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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Martin Tower RTK: Ronca Wanted to Wear Public Out

Bethlehem has filed a detailed response to a right-to-know request I filed in October, seeking the following:
"This request is for the period of time extending between 1/1/13 and present. It applies to all City of Bethlehem employees as well as all members of Council and the Planning Commission. What is sought is all correspondence, email communications and text messages between City of Bethlehem employees, City Council members and Planning Commissioners and representatives of the Martin Tower development related to the following topics:
          1) Participation by Martin Tower development in the CRIZ project.
          2) The zoning changes at Martin Tower development under consideration by City Council.
          3) Campaign contributions.
          4) leasing of the martin tower site for Celtic Fest.
"
I have started to go through it, and will report my conclusions soon. But the more eyes that see this, the more likely it is that someone will pick up on things that I miss. For that reason, I have uploaded the response below.

This is an exercise in participatory journalism. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go through this RTK and note your conclusions in the comments. Here's what I know so far:

* Developer Lew Ronca and his sidekick, Duane Wagner, were in on this new ordinance from the onset. It is NOT a City proposal, despite the City's claim that it is.

* Duane Wagner went so far as to provide talking points to Planning Director Darlene Heller to use with the public, including the myth that the current ordinance allows up to 425,00 sq ft for retail.

* Lew Ronca was hiding in the hallway during the public hearing, but left because he "needed to avoid reporters." He was engaged in a text message party with DCED Director Alicia Karner during the hearing. The plan, it certainly seems, was to wear the public out with Heller's 2 hour, 15 minute presentation.

Oct 6
Ronca: "Didn't D [Darlene Heller] wear them out?" 
Karner: "Only a few."
Ronca:  "OK. Keep me posted. Any grumbling from the audience?"
Karner: "Hearing just ended. rest of council to go. 34 speakers. 2 supportive."
Oct 7
Ronca: "What time did you get out of there?"
Karner: "Idk. 1230 or so."
Ronca: "My God. Had I known I would have bought you a drink or two after that!"
Karner: "http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/2015/10/bethlehem-city-council-proves-they-can.html"
Ronca: "There ya go. All was not wasted then!!"
Ronca: "Yes. I read that first thing this morning. Schweder is an asshole by the way."
Karner: "First I ever saw/heard him speak." 
Ronca: "There is a story. I'll tell you when I see you."
Karner: "Can't wait (note the sarcasm)."
Oct 8
Ronca: "Can you meet with me and the mayor tmrw at 3:30?"
Karner:"Yes. At Mayor's office?"
Ronca: "Yes please. See you then." 

The documents:

Part One, Part Two, Part 3, Part 3 (cont'd), Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11

72 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seditiously Bernie? You are really stretching. By your own logic that was Stoffa's same strategy in his effort's to sell off Gracedale.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not stretching. I am quoting, word for word, a text exchange between the DCED Director and a hiding Ronca as the public hearing was taking place.

Anonymous said...

"Can't wait (note the sarcasm)"

No, only you od. It does show that Kraner is as most at city hall have observed, working hand in hand with the developer. She is as bad as he and the fact they had a running conversation during an important meeting shoes where she is coming from. Your constant defense of her notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

This is typical Lew Ronca style- hide while his minions do his dirty work. This is pathetic- but unfortunately typical "pay to play" in the area. Karner should resign!

Frank Baran said...

Bernie, thank you for taking the initiative to obtain these documents through the right-to-know law. We don’t always see eye to eye, but I do give you a lot of credit to delving into stories that the local newspapers just won’t touch. After a cursory review, a few things pop out:

No surprise: Martin Tower will be torn down. The timetable calls for demolition in the fourth quarter of 2016 once the asbestos is removed. The owner/developer to spend $5.1 million on asbestos remediation, $1,750,000 for demolition and $1.5 million on regrading. The tower structure would be replaced by a commercial building.

(All the timetables assume speedy approval by city agencies; already the plan is a month behind schedule because City Council voted to change the limit on commercial uses and that requires new approvals which won't be completed until December.)

Once the rezoning is in hand, the owner/developer wants to move quickly on the project. The city planning commission is expected to rubber-stamp a master plan in February 2016, followed by a land development in April 2016. (Again, the timetable is behind by a month so far.)

Speaking in public forums, Darlene Heller, the city’s planning director, repeatedly said the rezoning was being crafted with the advice of “interested parties.” The documents show that interested parties actually were Duane Wagner and Lewis Ronca, who represented the partnership that owns the site.

Mr. Wagner offered what amounted to talking points for city officials to use in responding to public questions about the owner/developer’s plans. He sent an e-mail to Ms. Heller on July 7, 2015, offering possible suggestions. I don't recall whether she followed through on his advice.

In his e-mails with city officials, Mr. Wagner seemed especially concerned about three aspects of the rezoning: the extent of commercial development, limiting public access to open space and the need for a gasoline station along Eighth Avenue. The back-and-forth about commercial development is confusing, and I leave that for others to sort out.

Naturally the owner/developer sought to keep open space to a minimum. In its current form, the zoning ordinance sets aside 10 percent of the site as open space, mostly in areas that cannot be developed because of steep slopes. At least one public trail would be required. Any other “outdoor recreation use” would be restricted to the residents of the site. The city tried to broaden that to include employees who work in the new buildings, but the Mr. Wagner insisted on excluding them. He won.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything improper in Karner's texts. Did you mean to imply there was?

Anonymous said...

It's an old playbook tactic. Wear the public out. Make them attend meeting after meeting. Applicant's attorneys postpone for this; postpone for that. Lawyers ring in dollars but public wears out. Most residents work and these meetings can last till 11 at night. Who can do this night after night. Developers learn.

Anonymous said...

well done. thank you !

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, Bernie!

My immediate reaction was to desire a similar accounting of the shenanigans that brought us Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone. Probably an even juicier read.

This is 'Blog of the Year' stuff!

Fred Windish


Anonymous said...

Which floor is Abe's hospital going to be on?

Anonymous said...

Great stuff.

I'm on record as having said that Martin Tower is in the hands of the wrong developer. This proves it.


VOR

Anonymous said...

I guess schweder is an asshole because he called a spade a spade?

Anonymous said...

Still defending Karner?

Anonymous said...

Karner is just doing her job and sharing her observations with a city developer. Nothing to see here - move on.

Maggie Mae Mason said...

It appears that the only thing this administration will be remembered for is it's corruption, which it is not even very good at. Pretty stupid of the dced to have a running conversation with the developer and then keep records of it. But then what can one expect from puppets and lackeys?

This is the beginning of the end of the inbred dem control of the city. booby d has proven that he is not as squeaky clean or trustworthy as he would like us to believe, wee willie and others on council seem to know bounds of integrity and the dced/ well I just can't stop laughing at the incompetence.

Sadly this is no laughing matter. The so called leaders of this community have proven that they can not be trusted to do what is best for the citizens. In fact, they could care less. They have proven that their loyalties belong to themselves and their developer masters. One can only hope that the citizens will wake up and demand better come future elections.

I have often asked on this blog what significant accomplishment was garnered this week. Well we now have an answer. The administration, council and other employees have showed their true colors and yes, their ass.

Anonymous said...

Take the building down and put in some nice shops and restaurants for those of us on the West Side. We DO NOT WANT RESIDENTIAL UNITS AND CORPORATE OFFICES. Enough already with the Main St. merchants. It's our neighborhood. We live here, not them. Listen to the people who live closest to the site!!!!!!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...



Not on her part. The informality of text exchanges make her look too casual, but that's somewhat out of context. I saw plenty wrong on Ronca's part. He clearly has a disdain for the public and was afraid to show his face at the hearing, but was slinking just outside. It bothers me that he has unfettered access to the mayor while merchants are being denied that same opportunity except for those once a month open door. I believe all city officials were far too accommodating. i also don't like how the building is being torn down with no discussion from the public.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Frabnk, Thanks for your findings. I will look at this in much greater detail over Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

Martin Tower is hardly an historic treasure. It is a monument to corporate greed. If it is impractical to find a use for it, especially after millions in asbestos remediation and renovations. then tear it down.

Anonymous said...

How is what Karner is doing in Bethlehem any different from what Hailstone and Hefele did in Allentown?

Why is a developer texting a city employee? It may not be illegal but it looks filthy dirty.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:09, Actually, Martin Tower is very much a part of Bethlehem's Steel history. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A decision to tear it down should not be based on the assessment of a greedy developer who has allowed the building to deteriorate and is himself motivated by the Almighty Dollar. This needs a much more independent assessment than has been provided thus far.

Anonymous said...

Does not look good for Karner. Ronca was right about one thing Schweder is an Asshole!

Anonymous said...

"Pretty stupid of the dced to have a running conversation with the developer and then keep records of it." - Or it shows some integrity. A willingness to present the truth, warts and all. Will be interesting to see in these documents the conversations that other officials had with the developer.

Anonymous said...

Ronca hit the nail on the head with Schweder. Schweder voted against opening up Broad St., what a dope!

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I know that Martin Tower is on the historic registry- so what? It is a monolithic slab of a building, designed to provide Bethlehem Steel's bloated management with corner offices and private bathrooms. All at a time the company was losing market share and failing to modernize its operations. It is a former corporate headquarters, no more no less. Hardly as much of a historic treasure as original county courthouses or other historic structures of the 1700's, 1800's or even early 1900's. Most of those structures are open to the public to tour and admire for their historic significance. This white elephant has been mothballed for years and will never be open to the public. If it can serve no useful purpose, then tear it down!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The point is that Bethlehem has revitalized itself through the adaptive re-use of its steel buildings. Yet a greedy developer wants to destroy instead of continue what has been so successful on the south side, with no real demonstration of sound business reason for doing so.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bernie, as they say truth will win out in the end despite others who have hidden agenda,s

Anonymous said...

Looks like even Karner's arrogance is not big enough to hide Ronca anymore. The blog responses on this page suggesting that this kind of collusion and access to the mayor and his staff is completely acceptable must be from other public officials complicit in the process of making decisions behind closed doors while pretending to do otherwise. Keep it up guys, it will only hasten the amount of time it takes to replace you with people who have a vision for the city that involves more than building big box stores.

Anonymous said...

1:41,

well written Alicia but nobody really believes you

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
I'm not sure a building that never fit into the neighborhood from day 1 and is a symbol of corporate mismanagement can or should be compared to structures on the South Side that started the industrial revolution, built Americas high rises/bridges and blast furnaces where men lost their lives working.
It's an insult to all of us who worked in the mills. Tear the piece of sh-t down!

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem City Council President J. William Reynolds and two other councilmen took campaign contributions from Herrick and Ronca.

http://watchdog.org/245480/crony-capitalism-martin-tower-zoning/

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not sure where you've been, but a detailed listing of the campaign finance of all council members and the Mayor have been listed here for some time. I am not troubled by an individual contribution. I am troubled when large percentages of campaign finance come from CRIZ beneficiaries.

MOB514 said...

You don't want corporate offices? So in other words you don't want decent paying jobs, just shitty retail wages?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Karner's defensiveposts on here are obvious. She might as well be working for these developers. Her job is not to be coordinating with a developer during public meetings. Donchez must be begging her sponsor to not hold him to the demand he hire her. She is a real liability at this point.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the time has come to take down Martin Tower. However, that plan should not have been hidden from the public, if it was revealed to the city. As noted above, the developer apparently told the city he would have the site leveled within 9 months.

I've never seen a case where a top municipal official ordered her staff to draw out a presentation in order to get people to leave. Yes, developer's lawyers may play that game, and may constantly reschedule meetings at the last minute to hold down public involvement, but this would be a first for a municipal official.

Anonymous said...

Darlene Heller is a top notch long-time city staffer. I also want to believe that the Mayor is an honest man. It sounds like the problem was between the two of them on the organizational chart.

Anonymous said...

put a pink slip in karners xmas stocking and vote for almost anyone except donches and Reynolds in up coming elections

Anonymous said...

How can this be dumped on Darleen Heller's lap? She we doing her job and following orders given her. Better stop deflecting and talk to her boss.

Anonymous said...

Big Willie "Rubber Stamp" Reynolds hard at work

Anonymous said...

This is typical Lew Ronca style- back in high school, he paid someone to take the SAT for him- some people never change!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Alicia Karner and Darlene Heller are both dedicated public servants. I don't care for Heller's use of the talking points provided by Wagner, but suspect she would have made that argument independently. Though Ronca talked about wearing down the public and Darlene did go on forever, I have a hard time really believing that it was her intention to wear out the public. That may have been what Ronca wanted, but I refuse to believe that either Alicia or Darlene would hit the slow button just to wear everyone down. More likely, Darlene just got carried away. Planning is her passion.

I also believe the Donchez administration has been very forthcoming in response to what was really a massive RTK. I need to express my appreciation and will do so in a blog tomorrow. Too often, municipalities look for ways to say No. In my view, Bethlehem is trying to be open and honest. I am sure the Mayor is well aware that some of this information makes the admin look bad, but he gave it up anyway.

Where the City went wring was in presenting this as their idea. It is not, and it is a charade for them to say so. It is Ronca's idea, and he should be at the meetings to own his ideas, regardless of the concern about contract zoning. If such a concern is valid, and I think it is not, then we already have it.

The City also went wrong in being too accommodating to Ronca and not enough to other interested parties like the merchants who would be negatively affected. I believe that is a fair criticism of Heller, Ronca and Mayor Donchez. I was speaking to Bruce Haines yesterday, and he told me he was on his way to a meeting of downtown merchants. I asked him to day Hi to the Mayor for me. Bruce told me the Mayor was not going to be there, and has not attended one of their meetings since his election despite a promise to do so. Yet the mayor had time to drop by at Ronca's offices?

What bothers me most about the response to the RTK is that I asked for information starting in 2013, and nothing is there. That is when the Martin Tower was included in the CRIZ application. Yet there is nothing about it. I find that very odd. I wonder whether data was lost or deleted before Donchez took over. It's a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

Put put two (your fired ) slips in their stockings for Karner and Heller.

Anonymous said...

WE all know you have a thing for Karner but this is silly. You shift all possible blame to Darlene. Then you close by saying neither Donchez nor Darlene would do such a thing as drag out or collude with developers.

You ignore that Ksrner is the boss and everyone there knows she rules with an iron fist. No one crosses her or they get the fbomb tirade. Karner is also the one who is texting with developers during a meeting instead of paying attention. She should not have done it at all.

Stop shifting blame to others just to protect your heartthrob. It is obvious that yOu cannot objectively report on this.

Jeff Pooley said...

So damn impressive, Bernie. I'll be very curious to see if the Call and/or Express-Times pick this up. So great to include the whole RTK dump for all of us to look through. For a bottom-feeding blogger you're an awfully good reporter. (And I actually think your digging here and in Allentown has put a fire under the papers', embarrassing them by example, and now the Call at least is actually committing journalism occasionally.)

Re Heller: I don't know her, but it's your achilles heel, and always has been, to give a huge benefit of the doubt to people you like. In this case your own evidence tells a different story. "That may have been what Ronca wanted, but I refuse to believe that either Alicia or Darlene would hit the slow button just to wear everyone down. More likely, Darlene just got carried away. Planning is her passion." Sorry, Bernie, but based on your own reporting, that doesn't pass the laugh test.

Robert Trotner said...

I wonder how much chance i'd have if i demanrded a meeting with Pawlowski at 3:15 tomorrow in our office. :P

Bernie O'Hare said...

&:25, You have a nice way of telling me I am full of shit. It actually felt good. People don't really think this, but I like most of the people I cover. I admit I am struggling with this. I have known Alicia many years and just know she would never intentionally do anything wrong. She is a straight shooter. As for Darlene, I do not know her personally, but I have always been impressed by her knowledge of Bethlehem and her professionalism.

Personal feelings aside, I will still point to the facts and let people draw their own conclusions.

I remember back in the day, when it was just a few of us, writing stories. I loved your blog, which dded a premature death.

Bernie O'Hare said...

7:11, I get it that you hate Karner and must even be using a voodoo doll. The person who disclosed what Alicia was doing is me. I could have buried it and doubt anyone would have noticed. But I elevated it here bc I thought, despite my fondness for Alicia, that people should know. As for having a thing, the insinuation is sexist. I am much more defensive of John Stoffa or Ron Angle. But nobody says I have a thing for them ... Except Angle. Saying I have a thing for Alicia simply bc I know and like her is an insult to every woman who is admired by males for what they are as persons.

Anonymous said...

I remember Professor Pooley's blog fondly too.

-Jeffrey Anthony

Anonymous said...

Bernie you are not stupid so you must be oblivious to your own bias. Reading her posts it is obvious you do not see the reality. I doubt anyone here "hates" anyone. Ms. Karner for example was given a great deal of latitude by your friends Stoffa and Angle. She was a bull in a China shop in the county and people would tell you that if they thought it would help and you would not just attack them.

You clearly insinuate that Darleen Heller may have dragged out the presentation. Fact is Darleen has been around forever and is a smart enough bureaucrat to not do anything not ordered to do by her boss. Ms. Heller has a reputation of quiet professionalism. Karner does not. She is not quiet about anything and you can ask anyone in city hall. Is she have the job she has yes, is she qualified, that is up to Donchez.

She may be a great person but clearly played games with the public during this meeting. Her behavior with tweeting the developer during the meeting and other comments are what is in question, not Ms. Heller's job.

Anonymous said...

Why did Pooley retire from blogging, couldn't take the heat?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fact is, you can't even spell Darlene's name properly so I do not think you are in a position to judge her. Fact is, Karner does have a great reputation for professionalism, which you are trying to destroy anonymously. Maybe you were passed over, and I could see how that would be the right decision.

Fact is, I pointed out the most damning piece of information I could find in the RTK. If I wanted to whitewash things, I would have deep-sixed it bc I know people like you are too lazy to read.

That's what I asked for. I did not ask for your assessment of Karner or a person whose name you can't spell.

Instead of spewing your venom, take the time to read the documentation and then post your summation the way Frank Barran did. If you can't do that, why are you here? You've already lashed out at Karner several times. Try doing something productive for once, if you can.

Anonymous said...

@8:57 I don't know about that, but maybe you could tell us why people post anonymously. Can't take the heat?

-Jeffrey Anthony

Anonymous said...

If I gave you the answer it might shock your synapses, neo-cons don't like to think too deeply.

Jeffrey Anthony said...

@9:20 Give it a try. I'm sure I can come up with something to give All-e-bach to you...

Anonymous said...

i'm still struggling with the concept, espoused by some here, that a city director of economic development can't carry on a brief, neutral conversation with a developer during a rezoning hearing of an ordinance, supported by the city, that affects that developer's property,

you people are stretching to criticize karner

Anonymous said...

@9:20 Gee, thinking a response might not be Grainful -- I mean gainful?

-Jeffrey Anthony

Anonymous said...

anon 9:32 or Alicia. That is the problem. You cannot see the problem with networking with a developer during a meeting that is about his interests, instead of focusing on the meeting and the people there.

Mayor Donchez needs to sit down with the entire DCED staff and read them the riot act. This is not what Bob Donchez is all about and I really feel for the guy being put in this situation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

On October 6, the date of the public hearing, there were a total of four texts from Karner to Ronca. One of them appears to have been sent BEFORE the hearing. Two were sent from the hearing, but it's hard to say whether they ere sent during the hearing itself or a recess. There was a recess. The fourth text was sent after it was over.

If you look at what she said, she was courteous and neutral. If i filed a RTK seeking her text exchanges with Bruce Haines or Neville Gardner or any number of people who oppose the Martin Tower, I believe you might actually find more messages and the same courteous behavior.

Looking at this by itself, i can understand people thinking she is on the Ronca team. But I don't think that is fair. If I filed a RTK seeking her text exchanges with Bruce Haines (and I have no intention of doing that), I think Ronca could conclude she is on the Haines team.

In reality, she is on Team Bethlehem. I believe it is inappropriate to judge her based on one text exchange. By the way, that's the only one during the entire period. If she was on Team Ronca wouldn't there be more?

I do think Ronca established himself as a greedy developer with a disdain for the public and he wanted to wear them out. That was my point. I believe Alicia had a duty to respond to Ronca, just as she responds to Bruce or others who text message her.

Anonymous said...

@9:20 No response? Well, I guess I'll have a cup of Salada -- or maybe Red Rose -- tea and call it a day.

Just curious: do you think they'd be creeped-out and not want you around if they knew you published a regularly updated "enemies list"? I mean, publishing an "enemies list" is not the sort of thing normal people do, so normal people don't like doing business with anyone so creepy and peculiar as to publish such a list.

Just sayin'...

Frank Baran said...

Bernie, I think your comments (at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday) were well-reasoned and balanced. You’ve placed the situation—and the personalities—in proper perspective. The mayor and his administration (and the members of City Council as well) are honest, forthcoming and decent people. The error they made is one in judgment, probably nothing more. They erred by trying to foster the impression that the rezoning was the product of a neutral process undertaken internally. It wasn’t. The documents that you uncovered make that fact undeniable.

I don’t pretend to know all the details. But I don’t think the process was highjacked by a single rogue administrator. City officials, by consensus, were desperate to place Bethlehem on a stronger financial footing and eager to fill—after many years—a prime 53-acre gap in the city’s landscape. They apparently acquiesced into doing the owners’ heavy lifting.

It seems to me that the city always had another option: to force the owners on record in a public setting to divulge their general plans. Perhaps, in hindsight, this would have been the better course of action. Obviously the owners simply could have said no.

(Having had tax assessments cut again and again by Lehigh County, the owners’ carrying costs are relatively low in the overall scheme of things. Their only loss is in opportunity costs. I'm not a real estate investor but I suppose the owners could absorb this loss. The Herrick Company is a $5 billion real estate investment firm that also dabbles in electric power generation, motion pictures and Broadway theater, including the successful production of “Hairspray.” Mr. Herrick’s involvement in Martin Tower amounts to a tiny fraction of 1 percent of his total transactions.)

And who knows? Confrontation or acquiescence might have essentially the same outcomes. The administration officials might have had no choice but to accommodate Mr. Herrick and Mr. Ronca on key points such as the demolition of the tower or the extent of commercial use of the property.

Today, public servants have their political and professional reputations sullied. Some even stand accused (undeservedly, in my opinion) of selling themselves for a few dollars in campaign contributions. Bethlehem is not Allentown and all the greed associated with that city. The saddest outcome for Bethlehem is not the loss of a 21-story building. It’s the sense that City Hall acted more in the owners’ interests than the city’s. It is not too late for the city to redeem itself.

For instance, City Council has yet to grant final approval for the so-called Office Mixed-Use zoning proposal. It can send the ordinance back to committee for a thorough review. The committee should sift through every line in the 29-page document. Nearly each page of the ordinance could mean success or fiasco for the city, for neighboring West Side residents or for the merchants on Main Street and the South Side. Let the process take a month, or two, or even four. Approval of the Sands Casino came quickly, in part because the land had no immediate neighbors. That is not the case here.

The planning commission has a role in this, too. According to the owners’ development timetable, the planning commission is expected to rubber-stamp the master plan within one month. The commission meets only once a month, so essentially it is being asked to spend two or three hours to commit itself to the city’s future. The owners expect a similar rubber stamp for the land development agreement. Speed isn’t of the essence. The planning commission can take its time to get it right.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But it seems that any misjudgment on the part of the administration is not irredeemable. But that depends on City Council and the planning commission. If they fumble the ball, then the time is ripe for condemnation.

Frank Baran said...

Bernie, I think your comments (at 6:10 pm. Tuesday) were well-reasoned and balanced. You've placed the situation—and the personalities—in proper perspective. The mayor and his administration (and the members of City Council as well) are honest, forthcoming and decent people. The error the administration made is one in judgment, probably nothing more. They erred by trying to foster the impression that the rezoning was a product of a neutral process undertaken internally. It wasn't. The documents you uncovered make that conclusion undeniable.

I don't pretend to know all of the details. But I don't think the process was highjacked by a single rogue administrator. City officials, by consensus, were desperate to place Bethlehem on a stronger financial footing and eager to fill—after many years—a prime 53-acre gap in the city's landscape. They apparently acquiesced into doing the owners' heavy lifting.

It seems to me that the city always had another option: to force the owners to go on record in a public setting to divulge their general plans. Perhaps, in hindsight, this would have been the easier course of action. Obviously the owners simply could have said no.

And who knows? Confrontation and acquiescence may have yielded the same outcome. The administration officials might have had no choice but to accommodate Mr. Herrick and Mr. Ronca on key points such as the demolition of the tower or the extent of commercial use of the property.

(It's worth noting that having had tax assessments cut again and again by Lehigh County, the owners' carrying costs are relatively low in the overall scheme of things. Their major loss is in opportunity costs. I'm not a real estate investor, but I suppose the owners could absorb these losses. The Herrick Company is a $5 billion real estate investment firm that also dabbles in electric power generation, motion pictures and Broadway theater, including the financially successful production of "Hairspray." Mr. Herrick's involvement in Martin Tower amounts to a tiny fraction of 1 percent of his total transactions.)

Today, public servants have had their political and professional reputations questioned. Some even stand accused (undeservedly, in my opinion) of selling themselves for a few dollars in campaign contributions. Bethlehem is not Allentown (and all the greed associated with that city). The saddest outcome for Bethlehem is not the loss of a 21-story building. It's the perception that City Hall acted more in the owners' interests rather than the city's. It is not too late for city officials to redeem themselves.

For instance, City Council has yet to grant final approval for the so-called Office-Mixed Use zoning proposal. It can send the ordinance back to committee for a thorough review of the 29-page document. Nearly each page of the ordinance contains provisions that could mean success or fiasco for the city, for neighbors on the West Side, or for the merchants on Main Street or the South Side. Let the process take a month, or two, or even four. Zoning approval of the Sands Casino came quickly in part because the land had no immediate neighbors. That is not the case here.

The city planning commission must play a vigorous role. According to the owners' development timetable, the planning commission is expected to rubber-stamp the master plan within one month. The commission meets only once a month, so essentially it is being asked to spend two or three hours to commit itself to the city's future. The owners expect similar treatment for the land development agreement. Speed isn't of the essence. The planning commission must take its time to get it right.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. But it seems that any misjudgment on the part of the administration is not irredeemable. But that depends on City Council and the planning commission. If they fumble the ball, then the time is ripe for condemnation.

Richard M. Nixon said...

There is nothing wrong with an enemies list. I have an enemies list. Darlene Heller equals Hanoi Jane Fonda?

Anonymous said...

"Darlene Heller equals Hanoi Jane Fonda?"

She is actually a victim in all of this and being forced to take the fall.

Anonymous said...

@1053
I ain't Karner. And if you think a government employee should NOT have contact with the owner of property that will be affected by that government's action, your parents must be first cousins. Thus is not maoist china.

Anonymous said...

10:53 stop being an apologist for Donchez. This is one of those cases where he either knew or SHOULD HAVE known what was happening with his staff and the largest project to date while he was mayor. Either one is not good. He is the mayor and needs to start acting like one. Bernie does not like to point it out, but Donchez took plenty of money from Ronca too. His staff did not take the money. We can not just ignore that now.

Anonymous said...

Sure, a gov employee should have contact with the property owner affected by the action, but the text dialogue conveys a serious lack of professionalism and professional distance between the employee and property owner. Karner is not doing her job right if Ronco thinks it is appropriate to buy her drinks for suffering through public comment, to call people who make solidly grounded arguments in that context "assholes" and to interrupt her (with chummy texts) in the middle of a public hearing. His comfort referencing a pre-agreed upon arrangement to wear-out the public comments with a long presentation and to summon meetings with the mayor's staff at will suggests a relationship that is disgustingly cozy and disrespectful off all who expect public servants to represent collective interests and not just the interests of the developer. Does she anyone but her own voice and Ronco's? The data suggests she does NOT!

Bernie O'Hare said...

What planet are you on? There is nothing in the exchange to indicate that Karner agreed to a procedure to wear out the public. It is obvious that is what Ronca wanted to do, but I think that is where it stops. Also, as I've already pointed out, there are at most two texts from her during the hearing, and for all I know, they could have been made at recess. The notes are not time-stamped. We all get it. You hate Karner. She is a bull in a china shop. She swears. I have a thing for her. We get it. This is the same crap I've heard about her since her appointment. As I've said before, if you want to make yourself useful, review the RTK and make observations. Stop repeating the same things over and over. Mmmk?

Anonymous said...

Darlene is doing what she is told to do by Karner. She was told to drag the presentation out so people would leave. This was the plan. She is being controlled by Ronca and her county buddies. She does not care about the city or it's people. She lives in Bangor and is looking out for herself.

Anonymous said...

i have nothing to add to Bernie's comments. the inferences drawn by the Karner hater are delusional. Well stated, Bernie.

William Martin Joel said...

Out In Bethlehem They're Killing Time. Filling Out Forms, Standing In Line.

Anonymous said...

You might think I'm crazy,,,But... Why can't our government officials make some money out of the place and create housing for the Immigrants that are coming? It's better than the cost of destroying it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is unbelievable, a demorat, short for democrat working with a republican.