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September 1, 2009
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, September 1, 2009 – 7:00 PM
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President Donchez called the meeting to order. Pastor Robert Bast, Emmanuel Evangelical Congregational Church, offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Jean Belinski, Karen Dolan, Gordon B. Mowrer, J. William Reynolds, J. Michael Schweder, and Robert J. Donchez, 6. Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. arrived at 7:35 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 – 5 Minute Time Limit)
Broughal Middle School
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, invited Council to an historic event, the first striking of the ball to destroy Broughal Middle School, on or about September 10. He said this will be the last possibly historic building of the South Side. Mr. Antalics expressed his disappointment and shock at the inability of Council and the Administration to follow up on the extremely good work of Councilwomen Belinski and Dolan and for failing to recognize the demolition of the last possible historic site on the South Side. He said Council has not shown concern by not approving the Resolution by Councilwomen Belinski and Dolan. Mr. Antalics mentioned other buildings that have been destroyed on the South Side and said there is nothing left that would be of historic interest to anybody.
Historic Resources Study
Bill Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, thanked Mr. Antalics and seconded what he said. He noted that the requirement on the part of the State in doing the Historic Resources Study is the City has to use one of nine planning firms specified by the State. He said he hopes Chris Ussler will be able to do some work for those firms so they can benefit from her knowledge of the City. Mr. Scheirer questioned why the State is restricting it to those nine firms and wondered why they would not trust the City to pick somebody qualified. Mr. Scheirer expressed that he doubted that anyone would know Bethlehem as well as Ms. Ussler does. He said those are the strings attached to the $30,000 and it has to be accepted if the City is going to do this study which he said he is not sure is necessary.
6. OLD BUSINESS.
A. Tabled Items
B. Unfinished Business
1. Bill No. 28 - 2008 – Amending Zoning Ordinance – Various Sections
2. Establishing Article 1716 – Landmarks and Properties of Historical Interest
C. Old Business – Members of Council
Commending Police and Fire
President Donchez stated that the City has had a very difficult couple of days and on behalf of his colleagues commended the Police and Fire Departments on their professionalism.
President Donchez asked Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, to explain the curbs, mostly in South Bethlehem, that have just been redone and why some are a little wider and then others have a 90 degree entranceway with a steep slope. President Donchez said he knows there are Federal guidelines and PennDot implements this but he thinks it will be difficult for wheelchairs in the winter.
Mr. Alkhal responded there are Federal requirements that PennDot is attempting to follow that are triggered by construction activity such as the traffic signal upgrade project, and this is what triggered upgrading all those ramps to meet today’s Federal guidelines in terms of upgrading and installing new curb ramps. He said the guidelines require certain slopes, alignment, and placement of the ramp so that the pedestrian is directed into the crosswalk compared to before where they were at the peak of the curb return and the individual would perhaps be directed into the center of the intersection. He said when retrofitting these curbs ramps into a new environment it makes it difficult to install. Mr. Alkhal stated that a lot of them look odd and there are concerns with some of them especially in adverse weather. He said they have been working for months with PennDot to relay the concerns. Mr. Alkhal noted that if the pedestrian is utilizing the curb as intended and they are in the right area within the sidewalk, they meet all the criteria. He said there are areas where the approach to the curb ramps is fairly steep but they are within the slope requirements that PennDot and the Federal Highway Administration feel are safe. In response to President Donchez’s question concerning an intersection such as at Fourth and New Streets where there are two of the old and two of the new, Mr. Alkhal explained that in certain situations they allow an exception and they have to apply for an exemption from installing the new curb ramps if conditions preclude it entirely. He said in that area there were catch basins that precluded them from being able to rip out the old, there are benches close by, and other utilities. He said a waiver was filed for that location that was granted to leave the old ones they way they are. Mr. Alkhal said they have been told consistently over the past six months that if they can fit it in they are required to do so.
A. Mayor – Tax Collection Committee Appointment
The Acting Clerk read a memorandum from Mayor John B. Callahan, dated August 27, 2009 recommending the appointment of the City of Bethlehem’s delegates to serve on the Tax Collection Committee for Northampton County. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Act 32 of 2008 was established to reform the current Earned Income Tax (EIT) collection system by consolidating 560 EIT collectors into 69 Tax Collection Districts (TCD). The Tax Collection Districts will be governed by a Tax Collection Committee comprised of representatives of each of the municipalities and school districts within the TCD.
President Donchez stated that the Administrative Order is listed on the Agenda this evening.
A. President of Council
1. Administrative Order – Tax Collection Committee
Mayor John Callahan appointed Mark W. Sivak, Budget Analyst, as Primary Voting Delegate, William Alexander Karras, Tax Administrator, as First Alternate Voting Delegate and Dennis W. Reichard, Business Administrator, as Second Alternate Voting Delegate, to the Tax Collection Committee, effective immediately and to continue until successors are appointed. Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Schweder sponsored Resolution 2009-163 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 6. The Resolution passed.
C. Public Works Committee
Ms. Dolan, Public Works Chairwoman, presented an oral report of the Public Works Committee meeting that was held on August 19, 2009 on the subject of amending Article 721 - Streets and Sidewalks – Street Vendors. The Committee raised various questions about the proposal and did not make a recommendation. The Committee Members recessed the meeting, and another meeting will be scheduled to review a revised draft proposal.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
A. Bill No. 20 – 2009 – Amending Non-Utility Capital Budget – Traffic Calming Study – South Mountain; HOME Program – CADCB Façade/Housing Rehabilitation; TANF Program – Repayment; Parks Maintenance – Pick-up Trucks
The Acting Clerk read Bill No. 20 – 2009 – Amending Non-Utility Capital Budget – Traffic Calming Study – South Mountain; HOME Program – CADCB Façade/Housing Rehabilitation; TANF Program – Repayment; Parks Maintenance – Pick-up Trucks, on Final Reading.
Mrs. Belinski stated she takes exception to the Traffic Calming Study for South Mountain because of it benefiting Lehigh University and resents paying any portion of that.
Ms. Dolan commented that she thought what had been explained was that it was near Saucon Park.
Mr. Alkhal said he thought that was correct, and that it
would concentrate on the Williams Street and Fire Lane area.
Mr. Reynolds added that it was explained it was in the Fire
Lane area on the side where the development is.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 6. Bill No. 20 – 2009, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 2009-21, was declared adopted.
B. Bill No. 21 – 2009 – Amending Community Development Budget – CDBG and HOME Program – Reprogramming Funds and Various Adjustments – Streetscape Improvements, Consulting, Street Reconstruction, Historic Resources Study, Health Bureau
The Acting Clerk read Bill No. 21-2009 – Amending Community Development Budget – CDBG and HOME Program – Reprogramming Funds and Various Adjustments – Streetscape Improvements, Consulting, Street Reconstruction, Historic Resources Study, Health Bureau, on Final Reading.
Ms. Dolan suggested that Carlton Avenue be considered in the future because to upgrade Carlton Avenue would cost $900,000 as opposed to $300,000. She said $600,000 would have to come from the Authority, most likely out of the BRIF, which is something the Authority will not be able to afford to do. Ms. Dolan commented that Carlton Avenue should be thought about in the future and to discuss in a Public Works Committee how imminent of a problem the old water infrastructure causes there and be open to various ideas to take measures that cannot be taken at this time because of the lack of funds.
Mr. Schweder remarked that the Authority would have the funds if they required the City to pay back the money that was taken out of the BRIF that was being used for the General Fund as opposed to keeping the money there. Ms. Dolan stated she agrees but thinks the City has to move forward from where we are. Mr. Schweder said that could still be done.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Donchez, 5. Voting NAY: Mr. Schweder, 1. Bill No. 21 – 2009, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 2009-22, was declared adopted.
C. Bill No. 22 – 2009 Amending Article 941 – Mounted Police
The Acting Clerk read Bill No. 22 – 2009 Amending Article 941 – Mounted Police, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 6. Bill No. 22 – 2009, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 2009-23, was declared adopted.
10. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Transfer of Funds – Parks Maintenance – Pick-up Trucks
Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Schweder sponsored Resolution 2009-164 that transferred $54,502 in the Non-Utility Capital Fund Budget from the following: Vehicle Purchases Account - $3,749 and City Center Improvement Account - $50,753 to the Parks-Vehicles Account to pay towards the purchase of two new pick-up trucks with plows.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 6. The Resolution passed.
12. NEW BUSINESS.
Finance Committee Meeting
President Donchez announced a Finance Committee Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 4:30 PM in the Mayor’s Conference Room on the 2008 Audit.
London Times Bristol Zoo Employee Story
Mr. Mowrer read an article from the London Times concerning parking fees collected at the Bristol Zoo by an individual who suddenly did not appear for work after 25 years. The Zoo contacted the City Council and it was found out that the man, whose name and whereabouts were unknown, was not an employee of the Zoo nor the City, and had collected over $7 million over the years. Mr. Mowrer remarked that the article amused him in light of the creativity of the hot dog vendors in the City.
Texting While Driving Legislation
Mr. Mowrer stated that he has been reading about the dangers of texting on cell phones while driving and the reports that it is worse than drinking and driving. Mr. Mowrer stressed that he thinks it is time to take action and is recommending that the matter be referred to the Public Safety Committee for review.
President Donchez referred the matter to the Public Safety Committee for which Mr. Mowrer is the Chair.
Mrs. Belinski questioned if a law is passed how violators can be caught. She commented that there are not enough police right now to enforce the law regarding loud music in cars. Mr. Mowrer responded that can be discussed at the Committee meeting.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Tina Kowalski, merchant at Fourth and New Streets, commented that there have been numerous reasons given why vending is not good for the South Side Business District and that the reasons have been proven by the vendors. She said she thinks it is not fair and very biased for any of the vendors to be exempt or grandfathered. Ms. Kowalski remarked that selling hot dogs for two months does not make one a pioneer in vending or time enough to be grandfathered, especially when the merchants have been trying to resolve the ordinance issue since May and June. All the vendors have been in business the same amount of time and she said if anyone should be exempt it should be the woman from the Doggie Shop who has been legally in business since March. She said she thinks the City of Bethlehem made the mistake of issuing licenses and in all fairness the vendors should be given back their money for their license and everyone start all over again with the bidding process. She said it is not right for the City of Bethlehem to say they have the right of way on sidewalks in front of businesses and can place a vendor where they choose. She questioned what merchant would be happy about a vendor on the sidewalk in front of his business, and what happens if the vendor does not keep up with the ordinance. The merchant has to argue with the vendor, call the police, call the health department, and clean up after the vendor. Ms. Kowalski said she thinks it is not fair to place the merchant in a position of babysitting the vendor. If the merchant is responsible for the front of his business and sidewalk, they should be asked and approved by the merchant and not the City. She said the ordinance is very biased and prejudiced against the merchants and will create problems. She said not to forget that the merchant started to complain about the vendor and his disrespecting the restaurant owner’s property. What started all this is the fact that the vendor and his friends did not respect the merchant and his property. She questioned what happens if someone falls over the cart or slips on the grease on the sidewalk and sues the vendor for $1 million or more. Ms. Kowalski asked who would be next in line to be sued, the City or the merchant. She asked what happens if the propane tank accidentally blows up, injures the merchant’s customers, damages the merchant’s building and business. Who will be held responsible for loss of business repairs and injuries. If damage exceeds $1 million, will the City take responsibility and lawsuit that goes with it. She again stated that the ordinance is all about the vendors and is very biased and prejudiced. She said she thinks it is shame and sad that merchants from both the North and South Side thriving business districts are upset by this ordinance and that these merchants who have worked so hard for many years get treated unfairly for five hot dog vendors. Ms. Kowalski submitted a picture to show how the vendor on New Street maintains the sidewalk and street.
President Donchez noted that as Chairwoman Dolan mentioned earlier there will be another Public Works Committee Meeting in the near future to discuss the second draft of the ordinance.
Tabitha Petrez, owner and operator of Blue Sky Café, 22 West Fourth Street, commented that she is a struggling single mom who employs 10 tax-paying residents of Bethlehem, and stated that she signed a petition to have the vendor removed from Fourth and New Streets. She said since then she has been persecuted and verbally slammed for standing up for her neighbors in the community where she operates her business. Ms. Petrez stated that because of that petition an ordinance will be voted upon to bring five vendors into the Bethlehem area and Council will be voting on giving the right of way to sidewalks because not enough taxpaying property owners in lucrative areas are agreeing to have a vendor on their location. She said one vendor is being considered for a grandfather clause because he liked the spot he picked out for himself and said she is curious why he does not have the permission of the property owner. She questioned whether street vendors are there to attract people or are the vendors attracted to the people that the local businesses are working on very hard to bring to the area.
Lisa Ronca, Cutters Bike Shop, 418 East Third Street, stated in the beginning she may have been a bit neutral on the subject of the hot dog vendor, but feels for someone wanting to support themselves. She said she and her husband were very new to everything when opening up their shop and all the compliance issues and inspections were very exhausting, physically and financially. She said a vendor has set up at the first meter in front of their shop and doesn’t see why somebody else doesn’t have to follow these same routes. Ms. Ronca said he is blocking the entire sidewalk and she would like to put a bike rack in front of her store for her patrons. She stated she has been working with the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) and understands that she has to make sure they have a certain right-of-way on the sidewalk. She said what she has seen is really his friends stopping and not walking traffic coming to him, they are not feeding the meters, and they are taking meters in front of her store. She said she and her husband picked the location for their shop because of the nature of their business so their customers could have a quick in and out. Ms. Ronca added that his customers are also parking in the city-owned lot adjacent to her building so they don’t have to pay for the meters. She explained a problem they experienced with the Parking Authority allowing people to park without having to pay at a meter. Ms. Ronca stated that she thinks everybody should have to follow the same rules. She said trash is left there that she has to clean up and remarked that there are things happening there that she had not envisioned for her business.
Eddie Rodriquez, 1845 Linden Street, noted he is for the hot dog vendors but stated Ms. Ronca does have a point with regard to the parking meters. Mr. Rodriquez then made reference to an incident that happened at Yosko Park the past Saturday which he witnessed where someone could have gotten seriously injured. He said it took two calls to get a response and asked where were the police. He said he would like the Commissioner and the Mayor to look into this because this is a high priority area where a lot of things are happening. Mr. Rodriquez asked for another camera to be put on East Sixth and Atlantic Streets immediately versus Laufer and Atlantic. He also asked that a camera be put on Pawnee and Dakota, and West Fourth Street and Wyandotte. Mr. Rodriquez commented that he knows this part of the City well, makes many calls, and has given the City a lot of information. He said he cares about the City very much. Mr. Rodriquez expressed his feelings that the cameras will take care of problems but thinks they are not being manned properly.
Dana Grubb, 2420 Henderson Place, stated that he has observed some of the handicap curb ramps and agrees that there are serious tripping hazards at some of the corners with the new design, and said it does not give you confidence in PennDot to design a safe crosswalk. Mr. Grubb commended the Fire Department for the extremely competent job they and other public safety personnel did with regard to the fire over the weekend. He said it is a testament to the efforts of the Fire and Police Departments that there were no casualties. Mr. Grubb then commented on the accountability of certain City Hall employees.
Broughal Middle School and Historic Resources Study
Bill Schierer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, stated that the date of implosion for Broughal Middle School is September 10, and thinks it will go down in history as one of the sadder days in the history of Bethlehem. Mr. Schierer then commented that the Historic Resources Study has been dragging on for two years and looks like it will be another two years. As was pointed out at the last meeting, he said this serves as an advance notice to any developer who is thinking of demolishing a building that is 75 years old to do it now. He said he read in the paper about the mansions on West Broad Street, and that he understands that West Broad Street will be down-zoned to CL, Neighborhood Commercial, at least from Third Avenue west. There was a proposal to make it Downtown Commercial to Third Avenue but the Task Force spoke out against that. Mr. Scheirer said of number of bad things have happened to the City recently in terms of land use and he said he can see something bad happening on West Broad Street. He said the developers know it is time to demolish. He then added that there is no protection in the Zoning Ordinance against parking in front of a business. He said if these things are combined a developer with their advance notice will acquire older properties on West Broad Street, demolish them, and put up a business with parking in the front. Aside from putting something in the Zoning Ordinance when it comes before Council, Mr. Scheirer suggested legislation that until this Historic Resources Study is done there would be a provision that City Council has to pass any demolition of any building which has any part that is 75 years or older. He said otherwise the City is going to squander what makes it special.
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, asked who owns the sidewalks. She questioned if the City owns the sidewalk why does she have to pay for insurance to protect herself if somebody falls on it. She asked how the City can regulate something that she owns and pays taxes on.
Joseph M. Kelly, Assistant City Solicitor, responded that there is a right for people to walk in front of her house if there is a sidewalk there without her permission and if it was purely her property she could put a fence there like you would do in your backyard. He said streets and sidewalks are designated as public rights of way and the City is obligated to maintain them and by statute the obligation is put on the landowner to maintain that sidewalk, if it cracks, to remove rubbish, and to remove snow within a period of time. He said if for whatever reason the City lays out in its plan that there is a roadway that is never opened and it never becomes a roadway, that land goes back to the owner after 21 years. Attorney Kelly noted that once it has been opened as a public right-of-way it would be a shared ownership between the City and the landowner.
Ms. Pongracz then commented on the inability to get through on Main Street because of all the outdoor dining areas and cars that double-park on both sides of the street. She asked why this is allowed and what are the rules and regulations for outdoor dining. Ms. Pongracz then referred to the amendment to the budget concerning Historic Resources and said she thinks that should have already been in the budget prior to this time.
Ms. Pongracz remarked she thinks it is a pity that three schools had to be locked down today.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:00 p.m.