Council allows a contested fence
The fence between two feuding neighbors got the green light Oct. 15 when city council voted to allow one of the neighbors to build their fence, over the objection of the other.
It’s an age-old problem, one that Robert Frost tried to address in his poem, “Mending Wall,” of which the most famous (and often misinterpreted) line goes: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
However, in the poem, Frost is actually challenging the wisdom of building fences as he and his neighbor are mending a stone wall between their properties. Here is an excerpt:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” – Robert Frost
The long-delayed decision about whether a fence can be built by the owner of 251 East Church St. had twice been considered by the Historical Architectural Review Board before it disapproved of the request in a split vote.
When the final proposed “certificate of appropriateness” came before city council last month for approval – the HARB’s recommendations have no legal standing – council balked at rubber-stamping the recommendation.
Instead, at the request of Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt, council delayed the decision for a month while she researched precedence in handling such matters. She eventually voted “no” on the resolution.
Cheryl Dougan, the neighbor who opposes the fence, was disappointed, not only about the vote, which allows the fence to proceed, but because she had planned to make an additional statement and missed the opportunity. The agenda sets aside a period for the public to speak about any item “to be voted on tonight,” but Dougan apparently did not realize that her opportunity had come and gone.
In other news:
Barbara Diamond spoke about the history of the silk industry in Bethlehem during what is being called the Bethlehem Moment, a now- regular feature of city council meetings.
Resident Chris Wood spoke to alert the city authorities that his rent had been increased to the point that he may have to move. He said in the course of complaining to his landlord, he found that the building is owned by a company in Hong Kong, China.
Council proposed a symbolic resolution banning “single-use plastic bags.” The non-binding resolution urges the state government to enact legislation with statewide effect implementing measures to mitigate or eliminate the harm caused by “the distribution, use and discarding of single-use plastic bags.”
The resolution also calls on the state government to lift the moratorium on action by municipalities and to adopt ordinances limiting single-use plastics.
Council also heard the first communication of a separate non-binding resolution to support a Federal Medicare for All act. The matter was sponsored by Councilman J. William Reynolds, who provided some recent health cost statistics that support his push for such legislation.
According to Reynolds, the city’s annual health care costs have increased from about $6 million in 2004 to nearly $11 million in 2018, while the number of employees has dropped from 670 in 2010 to 601 in 2019. Monthly health insurance premiums for a family have gone from $20 in 2004 to $126.57 in 2018 for city employees.
In other business, the city clerk read a communication from Director of Water and Sewer Resources Edward J. Boscola announcing sewer rate increases proposed for 2020.
In the letter, Boscola proposed an 8 percent rate increase on sewer charges for all customer classes in Bethlehem, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Business Administrator Eric Evans introduced the city’s newly re-formatted website, which will allow department heads to directly update information.