established by Polish Catholics in 1905. But it is one of four ethnic South Side churches closed by the Allentown Diocese in 2008. Now, thanks to a unanimous ruling by the Zoning Hearing Board on October 26, this historic church will not only survive, but become the hub for 36 affordable apartments, targeted at artists earning 60% of the Lehigh Valley's median income.
Called the St. Stanislaus Artist Housing Development, this project is the brainchild of MidAtlantic Housing Development Corporation (HDC), a Pennsylvania nonprofit that has existed since 1971. It owns and manages 51 properties in 11 different counties, and specializes in adaptive reuse of downtown properties. It provides affordable housing for 4,100 people, and provides 24/7 onsite professional management and maintenance.
Of the 36 units, 17 will be 1-bedroom lofts, 12 will be 3-bedroom townhouses, and there will be 7 ADA-accessible flats, varying from 2 to 3 bedrooms. Average monthly rental is projected at $650.
HDC's Senior Development Officer, Andre Perry, argued that permitting this reuse would be beneficial to Bethlehem. It would eliminate blight and vacant space, put the property back on the tax rolls, provide affordable quality housing and preserve St. Stanislaus Church, identified as one of Bethlehem's Historic resources.
Believe it or not, a bar is in the church's large basement. "The Poles used to like to drink," joked South Side activist Roger Hudak. But from this point, there will be no sauce at Stanislaus. The bar will be replaced with a laundry and an administrative office, and the church nave will be used as a community meeting room and art gallery.
The one major drawback, however, is parking. The lot at St. Stanislaus only provides 11 parking places. HDC is negotiating with nearby parking lots for another 25 parking spots, which would result in a total of 36 parking spots for 36 units. That is well below the 62 parking places required by the Zoning Ordinance.
This shortcoming brought Faith Moore Perry, who lives directly across the street, to the hearing. As her young son explored Town Hall, she testified that parking is already a "disaster" in her neighborhood. When she goes away, she sometimes finds two or three cars parked in her driveway, and has to call the police to have them removed. She added that "the population there is crazy," and will only get worse with an affordable housing project across the street.
HDC President Michael Carper, however, told Perry that if tenants display inappropriate behavior, they's be evicted. "We closely manage our properties," he stated, adding that someone is on site at all times. "That is who we are and that is how we take care of our situation."
Representing the Eastern Pa. Arts Alliance, Kim Plyler told zoners her organization "absolutely" supports the project. "We have at least 75 artists who are more than happy to move in tomorrow if this project was here," she stated.
In granting the request, which Bill Fitzpatrick called a "great looking project," zoners insisted that leases be filed with the City of each of the 36 units, as well as for each employee on site. He also urged HDC to be a good neighbor.
In other business, zoners approved a request from James Baggest for a subdivision that would separate a single-family unit from a multiple family dwelling at 530-534 High Street. Both properties are located on the same lot, even though they have different uses.
Finally, they granted Pamela Rodweller's request to replace her 12' x 16' deck with a kitchen at 2178 Allwood Drive. In September, Rodweller's case was delayed when she failed to post her property as a result of an inadvertent error in the zoning office. After waiting a month, she presented her case in about a minute. "We thought you'd want to take a little longer to get back at us," joked zoner Bill Fitzpatrick.
Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board will convene again of October 31, to continue testimony in Abe Atiyeh's application for a drug and alcohol rehab center on Dewberry Avenue, abutting Bethlehem Catholic High School.