11-15 West Garrison City considers apartment structure
Emotional responses dominated the public hearing Sept. 17 to rezone the zoning map to accommodate a planned apartment building spanning 11 to 15 West Garrison St. Dennis Connell, an architect who owns the property, wants to erect a five-story apartment building that could have 72 units and a garage with 74 parking spaces.
The properties are currently in the RT or High-Density Residential District, but Connell wants city council to approve a re-designation of the zoning map to classify the properties back to CB, or Central Business District, as they had been until 2005.
Under Connell’s development plans, the existing houses would be razed and the lots he owns would be joined to allow space for the proposed apartment building and provide for a 20-foot buffer zone between the CB and RT zones.
“My intent during this decades-long series of acquisitions was to acquire enough property for a development suitable for a center city urban location,” said Connell speaking to the City Council. He said the project would occupy .6955 acres.
Council held the public hearing preceding the regular meeting to allow residents to express opinions on the prospective new building.
However, not all residents supported the project.
Lauren Miller, who rents one of Connell’s properties, was especially emotional in her opposition. “I’m against tearing down something old to build something new for economic [reasons].”
Miller described an idyllic neighborhood where “kids sit on my front porch and color” and where “love has been part of transforming our block—loving your neighbor as you love yourself transformed the block.”
Resident Vanessa Torres opposed the project. She said she “left New York City to get away from high-rises.”
Bruce Haines, Managing Director of the Hotel Bethlehem, said, “This is a commercial intrusion on residents.”
Lehigh Planning Commission’s Jillian Seitz in a letter to Bethlehem’s Planning Director Darlene Heller, supported Connell’s hoped for development. “This proposal is consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan.” Council hosted the public hearing, but was not required to vote on the issue.
In other business, a usually routine “certificate of appropriateness” to allow the property owner at 251 E. Church St. to install a gate and new fence was delayed at the request of an adjacent homeowner who opposes the fence on the grounds that it would hinder proper maintenance of an existing building because it would unduly restrict access to the property.
Cheryl Dougan, the neighbor who opposes the fence, wants the city to instruct HARB to only concern themselves with what can be seen from the street, not with a fence between two properties which Dougan contends is beyond the authority of the HARB.
The issue had been previously the subject of extensive review by the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) which approved the proposed fence and gate in a 6–2 vote. Usually, but not always, council ratifies HARB recommendations; however, this time the Council voted to delay for a month a deciding vote pending a review of zoning law in other jurisdiction.
Council woman Dr. Paige Van Wirt supported Dougan’s request and called for time to get additional information.
Dougan said in an interview that she hopes that such a review will support her desire to see the zoning code re-written to exclude fences that hinder proper maintenance of nearby buildings. She offered a proposed change to the code: “Fences or walls that prevent the reasonable maintenance (including but not limited to washing, painting, and repair) or replacement of existing structures on adjoining lots are prohibited.”
In other business, council approved plans by Touchstone Theatre to produce a series of events on the Bethlehem Greenway and Payrow Plaza near City Hall and the Bethlehem Area Public Library. The program titled “Festival Unbound” will center on issues affecting citizens of modern Bethlehem. Events will run from Oct. 4-13.