Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem planners voice misgivings about President's Place project

Original structure belonged to steel magnate

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Planning Commission expressed concerns about the height of an apartment building, proposed to be built behind a former home of Bethlehem Steel titan Eugene Grace.

At its meeting Thursday, the commission offered comments on a land development sketch plan for the construction of the proposed four-story apartment building.

The developer, AIA, also wants to refurbish the three-story Grace home on 114 West Fourth Street and Martel Street.

The project would be known as The President’s Place.

The new, wood frame building would include a steel and concrete deck on the first and second floors.

The developer originally proposed a five-story building, but scaled it down in order for the new apartment building to be similar in height to the original mansion.

Commission member Matthew Malozi, who acted as the commission’s chairman at Thursday’s meeting in place of Robert Melosky, who was absent, emphasized that the new building should not “overwhelm the historical character” of the mansion.

Commission member Joy Cohen expressed concern that the new building would dwarf the original mansion and emphasized that the two buildings should be somewhat similar architecturally.

Robin Reshetar, president of the Reshetar Group architectural firm, said that a limit exists to how similar the buildings could be, given that the new building would be modern, while the mansion was built in the 1800s.

While he would not “mimic” the surrounding buildings, he would attempt to make the new building be in character with the surrounding buildings, Reshetar said.

Cohen said that the proposed building should be similar in scale to the adjacent properties and asked Reshetar to provide more details on the proposed building the next time he presents his updated plans to the planning commission.

No plans have yet been drawn up on exactly what type of work would be done to the mansion, which is vacant.

The developer also is proposing to demolish a one-story addition and parking garage between the President’s Home and the Bible Fellowship Church in order to restore the green space that once occupied that area.

Reshetar wrote in the project overview, which was provided to the city, that the developer has met with some of the church members, and agreed to remain 5 feet away from their south side meeting room.

Also in the overview, the developer wrote that its new apartment building would be a good fit for the neighborhood, noting that many buildings along West Fourth Street and Martel Street house apartments.

Seven-story residential buildings are also being proposed along Fourth Street between Vine and New Streets.

Plans for the project must be approved by the Bethlehem’s Historic Conservation Commission. Reshetar said the developer is awaiting comments from the commission.

In addition to living on the Fourth Street property early in his career, from 1902 to 1906, Grace also later lived in the building on Bethlehem’s Bonus Hill that is now Holy Family Manor.

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