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Bethlehem Council MInutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 – 7:00 PM
PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
Pastor Derek French, of East Hills Moravian Church, offered
the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag.
1. ROLL CALL
President Eric R. Evans called the meeting to order. Present were Jean Belinski, David T. DiGiacinto, Karen Dolan, Robert J. Donchez, Michael D. Recchiuti, J. William Reynolds, and Eric R. Evans, 7.
2012 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) - $35,403
President Evans called to order the first Public Hearing to review and accept public comment on the proposed use of funds to be received under the 2012 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in the amount of $35,403, of which up to $21,841 is allocated to the City of Bethlehem. The remaining $13,562 is allocated to the City of Easton for whom the City of Bethlehem serves as fiscal agent as required by federal guidelines. For serving as fiscal agent, the City of Bethlehem will receive an administrative fee of $1,356.
Jason Schiffer, Police Chief, affirmed that the City is applying for a JAG grant in the amount of $35,403 and that Bethlehem will be the administering agency for the City of Bethlehem and the City of Easton. The amount of $21,841 would be allocated to the City of Bethlehem, $13,562 would be allocated to the City of Easton, and for serving as fiscal agent the City of Bethlehem will receive an administrative fee of $1,356.
Mr. Recchiuti asked if there is a specific allocation for the money.
Police Chief Schiffer advised that for the past two years the total sum of the JAG grants have been allocated to computers, computer-related equipment and software. Noting that the amounts of the grants have been decreasing, Police Chief Schiffer stated that this year’s grant would be used for replacement of old data terminals in the Police cars.
Ms. Dolan, noting that JAG funds in the past were used towards the Police horses housed at Burnside Plantation, asked the current sources of funding.
Police Chief Schiffer noted there has been private funding that continues to grow, including funds from Just Born and Air Products, and also goes towards some veterinary costs.
Mayor Callahan affirmed that JAG funds helped towards establishment of the Police Mounted Patrol, and credited the Police Officers for promoting what they do as the community has responded. Sponsorship of the individual horses met with more success than originally imagined, and other needs for the Mounted Unit could be fulfilled. Mayor Callahan added there will be exciting announcements about the Mounted Unit in the future.
Police Chief Schiffer further informed Ms. Dolan that donations were received for cards with the pictures of the horses.
Ms. Dolan expressed her support for the use of the JAG Grant funding this year.
No one spoke under Public Comment for the 2012 JAG Grant.
The first Public Hearing was adjourned at 7:12 p.m.
Zoning Text Amendment – Section 1325.08 – Residential Treatment Facilities - 1,000 Ft. Buffer
President Evans called to order the second Public Hearing
to consider an Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend
Section 1325.08 to add a Buffer Area of 1,000 ft. for Residential
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 11, 2012 from Darlene L. Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, stating that at the May 10, 2012 meeting, the Planning Commission voted to recommend that a 500 foot buffer requirement be approved rather than a 1,000 foot buffer. All other aspects of the zoning amendment were recommended to remain the same.
Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, affirmed that the Zoning Text Amendment was received from City Council to add language to two sections of the Zoning Ordinance addressing treatment centers and creating a buffer. Ms. Heller advised the proposed language states that the treatment center site shall be located a minimum of 1,000 feet from the lot line of a lot occupied by any of the following uses: school, public park or playground, day care center, college, or university campus. Ms. Heller confirmed that the Planning Commission reviewed the proposed amendment at their May 10, 2012 meeting. The Commission concurred that the buffer concept was a good idea for treatment centers. However, the recommendation of the Planning Commission was that the buffer area should be reduced from 1,000 ft. to 500 ft. Ms. Dolan informed the Members that the language should remain the same to specify the types of uses that require a buffer or separation distance, but that distance should be reduced by half to 500 ft. Ms. Dolan added that the recommendation was forwarded in conjunction with the proposed new Zoning Ordinance in which 500 ft. is recommended.
Mr. Recchiuti inquired if City Council changes the buffer from 1,000 ft. to 500 ft. then the proposal has to be sent back to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission for review.
Ms. Heller, replying yes, explained when Council acts on the Ordinance containing the proposal, if Council changes the proposal then yes that is true that it must be sent back to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
Mr. Recchiuti, asking the timeframe, queried if the proposed new Zoning Ordinance would be adopted prior to this Zoning Text amendment of the current Zoning Ordinance.
Ms. Heller, advising that the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission meets monthly on the fourth Thursday, noted the Commission’s comments would be returned to City Council after the Commission’s meeting in July, there would be another Public Hearing, followed by First and Final Reading. As a result, those actions would occur after the Final Reading of the proposed new Zoning Ordinance anticipated at the second City Council Meeting in August on August 21.
Stewart Early, 2277 Main Street, stated that he is associated with the North Bethlehem Action Committee with many of his neighbors. The purpose of the committee is to protect the future of the neighborhoods. Mr. Early noted that throughout Bethlehem’s Comprehensive Plan the importance of neighborhoods is emphasized. At the front of the plan the future land use vision begins with some principles. The first principle is to protect residential neighborhoods by promoting compatible land uses at appropriate densities. The second principle is to differentiate between business uses that should be permitted in neighborhoods and those that should not. Mr. Early pointed out that unfortunately a developer has recently repeatedly requested special exceptions to place drug and alcohol residential treatment centers in the midst of the neighborhoods. The developer first targeted 111 Dewberry Avenue adjacent to Bethlehem Catholic High School. During the Zoning Hearing Board meetings, the neighbors heard that locating a 70 bed drug and alcohol rehab facility in this area would negatively impact the school and the surrounding neighborhood. The association of narcotics with crime would affect the decision of families to send their children to Bethlehem Catholic High School because students would feel less safe when running cross country by this rehab facility, or coming after school for evening programs. Mr. Early added that some parents dropping off their children at First Presbyterian Church’s preschool would have second thoughts about the safety of their children. Mr. Early commented that these types of concerns would change the nature of the neighborhood. The Zoning Hearing Board after 30 hours of hearings and thousands of dollars of legal fees ultimately rejected the request for special exception. The Zoning Hearing Board found that the proposed rehab center was not in the best interest of Bethlehem and would adversely impact the neighboring uses. Mr. Early confirmed that City Council knows the findings on this because the Solicitor for Council, Attorney Christopher Spadoni, contributed to the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision and thanked him for his participation. Mr. Early noted that these findings did not deter the developer and next he proposed facilities on three properties, one close to Spring Garden Elementary School for 47 addicts, one a few feet from Bethlehem Catholic High School for 28 addicts, and at another property near Moravian College for 100 addicts. Mr. Early communicated the facilities are all very close to valued institutions in the community. Mr. Early continued to say it seems as though the only way to prevent needless wasted Zoning Hearing Board time and taxpayer money is to be very clear what are the priorities. He stated the only way to do that seems to be to establish a buffer area between residential treatment facilities and schools, public parks, playgrounds, day care centers, colleges and university campuses. This would clearly say residential treatment centers are not a permitted use on any property close to the building blocks close to neighborhoods. There are no special exceptions or variances to be pursued, and schools, public parks, playgrounds, day care centers, colleges and universities would not have rehab centers as neighbors. The neighbors initially asked for a 1,000 foot buffer to be applied to the current Zoning Ordinance. The Planning Department has not provided any analysis of the impact of such a buffer. Based on the current Zoning Ordinance, Mr. Early guessed that there is a significant percent of Bethlehem that would remain available to rehab facilities by the special exception process but noted he does not know. The proposed revised Zoning Ordinance designates certain commercial and industrial districts as potential sites for rehab facilities, and are subject to the special exception process. Mr. Early communicated that getting rehab facilities out of residential districts is a major step in the right direction, and finding appropriate locations for rehab facilities is also a major step in the right direction. A 1,000 foot buffer reduces the designated commercial and industrial districts from 2,263 acres to 461 acres with at least 20% of the designated district still available for sites for these facilities. Mr. Early, turning to the current Zoning Ordinance, noted that a 1,000 foot buffer would be better than a 500 foot buffer. Mr. Early commented it seems that an analysis should be requested of the impact of the 1,000 foot buffer and the impact of the 500 foot buffer on the current Zoning Ordinance. Mr. Early hoped that the revised Zoning Ordinance becomes effective soon but added he does not know that there will be any guarantees. Mr. Early stated that he supports the 1,000 foot buffer without any analysis as there is no reason not to.
Bill Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, pointed out that 1,000 feet is only two blocks.
Ms. Dolan pointed out that an analysis was done in-house on the impacts of a 1,000 foot buffer, and the impact was that it would be exclusionary. Ms. Dolan, stressing that Council cannot through some other action exclude a legal business, advised it is a state, local, and national issue that a municipality must allow for uses, even those with which they do not agree. If not, she explained the matter will go to court, a municipality will lose, and a developer would be allowed to put the project wherever they want. Ms. Dolan expressed she is not sure what an additional 500 ft. would do in terms of the facility.
President Evans stated that the appropriate Ordinance will be placed on the June 19 Council Agenda for First Reading.
The second Public Hearing was adjourned at 7:25 p.m.
2. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The Minutes of May 15, 2012 were approved.
President Evans informed the assembly that he will recognize Robert Pfenning, Controller, to make a report under Agenda Item 6 following the Mayor’s Report.
President Evans notified the assembly that Resolution 9 D, Naming the EMS Facility at Dewberry Avenue, has been taken off the Agenda this evening.
3. PUBLIC COMMENT
4. OLD BUSINESS.
A. Old Business – Members of Council
B. Tabled Items
C. Unfinished Business
A. Mayor Callahan – Eastern PA EMS Council Dewberry Avenue Operational Assessment
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 11, 2012 from Mayor Callahan to which was attached the Dewberry Avenue Operational Assessment – Critical Finds and Recommendations prepared by the Eastern PA EMS Council, and requesting that a Public Safety Committee Meeting be scheduled to review the report.
President Evans referred the matter to the Public Safety Committee.
B. City Solicitor –Use Permit Agreement for Public Property – Downtown Bethlehem Association – DBA Rib Cook-Off
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 16, 2012 from John F. Spirk, Jr., Esq., City Solicitor, to which was attached a proposed resolution and Use Permit Agreement between Downtown Bethlehem Association (DBA) and the City for use of Broad Street between Main and Guetter Streets for the DBA Rib Cook-Off on July 14, 2012, according to the Agreement.
President Evans stated the Resolution will be listed on the June 19 Agenda.
C. Senator Lisa M. Boscola – Intermunicipal Transfer
of Retail Restaurant Liquor License –
Steel Pub, Inc.
The Clerk read a letter dated May 30, 2012 from Senator Lisa M. Boscola to which was attached a letter from Jeffrey Trainer of Steel Pub, Inc., 320 East First Street, Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, requesting an Intermunicipal Transfer of a Liquor License from Fuglee’s Pub, Inc. (R-6660). A check in the amount of $100 for the filing fee was enclosed.
Scheduling Public Hearing
Mr. Donchez and Mr. Recchiuti moved to schedule a Public Hearing on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 7:00 PM in Town Hall.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Evans, 7. The motion passed.
D. Public Works Director – Resolution for Plan Revision of New Land Development – Sewage Facilities Planning Module – 1559 Kelchner Road
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 30, 2012 from Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, to which was attached a proposed resolution for plan revision for new land development for a proposed development at 1559 Kelchner Road for a 14 unit residential subdivision. Because the project proposes a privately owned and maintained sewer main extension, a full Sewage Facilities Planning Module is required. The resolution approving a revision to the “Official Sewage Facilities Plan” is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
President Evans stated that the Resolution will be listed on the June 19 Agenda.
E. Councilmen Recchiuti and Reynolds – Naming of New EMS Facility – Dewberry Avenue
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 29, 2012 from Councilmen Michael Recchiuti and J. William Reynolds to which was attached a proposed Resolution for the new EMS Facility on Dewberry Avenue to be named in honor of Gordon B. Mowrer, former Member of Council and Mayor.
A. President of Council
1. Administrative Order – Jennifer S. Doran, Esq. – Assistant City Solicitor
Mayor Callahan appointed Jennifer S. Doran, Esq. as Assistant City Solicitor effective June 6, 2012. Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2012-93 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
Report of Controller
Robert Pfenning, Controller, affirmed his ownership of 100 shares of Sands stock and remarked that he clearly forgot what he clearly knew. Mr. Pfenning stated the law is the law so his 100 shares of stock will be sold next week. Mr. Pfenning communicated that when he was a citizen sitting in the audience he never really dealt with the employees who work inside City Hall doing the day to day tasks. Since he has been appointed Controller, Mr. Pfenning noted he has met a number of them and he wanted to pass on to his fellow citizens the observation that they are a good group of people doing the day to day job at City Hall. He continued on to say they are dedicated and helpful with a good work ethic, and the citizens should get to meet more of them because they are doing a good job. Mr. Pfenning addressed the functions of the three branches of City Government. He enumerated that the Administration does the day to day operations of the City and on an annual basis prepares a budget. Council reviews and adjusts the budget, recognizes the resources are limited, and makes the necessary value judgments on how the resources should be used. The Controller’s office is charged with the responsibility of seeing that the budgetary decisions of Council are the way the Administration spends the money. The Controller’s office does not make any value judgments. The office looks at the availability of the funds for the stated purpose, departmental approvals, and proper invoicing. Commenting that the value judgments are the role of Council, Mr. Pfenning noted he admits this was a culture shock for him going from Robert Pfenning as a citizen to Robert Pfenning as the Controller. He further stated that the Controller’s office does not make value judgments other than perhaps agreeing that it fits the budgetary description.
Mr. Pfenning, continuing with his report, pointed out that the Controller’s office staff on a daily basis reviews and approves purchase orders and contracts. They also review and approve all checks issued as part of their obligations. During the process of this work, Mr. Pfenning noted they occasionally find some holes in the system. Mr. Pfenning advised one situation involved an unencumbered $31,000 change order on a contract. The change order that was processed increased the value of the contract and it was not encumbered. That occurred in 2011 and the Controller’s office did not pick it up until this year. Mr. Pfenning explained the problem when such things are missed is that the department may inadvertently spend money when there is nothing left anymore. Mr. Pfenning affirmed that the Controller’s office added one simple step to the procedures, so that hopefully in the future this will not occur.
Mr. Pfenning related that in 2010 a $90,000 encumbrance
disappeared from one of the accounts in the construction of
a fixed asset within the City. It was due to a third party
contribution towards the construction of that asset but it
was done off the books. For that reason, when the 2010 adjusting
entries were prepared by Financial Services to book the proper
cost and value of fixed assets it was missed, and not through
the fault of the Financial Services Manager and the staff.
Mr. Pfenning highlighted the fact that the Manager cannot
do what she does not know about. Mr. Pfenning, noting this
was a hole in the system that he discussed with the Manager,
Ms. Lazarchak, said there is a way of fixing that hole. Mr.
Pfenning informed the Members a similar matter showed up in
2011 that may or may not be an audit note when the City receives
the final Audit. Mr. Pfenning advised that the same thing
is showing up this year so this is a recurring issue, and
it becomes difficult when these things are done off the books.
Mr. Pfenning explained that off the books means there is no
contract and no budgeted revenue because the giver or the
donor is paying for the whole thing. Mr. Pfenning added that
vigilance is needed so that Financial Services can properly
do their job at the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Pfenning advised that in looking into the future there is another major concern of the Controller’s office. He pointed out that the City’s Continuous Improvement (CI) group had improved greatly the processing of purchase orders. However, three years later it is beginning to slip a bit in the confirming purchase orders. Mr. Pfenning explained that a confirming purchase order means that the goods or services and the invoices are received well in advance of the actual issuance of the purchase order. A purchase order encumbers the money so again there is the problem of unencumbered money. The problem is that invoices are not being recognized as accounts payable and this becomes more critical at the end of the fiscal year, and is a real problem. Mr. Pfenning remarked that there is very little the Controller’s office can do about this. Although the Controller’s office does see all of the purchase orders coming through, the office does not know whether or not the goods or services have already been ordered or delivered. The second time they find out about it is when the check comes through with the invoice attached, the purchase order attached, with the invoice date well in advance of the purchase order date. While the office could hold the check, Mr. Pfenning felt that is unfair to the vendors. Mr. Pfenning noted that the Deputy Controller, Eugene Auman, is discussing the matter with the CI purchasing group. Mr. Pfenning noted there are certain circumstances where there would be an emergency and there would not be time to get things done so that also needs to be remembered.
Mr. Pfenning added that the Department Heads will see more of him because as these confirming purchase orders come through he will be walking around and seeking an explanation as to why there is a confirming purchase order rather than a regular purchase order.
Mr. Pfenning pointed out that he did send a memo regarding reports. The local Ordinance clearly says that he should be reporting to Council but it does not say with clarity what those reports should be. Mr. Pfenning stated he would like feedback from Council on what reports they would like to receive from the Controller’s office. He will be shortly sending a report about the Casino Host Fees expected in 2012 versus the amount budgeted. He pointed out that he is available anytime to any Council person who wants to speak to him. Mr. Pfenning remarked that during the startup of his tenure as the City Controller, he reviewed the existing Codified Ordinances and found Article 111 that deals with the Controller’s office to be out of date in terms of what goes on. Mr. Pfenning said, for example, in that Ordinance the Controller runs the accounting system and reports to the Business Administrator but that is not the way it works anymore so this needs to be updated. Mr. Pfenning advised he has given the Law Bureau a suggested revision of Article 111 and is awaiting their opinion to be then reviewed by City Council. Mr. Pfenning, adding that he is planning to meet with President Evans to discuss Articles 109 and 121 which have some aspects of being out of date, noted that with his guidance any changes will be decided. Mr. Pfenning stated that the need still exists for Council to deal with emergency transfers of funds. Mr. Pfenning explained there had been a bit of trouble this past January over a transfer of funds where the Controller was put in the position of either disobeying the Ordinance which requires approval of full Council or the City missing payroll. Affirming that matter was referred to the Finance Committee, Mr. Pfenning stated he has a personal interest in seeing it come out of Committee but he does not care in what form as long as there is something decided to avoid a future confrontation.
Ms. Dolan remarked that anyone who has been on Council has known that Mr. Pfenning had 100 shares of Sands Stock because he spoke about it at Council meetings. She commented that the mistake to divulge this fact during the selection of the Controller was clearly unintentional. Ms. Dolan noted that she heard Mr. Pfenning say that the 100 shares of stock will be sold next week and it now will just start making money. Ms. Dolan wondered if Mr. Pfenning has determined through research whether the temporary or appointed status had any bearing on that law, and if not whether the stock could be transferred to someone else in escrow or the earnings placed in escrow.
Mr. Pfenning related that he looked at the video from the January 23 meeting of the Gaming Revenue Authority and he does not understand how he could have forgotten this. He clearly stated the law at that meeting. Mr. Pfenning pointed out that the original gaming law as passed in 2004 said basically any public official, and had an intricate flow chart. The official could have 1% and that law also allowed for blind trusts. In Act 135 or Senate Bill 862 that came out around 2006, the legislators wanted to tighten up things. It was then stated that public officials could have no stock and no blind trusts. Mr. Pfenning affirmed he has no intention of challenging the designation of himself as a public official under the act. Mr. Pfenning said the issue is over and we can move on, he made a mistake, and it will be corrected.
Ms. Dolan, noting that Mr. Pfenning spoke of situations where an outside entity was coming in and paying for something, wondered if he was speaking about in-kind donations or gifts to government that are not regularly counted as revenue.
Mr. Pfenning said he does not know the particulars of the 2011 incident but he believes it involves the Library where some entity paid directly to the Library some funds or arranged to have some kind of construction. In 2010, there was a funding arrangement on construction of the Skate Park where the last $90,000 was paid by an agency that had previously granted money to the City. For whatever reason, it was decided that the contractor would bill the last $90,000 directly to that agency and they then paid the contractor directly. In 2012, for the Main Street Streetscape project, Liberty Property Trust has generously offered to put $300,000 into that project. Mr. Pfenning expressed his understanding is that their intention is to basically build it themselves directly to the specifications of the City. The problem lies in that, when it does not go through the books of the City, Financial Services does not know about it so they cannot prepare the GASB required adjustment at the end of the fiscal year. Hopefully, with the cooperation of his office, they will keep on track of this. Mr. Pfenning commented he understands that part of the Administration is looking at a different way of handling this.
Ms. Dolan remarked this makes sense to her considering the City is a non-profit, can receive donations and in-kind services, and there is not just one type of non-profit. Ms. Dolan observed that the problem Mr. Pfenning discovered is more of an accounting issue in keeping track of contracts. If a certain amount has to be spent according to a certain contract but instead of being spent it is done as a gift, it still needs to be recorded in some way. Ms. Dolan observed it is not a legal misstep but an accounting misstep.
Mr. Pfenning added that the problem is how to get it on the books. Mr. Pfenning exemplified that he spoke with Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, about the Commerce Center Boulevard project that was paid for directly by Northampton County that constructed it. Mr. Alkhal had noted that the City did not do this back then. Mr. Pfenning checked with Ms. Lazarchak who pointed out that between the building of Commerce Center Boulevard and today the City needs to do this so one of the employees went back through the records and came up with the cost basis of all of the infrastructure so it could be recorded on the books.
Ms. Dolan related that this is critical for keeping track of how things get paid for so it is known where funding comes from. Mr. Pfenning added that the office is looking at ways to do this.
Ms. Dolan asked if is the will of Council to look more closely at the concept of emergency transfers of funds that might require some sort of change in the bylaws. Ms. Dolan stated that if there is a desire to move forward on this she is willing to review the matter to make changes.
7. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL READING
8. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Authorizing Automated Red Light Enforcement (ARLE) Funding Program – Fahy Bridge Improvements
Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2012-94
that authorized the execution of an Automated Red Light Enforcement
Program Project Funding Agreement-Individual Projects, with
the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for pedestrian
improvements at the north end of the Philip J. Fahy Memorial
Bridge over the Lehigh River, according the terms and conditions
of the Agreement.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
B. Authorizing Use Permit Agreement for Public Property – Richard Scott Kelley and Has Anyone Seen My Balloon?, Inc. – Hot Air Balloon Take Off
Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2012-95 that authorized a Use Permit Agreement between Richard Scott Kelley and Has Anyone Seen My Balloon?, Inc. and the City of Bethlehem for use of Yellis Park, Monocacy Park Complex Athletic Fields, Saucon Park Complex Athletic Fields, Clearview Complex and the area behind the Municipal Ice Rink for hot air balloon take off for the period June 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, according to the terms and conditions of the Agreement.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
C. Certificate of Appropriateness – 217 Broadway
Mr. Donchez and Ms. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2012-96 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the existing wood and glass closure in the old garage door openings and install a new aluminum black frame and glass overhead paneled door at 217 Broadway.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
10. NEW BUSINESS.
11. PUBLIC COMMENT
Retaining Wall – 1028 Mechanic Street
Robert Delker, 315 E. 8th Street, Northampton, advised he has a property located at 1028 Mechanic Street with a retaining wall that is in desperate need of repairs. Mr. Delker explained this issue has been going on since 2004 when the City hired Base Engineering to come out and look at the wall. Mr. Delker related that the firm stated the wall is leaning and in danger of collapsing. Gonzalez Construction issued a bid in 2010 to fix the wall for $280,000. In 2006, a memo to Robert Donchez from Charles Brown, then Director of Parks and Public Property, stated that the wall had been repaired at one point by the City of Bethlehem by a system called dog and bones, and a portion of the wall was fixed. Another memo to Robert Donchez from Mr. Brown stated that in May 2006 as requested he inspected the retaining wall and found it was deteriorating. He also provided the 2000 cost proposal from Base Engineering in the amount of $130,000 and $218,000. Mr. Delker affirmed that at a City Council Meeting in April 2012 he brought this matter to the attention of City Council, and he has not gotten any response back from anyone in the Administration. He explained that the home is still in his mother’s name but will be transferred to his name to get a government loan through the City. Mr. Delker advised that a City inspector, Ron Keck, looked at the property and said that the rear wall must be fixed and corrected. He has an estimated proposal of fixing the wall for $14,000. Mr. Delker noted he has tried many times to get this corrected, and eight years later the wall is getting worse. In the last three weeks, portions of the wall next to his home had three big pieces of concrete come down. Some of the homes in this location are being rented, and the residents have small children who play in the yards. Mr. Delker exclaimed that if the wall comes down someone will get killed. Commenting that he reached out to the Administration and has gotten no where, Mr. Delker said he also reached out to Senator Lisa Boscola and received a letter back. It states that concerning the public safety and neighborhood issue that is a concern for her and many in the South Bethlehem community. The matter deals with the retaining wall and her office was contacted by the owner of this property in an attempt to facilitate a solution to this problem as this retaining wall poses to this neighborhood. It is her understanding that the retaining wall has become dangerous and has the risk of falling. However, there are some discrepancies as to whether the City of Bethlehem has any stake in maintaining this wall or is responsible for making necessary repairs. She also understands that a third party was hired to evaluate the wall to determine its condition and made recommendations. It was communicated to her office that City officials were given a green light to refurbish and repair the wall. This work was completed without question and it seems as though the City had responsibility and stake in maintaining the upkeep of this wall but now is claiming that it does not. In the end, regardless of whose responsibility this wall is, this is a public safety concern for those residents living in that neighborhood should this wall collapse in the future. It could have an outcome that no one wants to witness and she hopes that a proactive solution of this problem can be worked out between the property owners and the City to ensure the best interest of the public. Mr. Delker advised he was told by the Administration that it opens up a can of worms when the City goes on private property to fix walls. Stressing that the City went on the property and fixed the wall in the 1980’s, Mr. Delker remarked it was not a problem then to fix it but it is a problem today. Mr. Delker informed the Members that he has been working in construction since 1986 and is still an active union member of Iron Workers Local 36. He has seen people killed in trenches when they are not shored up but the City will give out certificates of occupancy to let people live in these homes knowing since 2004 by their own people they hired that this is a dangerous situation.
President Evans pointed out that in this particular case he would like to bring some type of resolution. He knows that there are legal issues, safety concerns, and property rights. A number of communications have been made both to the Council Solicitor and the Administration. President Evans asked John F. Spirk, Jr., Esq., City Solicitor, to comment.
Attorney Spirk, speaking to the legal issue, advised the legal position of the City is the same as it was in 2004 when he first looked at it. Attorney Spirk stated the City has no legal responsibility for the wall, and it is not the City’s wall. Attorney Spirk affirmed he is aware that Mr. Brown had some work done on it 20 years ago. Referring to this evening’s invocation, Attorney Spirk communicated that he suspects Mr. Brown was motivated by the better angels of his nature but he does not believe that this was the legal responsibility of the City then and he does not believe it is the legal responsibility of the City now.
School Zone and Speed Limit Sign - Kaywin Avenue and Catasauqua Road
Phyllis Daulton, 1545 Catasauqua Road, advised she is a school crossing guard at Kaywin Avenue and Catasauqua Road which is a very busy road. Ms. Daulton said she has been a crossing guard for five years and has been close to being hit. She informed the assembly that she has had cars pass her while children are crossing the street and it is a scary situation. Advising that she has a petition with 177 signatures, Ms. Daulton said she would like very much to see a blinking light at the location with a 15 mph zone in the morning and afternoon. She was told by an engineer from the City that it is too expensive. Expressing the hope that the City listens, Ms. Daulton said she prays that it does not take a child’s life to get this done.
Intermunicipal Transfer of Retail Restaurant Liquor License – Steel Pub, Inc.
James Schantz, of Senator Lisa Boscola’s office, stated he is at the Meeting tonight on behalf of Steel Pub, LLC to ask City Council about the possibility of having the Resolution for the Liquor License Transfer considered at the next City Council meeting at which the Public Hearing will take place. He explained that part of the application process that was overlooked for the transfer of the municipal license before the application packet could be sent to Harrisburg was obtaining the permission of Council, so that the application in Harrisburg is lacking this key piece. Mr. Schantz communicated that if any consideration can be given to having the Resolution considered and voted on at the next City Council meeting he would ask for that consideration tonight to expedite the application process. He explained that Steel Pub is hoping to be open in time for Musikfest this year, and because of its location close to the ArtsQuest Center it is critical to make that deadline if possible. Thanking the Members for scheduling the Public Hearing for June 19, Mr. Schantz said he is also asking for consideration to have the Resolution also read and voted on at the June 19 City Council Meeting as well.
Zoning Board - Hearings
Bill Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, said he wanted to remind everyone that the City’s Ordinance requires a notice to be posted at the relevant site regarding the liquor license transfer request. Mr. Scheirer stated that at the Zoning Hearing Board Meeting there was a case at 816 Meade Street. The Board voted unanimously to allow the gentleman with a large lot to subdivide the lot into two and take down most or all of the trees and build a home on the other lot. Mr. Scheirer imagined that the Board voted in favor of this because there are homes all around that lot and so the built environment did not creep any closer to the top of the mountain. However, he pointed out that the trees and undergrowth will be replaced with a home and driveway so there will be more runoff and that will increase the likelihood of flooding at the Saucon Creek. He said the next case concerned New Street and Market Street at the southeast corner where there has been a bed and breakfast. The owner of the property could not sell it as a bed and breakfast at the price he wanted. Someone is willing to buy the property and have a financial advisory office. Mr. Scheirer highlighted the fact that it would make it less of a residential use in an RT zone. Mr. Scheirer noted that one member of the Board recused himself and the vote was 2 to 2 so the appeal failed. Mr. Scheirer continued on to say the third case involved a day care center with a not completely thought out plan and that was unanimously rejected. Mr. Scheirer mentioned that last week there was a special hearing for Abraham Atiyeh who appealed for a 625 square foot electronic sign on Route 378. The top of the sign would be 49 feet off the ground and the Board unanimously rejected it.
Flatiron Building – Solar Collector; Term of Mayor
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, recalled that at a past meeting he brought up the issue of the solar collector installed on the Flatiron building. Mr. Antalics advised that the solar concentrator is still on top of the building, is visible from every part of the City, and stressed that he finds it ugly. Mr. Antalics stressed the point is that there is precedence in telling a person that they can come before this organization to present something, but put something else up. Mr. Antalics noted that at a past City Council Meeting he brought up the issue of the Greenway at Third and Hayes that has been sitting there forever while the other side of the street was done. Mr. Antalics continued on to say the next day there was a crew there working which impressed him but then they disappeared, it is still unfinished, and another month has passed. Turning to his comment about Mayors having more than two terms, Mr. Antalics noted he was asked if he was proposing that the current Mayor be allowed to run for another term but that was not his idea. Mr. Antalics explained his idea was that in looking at the history of Bethlehem he found the City was best served with Mayors who had served anywhere from 3 to 6 terms. The worst Mayor was voted out because he was the worst Mayor. Mr. Antalics suggested that the two term limitation be revisited, since he felt it will discourage those who look at the position as a stepping stone to a higher position as opposed to a dedicated citizen of Bethlehem. Pointing out that Mayor Paul Marcincin was elected for a third term but that third term was revoked, Mr. Antalics thought he would have been good at a third term. Mr. Antalics strongly urged looking into the possibility of no restriction on terms for a Mayor at this fundamental form of government.
Controller’s Report; Buffer and Residential Treatment Facilities
Mary Pongracz, 321 W. Fourth Street, thanked Mr. Pfenning for giving his report this evening because five years ago she asked the Controller to appear periodically before City Council to give a report on what is happening in the Controller’s office. Ms. Pongracz, turning to the proposed Ordinance for a buffer, commented it has taken a long time to realize that 1,000 feet is not a long distance but it can be manageable. She stated no one has ever mentioned the fact that it is important to protect the people in the neighborhood and it is also important to respect the people who need treatment. Ms. Pongracz remarked that residents of the South Side have seen that anytime someone wants to put up a residential facility they always say put it on the South Side.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.