Mid-rise Building in South Bethlehem Drives NIMBYs Insane, But It’s Allowed By-Right

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People have been working for decades to turn around Southside Bethlehem and create conditions for reinvestment in the walkable mixed-use areas on 3rd and 4th Streets, and on the Bethlehem Steel brownfield.

This has been the complaint forever – Northside, the white area with a very nice existing Main Street, gets all the public and private investment, while Southside, the more racially diverse area around Lehigh, gets the butt end of everything.

That’s started to change over the last decade, with the Bethlehem Greenway linear park, the skate plaza, facade renovations, safety improvements, and a whole bunch of other small-scale changes tipping Southside into a new equilibrium where people actually do want to invest there.

Developer Dennis Benner is just the first person to take a chance on building new residential and mixed-use capacity there, and that is a direct result of all the work that people have done for years to create (land) value there, and he’s proposed multiple mid-rise mixed-use buildings. He sees the potential for a great walkable urban neighborhood that can support lots of new residents and small businesses, and he’s pursuing exactly the kind of patient capital, long-term investment strategy the area needs.

This is what this whole thing has been leading up to but some people don’t get that, and are whining about the height, which is not even a thing. It’s a 9-story mid-rise building in an area where the new zoning code allows 200-foot buildings by-right. There didn’t even used to be a height limit until 2012! If people didn’t want buildings that size downtown, I would disagree with them regardless, but the time to weigh in on that was back in 2012, not now.

This area is zoned CB (Central Business District) for a reason – it’s one of the two very small areas where the new zoning code allows for some growth without tacking on insane parking requirements. It’s one of two areas in the city where it’s possible to build new and make your money back. People can’t be fighting mid-rise buildings in the tiny areas where the city has budgeted for a little growth.

Luckily the progressive majority on Bethlehem City Council appears to be supportive, and it’s really just a handful of reactionaries on the Historical Commission who don’t understand that projects like this were always going to be the endgame for Southside revitalization efforts.




This entry was posted in Economy, Issues, Land Use.

2 Responses to Mid-rise Building in South Bethlehem Drives NIMBYs Insane, But It’s Allowed By-Right

  1. Gloria McVeigh says:

    Agree from a planning POV but disagree on one narrow point. Am glad that the Historical Commission is reviewing something, anything, because so far Bethlehem’s CRIZ has succeeded in bypassing any community input. As someone who’s trying to force community input into Allentown’s NIZ after the fact, I can tell you it’s almost impossible. By forcing media coverage of developers’ plans for Bethlehem, at least the HC is increasing the possibility that the public will start paying attention now, before it’s too late.

  2. Gloria McVeigh says:

    Sorry, but I have to add one more comment. Please don’t be so quick to label community input as “NIMBY.” As a long-time community activist I can tell you that no media short-hand — except maybe “politically incorrect” — has done more to discourage involvement by the public in the decision-making process by governments and developers for their communities. We need MORE people believing they have the right to have a voice, not fewer.