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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bethlehem Planners Fret Over Linden Street Congestion

Linden Street traffic congestion and access dominated the conversation during a two-hour meeting of Bethlehem's Planning Commission last week. At issue was a plan proposing a 12,000 sq ft commercial property along the east side of Linden Street, slightly north of its intersection with Macada Road. James F. Best Development Company also intends to construct a 2 1/2-story, 32 unit building directly behind the commercial complex, which faces Linden Street. But there's only one point of access to this property, and that's from busy Linden Street.

In addition to traffic concerns, Bethlehem planners worried emergency vehicles might be blocked by from apartments behind the retail building facing Linden Street.

Bethlehem resident Robert Pfenning, who "drives through that area daily," said he was "disappointed" that PenDot failed to insist on two different access points. "I don't see anything positive about this." Pfenning's sentiments were shared by Bethlehem Citizens Ass'n member William Scheirer, who said that "even with the improvements suggested, there's going to be congestion. You can't get around that."

Defending the project, Engineer Kevin Horvath explained that he spent a year trying, unsuccessfully, to obtain access easements from an adjoining owner. He also pointed out that Linden Street will be widened at the development site and restriped between Johnston Drive and Macada Road, with a "left turn only" sign at the site. The City agreed to permit Best Development to do infrastructure improvements in lieu of a direct, $15,000, payment.

Planner Andrew Twiggar suggested imposing a requirement that the developer provide access from the rear, but developer attorney Jim Broughal told planners, "If you do that, you will doom us," forcing the developer to pay whatever price is demanded by the adjoining owner.

In the end, Best Devolpment agreed to pave an area for rear access as well as an additional area for emergency vehicles, although they still will be required to drive over a 5' strip of grass. With those changes, the plan passed unanimously.

In other business, the plan for PBS's new home at 830 E. First Street was unanimously approved. It includes 2 broadcast studios, one of which has seating for 100 people. Attorney Maxwell Davison, representing PBS, told planners they expect to start construction in June at the site of what was once a Bethlehem Steel hammer shop.

In a city where a cell phone ban is under serious considerations, planners approved a 150' cell tower proposed by Tower One on City-owned property at 201 Dewberry Avenue. They allowed Moravian Development to build two apartments, instead of one, on the second floor of 64 W North Street. Saucon Square, a residential development near Mountain Park condominium, was given a one-year extension to complete its project.

With all the agenda business out of the way, Planning Chair Lawrence Krauter announced he'd like them to meet at a south side coffee shop and other off-site locations, bringing government closer to the people. Planners James Fiorentino and Andrew Twiggar also suggested asking future developers to prepare power point presentations, so that the public can more easily see plans under discussion. Planner Katy Lynch, recently appointed, was welcomed by fellow Commissioners.

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