Second Ave. Armory project is official
The Bethlehem Planning Commission has granted approval for the redevelopment of the Armory at 345 Second Ave. The historic art deco structure, built in 1930 for use as a National Guard drill hall, will be restored and expanded into an apartment complex. Following discussion and public comment Nov. 14, the commission voted 4-0 (with one recusal) in favor of Peron Development’s final subdivision plan and landscape waiver request.
Work may begin as early as April 2020, according to Peron. When complete, the property will contain a four-story apartment building with 64 one and two-bedroom units. The drill hall itself will become a live/work space for an already determined occupant - Emil Lukas, local painter, sculptor, and ArtsQuest board member. The existing garage buildings on the property will be renovated into loft and studio apartments.
The Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority sold the Armory to Peron last year after selecting their development proposal from several bids. Peron also purchased the southern adjoining parcels between Second Avenue and Rauch Street. These will be converted to parking and green space for the 2.57 acre complex.
Peron’s Director of Business Development, John Callahan (a former Bethlehem Mayor), advised during Thursday’s meeting that the Armory is on the National Register of Historic Places and is subject to a covenant with the PA State Historic Preservation Office. As such, agency review and approval is a pre-condition for any building work to ensure maintenance of the property’s historic character.
“The historic exterior details of the building, such as the garage doors and windows will be carefully repaired and recreated to blend with the new,” said Callahan, “the proposed residential addition to the armory will use a palette of materials that are consistent with the existing palette of brick, steel, and concrete. The overall vision for the armory...is to preserve the significant and interesting details of the interior of the building such as the steel trusses, the exposed brick, and the hardwood flooring, while also bringing the building up to current codes...seamlessly tying old with new.”
The portion of Second Avenue adjacent to the new complex will be narrowed, said Callahan, as it is currently over-wide. A sidewalk and planting strip will be added, as well as perpendicular street parking spaces.
The approval of the development plan is contingent on Peron making certain adjustments specified by the city. Chief among these is improving fire truck access. Thus some previously designated parking spaces on the Prospect Avenue side will become fire lanes, and the planned parking lots adjacent to Filbert Street will be enlarged.
Parking issues were the area of greatest concern to the neighborhood residents who addressed the Commission. Jeff Pooley of Prospect Avenue objected to the street parking plan, saying “...the practice that is well accepted is to move, in an urban environment, the new construction to the street and have the parking behind...that idea in 2019 of putting suburban strip mall-style parking on the street is a grave mistake.” In reference to the enlarged parking lots planned for the southern side of the property abutting Rauch Street, Pooley commented, “[the street is] narrow, it’s sidewalk-less, it has children playing...to add additional spots would put such a great burden on this street that’s not really appropriate for that traffic in the first place.”
Christine Roysdon of Second Avenue said, “A car that is coming up Spring Street really cannot see whether there is traffic coming down from a ramp like that on Second Avenue,” she said, adding,”...as a bike rider I have always found that block of Second Avenue to be safe and reasonable. I’m just concerned also that the narrowing of the street, and the dense parking in front of the building, and all of these crazy options down at the end of the street will make the street in fact less safe for cyclists than it is right now.”
Approval by the Lehigh County Conservation District of a stormwater runoff management plan is required before construction can begin. This process may take up to six months, said John Callahan.
The only other item on Thursday’s meeting agenda was a request by Crayola to install a 40 foot-high directional sign on their Commerce Center Boulevard facility (maximum height permitted by ordinance is 25 feet). The commission granted the request unanimously.