Friday, July 09, 2010

Bethlehem Paves Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot

Bethlehem's next Mayor, Karen Dolan, was a lone voice in the wilderness Tuesday night, the only City Council member who had the sense to vote against a $380,000 project for eight angle parking spaces on Main Street. This project is on the Lehigh Valley's prettiest street, near Hotel Bethlehem and the Moravian Book shop.

In an excellent editorial, The Express Times condemns this misadventure, mainly because the Christmas City will be destroying what sets it apart - its rich history. Looks like there are archaeological artifacts right where they plan to dig.

Oopsie.

Al Bernotas, a fixture at Bethlehem meetings who may have come with the furniture, has forwarded me emails of several people who attended City Council on Tuesday night. They belong to some mass email list. Although I feel comfortable publishing their remarks, I will keep their identity confidential because I had no time to contact them.

Email #1:

The bizarre thing about this meeting is that it was so completely obvious that they needed to take some time to re-evaluate the situation following all the 'new' information presented by Lanie Graf of the Moravian Archives. [Of course, Gordon Mowrer could have been expected to know much of this, but he seemed more interested in peddling copies of his book.]

I suppose it's no shock that the City made no effort to consult the Archives when they first considered the project, but for them to get it this far without any thoughtful process is at least a little surprising. They pushed this like they do so many other things -- with hyped up estimates of benefits, 'hearsay' testimony about all the people who support it, and a careful process of concealing the facts. They got around CDBG requirements by adding a handicap parking space, despite the fact that the first two spaces in the adjacent Hotel Bethlehem lot are also handicap spaces and that the two existing handicap spaces on Main Street are often not used.

We've gotten used to thoughtless and irresponsible action by this administration and council, but I was surprised that everyone was so blind that they went ahead even after several people pointed out that this would be a repeat of the root cellars destroyed to build Moravian College's new HILL building.

Karen Dolan made a motion to put the CDBG money in a holding account until the site could be evaluated, but the motion failed to get a second. [We didn't expect any thoughtful action from people like Willy Reynolds, but even Jean Belinski, normally a supporter of preservation, remained silent.]

The big surprise of the evening came after the meeting when Bruce Haines, Managing Partner of the Hotel Bethlehem, withdrew his & the hotel's support and said that the historical features were much more important than a few parking spaces.

The only way to stop this now is to get them to slow down long enough to get someone on council to bring it up for reconsideration. In reality, someone should get a restraining order to prevent irreversible damage and loss, but I don't think anyone has the courage to do that and earn the wrath of the administration.

Email #2:

Hip-hip-hooray for the Express-Times!

It's about time that our city government listen to the people, the ones who make Bethlehem the special place that it's become. Tuesday night, assistant Moravian archivist Lanie Graf mentioned the chipping away that was going on in Bethlehem. It's exasperating when a city government that is growing more out of touch with its constituency can't see what is happening, yet many of us can.

The most telling moment came when Historic Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines reversed his initial support for the project, giving way to the newly revealed knowledge of potential archaeological resources at the site.

And, there is the fact that this knowledge only came to light recently, which raises these two additional questions: first, who is doing the city's homework when it comes to advancing a public project in such an historically sensitive area; and second, if city officials had any inkling of this information, why have they been ignoring it? If the later is the case, it raises substantial concerns about the qualifications and intentions of those in our local government who are minding the store, so to speak. They are certainly not operating in the city's best interests!

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

i am wrestling with the concept that angled parking can destroy our heritage...

Anonymous said...

Main St Bethlehem should be 100% parking free!

Take away all the parking, extend the sidewalks, add some kiosks and be happy ever after..

Anonymous said...

Funny, there are two half empty parking decks 1/2 block and 1 block away.

I suggest Bethlehem take some of that $380,000 and buy a gold plated Cadillac to drive lazy folks around the corner to the parking decks. Send the rest of the money back to the good tax payers of Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

Historical significance aside, spending $380K for 8 spots is ludicrous. There is plenty of parking in downtown Bethlehem. Unfortunately, we are a society of sloths and malcontents. Park and walk and use the $380K for something else.

Maybe John Stoffa said...

Maybe I'm the most brilliant fiscal mind and public servant in the history of the history of things fiscal and service public.

I couldn't bring in new parking spaces for under $186,000 each.

Take the deal you rubes!

Warmest Best Wishes,

Maybe John

Anonymous said...

Park on Market St. and enjoy the view. PA is one of the fattest states in the country. Walk.

Al Bernotas said...

Email #3

From the Express-Times Opinion Staff

Almost everyone in Bethlehem has a bad opinion of the plan to spend $380,000 to create eight angle parking spaces at the south end of Main Street — everyone, that is, except those who would use the spaces to patronize nearby shops and merchants who rely on drive-in customers.

But this raises the question: How much is too much, when modern-day convenience runs head-long into the city’s treasured heritage? If history is priceless, how does the city value a hard-to-find parking spot in its most historic block?

Regardless, the city’s justification for this project falls short of any principle for a community that places a premium on its past — and on protecting the investment that so many have paid good money (and taxes) to preserve for future generations.

Considering that the Main Street widening and creation of parking spaces would encroach on the site of a Colonial-era pottery operation — a neighbor to the beautifully restored blacksmith shop next to Hotel Bethlehem — city council should postpone any action and authorize an archeological dig. (A partial dig was performed there in the 1970s but didn’t fully disclose the extent of the old pottery.)

Instead, city council voted 5-1 Tuesday to go ahead with the parking project, including an allocation of $75,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money as part of the $380,000 expense. That’s an outrageous use of the federal funds, which by law must go toward eliminating blight or benefiting low- and moderate-income residents.

Some historic advocates oppose the parking project for another reason — it’s not expensive enough. To make a retaining wall blend in with the blacksmith shop, they argue, it should be built of natural, period-appropriate material — real stone instead of stone veneer. City officials say that would not just require more money but would need a wider base, thus encroaching even more on the smithy in the historic area. And the pottery site, whatever is left of it.

There are other reasons city council should reconsider this parking plan:

•Getting in and out of angle parking on this block is already tricky. Doubling it will probably instigate a different type of complaint from visitors and local commuters.


•The city now has two Center City parking garages, and it’s planning another one. Visitors to Bethlehem should understand that walking a block from a garage or other off-street parking is one of the trade-offs to enjoy such a unique, restored corner of the world. Most of them probably do.

There’s still time to reverse this misplaced set of priorities. But if council trudges on, it should take a portion of the $380,000 project budget to hang a plaque at the site, depicting the victory of automotive necessity over another set of wheels — those that created the pots, vases and planters that helped Bethlehem thrive in its early days.

***

Al Bernotas said...

Email #4

COSTLY MAIN STREET PARKING PLAN CAUSING DEBATE AMONG BETHLEHEM OFFICIALS

Sunday, June 20, 2010

By LYNN OLANOFF

The Express-Times

BETHLEHEM | Nine little parking spots planned for Main Street are causing a lot of big debate.

First there's the cost: $380,000, or more than $42,000 per space.

Then there's the retaining wall. Some members of the city's Historic Architectural Review Board don't think the city should be allowed to use materials in the retaining wall that don't fit the historic district's guidelines.

Last, there's the $75,000 in community development block grants the city wants to use toward the project. The grants can only be used in low and moderate-income neighborhoods, and some people don't think Main Street parking fits that use.

City council last week preliminarily approved using the $75,000 on the project, but members said they want answers to all three concerns before they'll give final approval.

Council members said they favored a suggestion by former city hall employee Dana Grubb on how to use the CDBG money. Grubb said while general Main Street parking would be a questionable use for CDBG money, using such money for handicapped parking is acceptable.

Council members said they would like to see the administration make two of the nine spots handicapped accessible so the project would better align with CDBG guidelines. Mayor John Callahan said he had no problem with the suggestion.

Callahan strongly defended the project's cost. The work could be done for possibly half the price, but it wouldn't work as well in the historically important area, he said. The Smithy, a 1750 blacksmith shop, is directly adjacent to the planned parking spots.

"I understand it's a lot of cost per space, but we're talking about one of the most historically sensitive areas of the city," Callahan said.

The $380,000 also will pay for new trees in the area and drainage improvements, the mayor said.

"It's not really fair to look at the cost per space," he said.

Some historic architectural review board members are upset the city plans to use manmade veneer stone instead of natural stone for the retaining wall. The board has disallowed other property owners in the historic district from using the material, but has no say over the city's plans, member Nancy Shelly said. Members believe the stone won't match the Smithy.

"This is one of the most important places in our historic downtown," Shelly said. City officials believe the veneer stone does match the Smithy and that they wouldn't be able to find natural stone to match the 260-year-old building, said Michael Alkhal, Bethlehem's public works director. Using natural stone also would be significantly more expensive and would require a much wider wall, he said.

Councilwoman Karen Dolan asked why the city is pursuing the parking spots when a recent parking study determined the top priorities should be adding directional signs to the public parking garages and increasing promotion of the Park & Shop program. More than 50 businesses participate in the program that gives free parking to its patrons.

Callahan said despite those recommendations, on-street Main Street parking is always the most in demand. Also, lower Main Street shops such as Moravian Book Shop have long sought more nearby parking for their shoppers, Callahan said.

Reporter Lynn Olanoff can be reached at 610-867-5000 or lolanoff@express-times.com. Talk about issues in your town at lehighvalleylive.com/forums.

Anonymous said...

I did not realize that Bob Donchez changed his name to Karen Dolan...he must have since Bob will be the next mayor in Bethlehem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bob wants it, too? Interesting. Who are the possible candidates and whio is the likely winner? There is another possibility, too. Cunningham.

Anonymous said...

Bob has always wanted it but he is of the old Bethlehem "patrician" class. He wants it to be conferred on him like a Caesar. He hates confrontation and campaigning.

Like many of the old crowd that has gone before, the only thing sustaining him in the new era of Bethlehem politics is his name. A "Donchez" or one of the 10 varieties of spelling it will always win in a group race in Bethlehem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ironic. You paint him as a patrician but claim he will win bc he has a common name.

My own interaction with Bob is rather limited, but on those few occasions that I have spoken to him, he has always been extremely cordial. A real gentleman.

I first met Karen when she began emailing me during the open space debate, letting me have it. She is very passionate and fights hard for what she believes in.

I like both of them very much.

On this issue, Karen appears to be correct. This really does deserve a second look.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, any talk of the next mayor depends on Callahan actually winning...seems like a longshot.

But Bob wants it. Karen has told some people she will run. Digiacinto has apparently expressed interest. So has Willy Reynolds.

I don't think Bob and Willy would both go for it.

Darkhorse: If Mike Schweder retires from AT&T, then he is a possibility.

Bob is the early favorite with Reynolds and Dolan a ways back.

Anonymous said...

Also, I hear Cunningham is interested in running statewide, possibly Treasurer or Auditor General, but that was before Wagner lost the primary.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Obviously, any talk of the next mayor depends on Callahan actually winning...seems like a longshot"

Doesn't matter. Callahan can not succeed himself as Mayor. So it will be open one way or the other.