Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Good Planning: Key to Bethlehem's Success

I live in Nazareth, a small but very beautiful borough in the geographic center of Northampton County, with a rich historical tradition. I'm sure that wherever you live, be it Bangor or Emmaus, there are things you love about your home. But most of us would agree, that square inch for square inch, the prettiest spot in the Lehigh Valley is Bethlehem. Even the south side, which was ugly and dirty just a few short years ago, is roaring back.

I suppose there are many reasons. But if I had to pick a reason for Bethlehem's success, I'd say it's good planning. I dropped in on a meeting of Bethlehem's Planning Commission late last week, and watched them carefully go through a number of proposals, from PBS' new broadcasting studio to a combination apartment building and retail complex proposed on Linden Street.

I got the impression that, long before these plans are formally placed on the agenda, the Planning Bureau's staff thoroughly reviews each proposal, making many recommendations. After that, Commissioners have questions of their own. So do various city ombundsman like Bob Pfenning and Bill Scheirer.

And so it went last week. But what amazed me was what happened at the end of the meeting, when Chairman Lawrence Krauter suggested taking the show on the road, having meetings at places like south side coffee shops. Other members, like Jim Fiorentino and Andrew Twiggar, suggested asking developers to place their plans on a .pdf format so they can be seen by the public during meetings. How about that?

Then Planning Director Darlene Heller unveiled a report on all of the Bethlehem' projects during 2009. After the meeting, she gave me a copy. All I had to do was ask. No Right to Know form had to be completed. Pretty impressive.

2009 Annual Report
Planning and Zoning Bureau

The following describes the activities of the Planning and Zoning Bureau in 2009.

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission reviewed seven (7) major land development plans, one (1) combined land development and subdivision plan, one (1) sketch plan, one (1) SALDO waiver request, one (1) street vacation request, two (2) blight determinations, one (1) minor land development (cell tower), and three (3) presentations of City projects at nine (9) public meetings. No major subdivision plans or zoning ordinance amendments were reviewed this year.

The Planning Bureau also administratively reviewed four (4) minor land developments and seven (7) minor subdivision plans.

Land Development and Subdivisions

1. J.G. Petrucci Company Office/Warehouse Land Development, LVIP VII, Lots 15 and 16 - 1911 Spillman Drive - Construction of a 113,534 sq. ft. warehouse and office facility with 226 parking/loading spaces was approved on a 13.2223 acre lot in the Saucon Tract of LVIP VII, Phase 2.

2. Patriot Distribution Land Development - 2120 Spillman Drive, Lot 14 - This development proposed the construction of a 209,000 sq. ft. warehouse / office building and a 5,320 sq. ft. maintenance building with 97 parking spaces and 56 truck loading spaces on a 17 acre property in LVIP VII, Phase 2, Saucon Tract.

3. Easton Avenue Commercial Land Development - 2897 Easton Avenue - This plan proposed the demolition of Kospiah's Nursery and the construction of a 20,000 sq. ft. L-shaped multi-tenant building with 114 parking spaces on a 2.7 acre lot.

4. Artsquest Steelstacks Performing Arts Center Land Development - 101 Founders Way - This development proposed the construction of a multi-level performing arts center on a 1.1 acre lot.

5. Bethlehem Skateplaza, Phase 1 - Steel Avenue and Daly Avenue - The Bureau of Parks and Recreation presented Phase 1 of the Skateplaza land development plan, adjacent to the South Bethlehem Greenway. Twenty (20) parking spaces are proposed to be located adjacent to the Skateplaza.

6. Moravian Village Assisted Living/Memory Care Land Development Sketch Plan - Stefko Boulevard and E. Broad Street - This development will consist of an 86 bed institutional facility and a two-story medical office building located on a 2.76 acre lot.

The following submissions are being reviewed by the Planning Bureau and other offices of the City, but have not yet been scheduled for the Planning Commission review.

1. James F. Best Mixed Use Land Development - 3032 Linden Street - This project proposed the consolidation of two lots to create a mixed residential/commercial development containing a 3 story, 32 unit apartment building and a 12,000 sq. ft. commercial strip store on a 2.6 acre lot. (Blogger's Note: This plan was approved on 4/8/09).

2. Eaton Avenue Townhome Development - 1210 Eaton Avenue - This project proposed the construction of nine townhouse units on a single 0.8 acre lot.

3. 1801 Elliot Avenue Apartments - Three apartment buildings containing 8 units each are proposed on this 2.24 acre lot located at the western terminus of Elliot Avenue.

4. Elias Farmer's Market Warehouse and Parking Lot Additions - 3131 Linden Street - This proposal included the demolition of one fire-damaged portion of the building and the construction of a warehouse/dock addition on the north and west side of the existing market.

5. Cantelmi Condominiums - 2854 Linden Street - Demolition of a single family dwelling and construction of 21 townhouses with individual driveways and 51 parking spaces are proposed on this 3.0 acre lot located at the SE corner of Linden Street and Butztown Road.

6. Silk Mill Phase 2 - 238 W. Goepp Street - This plan proposed the construction of a 3 story apartment building (Building C) containing 91 one bedroom dwelling units which will be attached to remaining brick buildings D, E, and F. The existing buildings will be renovated for apartments. The total dwelling units on the entire site after construction and renovation are complete will be 151 units, with 265 proposed parking spaces on a 3.213 acre lot.

Special Projects

South Bethlehem Greenway - A number of public meetings, including one City Planning Commission meeting, were held in 2009 in order to gather public input during the planning process. One section of the Greenway, between Hayes Street and the Skateplaza, has been completed. This was a joint cooperative effort between the Sands and the City. Groundbreaking on the Skateplaza was held in January 2010, and the "South Bethlehem Greenway Art Overlay Plan" has been published. The Art Overlay Plan includes overriding themes that will help guide development—both aesthetically and functionally—in this public commons. We envision groundbreaking in May 2010 for construction of the pathway and improvements between New and Hayes Streets.

Historic Preservation - Due to its designation as a Preserve America Community, the City received a Preservation Planning grant in 2009 offered through the Pennsylvania Historic & Museum Commission and Preservation PA. The broad goals are to establish objective criteria for the protection of historic resources, inventory the myriad and varied historic resources in the City, and have an open discussion of the importance of and basis for historic preservation. The City has contracted with a planning consultant to assist in the scope of work, and a Preservation Plan Task Force was convened.

South Mountain Traffic Calming -In 2009 the City initiated a study of appropriate traffic calming measures on South Mountain through funds the City previously escrowed from developments on the more rural roads of South Mountain. The goals are threefold: to lessen or redirect traffic off residential streets; decrease speeding; and ultimately to create a safer atmosphere for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. The main target streets are: William, Creek, and Fire Lane, and by association, College Drive, Silvex Road and Ravena Street. The City contracted with Orth-Rodgers to conduct the study, and the first Public Meeting was held in December 2009. City Departments are working with residents and stake holders to flesh out realistic, short-term solutions. The planning process will be completed in early summer 2010.

Official Map - The Planning Bureau investigated the option of adopting an Official Map to protect key open space corridors in the City. The Official Map is a tool authorized by Article IV of the MPC, and can include public resources such as streets, public parks, paths, open space reservations, floodplains, etc. A Draft Map and Draft Ordinance are being prepared.

Elm Street - The City's Elm Street Manager oversees the implementation of the Elm Street Plan, now known as the North by Northwest Community Development Initiative. The Bureau continues to work with a task force to implement the North by Northwest Plan. The Bureau has also received a Hometown Streets grant to implement the streetscape improvements that the plan recommends for West Broad Street. Design of the streetscape occurred in 2009; installation will occur in 2010. The Elm Street program also received an Elm Street Reinvestment Grant, which allowed the City to plant roughly 300 trees within the target area, complete a street tree inventory, install crosswalks on school routes, install bike racks, install pan/zoom/tilt cameras in Fairview and Friendship Parks that are monitored 24/7 and recorded by the Bethlehem Police Department and created a Movies in the Park program called Movies Games and More. The group also publishes a regular newsletter and maintains 2 websites, www.nbnw-bpa.org and http://www.moviesgamesnmore.org/.

South Side Vision 2014 - The Bureau continues to be active in the implementation of the South Side Vision 2014 Plan in conjunction with the South Side Vision 2014 steering committee. Participation in the Eastern Gateway subcommittee has allowed the City to assist in the acquisition of funds to complete the Acorn Street Lighting Project on E. 4th Street. The Bureau has also been assisting the Four Blocks International subcommittee by supporting the business community with marketing, fa9ade programs, and physical infrastructure improvements. The Planning Bureau also provides staff support on the Open Space Committee.

Eastern Gateway (E. 4th Street) Street Lights, Phases 2, 3, and 4 - The Eastern Gateway Committee is a subcommittee of the South Side Vision 2014 Committee. Its primary goal for the past few years has been to obtain funds to purchase street lights for the E. 4lh Street corridor within the neighborhood. The Eastern Gateway Acorn Street Light project, when completed in the summer of 2010, will connect the two existing sections of E. 4"1 Street currently containing Acorn Lights. After the installation of these 69 street lights is finalized (anticipated completion is July 2010), the entire length of East 4Ih Street will contain Acorn Lights and the long awaited goal of illuminating this entire corridor with pedestrian friendly and neighborhood commercial oriented lighting will be realized.

Comprehensive Plan - After a lengthy public process, a new Comprehensive Plan for the City was adopted by City Council in March 2009. Since the City is in a significant period of transition and experiencing considerable development pressure, it was a necessity to adopt an updated comprehensive plan whose purpose was to create the vision for future development of our community.

Zoning Ordinance Update - Review and guidance for development of the new Zoning Ordinance was provided by the same Task Force who put together the Comprehensive Plan. The Zoning Ordinance summary was provided for comment and review to the Zoning Hearing Board, the City Planning Commission, and at two public meetings. At this time the Draft is being tweaked before release for public comment.. We plan to put both the Draft Ordinance and Draft Map on the City's website, and hold at least one more public meeting to solicit input. The official adoption procedures will be adhered to, with CPC review and ultimately City Council adoption.

Zoning Hearing Board

The Zoning Hearing Board held 15 meetings in 2009 and heard 58 appeals, which is very comparable to the number of appeals in 2008. The following are a few of the more significant zoning hearing board appeals of 2009:

610-720 Stefko Boulevard (Moravian Village) required more than one meeting due to its controversial nature. The appeal was granted with conditions, but the plan is currently being appealed in Northampton County Court.

238 W. Goepp St. and 271 W. Fairview St. (Silk Mill) also required more than one hearing dus to the complicated and controversial nature of the project. The appeal was approved with conditions imposed.

Elias Market, 3131 Linden Street was approved for an expansion of a lawful non-conforming use but is now being appealed in Northampton County Court by a group of the neighbors.

Historic Review Boards

There were 60 cases reviewed by the Historic Architectural Review Board. There were 41 cases reviewed by the Historic Conservation Commission. This is an 18% increase over 2008.


Anonymous said...


Few realize the importance of zoning and planning and I made myself known to both in Allentown. It is unfortunate that those who populate these boards and commissions in Allentown are far less than the best.
One example, several years ago we tried to get the planning commission to rule against a zoning change for a proposed apartment complex that could have added several hundred children to the already overcrowded school district. The head of the planning commission told me that the needs and concerns of the school district were not his (the city’s). He is still there and the results are what they are. Of course Ed has packed all of the city’s boards and commissions with Democrat partisans.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...


Few realize the importance of zoning and planning and I made myself known to both in Allentown. It is unfortunate that those who populate these boards and commissions in Allentown are far less than the best.
One example, several years ago we tried to get the planning commission to rule against a zoning change for a proposed apartment complex that could have added several hundred children to the already overcrowded school district. The head of the planning commission told me that the needs and concerns of the school district were not his (the city’s). he is still there and the results are what they are. Of course Ed has packed all of the city’s boards and commissions with Democrat partisans.

Scott Armstrong

Donald said...

Nice job on this Bernie and you are right on all points. I have lived in the DT historic district for the last 26 years and can not imagine living anywhere else in the valley. I seem to spend a lot of time in your town and see good things continue to happen there.
Again, good job on this and congrats.

Anonymous said...

Larry Krauter not Krater

Anonymous said...

When I sit in on the zoning hearing board, I am always amazed at the complexity of issues that are brought before the board. The people with whom I serve are extremely intelligent and go through the case with a fine tooth comb. It is also one of the few zhb's that I have ever seen deliberate entirely in public. No "executive sessions" or votes done after the hearing. But what strikes me over and over again is the planning issues that always come out. Things like shared parking, historic preservation, building reuse and mixed uses are the biggest problem, constantly creating conflict between the property owner, neighbors and the city. It really is terrible. I've worked with Doreen Heller and her staff in my past job and am always glad to learn from them. It would be great to do a swap and import them into Allentown for a couple of years.


Larry Kisslinger said...

Bernie, Great post! I was born and have lived in Bethlehem my entire life. I totally agree with you and the late, great citizen, public servant and family man, Paul Marcincin who had the best quote I can ever remember about our fair city and I agree. "Bethlehem is the jewel of the Lehigh Valley".

City Department Head, Tony Hanna, deserves much of the credit for continuing to maintain that tradition. Tony is in charge of all planning and development for Bethlehem.

Also, if you research the history of LVIP and the community leaders who helped replace all of the lost BSCo jobs, you will find LVIP had and still has, a great, positive impact on our community. Many have contributed to "Bethlehem is the jewel of the Lehigh Valley". Again, great post. Thanks www.kisslinger,com

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Larry Krauter not Krater"

Sorry about that. Fixed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the positive report on Bethlehem. Just a comment about Allentown and its Planning Commission. The latest appointment to the Planning Commission was Frank Concannon. He publicly admitted that he knew nothing about planning. (And he does know nothing about planning.) Also unfortunately the head of planning I believe has grown tired and needs a new job.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is my pleasure to write poitive reports about government on those occasions when I see it. I was very impressed by the Planning Commission, who went out of their way to make sure the public could see every facet of a plan under discussion.

Even PBS' new broadcast studio, which you might think of as a no-brainer, was reviewed throughly.

I also like the thoroughnesss of the planning bureau, which is incredibly busy.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that Allentown's Zoning Board is good because Bethlehem's Zoning Board and Zoning Officer leave a lot to be desired. They research nothing, they make decisions on the fly taking the word of the developers and that could also be the lies that they have told on the night of the hearing by the developers and/or engineers. There should be a way to verify the information they tell and at time table the results of the appeal until a later date. This instant mismash (if that is a word) for a decision on that night when there are very extensive conflicts is very damaging and expensive for the property owners. Also, from listening to many residents in Bethlehem, the concensus regarding the Bethlehem Zoning Board is, the Zoning Board favors the developers and maybe they got the word from the Administration that "they want development in Bethlehem" to bring in revenue and they don't care if it is residential zones. Ponder about this for a while.................

Anonymous said...

Yet you hate their mayor. Keep your stinky self out of our city...

Bernie O'Hare said...

I support Charlie Dent for Congress. That does not translate to hatred of Callahan.

Anonymous said...

This area is indeed looking great and hats off to forward thinking people.

I would like to know what funding source is being used to replace all the existing street lights and traffic signals (with period lighting and curb-cuts in Southside with period lighting. How much funding is from the State, ARRA, gaming or County Bond?

Not to mention a $600K skate park mostly funded by grants, new trails mostly funded by DCNR, $6M in Brownfields at BSC, and 2.5M in infrastructure upgrades.

$575K to the City of Bethlehem for the Library, and $3M for Bethlehem Historic Partnership. $450K in CBDG, $702K ARRA Energy Efficiency Grant

Route 412 Widening ($90M), new 2nd Street Ramp at Route 378 ($6.5M), and a new park and ride soon to come.

Many of Bethlehem’s redevelopment projects received substantial State funding.

Now that Southside is well underway, it would be nice to see similar investments in other areas of the valley.

Too bad, there was not better regionalized distribution from gaming revenues.

Anonymous said...

General observation: good plans get funded. Allentown and Easton are poorly planned so they don't get funding. Emmaus is decently planned and gets some funding. Bethlehem is amazingly planned and gets funded. Most of the townships are terribly planned.

Common thread: good plans get funding.

Anonymous said...

When a state grant is awarded in Bethlehem the paper hardly reports it and no one says boo.

In Allentown all the valley's racists, haters, & teabagers come out of the woodwork and make a fuss. That is why Allentown has a much more difficult time receiving state grants.

Anonymous said...

It doesnt hurt when a County Executive, State Rep, and State Senator, and Chairperson of the Govenors party reside in and are constantly going to bat for Bethlehem.

Politics 101..the well connected get funded

It sure helps when you have a grant to do your planning.

Anonymous said...

If anyone from the Zoning Board is reading this, Bethlehem is on the verge of going the way of Allentown.
You will harass the shit out of a homeowner building a shed but approve more and more apartments in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem will soon replace Allentown as the home of Section 8 apartments. Speculatores are buying up nice homes in nice neighborhoods and converting them legally and illegally into apartments for the scum. Or drug treatment houses with no oversight. It is truly sad what is happening to Bethlehem.

Oh well Bethlehem's tradition of great neighborhoods will disappear and the townships will reap the benefits as the City leaders give the city to the monied landlords who want those section 8 checks.


Anonymous said...

Charlie Dent lives in Allentown and he hardly directs anything toward the city. The few things he have have been feel good charity programs. Nothing along the lines of infrastructure.

MOB514 said...

Thank you for the nice post and the Southside shout out! While I agree that Bethlehem has generally made excellent planning and zoning decisions in recent years, someone really had a lapse in judgement in regards to the new placement of the hill to hill electronic billboard. How that fits into the master plan I will never understand.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think you're looking at this the wrong way. Instead of thinking you're entitled to grants by some sort of Divine Right because a Congressman lives in yiur city, you firdt hsve sn oblgstion to do some good plannng. From what I've read, A-town comes up short in that categry. Quelle surprise.

Bernie O'Hare said...


That was roundly criticized at the last city councl meeting.

Anonymous said...

True, many of the plans for the city did not start until the current administration but the American Parkway has been sitting ready to go for a decade now, even after city and private matching funds have been spent to complete the central and eastern portions of the project.

At least a half dozen other worth while endevours have recently been mapped out. No time like the present Mr. Dent and Mr. Browne.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Isn't the completion of that highway scheduled? Didn't Dent bring in millions for those goofy blue lights, a regional crime center and cameras on police cruisers?

Anonymous said...

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.....Once you have a steady stream of Grants to offset everyday expenses on projects, it frees up revenue elsewhere to keep efforts going for the next grant application.

Fact is, if you are not a third class city, your application gets less priority.

The Cities have teams dedicated to grant writing. Surly a professional application with all the buzz words ranks higher.

Representation IS key. Give any municipality millions of dollars and I bet you will see progress.

Look at this ARRA nonsense. The Feds gives direct noncompete awards to the Cities. Then they turned around and gave the State a chunk of money to disperse. Problem is, they let the Cities compete for this money againts small town PA. Thats Double Dipping.

Anonymous said...

The Blue light money was nice, but chump change.

Yes, the American Parkway has scheduled for completion for some time now. Last time I bothered to waste my energy checking PenDott said 2006-07.

Anonymous said...

And yet John Callahan is a complete and utter failure whose ineffective leadership has mire the city in debt.

This blog keeps on delivering.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To the extent that Callahan deserves credit for the City's good planning, he should certainly take it. To the extent that he has mismanaged City finances, he should take the blame instead of trying to pass it off on his Business Manager.

Anonymous said...

One post cites the many grants received in Bethlehem. You should remember that whether the money used to fund these projects comes from local, state or federal sources that it's all still our money, that is public tax dollars.

The Bethlehem Planning Commission is chaired by Larry Krauter. Larry is a very thoughtful and deliberate person and an asset to the City of Bethlehem.