BETHLEHEM: 'Hands off' says council
Bethlehem City Council removed two buildings from a demolition protection ordinance at its April 2 meeting.
Council member Michael Recchiuti made a motion to remove Martin Tower and Lehigh and New England Rail Road Freight Warehouse at 15th Avenue and Gary Street, which was approved unanimously by the council.
Recchiuti said several council members were contacted by representatives of Martin Tower's owner, who said he would like the building taken off the list. Recchiuti added that he was told that the owner has no plans to tear the building down.
"I don't believe that building should come down," Recchiuti said. "I hope thay can refurbish it, but at the same time I understand the concerns that it is a barrier to redevelopment of the entire site."
Recchiuti also said that if a plan comes along for redevelopment of the entire site, he doesn't want a future board to have to make a decision based on something the current council enacted.
An attorney for the owner of the Lehigh and New England Freight Warehouse attended a council meeting last month requesting council to remove the building from the list.
"The only reason the warehouse is on the list is because of the connection to the railroad, and I don't see much purpose to keeping it on a list the owner doesn't want it on," Recchiuti said.
Council member Karen Dolan proposed a separate motion that would have created significant changes to the ordinance, which would have required it to go back before the planning commission. Dolan wanted an exception removed from the ordinance that would allow council to approve the destruction of a building if it is part of a larger neighborhood redevelopment plan.
"If there's a big hole that a truck could drive through, it's a useless ordinance," Dolan said. "To basically say that it's part of a bigger development that would affect a larger area than the building in question is the opposite of why we developed this ordinance."
Dolan failed to get a second on her motion, but was told that it was something that the board would look into again in the near future. Council member J. William Reynolds said he supported Dolan's idea, but said passing the ordinance was more important at this time.
"Rather than send it back through the whole process, if we pass it and take a look at that particular language we would be able to kill two birds with one stone," Reynolds said.
Both Dolan and Reynolds agreed that no items listed on the ordinance were in immediate danger of being demolished.
Twenty-four items remain on the demolition protection list, which passed first reading April 3, including Burnside Plantation, Illick's Mill and the main commons of Liberty HS.
Council will vote on final passage of the ordinance April 16 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.