|Bethlehem's South Side Historic District|
The absurdity of the South Side historic district came to light last week, during City Council discussions about a 626-car parking deck proposed by the Parking Authority. which will connect to developer Dennis Benner's 6-story Greenway Park Building, located at the intersection of Third and South New.
The argument advanced by the Parking Authority, essentially, is "If we build it, they will come." Opponents dispute this, and one of them is William Seixas, a New York transplant who lives on South Graham and will be directly impacted by the development.
His wife, Mary Lou, said she was unable to fix a broken window and broken garage door at her property because of ridiculous requirements imposed by the Historic Commission. "I'm sitting with my window still broken six years later because I can't afford a thousand-some window." While the Historic Commission has thrown up roadblocks for her, it has given a green light to a six-story building across the street. "I feel like I don't matter because I don't have the million dollar wallet to change my window," she observes.
William Seixas provided a little more detail. A week after buying his home, he learned it was "historic" and that the Historic Commission would have to sign off on repairs to his garage door and window.
According to Seixas, who is himself an artist, the Historic Commission told him he needed an architect. So he hired Artefact, a Bethlehem architectural firm, which told him he needed before and after renderings. He claims they charged him $8,000 "and took all my money for renderings the City 'was supposed to have' of my house."
After Artefact allegedly took his money, Seixas decided to do his own renderings for the replacement of one of his three garage doors. The middle door is metal, and the other two are plywood, not even 3/4" inches thick. In its infinite wisdom, the Historic Commission told Seixas he'd have to replace the only secure door he had, the metal one, with wood.
"They don't care about the residents, but are giving Mr. Benner the ability to build this massive building on the corner of my block."
In fairness to the Bethlehem Historic Commission and Artefact, they were not at this meeting and might have something to say in response to Seixas. But Olga Negron-Dipini, who lives on the South Side, was upset by the way ordinary citizens are treated.
"To hear somebody say I couldn't even change my window because I wanted to follow the ordinance and don't have the money to change it, and we're going to allow somebody to break half of them? I find that disrespectful, to be honest. ... We might as well eliminate the ordinances. What are they there for? ... We talk about residents who own homes and can't change the window because of the ordinance? That's disrespectful."Of course it is. But Dennis Benner did not deny the Seixas' their right to fix their window or garage door.
That would be the Historic Commission.
What Seixas claims happened to his family in Bethlehem has also happened to a local business. In December, Third Street Tae Kwon Do school owner Lee Arnold locked horns with the South Side's Historic Commission over an angled sign he placed in front of his business to attract attention. Arnold claimed his business was being frustrated by a group of unelected officials, and the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match.
This have also gone on in Easton, where Barber Shop Plus owner Linda Coghlan was told she'd have to shell out $10,000 to replace the door to her business. At some point, it becomes ridiculous.
Windows and doors are a matter of public safety, especially in an urban environment. Snob zoners should have no say in those decisions. Let them confine themselves to aluminum siding.
What I find most disturbing about Seixas story, which he relayed to a Committee meeting of City Council, is the involvement of Artefact.
Christime Ussler, wo founded Artefact, is the City's Preservation Officer for the South Side Historical District. If her firm accepted money from Seixas, that would be a conflict of interest.
Also, City Council can grant a Certificate of Appropriateness after it has been denied by the Historic Commission. They are a recommending body only. But do Seixas or other property owners know this?