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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bethlehem's Dirty Underwear

For nearly twenty years, Historic Bethlehem has offered a "a day of visits to distinctive homes in the Lehigh Valley area," complete with tea sipping, chocolate nibbling and even olive oil. Cost? $75. At their May 26 meeting, Bethlehem's Planning Commission took a virtual tour of a different sort, and were exposed to six of the Christmas City's biggest eyesores. Cost? $0. Leading this expedition was Chief Housing Inspector Mike Palos. He asked planners to designate these properties as blighted, the first step in the eminent domain process.

"The last thing we want to do is pick up properties by eminent domain," explained Palos, who expressed hope that this designation will spur remedial action by the owners. Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Tony Hanna, echoing Palos, called eminent domain "a very terrible power. We can take someone's property." But as Bethlehem activist Dana Grubb noted, "It takes only one property in any neighborhood to degrade the quality of life."

Palos presented planners with pictures and information about these six properties:

1) 1240 Penna. Ave. - The owner of this property, Edward Montesino, is deceased. An illegal addition was underway at the rear of the property, which is now exposed.

2) 945 Wyandotte Street. - Owner Steven Govero resides in Missouri. There have been numerous break-ins at the rear of the property, and housing inspectors have found drug paraphernalia.

3) 651 Ridge Street. - Owner Donald Dancho is deceased, and just three days ago, the City had to plywood the back door. There are also what Palos calls "police issues" at the site.

4) 542 Ontario Street. - This 1,224 sq ft single-family home is subject to a lot of break-ins and, according to Palos, "has become a dumping ground for the neighborhood." He claims the property has been vacant since 2005, when the owner was charged with criminal activity. The City is apparently unaware that the property was seized in forfeiture proceedings by Northampton County. Appeals to the Commonwealth and Supreme Court have been denied.

5) 234 E. Morton Street. - The local owner of this 1,801 sq. ft. building has failed to respond to numerous letter and citations going back to 2008

6) 18 W. Garrison Street. - The local owner of this 1285 sq ft single family home has failed to respond to complaints going back to 2006. It looks like the home is being swallowed by surrounding vegetation. According to Palos, it "sticks out" in a nice neighborhood.

After Palos' presentation, Bethlehem planners unanimously agreed to designate these properties as blighted. They also appointed Planning Director Darlene Heller to serve as their representative on the Vacant Property Review Board. Tony Hanna warns that, because of the "crisis in the mortgage market," there are more abandoned and vacant properties in Bethlehem.


Olive Peele said...

Good job to all!!! Mike Palos is also an excellent employee of the city.

Anonymous said...

Are properties designated as "blighted" only because the owners have not responded to city attempts to work with them?

There is a house on Butztown Rd, at the corner of Ivanhoe, that has had all the windows boarded up for a very long time. Some guy who did not even live there had the place stuffed with dozens of cats, dogs, and other animals, and a fire broke out. Now it just sits there. Looks pretty blighted to me.

Also, that house on Carlton Avenue that you mentioned a few days ago, where the owner wanted to change the occupancy to 2 families...that is another sad story on a sad old street. My great grandfather built the brick double at 450-452 right next door, in 1898. Grandpa and Grandpa lived there during my childhood. I lived there right after I was born, as my dad was away in WWII. About 2 years ago a fire started inside 450, damaging both units. The place looked pretty awful, and we noticed 454, the house where my little buddy Llewellyn used to live, the one you wrote about, was shabby as all get out, and had a sign on the front that it was some sort of Buddhist church. Those houses where my family lived fifty and sixty years ago had all been converted to several units, and rented out to Lehigh students. Frankly, a good part of the street that was once so vibrant looks "blighted" now. cate

Anonymous said...

The city workers, council members and police take note of properties and can bring them to the attention of the board, but the citizens of the city should also call in or attend a council meeting to enlighten them. Its our city and we need to keep it nice.


Bernie O'Hare said...

"There is a house on Butztown Rd, at the corner of Ivanhoe, that has had all the windows boarded up for a very long time. Some guy who did not even live there had the place stuffed with dozens of cats, dogs, and other animals, and a fire broke out. Now it just sits there. Looks pretty blighted to me."

The City takes action if the owner is unwilling to work with them.

Laura Degalarce said...

The city for whatever reason has not taken action on this ivanhoe peoperty. Johnny wouldn't want this guy living next to him. is this guy a buddy or a contributor or perhaps another cousin? check it out bo.

Anonymous said...

Laura wrote: "The city for whatever reason has not taken action on this ivanhoe peoperty."

I suppose it is as Bernie says, the city takes action if there is no cooperation by the owner. My neighbor tells me th eowner is in jail -- don't know if that is true or not. Somebody does come and mow the grass regularly. Every single window is covered with plywood, not just one or two of them. It is a real eyesore.

I doubt the owner is a friend of the mayor, as he was living in an area north of Bethlehem, where he previously got arrested for cruelty to horses he was keeping on his property. But we never know. Cate

Bernie O'Hare said...

Laura, I would suggest that you call Mike Palos. He likely is aware, but I'd call him. Understand that the City may have the power to take someone's property, but it is a last resort after all kinds of due process is exhausted. If you find the property really bothersome, I'd suggest you take some pics and bring them to a City Council meeting. They have no executive powers, but can make sure your complaint is heard.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised Mike didn't mention City Hall. It has needed to be cleaned out for a long time.

Pat Kesling said...


Please get your facts straight. The Historic Bethlehem House Tour is an annual and well-supported event. It costs $75 to tour an especially exceptional home the night before the main tour which costs $20 per person. People who pay the $75 are supporting the organization to help to maintain and promote our historic sites. For $75 they also enjoy a great meal and join hundreds of others at a fun party.

Those who wish to pay the $20 are able to tour the special house as well as five or six others.
House tours are great fund raisers and are held all over the Valley even in your home town of Nazareth. People work very hard to
present special events.

Darlene Heller is a peach. I've worked with her for years and she does a great job for Bethlehem.

I'm pleased to see how many people have caught on to Al Bernatos, who began his council campaign by his outlandish attacks on Elias Market. He must not have enough to do. He is obviously trying to make a name for himself by attending every city meeting he can find and calling people names. Voters are wise people who read the newspapers. He will find out.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Pat, I looked at the webpage and did see the $20 fee, which is for paid members of Historic Bethlehem. Non-members pay $30. For the works, it's $75.

Al Bernotas was attending numerous meetings of different city agencies for at least two years before he decided to run for City Council. I understand your animosity, but perhaps you should get your facts straight. This post, incidentally, has nothing to do with him.