Friday, March 11, 2016
After Three Hour Hearing, Bethlehem Parking Garage Approved
Yesterday, Bethlehem's Planning Commission approved plans for a city-owned South Side parking garage, which will be connected to Dennis Benner's Greenway Park Building by a pedestrian bridge that goes across the Greenway. St. Luke's University Health Network and Lehigh University have both already committed to be tenants at that $20 million venture. The hospital, in particular, wanted a bridge leading to their offices for patients with mobility problems. The garage took away a small portion of the greenway, but the greenway was getting more than twice that amount of land back. The vote was 4 to 1, with Jim Fiorentino opposed.
It was a three hour hearing in which Al Wurth (Lehigh Prof), Peter Crownfield (retired teacher) and Breenna Holland (Lehigh Prof) competed at seeing who could monopolize the discussion the most. I got some really good digs from Wurth, like "I think all developments name themselves after that which they displace or destroy" and "white elephant of a financial disaster." Environmental lawyer Don Miles was there, too, as President of the local Sierra Club and pal of CACLV's Alan Jennings, who he described as the "Godfather of the Greenway." A Bethlehem resident who actually lives there as on his feet more often than anyone.
Developer Dennis Benner had a pretty good line, too. For years, he's been a whipping boy for Lehigh's Birkenstocks, who are still miffed about losing their "Maze garden," a collection of weeds at a Bethlehem gateway. He was asked to raise the walkway from its current height of 19'. He was asked to limit the walkway to just one floor. He responded to all the complaints with this:
"I could be standing at that street corner and handing out gold bars, and someone would still complain."
Here's what happened to me. After about 1 1/2 hours, I no longer was listening, though I tried. I looked at the reporters covering this event, and they were mostly staring off into space, too. It was just too repetitive.I was nodding off when suddenly, Bethlehem Parking Authority Jim Broughal's phone started ringing.
It's no ordinary ring tone.
It's a quacking duck.
He turned it off.
A minute later, the phone began quacking again.
Unlike me, the Planning Commission listened to everyone and asked questions. Though Wurth tried to play cute and act as though he was being barred from questioning this plan, he was up at least four times.
In the end, the plan was endorsed. Whether this is wise financially is a good question, but a Planning Commission does not make that call. It only decides on whether the Plan complies with the SALDO (Subdivision and land Development Ordinance).
After three hours, my head was spinning and the Planning Commission went on to another matter - a site plan for the demolition of the Masonic Temple. I listened to Tracy Samuelson describe the project for about ten minutes, and realized that nothing she was saying registered. My brain had turned to mush.
So I left. I'll look through my notes later today to see if I understand them.
If you want to tell me I'm full of shit, you're probably right.