Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Last Night's Martin Tower Hearing
To those who think this raises the specter of contract zoning, I think the Right-to-Know showing the City and Lew Ronca exchanging seven different draft versions of an ordinance already makes that a distinct possibility. The only way to prevent that is by encouraging public involvement at a much earlier stage than happened here.
While watching Central Catholic win its first league game, I did receive a lot of first hand accounts from people who were at town hall for the two-hours of public comments. For the second time, public opposition to Martin Tower rezoning was unanimous. For the third time, Bryan Callahan mixed it up with one of the merchants. I don't know if Lou Stellato said, "We've got to do something!" again or whether Adam Waldron had any more questions about the frickin' tree canopy.
The sole reason for this mess, however, is NOT City Council or Mayor Donchez or Darlene Heller or Alicia Karner.
It's the developer who is hiding in some hallway, texting messages from his smart phone. An owner who let a building sit vacant for seven years and now wants new zoning so he can rip it down. A businessman who never approached Guardian Life about relocating to Martin Tower. Who never marketed Martin Tower at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. An entrepreneur unwilling to defend his vision, if he even has one, in a public venue.
As Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines has repeatedly observed, there is nothing wring with the current zoning at Martin Tower. The problem is the developer.
Ronca is the beneficiary of a special tax concession that permits him to use nearly all state taxes and some local taxes to fund development. In Bethlehem's application for this special tax zone, the City bragged about how it would adaptively re-use a former Bethlehem Steel Building. What happened to that?
Ronca is also getting a $9 million RACP grant that was supposed to help Martin Tower survive, not knock it down.
Given the amount of public assistance he's received, he needs to share publicly exactly what he intends to do at the site, not slink around in back rooms and hope that his campaign contributions will do the trick.
I skipped tonight because nothing more need be said. City Council needs to scrap this ordinance and start over, in a much more public setting, and insist that Ronca attend. Zoning or Planning by "appeasement," as Matt Malozi calls it, is never a good idea.