Beth­le­hem scut­tles re­zon­ing pro­posal af­ter pleas from Gar­ri­son Street res­i­dents

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ni­cole Radzievich

Af­ter con­sid­er­ing the im­pas­sioned pleas of neigh­bors, Beth­le­hem City Coun­cil on Tues­day nar­rowly de­feated a re­zon­ing pro­posal that would have al­lowed a five-story apart­ment and re­tail pro­ject to spill into what is now a close-knit neigh­bor­hood of mod­est homes lin­ing a nar­row street in Cen­ter City.

The pro­posed zon­ing for 11 and 15 W. Gar­ri­son St. matches the com­mer­cial dis­trict around the cor­ner, but res­i­dents railed against the pro­posal as one that would ruin the char­ac­ter of their neigh­bor­hood that is within walk­ing dis­tance of his­toric Beth­le­hem.

City Coun­cil­woman Grace Cramp­sie Smith said she wor­ried about the park­ing is­sues it would cre­ate on the one-way Gar­ri­son Street and thought the city needs to strengthen its stock of sin­gle-fam­ily homes — not just build new apart­ments.

“I think that our city was built on the back­bone of work­ing men and women who wanted one thing, and that was a home and a safe neigh­bor­hood for their fam­i­lies,” Smith said. “I think we as a city re­ally need to sup­port and en­hance that. I think that the rea­son why our great city feels more like a small town is be­cause of our neigh­bor­hoods.”

Join­ing Smith in vot­ing against the re­zon­ing were coun­cil mem­bers Olga Ne­gron, Paige Van Wirt and J. Wil­liam Reynolds. Vot­ing to ap­prove the re­zon­ing on first read­ing were coun­cil mem­bers Bryan Cal­la­han, Michael Colon and Adam Wal­dron.

The change was re­quested by Beth­le­hem ar­chi­tect Den­nis Connell, the owner of the two prop­er­ties along with seven oth­ers on North New and West North streets, some of which ad­join the West Gar­ri­son Street land. Connell, who owns rental prop­er­ties on the block, pro­poses de­mol­ish­ing build­ings and then con­struct­ing a five-story, 72-unit apart­ment com­plex with re­tail space on street level.

The pro­posed apart­ment pro­ject aimed to bring more res­i­dents on the doorsteps of a business dis­trict that the city has been try­ing to grow. City Plan­ning Bureau Di­rec­tor Dar­lene Heller had said Connell’s re­quest is sup­ported by the plan­ning depart­ment.

Connell said his pro­posal would have re­turned the zon­ing of those two prop­er­ties to what it had been from 1970 to 2005. He said he cre­ated en­vi­ron­ments that res­i­dents are tout­ing and promised to sup­port his ten­ants. He promised to carry through those prin­ci­ples to the apart­ment pro­ject. He said no one would be dis­placed by the pro­ject.

“I come down on the side that this could be a net pos­i­tive to the neigh­bor­hood by bring­ing some fresh, new fam­i­lies — new po­ten­tial friends and neigh­bors to your com­mu­nity,” Wal­dron said.

Lau­ren Miller, a ten­ant of Connell’s at 11 W. Gar­ri­son St., told coun­cil the block is one where she cel­e­brated with her neigh­bors at block par­ties and they grieved with her fol­low­ing her sis­ter’s heroin over­dose death. She grows veg­eta­bles in her back­yard while chil­dren make the side­walk their play­ground. She lauded the early 20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture that may not be tech­ni­cally in the his­toric dis­trict but tells the story of the work­ing class that pushed the city for­ward. She said the re­zon­ing would chase away fam­i­lies who have lived their en­tire lives on that block.

It’s also the same block that the city’s Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity took over a run­down home at 18 W. Gar­ri­son St., turn­ing it over to non­profit Habitat for Hu­man­ity of the Le­high Val­ley, which gave it to the Toledo fam­ily. They told coun­cil that the re­zon­ing would hurt the neigh­bor­hood.

“This is my home,” Cindy Toledo said, her voice crack­ing.

The de­feat of the or­di­nance on first read­ing means that it will not go to a sec­ond read­ing. The de­ci­sion does not af­fect the prop­er­ties Connell owns around the cor­ner on New Street, which are al­ready zoned for com­mer­cial.

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