Archive for category bethlehem planning commission

Take a fly over the West Bethlehem armory project (VIDEO)

The city planning commission approved Peron Development’s requests to vacate streets to support the property’s redevelopment.

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The city planning commission Thursday backed plans to narrow Second Avenue as part of the adaptive reuse of the West Bethlehem armory property into apartments and office space.

The commission unanimously voted to recommend Bethlehem City Council vacate portions of Second Avenue and Filbert Street to support the project’s 99 on-site parking spots. And it also voted to support the various parking and site coverage variances the developer is seeking from the zoning hearing board Oct. 25.

The approvals are all conditioned on complying with city feedback.

Peron Development is planning up to 78 apartments on the site at 301 Prospect Ave. by reusing two existing garages and then building a four-story, L-shaped addition off the back of the property. A courtyard will serve as a buffer between the apartments and the neighborhood’s existing residents, many of whom attended the meeting Thursday.

“We are going to build a product that does not currently exist in West Bethlehem,” said former Mayor John Callahan, who is director of business development for Peron.

Rents are expected to be about $1,300 to $1,650 a month, targeting millennials and empty nesters eager to be within walking distance of Bethlehem’s downtowns and many festivals, Callahan said.

“We are awfully excited about this particular neighborhood,” he said.

The armory itself, which has no tenant currently, will likely be redeveloped into office space. The historic elements of the Floyd Simmons Armory will be preserved while bringing the space to code in hopes of attracting a tech or maker tenant, Callahan said. 

Bethlehem armoryThis rendering shows the corner of Prospect and Second avenues in West Bethlehem. Plans call for narrowing Second Avenue to add parking and make the road safer.Courtesy USA Architects 

Resident Jeff Pooley praised Peron for working closely with residents and being responsive to concerns.

Everyone is excited that the armory is going to be redeveloped, but worries remain about the height of the apartment building, he said. Pooley asked Peron to consider a three-story building that could preserve neighbor’s views while also solving the parking issue.

“It strikes me that is it out of scale for the historical neighborhood,” he said. “It is just too tall.”

The property has a steep grade with an almost 30-foot difference in elevation, which is requiring some variances. Peron is also seeking parking variances because it does not have the 123 parking spots required in city zoning.

The developer scaled back a 23-spot parking lot on Rauch Street to 13 parking spaces in response to resident concerns, Callahan said, which tightened the parking situation. On-site parking for the apartments would be divided amongst three lots.

By narrowing Second Avenue — a boulevard dating back to the days when the road had a 378 on-ramp — Peron will be able to add 42-spaces in front of the building. Then a 44-space lot will be built on Filbert Street once the developer tears down the shuttered adjacent vacant sign company it bought.

Planning Commission member Tom Barker, a West Side resident himself, got Peron to commit to carrying historic acorn lighting along Broad Street onto Second Avenue.

Second Avenue is an important pedestrian road for residents and visitors heading to the city’s many festivals at the foot of Spring Street, Callahan said. The lighting will make it a safer and more attractive walk, he said.

Peron is looking to make Second Avenue an overall safer road while improving the existing street parking, Callahan said.  

Bethlehem Armory south viewThis rendering shows the view of the apartment building from the south end of the property.Courtesy USA Architects 

“It is little bit of a wild west on Second Avenue (in terms of parking now),” Callahan said, noting many residents now park in between the center median.

The developer worked with the city Public Works Department to redesign the road, realign the intersection with Prospect Avenue and then modeled its plans off of that, he said. Callahan noted that drivers often become confused at the intersection of Second and Prospect and end up driving the wrong way down the road.

“It’s amazing there hasn’t been a terrible accident there,” said Charlene Donchez Mowers, a lifelong neighboring resident, who is also president of Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites.

Mowers praised the safety improvements and reuse of the armory, but said she is worried about the parking needs of existing residents. She also has concerns about trucks and buses being able to turn onto a narrower Second Avenue. 

Plans call for adding 17 on-street, public parking spots along Second Avenue in front of the apartment’s lot and then 11 on-street, perpendicular spots at the bottom of Second where it intersects with Spring Street. Currently, there are no spots at the top of Second by the armory and only parallel parking spots at the bottom.

The parking on the other side of Second Avenue will not change. Peron plans to also paint 42 public parking spaces on the closed 378 on-ramp off of Second Avenue.

Many residents expressed concerns about losing on-street parking, noting it can already be tough to find spots when many don’t have driveways or parking pads. But residents were grateful that Peron has listened closely to their concerns and modified the parking along Rauch Street.

Project engineer Laura Eberly, of Penonni Associates, said plans currently call for 50 one-bedroom apartments and 20 two-bedroom apartments. While the one-bedroom units fall short of city zoning requirements, Peron is confident its sufficient parking, she said.

Peron was selected in July 2016 by the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority to tackle the rehab of the armory.

Peron plans to pay the authority $322,000 for the property. The city has a deal with the state to buy the 1930 Art Deco armory, which is on the National Historic Register, for $272,000. The authority must notify the state by December that it plans to purchase the armory, but it has six months to close, Hanna explained. 

The authority and Peron want all of the land development approvals in place before finalizing the simultaneous sale.

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at ssatullo@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo and Facebook. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

New South Bethlehem mural spurs debate on public art vetting

One planning commission member is asking what should the process be for approving public art.

A new Bethlehem Steel-inspired mural that went up during the SouthSide Arts and…

Wrecking ball for Masonic Temple, new life for Wilbur mansion

Plans for restoring the mansion and building a 64-apartment building to the rear got Bethlehem planners’ approval.

Bethlehem’s Masonic Temple will come down.

But the adjacent Wilbur mansion will be restored into office space, and apartments will rise behind it.

Thursday afternoon the Bethlehem Planning Commission approved the final land development plans for the project by developers Rob Ashford and John Noble.

Plans call for demolishing the mold- and water-riddled Masonic Temple and building a 3,781-square-foot glass-walled office space onto the historic Wilbur mansion.

“It’s not a building you can save,” Noble said of the temple.

To the rear, developers will build The WILBUR, a four-story, 64-unit apartment buildings fronting on Cherokee Street with underground parking and a green design.

The complex sits at the gateway to South Side Bethlehem, at the foot of the Hill-to-Hill Bridge on Route 378 and Brighton Street.

“Well done,” said Rob Melosky, planning commission chairman.

Project developers want to get in on Bethlehem’s 130-acre City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, which allows developers to use certain local and state taxes generated by their project to pay down construction loans.

Bethlehem is giving developers a second shot to get into the zone after 1.3 acres of land originally slated for city parking authority projects were freed up. The designation is crucial to land the high-end tenants the office space is meant to attract, Noble said.

“We cannot compete with the rents associated with the CRIZ and the” Neighborhood Improvement Zone in Allentown, he said. “It is an extremely challenging market right now.”

Why Bethlehem is offering a 2nd shot at lucrative tax zone

In late 2016, the city put out a call for proposals, which are still being vetted by the city, said Alicia Miller Karner, city director of community and economic development. There is no timeline for selecting projects for the incentive zone, she said.

The city denied a Right-to-Know request filed by lehighvalleylive.com and The Express-Times that sought the five proposals submitted to the city.

Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines told The Morning Call in December that the hotel submitted expansion plans to the city.

The Wilbur developers say they are at least six to eight months away from being able to start construction on the estimated $20 million project. They are awaiting stormwater management approvals from the state, Noble said.

The brick design of the apartment building is meant to mirror the neighborhood’s architecture. The addition to the mansion is meant to be unobtrusive and allow the 152-year-old building to be the star, Noble said. The mansion itself will be restored and used as office space.

“We wanted to make that the focal point of the development,” Noble said of the Wilbur mansion.

He asked the commission if the almost $100,000 in city recreation fees the project generates could be invested back into the site through a public sculpture garden or walkway or digital sign promoting events in the city.

“We have great potential visibility here and we’d love to see us take those fees and focus it on something that is really visible,” Noble said.

City planning Director Darlene Heller cautioned that the law that allows cities and municipalities to collect a recreation fee outlines specific uses.

The money must be reinvested into parks, playgrounds or recreation spaces that benefit residents of the surrounding community, she said.

A traffic study of the project found that there’s not much that can be done to improve the challenging traffic situation at West Third and Cherokee streets. A stoplight or four-way stop would likely worsen traffic backups, said Tiffany Wells, city traffic superintendent.

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at ssatullo@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo and Facebook. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

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Blight footprint grows at ex-Lehigh professor’s property

Alvin Kanofsky, 77, revealed during a city planning commission meeting he lost his job at Lehigh University in April.

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Plans for psychiatric hospital near high school now off the table

The project was set to be considered by the Bethlehem Planning Commission on Thursday.

Acadia Healthcare is pulling its plans to build an 80-bed psychiatric hospital near Be…

10 years after arson, Bethlehem Silk Mill cleanup to begin

Bethlehem planners endorsed plans for the site, and the developer plans to pull demolition permits soon.

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Bethlehem’s Planning Comm’n Streamlines Review Process

At their May 12, 2016 meeting, Bethlehem’s Planning Commission adopted new rules designed to streamline the review process during hearings. Instead of hearing a presentation from the Staff, the applicant will first make its presentation so that the public knows exactly what is being proposed. After the presentation and hearing from staff, the public will be invited participate in the review.

In other business, Commissioners voted 4-0 to support plans providing for a three-story medical office building (41′ high) for St. Luke’s Hospital at 834-43 Eaton Avenue, located at the northeast intersection of 8th and Eaton Avenues.

Bryan Ritter, President of Jena Engineering, told Commissioners that he will demolish the old Bank of America building and two vacant homes and construct a 22,584 sq ft building with 91 parking places. The building design will be similar to what exists on the Anderson campus of St. Luke’s Hospital. The facility will house OB-GYN, pediatrics and other medical arts offices.

The St. Luke’s Center for Urology is across the street at the northwest corner of 8th and Eaton Avenues.

Updated 9:10 am: Below is the procedure, which will be explained at the beginning of every meeting:

“The applicant will have a chance to present their project to the Commission as their agenda item is called. Following that presentation, City staff will provide an overview of the City’s comments and a recommendation. Then the Planning Commission members will have an opportunity to direct questions related to the project to both the applicant and City staff.

“Following Planning Commission discussion, interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on or ask questions related to the project. All interested parties will be asked to give their name and address for the record. They shall also sign their name, address and email address on the sign-in sheet provided. [Name and address is a requirement of the Sunshine Act].

“We will adhere to a 5 minute time limit for each member of the public and each person will have one opportunity to speak. We ask that all comments be related to the project proposal under review and that all comments be related to the land use issues of the project. When there are a significant number of interested parties, we request that members of the public be concise in their testimony and avoid repeating previously made assertions.

“After all interested parties have had an opportunity to speak, the Planning Commission members will have a final opportunity to deliberate on the project. The review of the Planning Commission is based on the provisions of the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, the Zoning Ordinance and other municipal ordinances, as applicable. Decisions will be based on these applicable ordinances, the recommendations of the City’s professional staff, pertinent public comment and the public good.”

I did not think of this yesterday, but would add a provision that would prevent the same person from addressing the Commission multiple times on the same subject.

Bethlehem’s Planning Comm’n Streamlines Review Process

At their May 12, 2016 meeting, Bethlehem’s Planning Commission adopted new rules designed to streamline the review process during hearings. Instead of hearing a presentation from the Staff, the applicant will first make its presentation so that the public knows exactly what is being proposed. After the presentation and hearing from staff, the public will be invited participate in the review.

In other business, Commissioners voted 4-0 to support plans providing for a three-story medical office building (41′ high) for St. Luke’s Hospital at 834-43 Eaton Avenue, located at the northeast intersection of 8th and Eaton Avenues.

Bryan Ritter, President of Jena Engineering, told Commissioners that he will demolish the old Bank of America building and two vacant homes and construct a 22,584 sq ft building with 91 parking places. The building design will be similar to what exists on the Anderson campus of St. Luke’s Hospital. The facility will house OB-GYN, pediatrics and other medical arts offices.

The St. Luke’s Center for Urology is across the street at the northwest corner of 8th and Eaton Avenues.

Updated 9:10 am: Below is the procedure, which will be explained at the beginning of every meeting:

“The applicant will have a chance to present their project to the Commission as their agenda item is called. Following that presentation, City staff will provide an overview of the City’s comments and a recommendation. Then the Planning Commission members will have an opportunity to direct questions related to the project to both the applicant and City staff.

“Following Planning Commission discussion, interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on or ask questions related to the project. All interested parties will be asked to give their name and address for the record. They shall also sign their name, address and email address on the sign-in sheet provided. [Name and address is a requirement of the Sunshine Act].

“We will adhere to a 5 minute time limit for each member of the public and each person will have one opportunity to speak. We ask that all comments be related to the project proposal under review and that all comments be related to the land use issues of the project. When there are a significant number of interested parties, we request that members of the public be concise in their testimony and avoid repeating previously made assertions.

“After all interested parties have had an opportunity to speak, the Planning Commission members will have a final opportunity to deliberate on the project. The review of the Planning Commission is based on the provisions of the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, the Zoning Ordinance and other municipal ordinances, as applicable. Decisions will be based on these applicable ordinances, the recommendations of the City’s professional staff, pertinent public comment and the public good.”

I did not think of this yesterday, but would add a provision that would prevent the same person from addressing the Commission multiple times on the same subject.