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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs Table Library Referendum, Hear V-7 Redevelopment Plan

Jim Broughal (L) and Mike Hudak (R)
I told you yesterday that Bethlehem Township's Commissioners want voters to decide whether to remain part of The Bethlehem Area Public Library. Earlier this month, they voted 4-0 (Tom Nolan was absent) to direct Solicitor Jim Broughal to prepare a question in time for the primary election. But last night, they voted unanimously to table the matter.

Initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy, but Pennsylvania law severely limits their use. Courts have directed county election boards to reject initiatives and referenda that seek advisory opinions from the public on controversial topics. In a memo to Commissioners before last night's meeting, Broughal explained that the Library Code limits referenda to these four matters: (1) levying a special tax for the establishment and maintenance of a local library; (2) remaining part of a county library when there is a pre-existing local library; (3) participation in a “district library center cooperative program;” and (4) a bond issue for the construction or purchase of a library building.

Only the first of these has any application to continued participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library, so Broughal came up with this question: "Do the voters of Bethlehem Township desire that the Board of Commissioners of Bethlehem Township levy a special tax on all taxable property within Bethlehem Township to be used exclusively for the establishment and maintenance of and aid to a local library?”

As pointed out here yesterday, what that question means is subject to numerous interpretations.

"I'll submit any question that the Commissioners vote on," said Broughal. But he warned that the Board of Elections could deny a referendum question outside of what is expressly authorized by the Library Code. "I'm stuck with the law.As bad as it is, that's what it is.

Hudak stated that the latest they can vote ion a question is at the first meeting in February because the cutoff with the Board of Elections is March 7.   He added that the intent of a referendum is "to let the voters decide" whether they wish to continue participating in Bethlehem Area Public Library, not how it should be funded. "There seems to be some confusion among our Board members here as to the intent of this referendum," he observed. He believes the question is misleading, and wanted to hear and said he'd abide by what voters think.

If Bethlehem Township does eventually opt out of Betlehem Area Public Library, all is not lost. A reader, Pippysqueek, commented yesterday that the Free Library of Philadelphia offers free membership to any Pennsylvania resident. It took me about three minutes to join.

A  sketch plan for the redevelopmentof the V-7
includes a movie theatre and a 24-hour gas station.
In other business, Commissioners reviewed a "sketch plan" for the redevelopment of the long-vacant V-7 golf range, a 17 -acre tract located along the southeast corner of William Penn Highway and Route 33.

Chrin is proposing a movie theatre, along with a 24-hour high end convenience store and gas station. He is also planning a bank, some office buildings and a restaurant. A tenant for the movie theatre have been found, but planners prefer to keep that confidential for now. He noted that there will be very high berms,some as high as 20', to shield residents to the east from the development.He added that the development would employ dark sky lighting to reduce light pollution.

Attorney Timothy Charlesworth, who represents Chrin in this endeavor, called it an adaptive re-use of a vacant commercial site. He noted that the Township's comprehensive plan emphasizes the rejuvenation of vacant commercial areas. He added that this development would be a benefit to the Township because it would realign Hope Road and include a traffic light. But a movie theatre is not a permitted use on the V-7 tract.

Tom Nolan noted that the comprehensive plan should be updated by April, and that's when he should seek a zoning change.

Malissa Davis suggested that the 24-hour gas station should be relocated to the western side of the tract, nearer to Route 33, to keep it away from residences along Hope Road.

Don Wright, a member of the Planning Commission, said he'd like to see the size of the parking lot reduced and more green space added.

Resident Roy Roth complained that the plan has no provisions for stormwater management, but Planning Director Nathan Jones responded that stormwater management would be an integral part of the planning process.

His son Barry was even more negative. "My personal feeling is we just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic from the original plan," he groused.

No formal action is taken on sketch plans. They are informational only.

In a final item of business, president Mike Hudak announced that a public hearing on Tradition of America's tentative plan for Green Pond Marsh will be conducted on February 22 at 6 pm. This tentative plan has been recommended by the Planning Commission.


Anonymous said...

"Chrin is proposing a movie theatre, along with a 24-hour high end convenience store and gas station."

What is a "high end convenience store and gas station"? A WaWa with chandeliers ?

Anonymous said...

You pave paradise and put up a parking lot then insert foot in mouth by saying you want more green space.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd rather have a low-end convenience store that sells inexpensive snacks along with gas pumps with lower prices.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to see a copy of the proposed Green Pond plan before the Feb. 27th session?

John said...

Perhaps the Chrin family could expand their plans to include a Bethlehem Area Public Library branch in the proposed development. A win-win for the family (kind of like what they did for Palmer) and in the highest tradition of philanthropy. At minimal cost to him since it's only incremental to the cost of the development.

As a retired librarian, I have both insight into the benefit of the impact of public libraries and the arguments people make against them. The suburban families of the township very reasonably believe that it's not an easy drive to or park at the main library. A bookmobile schedule is a poor substitute for a branch.

Personally, I'd co-locate a new branch with th BT Community Center. Great things happen when parks people and library people cooperate for the benefit of a municipality's children.

Anonymous said...

The movie theater business is in decline. Why would they want to build one when there is no demand? Gas station...good idea...the place will be a gold mine..but what in the world is a "high end convenience store" (oxymoron). No more banks (or drug stores, for that matter)! Restaurant....there's an open ended term...just look 1/4 mile to the south...there are nearly a dozen restaurants. Realign Hope Road?....with what?...the two 90 degree turns keep you from crashing into Southmont. Regardless of what is built commercially, it means more traffic in an already congested area.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The phrase "high end convenience store" is no oxymoron. High end convenience stores include chains like WaWa, Sheetz and Turkey Hill. There are also some independently run combo gas station and convenience stores. The idea of creating something a cut above the typical 7-11 first started in Japan, with konbinis. There are even songs about them. They have really caught on and are very popular. I have yet to visit a WaWa that is not always packed. They combine low gas prices with fast food of higher quality (and price) than you'll find at most other places.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is it possible to see a copy of the proposed Green Pond plan before the Feb. 27th session?"

You can always visit the municipal building and inspect the plans on file.

Anonymous said...

"There are even songs about them. They have really caught on and are very popular"
Bernie, when I think of you I break into song. I don't believe you are very popular though...

Anonymous said...

Really surprised by the movie theater idea due to the decline in the business. Most people I know in BT who still go to movies go to the one off 248 and that place is usually pretty empty even on the weekend.

Amy H said...

This might be a dumb question and off topic but why do some townships have their own school district (Salisbury township) but Bethlehem township uses Bethlehem School District?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Amy Very few townships have their own school district. Salisbury is one of those few and is a great school district. I know very little about school districts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I just saw his announcement, which is being republished in the Express Times. We are told he has tried dozens of cases and has represented over 1,000 people. I'd agree that is very impressive. My question is, "Were does he practice?" I have never seen him here, but attorneys who live in the slate belt often practice in Monroe County. So what firm is he with? I could not find it listed and the ET never bothered to ask in yet another sign of their journalistic abdication. I checked a little more and discovered Labar is a public defender.I think that's fine and know plenty of judges who served as public defenders in their time. But why couldn't he tell the public? That's basic dishonesty, right out of the gate. Sure that might cost him a few votes, but it's what an honest person does. Labar is running for a job that requires integrity and has already failed a basic test.

Anonymous said...

I understand. But it's like calling a hooker an escort in the hopes that someone thinks there's a difference.