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March 15, 2005 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 – 7:30 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President J. Michael Schweder called the meeting to order. Reverend Dr. Lloyd Steffen, Lehigh University Chaplain, offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Ismael Arcelay, Jean Belinski, Robert J. Donchez, Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Gordon B. Mowrer, Magdalena F. Szabo, and J. Michael Schweder, 7.
Prior to the consideration of the regular Agenda items, City Council conducted two Public Hearings.
First Public Hearing – Justice Assistance Grant - $34,997
President Schweder called to order the first Public Hearing to consider an application for a Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $34,997 for the Police Department.
A memorandum dated March 1, 2005 from Police Lieutenant Joseph Kimock was presented for the Public Hearing in which it was stated that the Police Department is applying for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $34,997 which grant replaces the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant. The money would be allocated to fund the Police bicycle unit, update computers and electronic equipment, and provide Police Officers to work overtime at the high school, middle schools, and parks. This is a joint application with the City of Easton that is receiving $26,780. The City of Bethlehem will be paid 10% to administer the grant.
Francis Donchez, Jr., Police Commissioner, affirmed that the Police Department is applying for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant which replaces the previous Local Law Enforcement Block Grant that the City has been receiving for about ten years. Police Commissioner Donchez confirmed the City is applying for a grant in the amount of $34,997. Police Commissioner Donchez explained that the City is issued an amount based on following the proper procedure to receive the grant monies. Police Commissioner Donchez explained that, under the prior Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, the grant money went to Northampton County, the County turned it down, the City of Bethlehem and the City of Easton were listed as disparate cities, and the money was apportioned accordingly based on part one criminal offenses. This year, the City of Bethlehem will receive $34,997 and the City of Easton will receive $26,780. Advising that both cities were listed as disparate cities, Police Commissioner Donchez affirmed that Northampton County is refusing their portion of the grant funding. In addition, Police Commissioner Donchez advised that the City of Bethlehem will be administering the grant on behalf of the City of Easton. For that service, the City of Bethlehem will receive 10% of the City of Easton’s grant as an administration fee that would be $2,678. Police Commissioner Donchez notified the assembly that the City of Bethlehem would like to apportion the money, as follows: $14,000 on computers that includes hardware, software, and electronic equipment; $10,000 for bicycle equipment that includes maintenance, bicycles, training, and uniforms for the Community Policing Division. In addition, Police Commissioner Donchez stated that funding in the amount of $8,170 would be used for overtime funding for the schools, a program that has been ongoing for several years and is very successful. An overtime Police Officer is stationed at each of the middle schools for an hour after school, and at Liberty High School for an hour after school. Police Commissioner Donchez continued on to say that $2,807 has been allotted for overtime to patrol the parks. Police Commissioner Donchez recalled that, under the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, the Department focused on Yosko Park. However, recently the program has been expanded to cover other parks where it is believed that Police presence is necessary, particularly during the summer.
Police Commissioner Donchez confirmed that the Public Hearing
is a requirement for obtaining the grant.
Mr. Donchez asked the length of the grant.
Police Commissioner Donchez, responding the City has two years to spend the grant money, advised there has been carryover in the previous Local Law Enforcement Block Grants.
Police Commissioner Donchez informed the Members that there is no matching requirement under the Justice Assistance Grant versus the previous Local Law Enforcement Block Grants that carried a 10% match. Police Commissioner Donchez, recounting that in 1997-1998 the City of Bethlehem was receiving approximately $70,000-$75,000 for the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, pointed out that Federal funding has been cut in numerous places, one of which is the Justice Assistance Grant.
Mr. Arcelay inquired what parks are targeted for the overtime funding.
Police Commissioner Donchez, replying all of them, explained it is based on a need basis depending on problem areas.
President Schweder stated the appropriate Resolution will be placed on a future City Council Agenda.
The first Public Hearing was adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
Second Public Hearing – Zoning Map Amendment – Union Boulevard/Center Street Vicinity – CB Commercial Business to RM – Residential and RT – Residential
President Schweder called to order the second Public Hearing to consider a request of the Planning Bureau to rezone property in the vicinity of Union Boulevard and Center Street from CB Commercial Business District to RM – Residential and RT – Residential Districts.
7 A. Lehigh Valley Planning Commission – Zoning Map
Amendment – Union Boulevard/Center
Street Vicinity – CB Commercial Business to RM – Residential and RT – Residential
The Clerk read a letter dated February 24, 2005 from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission in which it was stated that the Comprehensive Planning Committee at the February 22, 2005 meeting considered the proposed rezonings and found them to be matters of local concern only, and voted to offer no comments in their regard. It was further stated that the comments are subject to ratification at the Commission’s March 31, 2005 meeting.
Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, explained that the intent of the rezoning proposal is to eliminate the non-conformities that exist in the area and to improve and help to preserve the quality of the neighborhoods on these blocks. Noting that City Council did receive a copy of the correspondence forwarded to the Planning Commission, Ms. Heller confirmed that the Planning Commission recommended approval of the proposal at their meeting in October 2004. Focusing on the purpose of the CB – Commercial Business District zone, Ms. Heller read it is to provide for an orderly, coordinated development of various commercial, business, and office uses in combination with limited, intensive residential development. Ms. Heller noted that, in looking at the blocks proposed to be rezoned, they are strictly residential. There are about 140 properties in the area proposed to be rezoned, and 3 commercial properties within that area. As a result, Ms. Heller stated it is clearly overwhelmingly residential, and it does not meet the purpose of the CB zone. Ms. Heller, affirming that the rezoning proposal includes several blocks, as noted on the map, reviewed why the proposal is before City Council. Ms. Heller, observing that many of the residential properties in the CB zone are non-conforming, affirmed that residential uses are allowed in the CB zone and advised that single family properties are not permitted. Ms. Heller pointed out that rezoning them to a residential district would bring them into conformity. Another reason is that a goal of the City is to limit conversion of single family homes surrounding the downtown. The City is trying to promote home ownership in several areas. In the areas where conversions have been seen in the past, the City is strongly trying to promote single family owner occupancy. In conjunction with this, the City is moving ahead with north side planning under its Elm Street planning grant to look at those neighborhoods as well as others that surround the downtowns. Ms. Heller said that, typically, owner occupancy and housing stability is an important issue in these neighborhoods. Highlighting the fact that Bethlehem has a significant amount of land already zoned either commercial or downtown commercial compared to other cities its size, Ms. Heller affirmed there are two downtowns, East and West Broad Streets are commercial, a substantial amount of retail and commercial will be seen in the Bethlehem Works area, and on East Fourth Street the commercial area is being nurtured. In addition, Linden Street and Stefko Boulevard have commercial areas, and a commercial corridor has just been created on Schoenersville Road. Reemphasizing there is a substantial amount of commercial and retail districts in the City, Ms. Heller stressed that those areas need to be supported. Consequently, Ms. Heller advised that, on blocks such as in the area proposed to be rezoned that are already clearly residential, they should be zoned residential so that as new businesses come into the City they are locating on the blocks where the City wants them to locate. Ms. Heller, continuing on to say the zoning district was created close to 30 years ago, explained at that time planning was moving in different directions. Denoting that urban renewal was a big part of planning at that time, Ms. Heller affirmed that is no longer done. Currently, there is more emphasis on preservation, adaptive reuse, and infill that suggests the City should be maintaining the housing stock the way it is and improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods on those blocks.
Ms. Heller, turning to the map, informed the assembly that the areas shown in blue are zoned CB, and the areas shown in orange surrounding it are residential. Ms. Heller pointed to Broad Street, and noted the red piece is the CG zoning that extends on East Broad Street. Noting the RM and RT zoning districts, Ms. Heller affirmed that RM is the highest density residential use, and RT is the second highest. Ms. Heller explained that the Bureau looked at the areas that are strictly commercial, and the transition areas on the block. Pointing to Broad Street and North Street, Ms. Heller stated that the northern edge of the CB zone is Union Boulevard. The commercial zoning was maintained on Broad Street, Main Street, and New Street that are substantially commercial. She observed that North Street also has quite a bit of commercial, including the North Street parking garage that provides parking opportunities for the properties that do not have parking lots. Highlighting the fact that the other key difference between CB and any other zoning district in the City is that parking is not required in the CB zone, Ms. Heller stressed that severely impacts the residential areas and is another reason to rezone it to a residential zoning district. Advising that Center Street is substantially residential in nature, Ms. Heller observed that the blocks off Garrison Street and North Street feel very residential as one walks along those streets. Stating there are three blocks that are commercial, Ms. Heller enumerated one is on Center Street where a Community Police Officer is stationed at the corner of Center Street and Garrison Street, further south on Center Street is a massage office, at the corner of School and North Street there is a storefront on the first floor and residences above, a video store, and professional office. Ms. Heller continued on to inform the assembly that west of New Street a small piece of Union Boulevard is proposed to be rezoned to RM so that the rest of the block on Garrison Street is contiguous with the RM zoning above. Otherwise, Union Boulevard remains zoned Commercial. For the properties that face either North Street or Garrison Street, Ms. Heller advised they were included in the rezoning proposal. Along New Street, only the properties that actually front on New Street were retained. The same thing was done with the properties fronting on Garrison Street on the west side.
Ms. Szabo asked why the change is only on the west side of Center Street and not on the east side.
Ms. Heller, noting the yellow is residential on the east side, advised the zoning boundary goes down the center of Center Street. She affirmed to Ms. Szabo that the blue is zoned CB.
Ms. Szabo, focusing on the corner of Garrison Street and Main Street, from Main Street up to Masslich Street alley, asked why that area is not included down to Main Street.
Ms. Heller responded that the Bureau did not include anything on Main Street since it is felt that Main Street is a commercial corridor up to Union Boulevard and should remain that way. Ms. Heller added that north of Union Boulevard it is already zoned residential.
Ms. Szabo, turning to the area of Garrison Street to Main Street and a vacant property, asked why that was not included.
Ms. Heller, replying the Bureau chose not to include anything
in the residential district on Main Street, affirmed that
Main Street up to Union Boulevard was left commercial. In
addition, Ms. Heller explained that, for each of the main
corridors of Main Street, New Street, and Broad Street, the
Bureau chose not to take a look at changing any of the zoning
since it was felt those are commercial corridors that the
City wanted to support. Acknowledging that even on New Street
there is a mix of uses, Ms. Heller restated the Bureau thought
there were enough commercial uses to support the fact that
they are commercial corridors.
Ms. Szabo queried whether the two sections for which zoning changes are being requested are broken up by commercial.
Ms. Heller replied they are broken up by New Street. Ms. Heller, in further response to Ms. Szabo noted that Union Boulevard is the northern boundary of the CB zone and divides CB and residential. Ms. Heller, explaining the Bureau wanted to eliminate non-conformity, said the residential uses are non-conforming in CB but the Bureau did not want to create a number of non-conformities either. Consequently, it was attempted to leave as many of the commercial uses intact as possible.
President Schweder, focusing on the area where RT comes between Center Street and New Street, queried whether the Historic District comes up to the middle of the next block going north, and asked where does the Historic District end.
Ms. Heller expressed she does not believe the south side of Broad Street is included in the Historic District. In further response to President Schweder, Ms. Heller pointed on the map to Broad Street and the alley behind, and Market Street. Mrs. Belinski contended that Main Street to Guetter Street on the south side of Broad Street is in the Historic District.
President Schweder observed there is a very small buffer that will be allowed to become all commercial. President Schweder communicated that, if the Historic District comes up as far as it is thought, there then is a small buffer between that and Broad Street. President Schweder noted not all the homes that would be zoned commercial on Main Street between North Street and Union Boulevard are in fact commercial and there is at least one residential home. Ms. Heller affirmed that is right. Ms. Heller further confirmed to President Schweder that home would not change and would remain CB. President Schweder recalled that one of the great concerns before City Council about six or seven years ago was the fear of having the same thing happen on Main Street, that is not being protected now, that happened in South Bethlehem which was that the entire block was going to be ripped down for commercial use for a major drug store to be built. President Schweder continued on to recall that was preserved because one woman refused to sell her property. President Schweder observed “we, in fact, are moving this closer, we’re taking a section out of it, but we aren’t protecting that block, or those homes there.” President Schweder communicated that if RM was going to be moved as far as it was into that block why would it not have been extended to any other residential property that comes down to Main Street. Ms. Heller, replying “we felt that the corridors should remain commercial”, continued on to say “if there’s other protections that we need to create to eliminate some chain coming in then we can look at that. But, we did feel that they were commercial corridors, and we wanted to support that. Rather than creating some kind of a toothy line there or a jagged line there, we felt there were enough commercial uses in there.” President Schweder noted the Bureau did not seem to have a problem with that coming down New Street. Ms. Heller advised that everything fronting on New Street remains commercial as does everything on Main Street. Ms. Heller added “we think there’s enough in there that warrants it remaining commercial.” President Schweder thought this leads the City back to where it was six weeks ago that is this entire zoning map is in serious need of repair. Observing that the Bureau may be improving things here, President Schweder communicated that the review of the entire zoning map is needed. Expressing his appreciation for what Ms. Heller is doing and for what the people in neighborhood are talking about and agreeing it is certainly an improvement, President Schweder expressed “this is how we get into the situation we are now. In 35 years without looking at this, and now we just keep changing boundaries as we move along.” Ms. Heller, noting a lot of work goes into these proposals, advised that the Bureau walked the boundaries with the Planning Commission, it was before the Planning Commission more than once, and the Bureau has been in front of the neighborhood groups. President Schweder, affirming he does not question any of that, explained that in talking to people on the Zoning Hearing Board they are very concerned that this system is close to being broken, and this needs to be addressed on a City-wide perspective. Ms. Heller, acknowledging she does not think anyone disagrees that the Zoning Ordinance needs to be revamped, stated that the Bureau has been taking a good, close look at a lot of substantial areas in the City. She continued on to say when this is done, a lot of non-conformities are eliminated. The Zoning Ordinance and Map are made more compatible with the existing uses which is what the Bureau is trying to do. Ms. Heller, noting the Bureau has spent a lot of time on the proposal and has talked with a lot of the property owners, expressed it may seem piecemeal but in the last few years a lot more zoning amendments have come before City Council than in many years prior to that. President Schweder commented that is part of the problem from the perspective of the people serving on the Zoning Hearing Board who feel that should not be necessary and there should be a way of looking at it. President Schweder, while noting what is being requested is probably right, observed it should be expanded. Ms. Heller advised “we went back and forth on that quite a bit with business owners, and with the Planning Commission, and we really felt that there are enough commercial uses, even on North Street in this area, that we just did not see the value in creating that many non-conforming uses.”
Ms. Szabo, turning to the property between the alley and Main Street, asked why there is one small shelf left. Ms. Heller replied it is because it fronts on North Street and is part of the face of North Street, and anything that faced Garrison or North Streets was proposed to be rezoned. Ms. Heller continued on to advise what faced the main corridors was proposed to remain commercial. Ms. Szabo pointed out there is a lot of zig-zag lines. Ms. Heller, acknowledging that the Planning Commission had some concerns about that as well, explained until one walks the area it is hard to know exactly what is there. When the Bureau walked the area with the Planning Commission members, they agreed this was the best way to approach it.
Ms. Szabo asked if the proposal is based strictly on what is there today and allowances are being made with the zig-zag lines or what is there today without the thought of what is going to happen ten or fifteen years from now. Ms. Heller, communicating this is why the proposal is before City Council, explained “we are trying to look forward and I think you’ll hear from some of the residents that live in the area. We really are trying to preserve the residential feel that’s there, and we don’t want to allow encroachment of commercial uses into those areas.” Ms. Szabo queried would it not be better to make the straight line stay instead of jutting around properties and say this is a grandfathered use, but in the future it will be residential. Ms. Heller, stating “we certainly can do that”, continued on to explain “we felt that leaving the main corridors commercial was really the best way to go because there is enough commercial use there to support that. And, we felt that we really weren’t gaining anything by creating other non-conformities. The purpose of it really was to eliminate non-conformities.”
Walter Long, 635 Center Street, noted when he purchased the property in 1977 there were two commercial establishments in the immediate area: Manny’s Service Station, and an inactive tombstone business behind his house. Mr. Long advised that, since 1977, those two businesses have departed, and seven new businesses have moved into the immediate area. He enumerated there are three home improvement businesses, a video and carpet store, a Certified Public Accountant, and a massage parlor. Mr. Long commented he can have no quarrel with that influx of businesses because they have come in under the current zoning. Mr. Long stated it would be his hope, however, that City Council would endorse the recommendation for the rezoning of the specified areas so that there would be no further encroachment of businesses into what is clearly a majority of residential area. Mr. Long, saying he has no desire to move, expressed he loves where he lives. However, Mr. Long stressed he has no desire either to be surrounded by commercial establishments further encroaching on the area, changing the nature of the area, and further complicating the already difficult parking situation for those who have no garages and no off-street parking.
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, said he does not live in the area but grew up there, and has an interest in urban life and good planning. Mr. Scheirer expressed his support of the zoning map amendment proposed by the Planning Bureau, and approved by the Planning Commission and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commissions, that would change portions of the CB district in center city to RM and RT. Mr. Scheirer felt this rezoning makes sense because the area is mostly residential, the City does not need it as a commercial area, and rezoning this area to residential would encourage more residential investment. Mr. Scheirer said, at a meeting of the Planning Commission, a lawyer for one of the property owners stated that “we should let the market decide.” Mr. Scheirer stated he would submit that the market has already decided. He continued on to say “this area has been zoned commercial since 1970 and is still largely residential. The commercial market has decided that it does not really want to be there. In addition, there will still be substantial areas zoned commercial on Broad Street, New Street, Main Street, North Street, and Union Boulevard, even though some of these areas are also more residential than commercial.” Mr. Scheirer expressed that, on top of this, he agrees with its developers that the former Bethlehem Steel property will become the commercial center of the City. Mr. Scheirer thought there will be even less commercial demand in the area to be rezoned than there has been since 1970. He noted that existing commercial uses and commercial uses for which plans have been timely filed would be grandfathered. He added that other nonconforming uses would be ruled out, meaning that the property as a commercial property would be worth less. Communicating this is admittedly not totally fair, Mr. Scheirer questioned “but how fair was it in 1970 when hundreds of residential property owners were told that, because of rezoning, a commercial use could appear next door, maybe even a restaurant or a bar. Their properties certainly became less valuable as residences. Rezoning regrettably sometimes involves winners and losers. This unfortunately is one of those cases. But the winners are far more numerous here than the losers. And while two wrongs don't make a right, righting a wrong is the right thing to do.” Mr. Scheirer noted another argument has been made that single family homes are being converted into apartments, that this is evidence of deficient residential interest, and that the area should therefore remain commercial. However, Mr. Scheirer observed that such conversions into apartments may only demonstrate the effect of zoning a residential area commercial, because there will be less single family investment when a bar could appear next door. He added that renters, who are more mobile, do not care about this nearly as much. Mr. Scheirer remarked, “if you ever want to convert homes into apartments, just take a single family residential area and zone it commercial.” Mr. Scheirer, asserting that the residents of this area have been living in residential uncertainty long enough, stated that City Council should approve this rezoning because it is best for the City as a whole.
William Fitzpatrick, 732 Center Street, expressed his support of the rezoning proposal. Mr. Fitzpatrick advised that he serves as captain of the Neighbors on Watch Block Watch that operates in a large portion of the area recommended to be rezoned. Mr. Fitzpatrick communicated what is under discussion is to have zoning truly reflect what is the character of the area and the neighborhoods. Mr. Fitzpatrick continued on to say, beyond that, for the citizens who live there it is a matter of quality of life. With rather indiscriminate development of apartments that have previously been single family residences, Mr. Fitzpatrick explained there has been an increase in parking and density problems which are beginning to overwhelm the neighborhoods, and in many cases have led to a less than favorable appearance and upkeep of the properties. Mr. Fitzpatrick stated it is strongly felt that a deconversion of the units would be advantageous to the City as the business district on Broad Street continues to develop and grow. Mr. Fitzpatrick pointed out it would be the residents who would provide the pedestrian traffic so necessary to support the businesses on Broad Street, typical to the businesses that had been there prior to 1973 and before. Mr. Fitzpatrick, saying he would suggest the rezoning at that time was done when Broad Street was blocked off, and with the presumption of what the market would see, expressed his agreement with Mr. Scheirer that the market has spoken on this matter. Mr. Fitzpatrick strongly urged City Council to help protect the residents and the neighbors in and around this area and support this.
Dennis Connell stated he is an architect with a business in a residence located at 715 North New Street. Mr. Connell thought the general concept of rezoning the area is the right way to go. However, he thought a perspective in regard to what is left of the Central Business District along New Street is an important consideration as well. Mr. Connell said the area from West North Street to West Garrison Street along the west side of New Street contains six individual properties of which he owns four, and previously owned five. Mr. Connell informed the assembly the reason why he made this significant investment over the years is because of the Central Business District. Expressing that the scope or the nature of the development taking place on the South Side with commercial developments and parking behind is an important consideration to effectively develop the block of North New Street, Mr. Connell thought it is essential that parking be provided as a component. Mr. Connell advised his concern with the rezoning is two properties located at 11 and 15 West Garrison Street. Mr. Connell continued on to say the properties he owns at 715, 717, and 719 North New Street are only 90 feet deep. If the property located at 11 West Garrison is rezoned Residential, the opportunity to acquire that property and develop parking behind the New Street addresses with access to Garrison Street rather than North Street becomes much more complicated because development would take place across two different zoning districts. Mr. Connell further expressed his concern that if the property at 15 West Garrison Street is rezoned Residential then the properties that he currently owns will be subjected to the buffer yard requirements that almost eliminate the possibility to develop parking behind a commercial or mixed use development on North New Street. Mr. Connell said that, although he does not oppose the general concept of rezoning the area because he agrees with the previous speaker that the nature of the area has not changed, his concern specifically relates to what impact does it have on what is left of the commercial area, and specifically the properties in which he has invested.
Robin Ingaro, 31 East North Street, commenting she cannot say it better than anyone else has, said she would like to remind City Council that it would be a wonderful idea to rezone the area.
Carrie Blake, 47 East Garrison Street, said she would like to know if there could be a less dense zoning area. Noting she has learned that RT and RM was not desired for the South Side, Ms. Blake said she was wondering why it would be wanted for her neighborhood. Remarking on the density in the area and the fact that the zoning has not been changed in 35 years, Ms. Blake felt the most should be made of the opportunity if the zoning is to be changed to get a better zoning classification. Ms. Blake asked if a business could be established in RT and RM zoning districts by variance.
Ms. Heller, noting that a business could be established anywhere by variance, explained a variance would have to be obtained from the Zoning Hearing Board by showing hardship, and it is a difficult thing to get.
Ms. Blake, stating that a temporary or overnight shelter is allowed in an RM zone, wondered whether that is a homeless shelter or bed and breakfast establishment.
Ms. Heller affirmed that a bed and breakfast establishment is a different use, and communicated that a temporary or overnight shelter is a shelter.
Ms. Blake asked what are the allowed in-home businesses in a residential zone.
Ms. Heller, advising she does not have the Zoning Ordinance at the meeting, noted she can review Ms. Blake’s specific questions at any time. Ms. Heller added that the same in-home businesses that are allowed in any zoning district would be allowed.
Ms. Blake questioned whether the area would be rezoned again when the entire City is rezoned.
Ms. Heller indicated that the areas being rezoned now would not need to be rezoned again.
Ms. Blake, recalling that the original area proposed to be rezoned had been larger and included East Union Boulevard and West Garrison Street on the north side, wondered why those areas were taken out.
Ms. Heller, advising there were several discussions with the Planning Commission, explained that the Bureau wanted to eliminate the creation of non-conformities. There are several commercial businesses along the east side of Union Boulevard, and on the west side of New Street that were removed from the proposal.
Ms. Blake said she would like a less dense change if there is going to be a change.
Ms. Heller explained that the proposal expands the existing residential districts. Acknowledging there is dense development there now, Ms. Heller noted the Bureau is trying to eliminate non-conformities. Consequently, a residential district that is not dense would not be proposed because there is dense development there now. She continued on to say it is proposed to have residential districts that are believed to be the most compatible with the existing development.
Ms. Heller informed Ms. Blake that the rezoning on the South Side was done in the area of South Mountain because there are areas that are heavily wooded and for environmental issues. The corridor areas of the South Side are zoned RM that is the same as most of the area in question.
Ms. Blake queried whether it would be easier to eliminate the turning of single and double family homes into apartments.
Ms. Heller, affirming it would be easier to stop that, pointed out that parking would be required to be provided in Residential zoning districts if conversions were requested versus the present CB zoning where parking is not required to be provided.
President Schweder stated that the appropriate Ordinance will be placed on the April 5, 2005 City Council Agenda for First Reading.
The second Public Hearing was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.
4. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The minutes of March 1, 2005 were approved.
5. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (for public comment on ordinances and resolutions to be voted on by Council this evening)
6. OLD BUSINESS
Inspections at Lehigh University and Moravian College
Ms. Szabo recalled that for over three years she has been trying to get interest in inspecting the Lehigh University and Moravian College fraternities. Ms. Szabo related she had been told there was no need for it, there was nothing in the budget to hire an additional inspector, and it would be a hardship on the Department. Ms. Szabo informed the assembly that today she found out that Lehigh University has finally taken the bull by the horn and asked for inspections. Ms. Szabo, continuing on to point out that the students themselves have complained to the Health Bureau and elsewhere, communicated she is pleased to be able to say “I told you so.” Ms. Szabo noted that not only did the Health Bureau inspect these fraternity houses but also the Fire Department inspectors have gone through the building and new sprinkler systems will be put in as well as other things that the Fire Department has declared necessary. Ms. Szabo expressed her understanding is that the Inspections Bureau has had some input with the administration and students at Lehigh University. Ms. Szabo remarked that her greatest fear has always been that there would be a major fire and court cases, and the danger to life.
Recreation Coordinator – Update Report
Mr. Arcelay asked if he could get a report from the Recreation Coordinator to provide an update on what he has been doing, and what are his plans.
Mayor Callahan, affirming he receives a weekly update, stated he would be happy to pass it on. Mayor Callahan noted he did see Mr. Arcelay’s correspondence to Mrs. Belinski requesting an update for the Parks and Public Property Committee.
Mrs. Belinski, Chairwoman of the Parks and Public Property Committee, advised that quarterly updates are expected on what the Recreation Coordinator is doing.
B. Grants Coordinator – Section 8 Income Limits
The Clerk read a memorandum dated February 28, 2005 from Stacy C. Milo, Grants Coordinator, to which was attached the latest revised household income limits for Housing and Community Development related activities. This data is important because it is used to determine program benefits according to the federal statutory intent of the Housing and Community Development Act. Resolution No. 12,638, passed by City Council on March 18, 1997, states that the Administration is required to notify City Council whenever these Public Housing/Section 8 Income Limits are revised.
President Schweder stated that this item is for information only.
D. Council Member Leeson – City Council Oversight of Intermunicipal Fund Transfers
The Clerk read a memorandum dated March 3, 2005 from Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Member of Council, to which was attached a proposed new Ordinance that would require City Council’s review and approval of fund transfers exceeding $5,000 between the City and the Bethlehem Authority, Bethlehem Parking Authority, or the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority.
President Schweder referred the matter to the Finance Committee.
E. Director of Planning and Zoning – Resolution for Traffic Study Escrows and Recreation Fees
The Clerk read a memorandum dated March 11, 2005 from Darlene L. Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, to which was attached a proposed resolution outlining escrow fees for traffic studies to be included in a Resolution that accompanies the SALDO Ordinance amendment for procedures and requirements for traffic studies for future subdivisions and land developments. In addition, it was requested that the vote on the recreation fee provisions of the SALDO Ordinance amendment be postponed at this time to review the extent to which formerly adopted plans by City Council comply with the MPC requirement for a formal recreation plan.
President Schweder advised that an amendment will be considered under Bill 14; and that the Resolution will be placed on the April 5 City Council Agenda.
8 . REPORTS
A. President of Council
C. Public Works Committee
Mr. Mowrer, Chairman of the Public Works Committee, presented an oral report of the Committee’s meeting that was held March 15, 2005 prior to the City Council Meeting, on the following subject: Strategic Plan – Responses to Questions and Update.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
A. Bill No. 14 – 2005 – Amending Article 1347 – Recreation Fees and Traffic Impact Studies
The Clerk read Bill No. 14 – 2005, Amending Article 1347 – Recreation Fees and Traffic Impact Studies, on Final Reading.
Amendment to Bill No. 14 – 2005
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored the following Amendment:
1. That the Title of Bill No. 14 – 2005 which reads as follows:
AN ORDINANCE AMENDING ARTICLE 1347 OF THE
SUBDIVISION AND DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE OF THE
CITY OF BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA, AS AMENDED,
BY AMENDING SECTION 1347.10 ENTITLED DEDICATION
OF PARKS AND PLAYGROUNDS AND ADDING A NEW
SECTION 1347.14 ENTITLED TRAFFIC IMPACT STUDIES.
shall be amended to read as follows:
AN ORDINANCE AMENDING ARTICLE 1347 OF THE
SUBDIVISION AND DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE OF THE
CITY OF BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA, AS AMENDED,
BY ADDING A NEW SECTION 1347.14 ENTITLED
TRAFFIC IMPACT STUDIES.
2. That SECTION 1. of Bill No. 14 – 2005 shall be deleted.
3. That the subsequent Sections of Bill No. 14 – 2005 shall be renumbered.
4. That SECTION 1. shall be amended to add paragraph 1347.14 (b) (6) to read as follows:
(6) The City will ensure that the selected consulting Traffic
Engineer for any project does not have a prior professional
relationship with the applicant of the land development or
subdivision plan or a prior professional relationship with
the Traffic Engineer that prepared the traffic study for the
Voting AYE on the Amendment: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Amendment passed.
Voting AYE on Bill No. 14, as Amended: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 14 – 2005, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 4316, was declared adopted.
B. Bill No. 15 – 2005 – Amending General Fund Budget – South Side Recreation and Health Bureau Programs, and Music in the Park
The Clerk read Bill No. 15 – 2005, Amending General Fund Budget – South Side Recreation and Health Bureau Programs, and Music in the Park, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 15 – 2005, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 4317, was declared adopted.
C. Bill No. 16 – 2005 – Amending Non-Utility Capital Budget – Illick’s Mill, Skate Park, and Year-End Adjustments
The Clerk read Bill No. 16 – 2005, Amending Non-Utility Capital Budget – Illick’s Mill, Skate Park, and Year-End Adjustments, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 16 – 2005, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 4318, was declared adopted.
D. Bill No. 17 – 2005 – Amending Community Development Budget – Year-End Adjustments
The Clerk read Bill No. 17 – 2005 – Amending Community Development Budget – Year-End Adjustments, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. Bill No. 17 – 2005, hereafter to be known as Ordinance 4319, was declared adopted.
10. NEW ORDINANCES
Considering Resolutions 11 A through 11 E as a Group
Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski moved to consider Resolutions 11 A through 11 E as a group.
Voting AYE on the motion: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
A. Certificate of Appropriateness – 525 Pine Street
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,582
that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the
sidewalk at 525 Pine Street.
B. Certificate of Appropriateness – 530 East Fourth Street
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,583
that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to change the
copy on an existing box sign at 530 East Fourth Street.
C. Certificate of Appropriateness – 813-815 East Fourth Street
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,584
that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to renovate
the façade at 813-815 East Fourth Street.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 225 East Fourth Street
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,585
that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install 3
panel antennae at 225 East Fourth Street.
E. Certificate of Appropriateness – 128-136 Graham Place
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Leeson sponsored Resolution 14,586 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to revise the design of the addition at 128-136 Graham Place.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 11 A through 11 E: Mr. Arcelay, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolutions passed.
12. NEW BUSINESS
Hirko Case Settlement – Compliance
Mr. Leeson advised that he received a telephone call from Elliott Grossman of the Morning Call about the Hirko case settlement who wanted to know if City Council received any recent update about the City’s compliance with the terms of the settlement beyond the payment issues. Mr. Leeson, noting he had indicated that City Council had not received a recent update and he would request one, asked Francis Donchez, Police Commissioner, if a brief update could be provided this evening.
Francis Donchez, Police Commissioner, affirming that he spoke with President Schweder before the meeting, said it will be in written form before the end of the week. Police Commissioner Donchez, focusing on the $5 million grant that the City was required to make a good faith effort to obtain, advised the City was unable to find a $5 million grant in order to provide training in civil rights. Police Commissioner Donchez further advised he has an exhaustive list prepared by Police Lieutenant Kimock, the Department’s grants coordinator, of the sources he checked that will be supplied to City Council. Police Commissioner Donchez, turning to CALEA, informed the Members that the Department is well into the process of the CALEA certification and the Department will be certified by December 2006. He added that the report to City Council will include a list of what has been completed, what remains to be completed, and a timeframe for completion. Police Commissioner Donchez advised that, by March 2006, the Department would like to have a mock assessment where CALEA assessors would be brought in to see if the City passes muster at that point. If not, the Department would have until the end of June to make necessary changes, by the end of June 2006 the Department would have the real assessment team come in, and by December the Department would be awarded the CALEA certification. Police Commissioner Donchez further advised that several training courses were conducted for the Department, one of which was the executive session in January, ethics training through the Pennsylvania Policing Institute, use of force training, and volunteers in police service training will be coming up. Police Commissioner Donchez stated he will supply City Council with a list of courses and content. Police Commissioner Donchez affirmed that he spoke with Mr. Grossman this morning, along with the Mayor and the City Solicitor.
State Grant for Sidewalk and Safety Improvements
President Schweder, turning to the State grant given to the City last week when the Governor visited, noted it was for safety improvements around Nitschmann Middle School and sidewalks on Linden Street. President Schweder asked if Mayor Callahan could share the specifics of the grant.
Mayor Callahan confirmed that the City was awarded $248,000 from the State as part of the Safe Routes to School program. The funding will go towards replacing the sidewalks on the 1100 block of Linden Street to provide a safe route for Spring Garden School and Bethlehem Catholic High School students and for pedestrian safety in general. Mayor Callahan highlighted the fact that the corridor was identified by PennDot as a hazardous pedestrian route. Recalling there were six properties that did not have sidewalks in the area, Mayor Callahan communicated that funding will go towards sidewalk installations. Mayor Callahan advised the second project will involve removing the pedestrian walkway that goes overhead above the Route 378 interchange on Eighth Avenue. Stressing he does not know that he has ever seen anyone on the overhead pedestrian bridge, Mayor Callahan restated the overhead walkway would be removed and something would be done that is much more practical in terms of pedestrian safety. Mayor Callahan said the City wants to implement those pedestrian improvements along with the overall improvements along the Eighth Avenue corridor in conjunction with the final approvals, and completion of the appeals process of the rezoning of the former Durkee property, that will cost upwards of about $2 million. Mayor Callahan affirmed that some of the grant dollars will go towards improving the pedestrian area along Eighth Avenue.
Ms. Heller added there is a Citizens Traffic Advisory Committee that worked with the Health Bureau on several projects involving pedestrian safety, and the two enumerated by the Mayor were high on the list.
Michael Alkhal, Director of Public Works, noted that the much debated sidewalks on Linden Street comprise six properties in the 2000 block of Linden Street that would cost about $30,000 to install. He noted the bulk of the funding is for removal of the pedestrian overpass on Eighth Avenue.
President Schweder observed nothing else would be done on Eighth Avenue except the removal of the overhead pedestrian walkway.
Mr. Alkhal replied the bulk of the funding will go towards removing the overpass, while some of the remaining pedestrian issues will be addressed as part of the development of the former Durkee plant site. Mr. Alkhal, in further response to President Schweder, affirmed the City is not relinquishing the agreement with the developers to do that work. Mr. Alkhal explained that, after removal of the overhead pedestrian walkway, there will be a walkway on both sides of Eighth Avenue so that pedestrians can walk from Schoenersville Road to Union Boulevard with signals and crosswalks.
Mr. Alkhal confirmed to President Schweder that the grant will pay for the installation of sidewalks in the stated areas on Linden Street. President Schweder queried whether there is concern about any precedents being set. Agreeing that the question about precedent is a good one, Mr. Alkhal observed the situation could be unique enough to be justified for use of a grant because the school is located there. Mayor Callahan added it is also a State highway.
Mrs. Belinski, noting it had been stated the situation was dangerous for children walking south to Spring Garden School, recounted her contention is, if those six homeowners were forced at that time to put in sidewalks south of the school, then what about the children who live in the townhouses on the same side as Spring Garden School since there is no sidewalk there. She stressed it is just as dangerous for them to walk on that side and the School itself only has a pavement half way down.
Ms. Heller explained it is not being suggested that every sidewalk safety hazard is being eliminated with the grant. Ms. Heller advised this is a very specific grant program for addressing issues in safe routes to schools. Ms. Heller noted the City is reviewing other areas where sidewalk safety needs to be addressed.
Mr. Arcelay, focusing on the area where Stefko Boulevard and Pembroke Road intersect, asked if it is City property at the triangle. Mr. Alkhal replied he believes it is. Mr. Arcelay, stating he became aware of the situation at the location this weekend, stressed the sidewalks are so bad that when it snows or there is a flooding condition, children have to walk in the street. Mr. Arcelay asked whether there is an allocation to fix the problem.
Mayor Callahan noted that the Citizens Traffic Advisory Committee is chaired by the Health and Traffic Bureaus and comprised of citizens and several City Hall employees, and the Committee reviews pedestrian and traffic safety issues. Mayor Callahan communicated that the concerns about the area can be brought up before the Committee.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Rail Line – South Bethlehem
William Hubbard, 27 West Washington Avenue, noted that Mr. Pease could not be in attendance this evening so he is also speaking on Mr. Pease’s behalf. Mr. Hubbard advised he has also contacted the National Association of Railroad Passengers about this matter and would like to speak on their behalf, and added the association would support maintaining the right of way along the Norfolk Southern rail line in South Bethlehem the entire 3.7 miles from the end of SEPTA ownership in Hellertown to the Union Station in Bethlehem. Turning to the March 1, 2005 City Council Meeting minutes, Mr. Hubbard noted it states that the City is only negotiating with Norfolk Southern Railroad for the property to the east of the Lynn Avenue Bridge, added that he thought it should state to the west, because that is all that the Railroad would allow the City to negotiate with them. Mr. Hubbard said his understanding is this is a result of an abandonment application, docket number AB859, and believed the document indicates that the railroad is abandoning the entire right of way rather than segments of it. Mr. Hubbard continued on to express his belief that Mr. Hanna stated it is one lot, that is, one separate tax parcel, and asked if that is right. Mr. Hubbard communicated if the City is going to get less than 3.7 miles there would have to be a property subdivision. Mr. Hubbard said it is also his understanding that when a railroad makes such an abandonment the property follows a certain series of people who have put “dibs” on it. He continued on to say the first dibs was to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) that owns the property all the way to Hellertown, the first 53 miles of a 56.7 mile route. When the other property was achieved for abandonment it by law had to be offered first to SEPTA and that was done two years ago. The Ridge administration was in office in Pennsylvania at that time and advised SEPTA it would not provide any funding to buy the route. Noting the second dibs is the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA), Mr. Hubbard said he does not know that anyone other than he asked LANTA to buy it. Tony Hanna, Director of Community and Economic Development, advised “they passed”. Mr. Hubbard, pointing out the next dibs is the City, observed the railroad is required by law to offer the entire right of way.
Tony Hanna, Director of Community and Economic Development, commented that technically the railroad has not officially abandoned the right of way at this point. Explaining that the railroad filed with the STB that has given the railroad a provisional extension of service, Mr. Hanna stated the final abandonment papers have not been filed. A recent statement from the STB indicated that the STB is giving the railroad an additional year to finalize the abandonment process. Mr. Hanna pointed out the other issue in terms of the suspension/provisional abandonment is that the railroad has done nothing with the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission that is a bit of a problem for the City in terms of final disposition of the right of way. Mr. Hanna advised that Norfolk Southern indicated they were going to retain ownership of the large parcel and use it for industrial development purposes. Mr. Hanna confirmed to Mr. Hubbard that large parcel is Saucon Yard. Mr. Hubbard queried whether that is a separate subdivision from the approximately 60 ft. wide right of way. Mr. Hanna commented “they would have to deal with the City and subdivide that off, but that’s part of the negotiations…It’s not one tax parcel…That particular parcel moving east of Lynn Avenue, a portion of it is on one significant tax parcel. There may be several others in terms of smaller parcels moving east. Moving west of Lynn Avenue there are a lot of tax parcels…”.
Mr. Hubbard said his understanding is that the abandonment application does not have anything to do with the railroad yard that is separate but has only to do with a parcel of land approximately 60 ft. by 14,000 odd feet. Mr. Hubbard asked is that one parcel of land. Mr. Hanna, replying no, advised there are several tax parcels. Mr. Hanna noted the City is currently in process of preparing a description and having a survey done, and informed Mr. Hanna it will be paid for through some grant monies. Mr. Hanna further notified Mr. Hubbard the $300,000 grant is an agreement and is waiting to be spent by the City, and is a combination of State and Federal funding. Mr. Hubbard communicated he is still not quite clear why the railroad has the right to keep part of a property it is abandoning and not keep another part of a property it is abandoning. Mr. Hubbard thought the City has the right to buy that property, and the only question is how much and how does the City pay for it. Mr. Hanna commented the City is looking at a couple of different options at this point. He added the City is planning on retaining counsel to review some PUC issues as well, and may try to force an abandonment on the PUC side that would allow a little more leverage over the railroad.
Mayor Callahan, highlighting the fact that there are some
complicated issues involving the railroad right of way, PUC,
multiple properties, grant funding, and so on, affirmed that
any time Mr. Hubbard has requested a meeting with him he has
sat down with Mr. Hubbard. Mayor Callahan suggested that perhaps
a more constructive forum given the complexity of issues would
be possibly to sit down and request a meeting with the Mayor
and Mr. Hanna. Mr. Hubbard asked whether Mr. Leeson could
Mr. Leeson, supporting what is being stated about the complexity, recounted the process started three years ago. Mr. Leeson thought that Mr. Hanna is doing the best he can to try to answer questions that have legal ramifications. Mr. Leeson, observing it is a project that everybody is in favor of, explained the City is trying to work its way through it.
Mr. Hubbard, expressing his agreement that there is nobody who does not think the greenway through South Bethlehem would be a great thing, added that the perfect greenway would go all the way to Hellertown. Mr. Hubbard said his question and that of the National Association of Railroad Passengers is why not get the entire right of way and preserve it. He stressed the concern is, if the City does not, then what happens and why.
Mr. Hanna recounted that, as he noted at the last Council Meeting, the City would in fact ask Norfolk Southern for that parcel. Mr. Hubbard, wondering if the City has to ask the railroad, highlighted the fact that the railroad is abandoning it, and queried does the City automatically get it and questioned whether the City has the right of eminent domain to take it. Mr. Hanna replied the City does not have the right of eminent domain to take it. Mr. Hanna, commenting that a meeting will be set up with Mr. Hubbard, said between now and then the City will make a request of Norfolk Southern to talk about the additional right of way.
Mr. Hubbard, focusing on the Parks and Public Property Committee meeting of July 14, 2004, observed that was the first time the project became a matter of public information. Mr. Hubbard stressed “our only concern, the National Association of Railroad Passengers and DEVAR is the preservation of that right of way. My concern as a private citizen and taxpayer is that the property somehow or other produce revenue. As it’s now structured…it’s going to produce expense for [the Parks and Public Property] Department and no revenue.”
Municipal Golf Course
Dave Crim, 1871 Eaton Avenue, noted the season pass for the Municipal Golf Course runs from March 1 to October 31. Based on weather conditions, Mr. Crim said golfers have already missed the first month of the season. Mr. Crim requested that Council consider extending the season for a month, possibly into November, or look at a reduction in the price for this year’s season pass. Mr. Crim related he has heard numerous comments about perhaps changing the season pass dates to start April 1 and end in November. Mr. Crim communicated his opinion that there are more nice days in November to play golf than in March, especially when some of the worst winter weather occurs in February. Mr. Crim, pointing out that last year many golfers were excited to be presented with a survey, said it is disappointing to report that no action has been taken and the new season is here. Mr. Crim added that none of the recommendations have been instituted for the coming season. Mr. Crim explained there are a number of people who play at the course regularly who have voiced some of their concerns to the director of golf, and have tried to make attempts to meet with the Parks and Recreation departments but have had no success at this point. Mr. Crim suggested that some type of forum be opened so that golfers have an avenue directly to the director of golf and to parks and recreation in order to voice some of their concerns including safety, course conditions, policies, and changes that occur on short notice.
Water and Sewer
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, noting he approached a member of the Administration about providing an explanation of the water department in terms that middle school age children would understand, said it worked out. Mr. Antalics observed that the answer to a question of how long could a water company stay in business that had more expenses than revenues was “they would probably fold their doors the next day.” Mr. Antalics said, taking that example there is another business, the City of Bethlehem, and their revenues are way below their expenses but they continue to stay in business, and questioned how do they do that. He said it came down to “you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and also you stop giving away too much free water.” Mr. Antalics added that revenues can always be obtained from taxpayers. Highlighting the fact that all the City buildings get free water, Mr. Antalics stressed if the water department were a business they would charge the City for the water usage. Mr. Antalics commented he thinks David Brong, Director of Water and Sewer Resources, is on the right track. Mr. Antalics recounted that a simple question was asked at the meeting of the Bethlehem Authority that could have gotten a very direct answer but the answer was very convoluted and complicated because the person answering could not definitively answer the question because they did not have the authority from an overall point of view. Mr. Antalics recounted that he has focused on the mix of authority between the City Administration, City Council, and the Bethlehem Authority many times. Referring to the shape of a triangle, Mr. Antalics stressed that the base sets the priority but that base changes and becomes the Administration, or the Authority, or Council, and so becomes very complicated. Mr. Antalics, relating that he asked a number of people why is the problem not solved because it is very clear what needs to be done, said the common denominator was “it’s politics.” Mr. Antalics strongly urged the Mayor and the President of Council to listen to Mr. Brong in that what he is saying means make it a pure business, and give one person total authority to run the show and he is going to make money for the City. Mr. Antalics, expressing his opinion that the Bethlehem Authority, the Administration, and City Council should sit down together “and bite the bullet and let the gentlemen do the job the way he’s suggesting, and make money for the City,” asked when that might happen.
President Schweder, stating he supports that and said that months ago, thought the Department should run the operation and the Bethlehem Authority should not. President Schweder pointed out that Mr. Brong’s presentation on the Strategic Plan showed it is not that expenses for operating out run revenues but rather it is that 53% of the budget is debt because all of the debt has been dumped on it for decades. He added there is no funding mechanism for the debt that is being carried. Turning on the suggestion to sell the utility, President Schweder stressed the cost that would be generated in no way would cover the debt that is owed by the Bethlehem Authority. President Schweder, in further response to Mr. Antalics, commented that Council awaits a proposal to come from the Administration.
City Council - Civility
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, said she is at the meeting because she is very tired of the kangaroo courts that are being called City Council Meetings. Ms. Pongracz communicated she does not care to read in the newspaper the following day questions that were posed to the Mayor, Mr. Reichard, and some management people who are called on the carpet and not properly. Ms. Pongracz, commenting it seems to her that the committee system is not working properly, said it also seems to her that personality conflicts are very much in evidence. Ms. Pongracz reminded City Council “you were elected to represent all of the people of the City of Bethlehem. You are not elected to harass a properly elected Mayor.” Ms. Pongracz asserted she thinks “it’s about time we stop this nonsense and work together.” Ms. Pongracz recalled this is the third time she has come to a City Council Meeting to talk about civility. She felt some Members of Council are carrying personal conflicts way too far. Ms. Pongracz stressed that the City is run one step at a time.
Greenway – South Bethlehem
Ms. Pongracz stated she is not in favor of the greenway and wants the railroad back that she said would solve a lot of problems.
Fire Inspectors and Fire Department Coverage
Terry Meixell, 56 East Goepp Street, said he is at the meeting to thank the Administration for finally resolving the issue of Fire Inspectors. However, Mr. Meixell thought the public safety side was left out of it a little bit with having to promote two inspectors, one who is currently at the front office, one is off sick, and one who is going to be promoted is on OID, so there will be a total of one coming to two alarm fires. Advising there are 13 pieces of fire equipment, Mr. Meixell stated it takes 21 people to operate the equipment, and the current minimum manning is 20. Consequently, Mr. Meixell said one piece of equipment, engine 11 on the West Side at Broad Street, gets put out of service. Mr. Meixell recounted on the last day shift and last night shift two pieces of equipment on the South Side had to respond to the North Side, leaving the South Side with two people for protection. Confirming he offered different proposals, Mr. Meixell remarked it took ten years to solve the problem. Mr. Meixell stressed that his proposals were a lot cheaper and there was more coverage. Mr. Meixell commented that hopefully during contract time there will be the money to pay the four inspector positions that are 1% less than a captain. Mr. Meixell, saying he is hoping to be there, advised he is going to seek one of the inspector positions. Mr. Meixell recounted that the proposal finally accepted was proposed nine years ago and was turned down twice. Referring to newspaper reports about the possibility of a new fire station when casinos are opened on the South Side, Mr. Meixell said it would also be nice to have some manpower to go behind the new equipment. Mr. Meixell communicated that he prays when he is on the North Side something does not happen on the South Side. Mr. Meixell explained that he and an engine operator went to a call at Lehigh University because the officer and his driver were on the North Side. Mr. Meixell stressed if there were ever two major fires in the City at the same time he hates to say “you’re going to have a Hirko [case]…” lawsuit. Mr. Meixell said he would like Council to ask why the Fire Department still responds to St. Luke’s Hospital that is located out of the City, and pointed out that the hospital no longer conducts the City’s physicals, and the City does not receive any reimbursement that he is aware of. Mr. Meixell thought the City of Bethlehem is following the way of Pittsburgh in making property tax exempt, and said sooner or later people on the North Side will be the ones left paying for it and will have to move out because they cannot afford the taxes to pay for the services. Mr. Meixell noted he heard the building going up on Third Street is another non-profit. He added that Lehigh University, which is a non-profit, is buying houses and remarked they are definitely making a profit.
Ms. Szabo, in reference to Mr. Meixell’s comment, informed him that St. Luke’s Hospital does not own Union Station. Rather Ashley Development Corporation owns the building and St. Luke’s occupies the building, and the City does receive taxes on the building. Ms. Szabo further informed Mr. Meixell that the new building on Third Street will operate under the same situation.
Mrs. Belinski asked if Mr. Meixell is on the civil service Lieutenant’s promotional list. Mr. Meixell replied no. Mrs. Belinski pointed out that the first two certified names on the current list will be used to promote the Fire Inspectors.
Various City Issues
Dean Bruch, 625 Hawthorne Road, communicated that the City has reached the point of being a historical and religious city, along with education, but not of having slot machines. Mr. Bruch also referred to State gambling legislation, the composition of bills, and Federal issues pertaining to bankruptcy and Social Security. Turning again to gambling in Bethlehem, Mr. Bruch stressed everyone will pay for it because money will be needed to help with gambling problems. Mr. Bruch urged City officials to stick to the basics that Bethlehem has, and added that the School District is not going to go along with it. He further pointed out the issue has not come up for public discussions, and rather certain people are picked from whom it is known the right answers will come. Mr. Bruch remarked that individuals who work for government have a job for life. He remarked that people do not vote and do not keep on top of issues. Mr. Bruch, while commending Ms. Pongracz for her comments, stated that in the same respect there has to be checks and balances. Mr. Bruch expressed that issues should not be talked about after the fact. Mr. Bruch felt the Bethlehem Authority money should be in their own bank account and there should be no more borrowing. He continued on to say that money should have been used to preserve the water and sewer system.
Non-Profit Organizations - Contributions to the City
William Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, referring to Mr. Meixell’s comment about non-profits, said he heard that Lehigh University contributes $10,000 a year to the City. He questioned whether there are many non-profits that make voluntary contributions to the City.
Dennis Reichard, Business Administrator, advised that the Bethlehem Housing Authority and Lutheran Manor make contributions to the City. Mr. Reichard informed Mr. Scheirer that Lehigh University does not make a contribution to the City.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.