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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Kinder, Gentler Bethlehem City Council Pushes Martin Tower Rezoning Forward

Jeff  Fegley
Although Bryan Callahan managed to make an ass out of himself by insulting merchants with inaccurate statements about City largess magnanimously bestowed upon them, it was still a kinder and gentler City Council who really, really listened, and said several times that they were really, really listening, when 68 people crammed into City Hall last night. Most were downtown and South side merchants, and were there to beg Council to think twice about a new mixed zoning concept at the 53-acre Martin Tower development, which could create up to 1.3 million sq ft in publicly subsidized retail to compete against stores that are already competing against the publicly subsidized Allentown NIZ. They are concerned about a third downtown that will drive them out of business. Council really, really listened and they were very nice to everyone who spoke. Then they voted 6-1 to move ahead with the re-zoning and worry about the details later.

Before Council said a word, they heard from a procession of 22 speakers, all of whom spoke against the re-zoning

When they were finished, Willie Reynolds (28% funded by CRIZ and TIF) apologized for his behavior at the last meeting and said he really, really doesn't want to see a third downtown or 1.3 million sq ft of retail. But he wants Martin Tower to come tumbling down and wants to move the rezoning forward. He said they could make text changes on the fly or sometime later. Mayor Bob Donchez (33% funded by CRIZ and TIF) told Willie he wanted to move forward, too, and mentioned "flexibility.". Mike Recchiuti (36% funded by CRIZ and TIF) was all for doing exactly what Willie wants. Lou Stellato (appointed) said he comes from small business, but "it's time to make a decision." Never mind what kind of decision. Cathy Reuscher (appointed) loses sleep over thorny questions like these and wished everyone could be at home watching Netflix. (Yes, she really said that). Adam Waldron (3% funded by CRIZ and TIF) had the feeling that something's "being jammed down our throats," but added he's new and then leaned heavily on Willie instead of following his own instincts. Eric Evans (12% funded by CRIZ and TIF) is a Council veteran and correctly suggested this matter be sent to a committee that would insist on seeing a plan and the developer behind that plan. he also pointed out that many West Bethlehem residents don't want to see a huge residential development there, either.

Eric Evans' motion to send the rezoning for review by a committee failed, after which Council voted 6-1 to send the rezoning proposal forward with the understanding that changes are coming.

Evans was the sole No Vote, although they say "Nay" in Bethlehem. It sounds more dignified, I guess. They wear suits, too. .
Though merchants would have preferred to see the ordinance killed or tabled, I think they were somewhat mollified by Council's promise to sharply reduce the amount of publicly subsidized retail and prevent the creation of a third downtown. So they started putting away the pitchforks and torches because it appeared Council was really, really listening. Really! .

This Morning Call photographer disrupts every meeting he attends
with thousands of pictures that interfere with the public's ability
to see what the hell is going on. 
Then Bryan Callahan (36% funded by CRIZ and TIF) spoke and fired everyone up again. He wasn't really, really listening. He was blowin' oil over some flyer someone stuck in his mailbox

It wasn't me.

He ripped into Bruce Haines for accepting a publicly subsidized loan below the usual interest rate at the Hotel Bethlehem.

Last time it was Willie going after Haines and this time it was Callahan.

I think it's safe to say they don't like him.

Incidentally, Callahan had his facts wrong. That loan pool was made up of private, not public funds. Haines paid the market interest rate. The loan's been paid.

After insulting Haines, Callahan went after all the merchants because the City paves Main Street and gives them nice lighting.  

He slammed merchants because the City chipped in and paid half the cost for new sidewalks for downtown merchants. Never mind that those sidewalks are about three or four times the size of a normal sidewalk.

He then ticked off public subsidies for the South side and went on to say that "government input is needed to start an economic engine."

I have a different view. If a project is good, it should need no jump starts from the government. If it is bad, no amount of public money is going to help.

By the time Callahan was finished, merchants had lit up their torches again. But because it was Bethlehem, they looked like Moravian stars.

I wonder what the hell was in that flyer that got him so stoked up.

Here's a summary of what some merchants and residents told Council before they decided to move forward with the Martin Tower rezoning,.

John Lustig
John Lustig, who recently was at the Zoning Hearing Board for his new, freshly made hot dog shop on New Street, wished he could have the Mayor pushing zoning changes for him when he stood before zoners.

Krisann Albanese, a message therapist, noted that Mayor Donchez was on City Council and voted for the zoning changes requested by developers Lew Ronca and Norton Herrick in 2006. "You're proposing to do over for him what was such a great idea then. ... I'm asking for a do-over."

Diane Holt (Appollo Grill) noted the Martin Tower project was misrepresented as "shovel ready" in the CRIZ application. "The developer doesn't have to speak. Our government is speaking for him."

Rod Holt (Appollo Grill) was told by two Planning Commissioners and one City Council member not to waste his breath because this is a "done deal." He asked why civil leaders are ignoring the business community. "One look at the campaign expense reports says it all."

Bruce Haines (Hotel Bethlehem). "What's needed is a change in ownership, not a change in zoning." Noting that Ronca never bothered to join LVEDC, he said "he's never been in the game."

Dana DeVito (Moravian Book Shop) "The developer should be asked to share his vision."

Peter Crownfield. (played ET) "If the developer made a bad decision, that's on him. ... [Council] needs to learn how to support people already in Bethlehem." He ended with, "I'll be right here."

Bruce Haines (Aardvark, aka the good Bruce). Since the CRIZ designation has increased the value at Martin Tower, why isn't the City seeking a reassessment?

Neville Gardner (Donegal Square) Lancaster selected blighted areas downtown for its CRIZ, while Bethlehem has allowed a select group of handpicked developers to decide where they want tax breaks.

Beall Fowler (gazillionaire) is reminded of someone who wanted municipal leaders to rezone woodland to agriculture. They agreed and two years later, he had a pig farm. He called Martin Tower rezoning "the commercial equivalent of a pig farm. It stinks up the entire community."

Dana Grubb (camera wizard) noted the links between elected city officials and campaign contributions.and asked, "Who will determine the future of Bethlehem, the community or special interests?"

Will Carpenter (retail development) has never seen rezoning happen "at the impetus of a Mayor and Planner." Council members who accept large contributions from CRIZ developers should recuse themselves to "avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Jeff Fegley (Brew Works) called the current CRIZ "a tax incentive on steroids," and called on Council to "create a fair CRIZ plan or end it altogether. Stop the pay to play guys. It exists."

Steve Antalics (male escort) said Council has a moral choice to "vote the will of the people who elected you or vote the will of developers."


Anonymous said...

Why is it you attack these men trying to do a job. You have a real chip on your shoulder and don't play fair. Your friend Alan Jennings praised the Allentown NIZ and the NIZ Board, yet that is OK by you. Of course Alan illegally took care of a friend of yours with a job. That means you are no better than the developers or anyone else.

You decide when one of these wheeler dealers is good and when they are bad.

You are a real hypocrite and more and more people know it no matter how hard you try to hide it. What you are doing and how the Bethlehem officials are handling this issue is the same, yet you attack them.

'Your moral compass is wore than theirs.

Sincerely a person from Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

No mention of how Dana and Kelly rudely spoke during the entire meeting, strongly reacting to all the comments of council members to the point that others couldn't hear? While they have valuable things to say, their behavior turned me and others off.

Anonymous said...

Callahan is incorrect regarding the City "Chipping in" for the Main Street repairs. The City's donation to the repairs actually came from State Grant funds and the City only acted as a conduit for the repairs. Other than the time the City paid for its employees to manage the project, the City's half came from somebody else.

Anonymous said...

can you say Yazza boss?

Maggie Mae Mason said...

So it appears that dudley do-right donchez is not as squeaky clean as he would love everyone to believe. The lackluster administration is however making progress as karner actually uttered a few words.

One other positive, they are making the smith administration look good.

Anonymous said...

Callahan pays for probably half of the downtown merchants rent or tax. He eats and drinks there all the time. Kudos to Callahan. The only thing inflated is his waistline.

Anonymous said...

I haven't followed this matter closely, but my hope is the Martin Tower can be preserved in some form. At the very least, a giant storage facility, or the world's highest lit Christmas tree!

As for what the general public wants, I can't tell from news coverage. All I read about are existing merchants unhappy that new, additional merchants will be receiving a 'boost' beyond what they get, or got in the past. Certainly, there is a fear in having new competition, particularly alternatives that come with easier, probably free, surface parking.

Don't look now, but the Lehigh Valley is one of the state's fastest growing regions. The business competition will come inside Bethlehem city limits, or just outside, like with the Promenade.

Listen to the citizens? My guess is, most citizens will be OK with development on that site. As much as the outcry was over the supermarket across the street, it's VERY busy.

Fred Windish

Anonymous said...

As someone that goes to the South Side and downtown (and also Easton and Allentown), I don't see how a glorified shitty strip mall is going to prevent me from frequenting those businesses already in existence. So, they open a Target, a vomit-inducing Buffalo Wild Wings, and a 24 hour Wendys - who gives a fuck? Seriously, the dude that owns the Irish store, do you really think you are going to lose the customers you have? Or are hot dog sales on New St going to go down because they have a hot dog shop 10 miles away at a strip mall? And then the Moravian Book Shop has the audacity to bemoan their plight when they themselves take part in a subsidized entrance into Allentown - aren't they taking away business from the blessed Main St (where retail is great if you are a 65 year old woman)?

Anonymous said...

Rip the tower down and put in some nice shops. The tower is a reminder of over bloated Execs who ran the Steel into the ground. We have been looking at that empty symbol of greed for to many years. Put some nice stores in there that West Bethlehem residents can enjoy. Enough already with Main St. It's beautiful as it is. Start fixing the rest of the city.

Anonymous said...

The beanie headed photographer is a pain in the ass every time I see him and what's with the beanie? Is it supposed to give him a free pass due to his belief in story telling?

Bernie O'Hare said...

5:57, I have no idea what you are talking about. i sat right in front of Dana Grubb, and was only about three seats away from Dana DeVito. Both were very respectful and did not interfere in any way with what was going on.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:03, Your OT comments are driven by personal hatred of John Stoffa and I, are inaccurate and betray a complete misunderstanding or downright distortion. Par for the course.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Listen to the citizens? My guess is, most citizens will be OK with development on that site. As much as the outcry was over the supermarket across the street, it's VERY busy."

My guess is that most citizens don't give a shit, unless it directly impacts them. This does directly impact downtown and southside merchants. They don't object to competition, but do object to publicly subsidized competition in which the City picks winners and losers in a closed card game that has only allowed four developers to play, all of whom just happen to be major campaign contributors.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The lackluster administration is however making progress as karner actually uttered a few words."

Alicia stated her case well, and answered the suggestion that the City could move the CRIZ around. It cannot, thanks to Governor Wolf.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The photographer - Harry Fisher - does this at every meeting he covers. He practically makes it impossible for the public to see or hear what is going on. I have no problem with him crawling around to get close ups. I do have a problem with him constantly standing in the well of town hall making it much more difficult to see and hear what is going on. As a member of the media, he should have more respect for the Sunshine Act. Under that law, we have the right to see and hear what is going on, and he interferes with that right.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Karner in your story yet the MC quotes her and has a photograph of her at the podium. She was just carrying water for the administration, but does she really know what the hell is going on?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Except for her correction of the impression that the CRIZ can be moved around, Karner was used as a prop during the meeting by Council members who were trying to make points by asking her questions. Same with Darlene Heller. Both answered questions, but neither added to the story. Not in my opinion. They both absolutely know what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Bernie I may be wrong but I don't think Governor Wolf had anything to do with the CRIZ. I think in the last months of his admin. Gov. Corbett made the changes to the CRIZ that does not allow movement of CRIZ acreage without the owners approval. How was Karner a prop? She along with members of her department and Donchez came up with the plan in the first place.

Bernie O'Hare said...

No reflection on her, but Karner was a prop that Council members used to establish their points. This rezoning was offered by Donchez (33%), but there is no doubt in my mind that Willie (28%) was very much behind it, which is why he was at the July Planning Commission meeting demanding to know why the Mayor was not there. Now he wants to push the rezoning through and says it can be changed down the road. That's not true if Ronca steps forward with a plan. The rezoning and 3rd downtown will have to be honored. There is no way this should pass in final form until text amendments are prepared and ready to be voted on with the ordinance. It is entirely possible that Willie (28%) is trying to pull a fast one.

As for Governor Wolf, he had nothing to do with the adoption of the CRIZ. But the policy that prevents Bethlehem from moving parcels within the CRIZ was adopted under his administration, according to Karner.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

I am fairly moderate/centrist on the role of government in the economy, generally. And I have always been supportive of zoned development to balance the tax base, and improve overall QOL. However, I have always been opposed to these NIZs, KOZs, CRIZs, and whatever other IZ you want to make up. The Commonwealth has essentially pitted one municipality against another.... and now even within a city, with essentially gov't backed corporate welfare, and the veiled extortion (too strong a word, but...) "if we don't give the businesses tax breaks, they'll go somewhere else."

And, if Ronca (and every other developer you see in the papers) can't build it on their own, or make an investment that goes bad, what ever happened to the value of having a "moral hazard"? Why do the taxpayers have to be essentially underwriting so much development? Anyone hear of capitalism?

Have to assume that the developers already know what they want to do, and certain Councilmen know what that is. Otherwise there wouldn't be the push. Good job Councilman Evans.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, FYI, though you could probably hear it - throughout the meeting Jeff Fegley was childishly disruptive as he sat in the audience. He continually booed, snickered, and talked (often to himself). He seemed unhinged. You could have posted a photo of any number of other speakers who made legitimate arguments and acted civilly during the meeting. Other speakers expressed the same ideas without acting like idiots. You shouldn't encourage his mania.

Anonymous said...

Karner is a bull in a China shop. It was hoped her pushy style would ram this through, it failed. She was foisted on Donchez and he is trying to find a use for her. Stop trying to hide her in this mess. Just because you have a major hardon for her, she still is part of this fiasco.

Anonymous said...

First of all Krisann Albanese is dead on with her comment about Donchez and his support of keeping the tower when he was on council. Now he is on the other side. This is what you have when you have a Mayor who can't make a decision and is told what to do by the big boys. If you think that he was not coached on this decision and that certain Council members were not coached you should be ashamed of yourself. This has been worked on behind closed doors for more than a year. Why do you think Donchez got the money he did and why do you think Karner was put in place by the County boys. Bob didn't know who she was when he appointed her. Check out the friendship of Karner and Jim Hickey. Jim has a lot of connections with county officials and they made sure she got the job. Sitting at the meeting I knew this was a show when Karner went up to talk. I'm sure it was discussed behind closed doors so she would set the stage for Council. What has happened since Donchez became Mayor and Karner a Directed of CED. NOTHING!

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:46, I saw nothing to indicate that any audience member was disruptive. The only childish behavior I saw was exhibited by Willie two weeks ago.

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:39, your anonymous personal attack on Alicia is worth all the weight that should be attached to a comment from someone who can't sign her name. She certainly is knowledgeable, which is why Council members used her. And yes, she is an attractive whom whom I admire and respect.. I have known her for ten years. I would not describe my affection in the vulgar terms you use, but I understand how you have to resort to ugly statements bc that is all you have.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought - perhaps the government offices should move to that site. I believe the current Church St. location would be more appealing to different developers - maybe Moravian College would buy it.

Elijah LoPinto said...

Bethlehem, the next FBI pay to play investigation.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Evans isn't playing this game with the voters. He knew this was going to pass without his vote, so he wanted to look good. He and Donchez are good buddies so don't any of you forget that.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line. This plan and other plans like it come down to tax payer funding mortgages, for billionaire developers.

I thought it was only the GOP who love the rich old white guys, at least that's what the media, the schools, the unions, and the democrats/socialists tell us on a daily basis.

Based on the campaign contributions, in Bethlehem and in Allentown, it looks like the democrats/socialists, appear to be the party of the rich white guys.

Love how eric evans is playing the same game the hack politicians play to get reelected. He knows the outcome of the vote, yet plays the good guy by voting no.

An informed electorate and term limits might eliminate this garbage. I stress the word might.

Anonymous said...

Lew Ronca and Norton Herrick want the City to bail them out. After getting their zoning changes, they will try to get government funding. Let them use the land as zoned.

Anonymous said...

Love when pos political hacks like Callahan claims the city chipped in for this and the city chipped in for that? lets try it one more time to get it right you pos, THE TAX PAYERS CHIPPED IN . his comment reminds me of guys like Dent , Casey and Toomey walking around town with an oversized check to make it look as if they gave the cash to some organization .



Guy Williams said...

Still think Martin Tower should be retrofitted to become the new gracedale. Senior housing plus a section for assisted living. I cant think of a better way to spend gambling tax income.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, as much as I disagree with you about many things, I have really enjoyed your narratives of these last two meetings on Martin Tower--thank you for the humor! The only part that is hard to stomach is your fantastical idealization of Karner. Admit it, unfortunately she turned out to be nothing more than a stooge for Donchez (or his puppeteers?). Seriously, step away from the goggles; for a moment there I thought I was reading an older adult fantasy novel.
What I find sad about this little town is that we elect people who think their only job is to grow the tax base, and who want to mallify and mcCondo their way out of every blighted piece of property. Their highly parochial views of how a city can revitalize is probably due to their apparent commitment to never leave this city and learn from people who figured out how to do this without selling out to the devil. But their hands are not tied. They are just lazy, or perhaps too busy to develop any kind of serious vision for this city. Case in point: the Lowe's sucks!! I'd rather have two new small hardware stores and the others with more business than they can handle, keeping all the profits in this community. The big box retail stores Karner wants just send money out of our local economy back to corporate headquarters. She's a county planner, and she continues to demonstrate that she doesn't know a damn thing about how to develop urban communities. We have the population and the assets to avoid this kind of development. These are pretty serious and permanent decisions our elected officials are making, and without even the numbers/studies showing an need for retail to back up their plans.
And yes, they are (without much protest) being crammed down the Council's throat. Evan's took the right position, even if he's buddies with Donchez. Maybe if people pat him on the back for that he'll be the first of them to figure out a way to think outside of the billionaire developer's black box. Right now he's our only viable O Be Wan Kenobi.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've got to call things the way I see them, not the way you see them. Evans was correct, and in two weeks that will be clear to three other members of Council. You cannot pass this ordinance as is bc will come in the next day with a wild plan and it will have to be honored, regardless whether Council plans to enact text changes down the road. In fact, the proper vote would be to reject it and come up with a new ordinance since this has to go back to the PC anyway.

Anonymous said...

We're all just been working like slaves for the wealthy anyway, so none of this BS actually matters, does it?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Jim Gregory is not here to right the Bethlehem ship. Soon he will return to Bethlehem and provide the answers to these vexing questions.

His leadership on this issue is desperately needed by all.

Anonymous said...

Tower needs to come down..eye sore and reminder of a long ago past that does not exist anymore. Is there a compromise out there? Does not appear so right now. Big Money driving the issue and the politicians are on the take. Downtown will survive and so will S. Bethlehem in the long run. Get on with the demo and give Alicia what she wants..or else.

Anonymous said...

Lew Ronca and Norton Herrick should tear down the tower and donate the land to the City for a Park

Anonymous said...

6:48, The big question is not whether the Tower should come down. I think most of us believe it should. The question is what to do with the property once it comes down, and it seems pretty clear that the plan before the council, which would end up being a lot of destination retail, is a solution that would jeopardize many of the businesses downtown and the success of the WestGate Mall renovation (and may in the long term reduce the tax base that council is trying to expand). You are right that many of the specialty businesses on Main Street and on the South Side would probably do just fine even with some competition, but many others depend at least in part on foot traffic.

Anonymous said...

hey Guy Williams, the tower is in Lehigh County so there goes that idea

Anonymous said...

people can say what they want about Evans and his vote and why he chose to vote the way he did...In reality, (which the council seem to forget about as long as the union and developer cash flows in) this mess needs time to be looked at "real good" and real close".
I have very little faith in the crew on council today and the way they have treated the public, and not just once, may I add, is horrendous.

Term limits any one?

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

"I have very little faith in the crew on council today and the way they have treated the public.... term limits any one?" 6:53

Term limits are called elections. And most especially at the local level, the public gets the government it deserves by who chooses to get involved, and "the public" that shows up at the polls.

Postscript: that's one strong reason why the death of consistent local news reporting, and declining paper readership is so detrimental. Local papers used to be the "light" shining on the process.

Anonymous said...

Emphatically, I say that NOTHING in Allentown competes with Bethlehem businesses. I would not go to Allentown voluntarily for any reason. High parking fees, areas right next to the shopping are not inviting and could be dangerous, why drive all the way over to Allentown, when we have Main Street area and we have the South Side?

Aside from those areas, I used to shop/dine at Westgate for some things, and it did not compete with those areas, and I do not think that anything at Martin Tower would really compete with Main Street or the South Side, because they are different sorts of businesses. Sometimes I shop at Wegmans, or Valley Farms, or the Elias Market, or on Union Boulevard, especially Ehmers Market and SAAB Farm Market -- SAAB's wife makes the BEST spinach pies on earth! So, if the businesses on Main Street and Broad Street and on the South Side remain fine businesses, I think people will still patronize them, no matter what happens with different sorts of businesses in different sorts of locations.

I do think that taxpayers ought not subsidize the development of private property, though, not in Allentown nor in Bethlehem at Martin towers.

Anonymous said...

Just look at hamilton st in Allentown. Back in the day, it had the best stores. When the whitehall mall was build, hamilton st died. Same will happen to main and broad sts and the south side

Anonymous said...

Main St has nothing but figurine shops for old ladies. It's a total bore for anyone under 60.

The South Side had promise but as usual, anything interesting eventually closes without warning.

It gets to the point where its not worth going down to those places. Hit Steel Stacks. Hit the PPL Center. Hit a restaurant and then go home. There is ZERO shopping at any of these places.

Anonymous said...

6:58 Hamilton St. died because it was and still is crime ridden. You have to drive thru a war zone just to get to Hamilton St. which is another war zone. They can build all the new office and commercial buildings they want down there but the bottom line is NOTHING will change until they fix the schools in Allentown. Who wants there kids going to Allen or Dieruff? The key to Bethlehem is their schools are new, rebuilt and well run. I wish we had that in Allentown, our property values would be much higher which would bring in more wealth into the city.

Anonymous said...

Hamilton St didn't become crime ridden until the stores all moved out. I guess you're not old enough to remember.