BETHLEHEM HCC tables “pencil-like structure”
The proposal to erect a seven-story residential over retail building on a vacant lot at 13 W. Morton St. was tabled by the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission at the July 17 hearing in the Banana Factory. Andrew Twiggar and Ryan Dunn, partners in DunnTwigger Real Estate Co. represented Lehigh Properties, LLC, the owners of the property, that is flanked by a one and one half story garage and a two and one half story commercial building.
With board member Ken Loush recusing himself from voting to avoid a possible conflict of interest, BHCC listened carefully to property representatives as well as public input before coming to their decision.
Saying they “were here to gather feedback,” Andrew Twiggar presented elevations and blueprints for the structure with shops on the first floor, a four-bedroom apartment on each of the six stories above, and a small penthouse on the roof.
Several people who live or work near the site were given three minutes each to address the board with their views, pro or con.
Kim Cartell-Smith, who lives and works on the Southside said she is “disturbed by the proposal” of the “pencil-like structure of the building versus everything else.” She cited the Rooney Building as a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated. “If this is approved,” she continued, “developers could buy up blocks of properties and plunk in high-rises.”
Breena Holland agreed with Cartell-Smith. The associate professor at Lehigh University complained about the tall buildings that have sprouted up on the Southside. Holland was concerned that the city’s policies toward blighted properties may be “greasing the wheels” for “putting out-of-scale buildings on these ‘demolition by neglect’ properties.”
Northside resident Cathy Kimock said she has opposed other high-rise projects at similar meetings. Critical of the city government and the historic commissions regarding their approval of tall structures during the last few years, she asked, “What’s the point? What is the integrity any more, if you can’t keep these buildings at four stories?”
Seth Moglen, a Southside resident who serves on the board of the Community Action Development Corp. of Bethlehem, said, “The guidelines are pretty clear about scale,” adding, “This is the latest in a series of projects that seems to any lay person reading the guidelines, to fly in the face of those guidelines.” Moglen implored commissioners to base their decisions on the guidelines.
BHCC historic officer Christine Ussler reported her findings that the proposed new building, “is not historically appropriate in height or proportion. The height of the building will dwarf the adjacent buildings to either side.” She said, “Three or four stories would be the maximum recommended.” The penthouse roof would be inappropriate for the neighborhood, she said. Ussler also recommended that the first floor storefront be of stone or ceramic tile with a cornice separating it from the brick-faced apartments above.
With a 1940 square-foot lot, “Seven stories is too tall,” said board member Roger Hudak, an opinion shared by the most of the board. Vice chair Gary Lader expressed a need to see the building in context with the neighborhood before he could form an opinion on height.
Twiggar and Dunn were advised by BHCC to go back to their client and have the project redesigned to follow the board’s recommendations to make the building comply with the historic district guidelines. Twiggar agreed to return with street views of the structure that include adjoining buildings and to bring samples of proposed construction materials.
Two other proposals on the agenda were quickly recommended for certificates of appropriateness.
Joshua Ross was approved to replace a hanging sign and façade sign of the former tenant, Steel City Gold and Coin, with black and red signage with white lettering for his Raygun Samurai Tattoo business. Ross also was granted approval to install a window and door sign at 7 E. Third St. The circa 1920 commercial building is owned by Shale Road, LP.
BHCC recommended a certificate of appropriateness for Marco Justo to re-face the projecting sign at 738 E. Fourth St. Justo’s Rice ’N Beans Puerto Rican & Mexican Fusion establishment now occupies the former home of the Borinquen Restaurant. Justo agreed to Ussler’s modifications of adding a pin stripe to the red, yellow and white sign, and moving the phone number and some additional copy on it to the window. City building Inspector Philip Roeder requested the restaurateur have his sign maker send him and Ussler a scale drawing of the revised signage.
Before adjourning, Roeder informed the rest that NYC Village Pizza at 129 W. Fourth St. had finally complied with their decision to have flat black steel decorative grills installed on the building’s façade to replace the missing cast iron grills. He also announced that a curved porch at 110-112 E. Fourth St. was being restored properly at last.
The Bethlehem HCC is charged with the task of determining if new signs or other alterations to a building’s exterior would be an appropriate fit for the neighborhood in one of three designated historic districts. Hearings are regularly scheduled on the third Monday of the month. With nothing on the agenda to discuss, the June hearing had been canceled.
Obtaining a certificate of appropriateness is only a first step for business owners and residents in a designated historic district who wish to make alterations to a building’s exterior. The BHCC’s recommendations are later reviewed, then voted on by City Council before any project is allowed to proceed.