller continued on to explain that the City asked DCED what are comparable communities requesting, and what is thought to be an ample amount for the project. Ms. Heller added that the City discussed with DCED the projects in the City, the age of the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The amount of $75,000 was identified to be budgeted and was the amount that DCED would match. At that time, Ms. Heller recalled there were no issues raised in-house about inadequacy of funding. City representatives again spoke with DCED in 2005, talked about the status of the City, and granting funding amounts for comparable cities, and the total budget cost was raised to $160,000 that equated to a $80,000 grant and a 50/50 match from the City. Ms. Heller explained that among the things taken into consideration was the fact that the City had done a number of master plans recently. Ms. Heller pointed out that all of South Bethlehem has been analyzed, the Elm Street plan was done recently on the North Side, the Stefko Boulevard plan is almost finished, and an Enterprise Zone plan is currently in progress. Ms. Heller, stating it is felt there is a pretty good handle on what is happening in the core of the City, highlighted the fact that a lot of background data has been collected and would be used by the consultant for the Comprehensive Plan update. Acknowledging there are areas that have to be studied from a long-range perspective including recreation, conservation and environmentally sensitive areas, Ms. Heller said it is believed that has been taken into account. In addition, the City also has GIS mapping that was not available when the current Comprehensive Plan was done. In an effort to bring down the costs, Ms. Heller advised that the Comprehensive Plan was consolidated with the Zoning Ordinance update, and the Department would work with one consultant. Ms. Heller pointed out that much of the background work for the Zoning Ordinance update will be done in the Comprehensive Plan process. Stating it was difficult to find a consulting firm that could handle both, Ms. Heller explained that a comprehensive plan takes a big picture look at the City that is broad-ranging and covers a broad amount of topics versus a zoning ordinance review that is much more technical, specific, and able to be defended in court. Ms. Heller stressed it is two different projects being consolidated into one. Ms. Heller expressed it is believed that Urban Research and Development is able to do both. She continued on to state it is fortunate to have a firm that qualified located in Bethlehem and is that familiar with Bethlehem’s issues. Ms. Heller affirmed it is felt that $160,000 covers the project. Ms. Heller further advised that the project was advertised on the American Planning Association (APA) website that is the most broad-reaching place for the RFP, and the Department did a national search for the project.
Ms. Dolan commented that, in reading the proposal, it seemed to have a lot of opportunities for public participation, as well as participation from individual Council Members. Ms. Dolan questioned whether public participation would be limited.
Ms. Heller replied that in the RFP’s the Department tried to stress very strongly that it should be an open process for City Council and for the City as a whole so there is “buy-in”, to make sure the City is hitting the big issues the community wants, and is touching on all neighborhoods in the City. Ms. Heller denoted the staff has been working with some of the neighborhoods on a regular basis including the Route 412 plan, and the Elm Street plan. Ms. Heller added the Department tried to be creative in some of the things requested in the RFP, but wanted to get recommendations from the consultants for public input. Ms. Heller advised that the public input process has not been finalized because the Department wants to get input from a comprehensive plan task force. Ms. Heller explained there were discussions about a series of open public meetings, there will be key person interviews, there will be focus groups, and meetings with existing committees including affordable housing, open space, and safety committee. Ms. Heller pointed out that the Urban Research and Development proposal offered more opportunities for public input than did the other proposals. Ms. Heller also noted there will be ways to make the project more interactive by using the website, and use of a survey could also be considered. Ms. Heller expressed the Department is open to additional suggestions from Council and the public.
Ms. Dolan queried whether there is any flexibility if the City does not get all it needs after expending the money.
Ms. Heller, noting the City has been open in its talks with the DCED that is very supportive of the project, commented that the City could go back to DCED to request additional money.
Ms. Dolan, focusing on the process, stated that the same thing people can find wrong with something people can also see as being right. Ms. Dolan observed that, although a local company is being hired and the City is spending less money, someone would also say that local is not good and spending more money is better. Ms. Dolan communicated she is of the bent that local is better usually, and Urban Research and Development does a lot of work outside of the City of Bethlehem so it is not as if their experience is exclusively with the City. In addition, Ms. Dolan highlighted the fact that Bethlehem is the company’s hometown, they have insider knowledge, and has done work for the City. Ms. Dolan said she would rather see tax dollars being spent for a local company that will answer to the City, and will be present in the City to respond in the future. Ms. Dolan stated she will be voting yes.
Mrs. Belinski inquired whether Urban Research and Development is the company that worked on the overlay district for the Martin Tower site on Eighth Avenue.
Ms. Heller affirmed that the City worked with Urban Research and Development as consultants on the project.
Mrs. Belinski, expressing she is not happy with the development, stressed how much density and traffic there will be as a result of the project.
Ms. Heller, advising it was not the plan of Urban Research and Development, explained the firm worked with the City on the proposal that the City recommended. Ms. Heller continued on to advise that, as a consultant on the Comprehensive Plan, the firm would again work with the City to come up with the end result that the community wants. In further response to Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Heller explained, rather than it being an initial proposal of the Administration with which the consultant goes along, there is a wide and varied public input process to which the consultant responds, and as a professional firm that is what they should be doing.
Mrs. Belinski, remarking if the firm does not do what the Administration wants then they will not get the work, expressed she has some serious concerns about the matter.
Mayor Callahan, commenting he is not going to be a defender of all the work that Urban Research and Development has done inside and outside of the City, advised there is a representative of Urban Research and Development in attendance at this evening’s Meeting to whom specific questions can be directed. Mayor Callahan communicated he finds some of the impugning of the company’s reputation and objectivity to be unfortunate. Mayor Callahan, affirming that Urban Research and Development was the City’s consultant on the Elm Street plan, pointed out that the meeting facilitated by the firm at the Moravian Church in West Bethlehem was one of the more dynamic and exciting community meetings he has been part of. Mayor Callahan further confirmed that Urban Research and Development was the consultant for the Saucon Park soil and erosion control program. Mayor Callahan highlighted the fact that the overlay district for the Martin Tower area was approved by the Planning Commission and supported by the majority of Council. He added that the firm has done a lot of great work in the City.
Mrs. Belinski agreed that in the area of parks and public property the firm has done well.
Mr. Leeson commented that he has reservations about the matter, not because of the consultant which he said is an outstanding firm, but because of the issue of what a comprehensive plan is and what it does. Mr. Leeson thought one of the great misnomers about the label comprehensive plan is that it will tell people something that they do not already know, and will provide some type of master blueprint to change all of the City which is not going to happen. Mr. Leeson observed, as it is now, most of the City is almost fully built out and there are not a lot of options in terms of development. Mr. Leeson noted the questions that most frequently arise have to do with the few tracts that are vacant parcels subject to application for rezoning or development. Mr. Leeson stated he is not convinced that spending this kind of money is really worth it or that it will give the City information equal to the value of what is being spent. Observing that the City always needs to be planning ahead and is an area of City government that could use improvement, Mr. Leeson thought the Department of Community and Economic Development should be charged with the responsibility of initiating ideas, and added that City Council can initiate ideas as well. Mr. Leeson stated he is not convinced this is an appropriate expenditure of funds, and he is not convinced that the information and the planning that needs to be done cannot be done in house. Mr. Leeson, pointed out that, as noted by Ms. Heller, there are areas of the City that have already been subject to comprehensive studies. Mr. Leeson advised he was involved in the negotiations and planning for Bethlehem Works and for the Commerce Center which is the largest brownfield area in the City, and was studied extensively. Mr. Leeson stated he is not sure this is a worthwhile expenditure.
Ms. Szabo, stating she is not against this company doing work with the City, commented there were two points made by Mr. Leeson and Mr. Grubb. Ms. Szabo, communicating that the extensive experience with this local company has been satisfactory, said this is not a consultant on what is already obvious. Ms. Szabo recounted the out-of-town firm that conducted the South Side Master Plan came up with a lot of pictures of the firm’s successes in Connecticut, and offering as the plan everything that was already obvious for years to the citizens. Ms. Szabo expressed she is not sure what the answer is here except she is concerned about the fact that the last Comprehensive Plan completed in the early 1990’s was not really a plan but a philosophy about the City. Ms. Szabo noted there were developers through the years who complained that the City did not actually have a Comprehensive Plan and it left too much open. Ms. Szabo pointed out that, as one speaker said earlier, there is now a Commercial area in the vicinity of Eighth Avenue where the Plan denoted there would be housing. Ms. Szabo, commenting she is not sure what Council is voting on tonight, questioned is Council voting on getting the Plan started.
President Schweder affirmed that Council will be voting tonight to approve the expenditure of the funds for the City to go out and sign the agreement with Urban Research and Development, and the process to start.
Mr. Mowrer, recalling there were questions about the Comprehensive Plan in the 1970’s as there are questions today, observed different viewpoints are being expressed by the Members of Council such as saying Council should pick the consulting firm or that the Plan should not be done. Mr. Mowrer thought that sometimes the talent in the City is underestimated, and expressed that when there are professionals from the City the City should try to use their services. Mr. Mowrer, while acknowledging that sometimes outside firms are considered to be experts because they are from out of the area, pointed out, however, those in the City do not know them. Highlighting the fact that the Administration has recommended the project and has studied it extensively, Mr. Mowrer expressed the belief that everyone is not going to be satisfied with what happens. Mr. Mowrer affirmed the past experience the City has had with the firm has been good for the community, and communicated it is time to move on because Council has been the ones who have been asking that the plan be updated. Mr. Mowrer said he will vote in favor of the Bill.
Mr. Donchez, echoing the comments of Mr. Mowrer and Ms. Dolan, stated he will support the proposal. Mr. Donchez, agreeing the City is built out for the most part, noted over the past five to ten years some major zoning changes have been made. However, Mr. Donchez said he thinks it is time to step back and look at the whole plan and the whole City. Mr. Donchez stated the City is fortunate that it has a local company with a national reputation, and advised he has been very pleased with the firm’s work, especially on the Elm Street plan. Mr. Donchez, pointing out that Council has expressed that it would like to move forward with having the City’s zoning reviewed and updated, commented he does not think there will be a reinvention. Mr. Donchez stressed that, as with the Elm Street program, there needs to be citizen input. Continuing on to say it is very important to go into the neighborhoods and get the response of the public, Mr. Donchez expressed the hope that will be done if the plan is approved. Mr. Donchez further stated he would like to see a representative from City Council involved in the process. Mr. Donchez said he intends to support the Bill.
Mayor Callahan explained the plan is to have one or two Members of Council on the task force, each Member of Council will be individually interviewed, and there will be a number of public meetings so there will be multiple opportunities for Council’s input that will be welcomed. Mayor Callahan, communicating it is the City’s Comprehensive Plan, pointed out it is the vision for Council, for the Administration, and most importantly it is to reflect the vision of what the community wants itself to look like.
President Schweder, asking what the Mayor’s reaction was when he read the plan proposed by the firm, read from a paragraph on page 12, regarding sewage and water services. President Schweder noted it describes that the firm will develop a map for the public sewage and water systems, available capacity, increase in treatment capacity, and so forth. President Schweder continued on to point out that it also says that “this section will also describe the plans to construct a new Penn Forest Dam.”
Mayor Callahan, advising he did not understand the statement, affirmed that the Penn Forest Dam will not be a part of the Comprehensive Plan.
President Schweder communicated his initial reaction was that a decision was already made about the firm. President Schweder, recounting the last time a Comprehensive Plan was done was at the time the City was about to build a new Penn Forest Dam, thought that probably it was written in the past and advanced in the current proposal.
President Schweder recalled he had been sent information about the ad for a national search being placed in the Express-Times newspaper.
Ms. Heller advised that an ad had been placed on the American Planning Association website which is a national association for professional planners. Ms. Heller affirmed that an ad was placed in the Express-Times and the newspaper also places it on the web, and an ad was placed on the Pennsylvania Planning Association website.
President Schweder, while expressing he is encouraged by what he heard tonight about citizen input, said that was never in the document submitted by the firm. President Schweder explained he had discussions with Tony Hanna, Director of Community and Economic Development, because in the plan it said if asked, but the City did not ask that a survey be done. President Schweder noted he suggested that be done when he had discussions with Mr. Hanna about a number of ways to get input into the process. President Schweder observed what transpired has occurred since the proposal was presented. President Schweder, denoting no one questions the integrity of those who have been selected, stressed it is the process that he thinks is totally wrong to begin with. President Schweder, confirming he has voted against a number of overlay plans, and noting they are referred to as mini-plans, said he does not see it as that but as special favors. President Schweder remarked the rest of the City will be neatly worked around those things that have been done already. President Schweder, acknowledging the issue has been debated for years and Council has asked the Department to do the project, stated it is his hope it is done right but he does not think this is the right way to go at this point. President Schweder said he is going to vote against the Bill.
Ms. Szabo observed she is hearing talk about things that are already happening as examples of what could happen, but said they are happening, and what is needed are ideas that have not been thought about such as how to preserve a neighborhood rather that let things intrude that do not belong there. Ms. Szabo continued on to note another idea might be to have a different outlook at an area of the City and identify a beneficial usage there. Ms. Szabo expressed that obviously help is needed to look at a much wider picture, and not just accept what comes up piecemeal. Ms. Szabo said only one or two Council Members on the committee bothers her because it does not necessarily mean they can attend the meetings due to other commitments, and there may not be a Member at the meetings to hear what is going on and to make suggestions. Ms. Szabo thought it should be an open process for the Members of Council to go to the meetings.
Mrs. Belinski, referring to the meeting at Broughal Middle School at which consultants from New England presented the South Side Master Plan, pointed out that after the meeting some attendees said what the consultants presented was what some community members had tried to tell the Administration for 20 years. Mrs. Belinski remarked it was expressed that what the consultants came up with was self-evident such as better lighting, cleaner streets, better security, filling in spaces where buildings were demolished, and rehabilitate buildings. Mrs. Belinski observed what was added by the consultants was a greenway to promote the entrance to Lehigh University.
Mayor Callahan, in response to Mrs. Belinski’s comments, said he does not know that the process could have worked any better than Mrs. Belinski described.
Mrs. Belinski wondered why the City had to pay for a firm from New England to come and tell the City what residents had already been telling the Administration for 20 years.
Mayor Callahan, observing it is being said too much is being spent, or not enough is being spent, an outside firm should be hired, there should be an inside firm, communicated it is difficult to understand what is the will of Council. Confirming it has been 15 years since the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, Mayor Callahan said he agrees with Mr. Leeson that it is not a panacea. Mayor Callahan stressed he thinks a lot of strides have been made in the last four or five years with regard to planning and zoning. Mayor Callahan advised, if the City were starting from scratch, he would agree that $150,000 would probably not be enough to accomplish the task. However, Mayor Callahan pointed out that $450,000 has been spent in planning in the City for outside consultants. Acknowledging that the Comprehensive Plan will only affect probably certain areas in the City that are in transition, Mayor Callahan stressed the reality is that the City continues to be in a transition from an industrial based City to something very new and different. Mayor Callahan continued on to say the Administration wants to make sure a plan is in place to help the City along with the transition. Mayor Callahan communicated he did not think it was too much to ask to have a consultant to participate in the effort in view of the fact that the City’s planning staff is busy with all of the $900 million of economic development projects and prospective future projects. Mayor Callahan asserted the City needs an outside consultant that is good at the facilitation of public meetings to allow for input, and perhaps to bring some outside ideas. Mayor Callahan, pointing out that Urban Research and Development has done master plans throughout Pennsylvania and the country, communicated that drawing on that expertise will help the City determine for itself what it wants to be in the future. Acknowledging that is just a snapshot in time, Mayor Callahan advised the update to the Comprehensive Plan will tie together the half-million dollars of master planning that has gone on in the City. Mayor Callahan stressed that the Comprehensive Plan will always be a living and changing document. Mayor Callahan stated just because it was decided in 1992 that the vision for the City in the master plan was a certain thing does not mean the City should be living by that now because circumstances, situations, and the economy change, the City changes, and those changes need to be responded to. Mayor Callahan stated it is important to have a Comprehensive Plan and it should be a blueprint for the City’s future, but it should not be forever etched in stone. Expressing his agreement with Mr. Leeson, Mayor Callahan pointed out that much of the City is what it already is, and many of the more stable residential neighborhoods are not going to change as a result of the Comprehensive Plan. However, there are some areas in the City that are undergoing a transition and the City wants to determine what will be in those areas. Remarking on the politicization of the issue, Mayor Callahan observed that Comprehensive Plans are generally not particularly politically popular because people have a misperception of what a Comprehensive Plan update is. He continued on to say some people are not going to like the changes recommended and some will not like the fact that certain things have not been changed, and afterwards some people will say something cannot be changed because it is in the Comprehensive Plan. Emphasizing that Council has made it clear the Comprehensive Plan is has been a long time coming, the Administration wants to see it happen, there is an $80,000 grant from the State to be matched with $80,000 of CDBG dollars, Mayor Callahan stressed the Administration wants to move forward with the plan. Mayor Callahan advised he had very little, if any, role in the selection of the consultant since he left that process to the planning professionals in the City. Noting he has all the proposals from all the national firms, Mayor Callahan said he finds it hard to believe that a local firm is going to be penalized because their address is in Bethlehem. Restating his recommendation to go forward with the process that is long overdue, Mayor Callahan communicated if not, President Schweder’s recommendation will serve to delay the matter further and cost more money.
President Schweder recalled that, over the last two years since the process started with Mr. Donchez’s request, the Administration was never asked to do a Comprehensive Plan. Rather, the Administration was asked to review the zoning of the City and rezone areas because members of the Zoning Hearing Board and Planning Commission said the system did not work. Stating it is not penalizing someone because they are located in Bethlehem, President Schweder remarked maybe some Members have concerns about what the firm did in the City, and who was taken care of with special overlays, and said he thinks that process is wrong. President Schweder commented no one is looking to delay this since Council has asked for it to be done for two years. President Schweder expressed his concern is that the plan does not meet the needs of the neighborhoods, it was never structured for public input or public hearings beyond two other than that which has been stated within the last several weeks. President Schweder thought the City needs to step back from this and it is not what has been sought, it will not solve the issues, and it will exacerbate a process that takes care of the few at the expense of those who live in the neighborhoods.
Voting AYE: Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Mowrer, 3. Voting NAY: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Leeson, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 4. Bill No. 23 – 2006 failed.
10. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Bill No. 37 – 2006 – Amending Article 509
– Enforcement and General Penalty
The Clerk read Bill No. 37 – 2006 – Amending Article 509 – Enforcement and General Penalty, sponsored by Mr. Donchez and Ms. Dolan, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 509 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
ENTITLED ENFORCEMENT AND GENERAL PENALTY.
Mrs. Belinski noted that Members of Council were forwarded information from Duane Kerzic who thought the proposed Ordinance would open up many legal challenges, and enumerated different ways the law could be challenged by individuals who are cited. Mrs. Belinski continued on to note that Mr. Kerzic who is a motorcyclist agrees there should be a law to prohibit the noise, but thought a law should be passed as in Daytona Beach, Florida where a person is cited if they leave their motor running above an idle while standing still. Mr. Kerzic enumerated organizations such as ABATE, and others who might challenge the proposed law, and would like to share information he has. Mrs. Belinski questioned whether it would be proper to Table the Ordinance and look into the matter.
Stuart Bedics, Deputy Police Commissioner, advised he did some research into the letter sent by the citizen. The website of the organization ABATE of Pennsylvania states their official position on excessive motorcycle noise is they accept the current State noise level requirements based on Title Code 67 which is what the City is implementing into the Ordinance.
Mrs. Belinski asked about the possible challenges referenced by the citizen, and the additional information he would like to share.
Timothy Brennan, Assistant City Solicitor, affirmed he spoke with Mr. Kerzic today who is from New Jersey and referenced a law during bike week in Daytona Beach. Attorney Brennan observed what Mr. Kerzic is talking about is that it is not an easy enforcement of Ordinances related to noise. However, the City does have the resources and education is necessary, and there is certification of devices used that is not unlike certification of radar detectors, and others. In further response to Mrs. Belinski, Attorney Brennan noted what Mr. Kerzic raised was not anything new.
Mr. Donchez affirmed that Christopher Spadoni, City Council Solicitor, along with the Law Bureau, Police Commissioner Miller, and Deputy Police Commissioner Bedics worked on the proposal for about five months, and added he attended a few of the meetings. Mr. Donchez explained the genesis of the proposal was that many of the District Magistrates had trouble with the enforcement aspects of both proposed Ordinances. As a result, the Ordinances were rewritten to be tighter and more enforceable.
Attorney Spadoni affirmed that the proposal parallels Title 67 and he is very comfortable with it.
President Schweder inquired whether the proposal pertains to all vehicles.
Deputy Police Commissioner Bedics, responding yes, noted it also specifically addresses the decibel levels of motorcycles.
Mr. Leeson asked if the current Ordinances have a similar restriction for private residences, and if not could the proposal be adapted to apply to private residences including situations such as loud stereos.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 37 – 2006 was declared passed on First Reading.
B. Bill No. 38 – 2006 – Amending Article 717 - Noises
The Clerk read Bill No. 38 – 2006 – Amending Article 717 – Noises, 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
ARTICLE 717 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 38 – 2006 was declared passed on First Reading.
A. Allocating 2006 State Aid – Pension Funding
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Donchez sponsored Resolution 14,931 that authorized the appropriate City officials to allocate $2,662,306.39 of the 2006 General Municipal Pension System State Aid among the City's pension plans as follows: Police - $1,578,082; Fire - $987,311; Pension Bond Payment – May 1, 2006 - $96,913.39.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson,
Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution
B. Amending Police Civil Service Rules and Regulations – Additions and Deletions
Mr. Donchez and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 14,932 to authorize the appropriate changes in the Police Civil Service Rules and Regulations in the specified sections as follows: Page 6 – Section 4405, Page 19 – Applications, Page 25 – Polygraph Test, Page 29 – Probationary Period, and Page 34 – Appointment and Examinations – Promotion Procedures.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution passed.
C. Rescinding Resolutions – Adoption of Police Manual
Mr. Donchez and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 14,933 to rescind Resolution No. 9180 adopted on October 16, 1979 and Resolution No. 13,239 adopted on November 16, 1999; to suspend implementation of the Bethlehem Police Department Police Manual effective November 1, 2006; and, to incorporate the provisions contained in the Bethlehem Police Department Police Manual into either the Bethlehem Police Department’s General Orders or Standard Operating Procedures.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution passed.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 254 East Wall Street
Ms. Dolan and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution 14,934 to deny a Certificate of Appropriateness to retain the front door replaced without HARB approval 254 East Wall Street.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution passed.
Motion – Considering Resolutions as a Group
Mrs. Belinski and Ms. Dolan moved to consider Resolutions 11 E through 11 G as a group. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
E. Certificate of Appropriateness – 429 Heckewelder Place
Mrs. Belinski and Ms. Szabo sponsored Resolution 14,935 to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness to extend the HARB approval for the temporary steel siding to continue restoration of the building at 429 Heckewelder Place.
F. Certificate of Appropriateness – 450 Main Street
Mrs. Belinski and Ms. Szabo sponsored Resolution 14,936 to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness to install signage at 450 Main Street.
G. Certificate of Appropriateness – 235 East Church Street
Mrs. Belinski and Ms. Szabo sponsored Resolution 14,937 to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness to renovate the façade and install brick sidewalks and front steps at 235 East Church Street.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 11 E through 11 G: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolutions passed.
H. Rescinding Resolution 14,867 - Certificate of Appropriateness – 10 East Church Street – City Hall Landscaping and Tree Removal
Ms. Dolan moved that City Council rescind its approval of Resolution 14,867 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to renovate the entrance to City Hall. Mr. Donchez seconded the motion.
Ms. Dolan thought that when the Members of Council approved the recommendation of the Historic and Architectural Review Board in issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness under Resolution 14,867 passed June 20, 2006 was perhaps premature. Ms. Dolan communicated that the changes proposed at the entrance to City Hall are significant, and located at a very important, historically significant and beautiful area of Bethlehem. Ms. Dolan continued on to say the trees proposed to be removed are mature, likely native, shade trees. Ms. Dolan said by rescinding the Certificate of Appropriateness Council is not in any way stopping the project but rather doing what has been requested by several citizens, and giving the opportunity to send the matter to Committee to hear from the Administration in detail why they think the project is important, why the trees should come down, why they should be replaced with smaller, non-native ornamental trees, to look at the project more closely and not end up doing a very large project that has significant impact, to allow public input, and study. Ms. Dolan recollected there was not much discussion about the project when the Certificate of Appropriateness came before Council.
Mrs. Belinski recalled that Charles Brown, Director of Parks and Public Property, wrote a very detailed explanation of why it was necessary to cut down the trees. Mrs. Belinski inquired, since Mr. Brown was not present at the meeting, whether the Department’s Business Manager could address the reasons.
Jody Reppert, Business Manager for the Parks and Public Property Department, explained some of the reasons were pollen, mold and mildew forming on the first floor of the Public Safety Building. Ms. Reppert continued on to state that the shade of the trees, even though they are trimmed on a regular basis, are overgrown, and should not be as close to the building. In addition, there was concern about some of the employees’ health. The ground underneath the trees is dirt since nothing grows there. Ms. Reppert informed the assembly what is envisioned is to remove the tall trees and plant oriental trees as are surrounding the City Hall complex, let more light into the building, and make it a more pleasing and aesthetic entrance and welcoming site. Ms. Reppert continued on to advise it is planned to expand the main door entrance, and make it a larger plaza style entrance with benches so that citizens can feel this is their building, they are welcomed, and can take the time to enjoy it and relax. Ms. Reppert restated that the pollen, and the mold and mildew that form on the building were a big concern of Mr. Brown. Adding that Mr. Brown is not one to cut down trees, but he thought in this case it was the best thing to do.
President Schweder, noting he will join Ms. Dolan in voting to rescind, recalled he was not present at the City Council Meeting the evening that the Resolution was passed. President Schweder commented he thought there should probably be an airing of the project.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Schweder, 4. Voting NAY: Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, and Ms. Szabo, 3. The motion passed.
Resolution 14,938 resulting from the motion read as follows:
Be It Resolved by the Council of the City of Bethlehem that
Resolution 14,867 passed June 20, 2006 granting a Certificate
of Appropriateness to remove several additional trees and
replace with new cherry trees along the front of City Hall,
10 East Church Street, and referencing other work planned
as previously approved, is hereby rescinded.
12. NEW BUSINESS
Rescheduling First Meeting in November – Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Mr. Leeson and Ms. Szabo moved to reschedule Council’s first Meeting in November to Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 7:30 PM in Town Hall, since the General Election will take place on Tuesday, November 7, 2006 that would have been Council’s normal meeting date.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
Committee Meeting Announcements
Chairman Mowrer announced a Public Works Committee meeting on Thursday, October 19, 2006 at 7:00 PM in Town Hall on the following subjects: Water Filtration Plant - Update, and Wastewater Treatment Plant – Reorganization.
Chairwoman Szabo announced a Community Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 at 7:00 PM in Town Hall on the following subjects: Proposed LERTA Program; and Amending Article 1733 – Carbon Monoxide Detectors.
Ms. Szabo said she is upset and disappointed with the conversations under Ordinances. Ms. Szabo expressed the hope that Council is not going to let this stop them from talking and finding what they are looking for because changes and consideration of the future are needed. Ms. Szabo commented that, obviously, this was not the answer and she thought there should be more conversation between Council in general and the Administration. Ms. Szabo stressed Council is not saying they want somebody from the outside and does not want a local person in that there are pros and cons about both sides. Expressing that President Schweder is right that Council has been stressing the importance of zoning, Ms. Szabo repeated past comments she has made about the Pennsylvania Planning Association conference she attended and the emphasis on getting municipal zoning ordinances in order rather than waiting for a comprehensive plan. Otherwise, it might be too late to have an effective comprehensive plan. Ms. Szabo elucidated that she is asking for conversation regarding the issue to be established.
Civic Expenses - Definition
Ms. Dolan, referring to an annual letter sent to civic organizations requesting budgetary information, recalled last November it was brought up that perhaps because there is not a definition of civic expenses funding of a particular organization becomes a political matter. Ms. Dolan wondered whether there is a definition of civic expenses, and if not would it be possible to come up with a definition.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Stop Sign - East Goepp Street
Scott Hendershot, 827 Fernwood Street, expressed that a stop sign should be put on East Goepp Street because a new house was just built on the corner and it blocks part of the intersection. Mr. Hendershot thought the house was built without people checking the security and safety of the children in the neighborhood, and stressed that reaction time would be almost nill. Mr. Hendershot related that in a conversation about the issue with a City employee he was told to teach his son better safety rules, and a staff person who viewed the intersection did not see a problem.
Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, affirmed to President Schweder that a stop sign would come under his Department if it were identified as an issue.
President Schweder asked Mr. Alkhal to follow-up on the matter.
Rezoning Eighth and Eaton Avenues - CMU Commercial Mixed Use Zoning District
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, said at the last City Council Meeting he found out there were six people who wanted to talk about the rezoning at Eighth and Eaton Avenues but since they had to work the next day they left the Meeting due to its length.
Parking Lot - 1033, 1035, and 1037 Main Street
Elmer Dunbar, 1027 Main Street, addressed the issue of a parking lot at 1033, 1035, and 1037 Main Street. Mr. Dunbar said Mr. and Mrs. Tomino own the property to the north of his, and in 2002 Mr. Tomino went before the Zoning Hearing Board and was granted his request for a parking lot but did nothing until February 2006 when he put stone over the grass and started to park cars. Mr. Dunbar, expressing that to his knowledge Mr. Tomino did not get a permit, notified the assembly when it rains hard there is water runoff in his yard up over his ankle from the parking lot. President Schweder and Mayor Callahan affirmed to Mr. Dunbar that someone from the Community and Economic Development Department will review the issue.
Mr. Donchez, advising he has met with Mr. Dunbar a few times, agreed it is a problem, and pointed out he asked John Lezoche, Zoning Officer, to pursue the matter that did go before the Magistrate but was not in favor of Mr. Dunbar. Mr. Donchez added that Mr. Dunbar does have pictures of his property being flooded, and stated it is a neighborhood problem that the City should review.
Homestead Avenue Area Sewer Project - Sanitary Sewer Easements
Stephen Schlack, 1840 Eaton Avenue, focusing on the Sanitary Sewer Easement for Homestead Avenue, said after City Council voted in favor of the Ordinance for Eminent Domain, the Members requested City officials to deal fairly with the homeowners in their negotiations. Mr. Schlack stated the Law Bureau proceeded by offering the homeowners three different percentages applied to their appraised property values with offers based on a dollar per square foot figure to which was applied a percentage for damages. Mr. Schlack, quoting from a letter he received that “it is our opinion that the damages are limited to 50% of the fee ownership”, said this means the owners were to receive 50% of the appraised value of their land. Mr. Schlack notified the Members that he later found out that the neighbors on Homestead Avenue who will not have use of their driveway and garages during construction were offered 80% and 90% of their property value for damages. Mr. Schlack stressed the City has inferred that the temporary inconvenience of a resident not being able to use their driveway and garage is worth 40% more than the safety of his twin boys and children around a 13 foot excavation and heavy machinery. Mr. Schlack continued on to stress the temporary inconvenience of not having a driveway and garage is worth 40% more than his neighbors having to live with half of their usable land as a permanent easement. Mr. Schlack highlighted the fact that “if we were all offered 90% we would have settled this two weeks after the offers were given to us.” Referring to the City Council minutes of June 20, 2006, Mr. Schlack commented it was noted during a meeting at Calvary Wesleyn Church some residents with sewer problems made comments that the City should fix the infiltration into the system rather than spend $1 or $2 million to upgrade the system. Mr. Schlack continued on to note Mr. Brong then stated that he and Mr. Alkhal agreed “the residents deserve a more immediate response and a more certain result.” Mr. Schlack questioned “how do you get a certain result when you are not fixing the problem of the storm water infiltration. How are you going to control the amount of stormwater that is infiltrating the sanitary system. I was told during a phone conference with Mr. Alkhal, Mr. DeSalva, and Mr. Mika that in the past the City had been intentionally diverting storm water into the sanitary sewer system. I was told that this diversion has been removed, but based on current design I am not so certain that it has.” Mr. Schlack said if the problem were fixed there would be no need for a larger sanitary line, and no need for the City to obtain easements. He stressed the City has made the choice not to fix the underlying problem. Mr. Schlack, further stating that none of the residents with the proposed easements came back to the City and fought the procuring of the easements, explained “what we did fight was the unfairness of the offers that were made to purchase those easements.” Mr. Schlack pointed out that private property must be taken for public use under just compensation. Mr. Schlack asserted that to any other citizen facing backups and storm water problems they face it with the power of eminent domain, they should be notified about the purpose of surveying done by Public Works, they should be presented with any plans affecting their property in a public meeting, they should be notified in writing at least 30 days in advance of any public meeting called by the Public Works Department, they have the right to hire an attorney experienced in real estate and familiar with the laws concerning eminent domain without that right affecting their property negotiations. Mr. Schlack expressed the hope that in the future the City takes a more conscientious and human-handed approach concerning all the citizens affected by the process.
Mark Pammer, 1822 Eaton Avenue, said it is his opinion that this Administration believes that “if you use the term in our opinion that makes it okay to offer homeowners 50% less value on land that the City needs to do this sewer project. But the City felt the need to offer homeowners on Homestead Avenue 80 to 90% values for their properties.” Mr. Pammer, stating the reason given to him was that they will be losing the use of their driveway for six months, pointed out that after the job is finished they will regain 100% use of their driveway, never losing any value to their home, or losing any use to their driveway, never being penalized for having another easement or a pipe under their property, and life will return to normal for them. Mr. Pammer highlighted the fact that for the rest “we will be unable to have 100% use of anything permanent like a driveway, patio, shed, or garage.” Mr. Pammer, pointing out if he were to sell his home it would be disclosed in the title search that there is about 29 feet of easement in the back of his yard that he cannot build upon, asserted he is sure any purchase offer will substantially go down if not be taken off the table because of the City’s easements. Mr. Pammer stressed that obviously the owners do not have any say in what is done with their property even with an existing City easement. Mr. Pammer informed the Members that if the owners on Eaton Avenue were to have received offers like the ones on Homestead Avenue “we would have agreed to them and signed them back in early September, just as the two homeowners on Homestead did, which means the City could be a month to a month and a half into fixing the sewage problem that has plagued those neighbors for far too long.” Mr. Pammer notified the assembly “we received our initial offers late Friday afternoon on August 29. After reviewing the offer we felt that 100% compensation was not asking much considering there is an easement there. The City refuses to use it because of engineering difficulties and immense overgrowth. Whatever the reason, it is not our fault. After having our offer rejected because it was the City’s opinion 50% was fair market value, our attorney received a letter from Mr. Spirk on September 27 which I have in my possession. In this letter he stated ‘as you know, these latest offers are some 30% higher than our licensed appraisers tell us.’ This must be new math because at that time, my offer only stood at 60%. The original offer was 50%…In the next paragraph it states ‘I’ve been reluctant to release the original appraisals because it was my feeling that it seemed we were headed for court any way so why should the City give up something we paid $800 a piece for just so it can be used as a baseline to force us to negotiate against ourselves.’ Apparently, us obtaining a lawyer to protect our rights, since no one from the City was forthcoming with any information regarding this project meant that we wanted to go to court? In my opinion, this is a way of saying that they did not want to give us what is rightfully ours…[T]hey found it necessary to mention in this letter that my five foot shrubs are in fact… ‘an encroachment on their easement.’ Ironically, it does not mention the 50 years of growth, including a hedge approximately 50 feet tall and some 30 feet long directly on top of the City’s existing easement, along with other encroachments by other homeowners on Homestead, and a homeowner on Highland Avenue…This is a major reason for the acquisition of these new easements. If I were to move my shrubs, will the City remove all the growth in their easement and maintain the easement free and clear? I think not. Just because the City has unlimited resources it does not give them the right to bully us homeowners around with threats of eminent domain, and condemnation when all we are asking for is what is rightfully ours…I firmly believe that other, more profitable business opportunities for this City have been handled in a better fashion.” Mr. Pammer thanked Mr. Schweder, Mr. Spadoni, and Senator Lisa Boscola for being the only people who took the time the past few weeks to listen to his dilemna “which has been forced upon us by the unfair practices of this City’s Administration.” Mr. Pammer asked Mayor Callahan and all City officials and Council Members to step up and do the right thing tonight, because tomorrow he is being forced to sign an inadequate offer.
Ann Marie Pammer, 1822 Eaton Avenue, said she is at the Meeting to address the mismanagement of the Homestead Avenue Sewer Project, in particular the acquiring of the easements that seems to be an integral part of it. Ms. Pammer questioned “if we as homeowners had not approached the City as to why the survey stakes were in our yards where would we be today. Would we ever have known about any of the meetings regarding this, or would we just have received an offer in the mail without any understanding of the consequences.” Ms. Pammer, further questioning the City Solicitor about the meaning of fair market value, stressed it seems “all you need to have in City Hall is an opinion…”. Ms. Pammer said she would like to know if her taxes are going to be lower since her property value is going to be lowered with the addition of the second easement. Ms. Pammer stressed that the homeowners on Eaton Avenue have never asked for anything more than fair market value. Ms. Pammer continued on to highlight the fact that the owners will never regain 100% usage of the property being taken for the additional easement, but will “be able to maintain it for the City in case they ever need to access their unnecessarily large…line. Hopefully, the City will appreciate this since they couldn’t maintain their existing easement with 50 to 60 years of growth…” Ms. Pammer, expressing her feeling that the handling of negotiations was also done poorly, highlighted the fact that the hand-delivered offers were given late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. She further related that at the meeting with the homeowners’ attorney the City Solicitor arrived late and left early with no reasonable negotiations accomplished. Ms. Pammer informed the Members that during a telephone call late this past Friday it was stated “if we did not settle by that evening declaration of taking papers were going to be filed Monday morning. You left us with no choice but to accept your less than adequate offer, or to face the force with eminent domain. I know that if the City’s offers to the homeowners on Eaton Avenue had been the same as those on Homestead we would have signed back in September. I hope you can take a minute, get off your untouchable pedestals, and look at things from a taxpaying homeowners point of view. We work hard for what we have, pay our taxes, keep our properties neat, and yet we are repaid with lack of information, and less than adequate compensation for what you need from us. We did not knock on your door and offer to sell our land to you. It was never up for sale. You claim to need the property for the betterment of the neighborhood. We don’t disptute that. The least you can do is pay us what it’s worth. You have the opportunity to do the right thing. Make the offers to the homeowners on Eaton Avenue the same as the homeowners on Homestead; or, are homes and properties not worth as much as theirs?”
Margaret Miller, 1820 Eaton Avenue, expressing her concurrence with everything her neighbors have said, pointed out they have spent many hours researching, calling people, and writing letters. Ms. Miller thanked Mr. and Mrs. Pammer and Mr. and Mrs. Schlack for all they have done. Ms. Miller, while commenting most of her personal issues were ironed out with Assistant City Solicitor Kelly yesterday in a compromise, expressed she did not like it but she did compromise. Ms. Miller highlighted the fact that the City never got her name, her deceased husband’s name on the deed, or telephone number correct. Ms. Miller informed the assembly that she called the City and gave the correct name, the address, and telephone number some months ago, but she never seemed to get any of the messages that her neighbors got but they were kind enough to get in touch with her. Ms. Miller explained that last Friday at 6:00 p.m. her neighbors informed her that Attorney Kelly was calling about the declaration of taking, and she had not been contacted due to an incorrect phone number, and her neighbors were kind enough to tell Mr. Kelly how to call her which he did. Ms. Miller advised her negotiations took place Friday from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. Ms. Miller expressed she somehow does not think it is an accident that all the big things that happen with the owners by way of the City happen on a Friday late in the afternoon. Ms. Miller communicated the residents have gone from being people not knowing about what has been going on for a long time to when they finalized realized what the markers meant that were in their backyards but it was a little late. Ms. Miller said she does not recall in any of the correspondence of which there was not that much a cutoff date by which the homeowners must make up their minds, until Friday afternoon and the declaration of taking. Ms. Miller explained the neighbors who have been waiting for a long time to have their sewer problems corrected are blaming the Eaton Avenue neighbors but it is not their fault. Ms. Miller explained all that will be left of her yard as a result of the easement. Ms. Miller said today she feels she is a victim.
President Schweder inquired, in terms of what the City offered and what the homeowners on Eaton Avenue have requested, what is the amount of the difference.
John F. Spirk, Jr., Esq., City Solicitor, replied the City had a licensed appraiser that it had retained some time ago after the RFP who was chosen as the most responsible bidder, and the appraiser was commissioned to appraise all the properties and give the City the fair market value of what the appraiser thought the properties were worth. Attorney Spirk stated that for Mr. Pammer the appraiser gave a number of $2,900, and expressed the belief that the City settled with Mr. Pammer for $4,100 which is 41% more than fair market value according to the City’s appraiser. Attorney Spirk stated to Mr. Schlack the appraiser thought fair market value was $13,200, and the City settled with him for $17,105.10, or 30% more than fair market value according to the appraisal. Attorney Spirk stated to Mrs. Miller, the appraiser said the fair market value of her easement was $4,300, and the City settled with her, as he was told by Mr. Kelly, for $6,200 or 44% more than what the City’s appraiser told the City was fair market value.
President Schweder restated his question is “if you gave them the figures that you agreed to, the difference between that figure and what they wanted for the property is how much of a difference.”
Attorney Spirk responded double it, or double fair market value, and continued on in response to say it would be two times $13,200, two times $2,900, two times $4,300, and two times $12,900, for example.
President Schweder asked the response to be focused on the property owners with whom the City has not settled.
Attorney Spirk informed President Schweder the City settled with all of them. Attorney Spirk added the Pammers told Mr. Kelly they would sign tomorrow. Attorney Spirk affirmed to President Schweder nothing would be outstanding after that.
President Schweder said he was relieved to hear that because he was really concerned that after a year of inaction the project would be shut down for a few thousand dollars.
Zoning Ordinance – Licensed Gaming Facility Use – Flaws and Omissions
Martin Romeril, 26 West Market Street, stated the day before the recent passage of the Ordinance allowing gaming inside the boundaries of the City, and the companion Ordinance regulating certain associated businesses several residents met at City Hall to discuss their concerns regarding certain flaws or omissions in the two Ordinances. Mr. Romerial said one flaw is the possibility of multiple casinos being built in the City upon changes in Act 71 by the State legislature. Mr. Romeril asked if it is still the timetable that a Member of Council wanted a vote on such an Ordinance before the Casino licenses were awarded on December 20, 2006.
President Schweder noted the answer is no.
Ms. Dolan, commenting she cannot answer the question yes or not, communicated she is seeking advice from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, but added there is a lot more than just that one issue that she wishes to bring forward as an amendment. Ms. Dolan said whether or not it will meet that deadline depends on a lot of people besides herself. Ms. Dolan replied the matter is moving forward as quickly and carefully as it can.
Mr. Romeril recalled that at the September 5, 2006 City Council Meeting he asked City Council to consider increasing the distance allowed between public playgrounds and adult oriented businesses to equal the distance in the new Ordinance between primary schools and adult oriented businesses which is 100% greater than for public playgrounds. Mr. Romeril, informing the Members he is now aware of the possibility of mobile check cashing businesses, asked how does the recently passed Ordinance prevent them from operating near schools and residential neighborhoods, and the steps taken to draft an Ordinance to address these issues.
Ms. Dolan, noting it is the same answer, explained she is working with someone who knows a lot more about these facilities than she does, and the matter will be worked on with the Planning Bureau. Ms. Dolan advised she does not want to put forth amendments that can be challenged in court.
President Schweder notified Mr. Romeril that from a parliamentary standpoint it cannot be done in that timeframe because a new proposal would have to go to the Planning Commission, and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission so there is no possible way that deadline could be met. President Schweder further pointed out that City Council is about to begin the process of reviewing the Mayor’s Proposed 2007 Budget with multiple meetings scheduled to do so, and the process takes up Council’s time during the latter part of November into December.
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, with reference to the Sasaki report on the South Side Master Plan, explained the City of Scranton is in the midst of a major blight removal program including condemnation and demolition. Mr. Antalics recalled that 741-743 Hayes Street was condemned in 1994, and still appears on the condemned list as it did in 2000. Mr. Antalics continued on to say the most current vacant property listing reflects a property condemned in 2001 along with 21 others, and pointed out he could not find any citations. Mr. Antalics stressed the amount of money the City has lost by neglecting to issue citations for enforcement.
State Funding – 574 Main Street Project
Mr. Antalics, turning to a check issued to the City from the State for $550,000, said it is his understanding that the money came from a fund designed to preserve greenfields so that businesses can stay in the city. Mr. Antalics observed the building at 574 Main Street for which the funding was provided is designated to be an upscale French type bistro in the City’s historic business sector rather than in a greenfield development. Mr. Antalics, added that 574 Main Street was sold in April 2005 to Main Street Development for $550,000, stressed that $550,000 would help demolish many blighted properties on the South Side. Mr. Antalics asked the date of the last meeting of the Vacant Property Review Committee, the recent citations for properties on the list, and the citations that have been forwarded to the District Magistrate for collection.
Mayor Callahan advised that the activities of the Vacant Property Review Committee are overseen by the Redevelopment Authority, and that Mr. Antalics could contact John Rohal, Executive Director, or the Department of Community and Economic Development regarding his questions.
Traffic, Inspection, and Enforcement Issues
Eddie Rodriquez, 1845 Linden Street, said he would like to see a left hand turn signal as one comes up from the Compost facility at Eaton Avenue and Eighth Avenue. In addition, Mr. Rodriquez suggested that the no turn on red signal be eliminated at the exit ramp at Route 378 North and replaced with a yellow caution light to allow traffic to flow more easily.
Mr. Rodriquez asked that people in the audience not talk when citizens are at the podium addressing the Members of Council.
Mr. Rodriquez questioned how can neighborhoods be preserved now or later if the City is not enforcing the established Ordinances. Mr. Rodriquez offered his thoughts about the use of consultants, and advised he did not think a greenway is needed. Mr. Rodriquez, asserting that the Five Points area traffic pattern should be left as it is, stressed the traffic will end up on the Hill to Hill Bridge and it will be congested at Brodhead Avenue. Mr. Rodriquez asked that inspectors review Williams Street, East Sixth Street, Eighth Street, and Ninth Street, and get the neighborhood cleaned up. He continued on to say that enforcement is needed for double parking and noise.
Various City Issues
Dean Bruch, 555 Spring Street, thought that Members of Council should ask the common people to be on a committee who have everyday problems and can resolve their own differences. Mr. Bruch remarked about the number of houses for sale, and those that are being rented, and wondered if the community is not as nice as in the past and what is the problem. Mr. Bruch asked if the Pension Plans are fully funded, and why the City is $350 million in debt. He pointed out that taxpayers entrust City officials with the duty of being fiscally responsible. Mr. Bruch stressed that the City can no longer obtain funding from Authorities. Mr. Bruch wondered why Members of Council are not always informed about what the Administration is doing.
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, did not think it was fair to bring the name of any particular company into the discussion on the comprehensive plan, and communicated that to banter around a name unduly is disrespectful. Highlighting the fact that she has attended numerous comprehensive plan meetings from 1976 onward, Ms. Pongracz stressed none of the comprehensive plans have ever accomplished what they were set out to do because it is an impossibility. Continuing on to say what is proper today may not be proper tomorrow, Ms. Pongracz asserted when a comprehensive plan is done there is really no proper comprehensive plan because things can change from today to tomorrow. Ms. Pongracz felt unfair tactics were employed this evening, and she remarked that people should respect one another despite their individual viewpoints.
Pamela Mies, 597 Biery’s Bridge Road, expressed her observations about the Mayor’s comments that were made during the Meeting.
Dave Sanders, 69 East Goepp Street, thought it was very unique that there was a Bethlehem firm that was going to help with the Comprehensive Plan. He expressed the hope that the issue will come back to the table, and that Council can iron out the matter with the Administration. Mr. Sanders also expressed his hope that the project will go back to the Bethlehem firm to keep the project within the City.
Reimbursement for Damages from Sewer Backups – Homestead Avenue Area
Valerie Csongradi, 1166 West Rosemont Drive, recounted that her house was flooded by sewage a year ago and was about the sixth or seventh time it occurred since the first occurrence in 1997. Ms. Csongradi informed the assembly that over the years she has lost a lot of items because of the sewer backups and has not been reimbursed. Highlighting the fact that some people are being reimbursed for the easement on their property so that new sewer pipes can be put in, Ms. Csongradi said she does not understand why she cannot be reimbursed for her losses. Ms. Csongradi, stressing she thinks it is very unfair, stated she would like very much to be reimbursed but the City’s insurance company has declined to pay for any of the damages. Ms. Csongradi, remarking she does not know what to do any more, communicated she hopes Council can help her with this matter.
Homestead Avenue Area Sewer Project - Sanitary Sewer Easements
Ms. Szabo, focusing on the comments made by residents of Eaton Avenue, asked the conclusion and what will they be told to respond to their requests for help.
Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, stated that, assuming all the agreements are signed, a notice to proceed will be given to the contractor who will have ten days to start.
Attorney Spirk responded that the City has agreements on all of the properties, and some have signed already.
President Schweder, pointing out the matter has been underway for a year, stressed that there should not be discussions again tonight about when the project will start. Affirming that City Council was asked to take action last winter which it did, President Schweder reiterated it is a year later and nothing has happened. President Schweder queried whether there is the assurance now that within ten days this construction project will start.
Mr. Alkhal replied provided all the agreements are signed and delivered, yes.
President Schweder asked that a report be forwarded to Council as soon as all the agreements are signed.
Ms. Szabo asked if all these people actually had floods in their homes or are they part of the repair plan.
The residents replied no, some people only have easements.