|Wilbur Mansion Office|
Noble and Ashford, who were represented by prominent land use attorney David Backenstoe, are both longtime residents and business owners in the Lehigh Valley. Ashford lived in Bethlehem for over 20 years before recently moving to Coopersburg. Noble, a Lehigh grad, lives in Lower Saucon.
"The driving force for this project was the desire to get something going in Bethlehem," testified Noble.He and Ashford wanted to "get involved in something that would make a difference." When he heard that the Wilbur Mansion was available, Noble made a phone call, and 24 hours letter, had a signed agreement. Eight months later, he had a vision for what he calls a "spectacular mansion, one of the few mansions left in the State of Pennsylvania."
Unlike many other recent Lehigh Valley projects, Noble and Ashford haven't sought a dime from the public. "I'm not subsidized," he said. No NIZ, CRIZ, KOZ, TIF, LERTA, RACP or any of the alphabet soup of handouts that are often given to developers.
The one goal Noble has had from the onset is "preserving a historic landmark that has been there since 1865."
The mansion was originally built by Elisha Packer Wilbur, who was President of Lehigh Valley Railroad, Treasurer and Board member at Lehigh University and was associated with a number of local businesses, including the E.P. Wilbur Trust Bank. He was also a Director at the Lehigh Valley National Bank of Bethlehem. The mansion was sold in 1925 to the Masons, who added the Temple Building
Noble testified that the Wilbur Mansion features "fantastic" wood work from the 1800's, along with beautiful stained glass windows and tile work. Years of upgrades are needed for electricity and plumbing, but he wants the "function and appearance to remain intact." He not only wants to bring the mansion back to life, but plans to accentuate it on the 4-acre tract so that it stands out. One way to do that is with a 4,200 sq ft glass-encased entrance.
Class A office space in the mansion will be for attorneys, engineers, architects and realtors, but not for "customer-driven" professions like medical arts.
But two separate engineering studies dictate that it's unfeasible to rejuvenate the Masonic Temple, thanks to decades of water damage that has eroded the internal steel structure and black mold. He called the building "structurally deficient, kinda' like the bridges in Pennsylvania." He didn't ant to restore the building as "cookie cut-up building with a whole bunch of windows that look like a factory."
|Bethlehem City View Apartments|
Noble explained that it's actually a parking deck, and the only one of its kind in the Lehigh Valley because they are expensive to build. Every apartment will have its own balcony and there will also be staggered roof height instead of the typical monolithic block. In front of the building will be a parking lot for overflow parking, but everywhere else will be a "sea of green in an urban environment." He called it a "dynamic community" that would also include an exercise area and other amenities. He is unsure how much rent he'll be seeking, but knows it will be at the upper end.
From both the apartments and the Wilbur Mansion offices, Noble stated there would be beautiful views of the City and Lehigh River and open space in an urban setting.
Though traffic studies are in their infancy, Van Cleef Engineering's mark Bahnick testified that the traffic from the apartments would be about half of that of the apartments and offices.
Most of the audience was complimentary.Robert Vidoni,, who manages the nearly Brighton Court Apartments, asked whether construction would inconvenience his tenants. Noble answered that there is enough room on the four acres to do all the construction on site. He indicated he ideally would like to see the project finished by the end of next year.
Peg Church, who lives in the Wilbur Carriage House, said she's "glad to see someone take the Wilbur Mansion and try to do something good." Her only complaint was that a four-story apartment building "is a bit of a leg out of the character of the neighborhood."
John Harrington, who lies nearby, applauded the project, but warned that traffic will be terrible between 3 and 6 pm because of St. Luke's.
Even Bill Scheirer, who criticizes most zoning plans, made some attempt to be positive. "There's a quite refreshing difference between this developer and another one who wants to build on the South Side," he said in an obvious dig at developer Dennis Benner.
There were dissenters. "It's not a European City, it's Bethlehem," complained Joseph Legenberg. Others were concerned about parking , although they were repeatedly told that no zoning relief was being sought from parking requirements.
In granting the litany of variances, zoners did condition approval on the requirement that all parking be on site. They also want the architecture to be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.
Michael Sanatanasto was detained on business and was unavailable.