Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem planners narrowly approve redevelopment plan for Martin Tower site

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - After a lengthy master plan presentation and plenty of feedback from both city officials and residents, the Bethlehem Planning Commission approved an initial plan Thursday to turn the 53-acre Martin Tower parcel in west Bethlehem into a mixed use of offices, apartments, restaurants, retail shops and a gas station.

The vote was 3-2. However, technically the plan is not a true mixed-use offering as per planning and zoning standards, but rather a mix of uses on a large land tract able to be subdivided in the future.

That mix is the main reason planning commission member Matt Malozzi voted against it. He also felt, once approved, certain details could not be revisited by the planners or the city.

Fellow planner Joy Cohen also voted down the plan and added her concerns to Malozzi's, which included the relocation of a proposed "pocket park" to be positioned adjacent to a nearby Route 378 exit ramp to the center of the development. She also cited environmental issues, parking particulars relating to 528 proposed apartment units and an overall lack of a fully integrated plan.

Chairman Bob Melosky endorsed the plan and commented he would like to see it move forward. He said he didn’t want to return to square one in the process, which began approximately four years ago when multiple downtown merchants descended on the town hall to voice their concerns over possibly losing business should a second downtown be created at the site.

Planner Louis Stellato voted yes to the plan provided by the developer, HRP Management of Bethlehem which will have to comply with nearly a dozen changes required by the city's planning and zoning office.

According to city planning and zoning director Darlene Heller, developer HRP made several plan adjustments to their master plan submission prior to Thursday's meeting.

Heller said the more mixed-use the HRP plan provides, the more sustainable it will be overall in the future.

City officials agreed the plan meets the minimum requirements of the zoning laws.

However a number of residents and even a former city planner said the plan lacks sparkle and shine. They said it appeared to have been designed by an engineer rather than a municipal planner.

Presented by HRP, LLC development director Duane Wagner, the plan outlines nine development lots including two office buildings, three retail venues, restaurants and a 132-room hotel on the west side of the parcel bordering Eighth Avenue. The eastern half of the property will feature multiple two-story apartment buildings as part of a complex with a clubhouse and a pool somewhat separated by green space from next door neighbor the Burnside Plantation.

Wagner said the plan addresses what Bethlehem City Council asked for with regard to protecting the downtown, multi-modal accessibility and a successful mix of office, retail, and residential components. Additionally, he pointed out it is consistent with what already exists commercially and in nearby residential neighborhoods.

The next step in the process is the presentation of an official land development plan.

Following the implosion of the tower on Sunday, May 19, once approvals are secured, Wagner said the first office buildings could be completed in two years.

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