Potential downtown development causes tension in Bethlehem

Potential downtown development causes tension in Bethlehem


Tension between development and history dominated Tuesday night's Bethlehem City Council meeting.

A public hearing involving architect and developer Dennis Connell's request to rezone two properties, 11 and 15 W. Garrison St., from high density residential to central business district designation was held. Connell is requesting the change to construct a six-story, mixed use building with 72 apartments along the 700 block of North New Street.

The two properties are part of nine contiguous properties Connell has acquired over several years on West North, North New and Garrison streets. The acquisitions are required to eventually implement his vision of an important urban redevelopment project.

Connell's journey to building his quasi real estate empire began in 1982, according to city documents. He purchased the properties gradually, as they became available on the market. Until 2012, West Garrison Street from North New Street to Main Street was zoned as central business. During that year, it was rezoned to high density residential. Connell obtained 11 W. Garrison St. four years earlier, when it was zoned central business.

"The underlying element of my request is to return 11 West and 15 West Garrison Street to the CB zoning they had prior to 2012," Connell noted in his request to the council.

The parcels are not in a historic district.

During Tuesday night's hearing, Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt said it should come at no surprise that she is "concerned about the loss of residential" properties. She directly asked Connell what would he do if the zoning was denied?

Connell attempted to answer, pausing several times before eventually giving up.

"I don't think I could honestly answer that question," given the situation, he said.

It was a question neighbors who attended the hearing Tuesday night hope becomes more than hypothetical. Speaker after speaker lamented the changes with various themes centering around how it would negatively transform a Bethlehem neighborhood.

"This is a commercial intrusion into a neighborhood," Bethlehem resident Bruce Haines said. "… Ultimately this decision is about integrity."

The council did not render a verdict Tuesday night. Rather President Adam Waldron placed the matter on its Oct. 1 agenda for its first reading.

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· Dr. Joseph Patruno named chief wellness officer of Lehigh Valley Health Network, to address and promote the well-being of healthcare professionals and caregivers at LVHN.

· Big Lots will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 12. It will celebrate the grand opening of five newly remodeled stores throughout the Allentown area.

· The Peppermint Stick Candy Store of Boyertown is opening a second location in the High Street Terminal on 300 E. High Street in Pottstown. The grand opening is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11.

· Madona Antiques Gallery will open in about a month at 283 Fifth Street in Whitehall Township. It will sell antique English, French and American furniture and lighting.

· Mealey's Furniture going out of business and closing all stores

· Green Earth Marketplace to celebrate renovations and new ownership with a ribbon-cutting event on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 9:45 a.m. at 1328 Chestnut Street in Emmaus

· Lehigh Fine Foods to hold grand opening celebration Saturday, Oct. 5 from 12-2 p.m. at 1301 Chestnut Street in Emmaus

· Grand View Health announces 5-year, $210M expansion plan. The most significant investment is the construction of a 5-floor expansion next to the Sellersville hospital, which will include a new emergency department and more.

· Roosevelt's 21st in Bethlehem to close on September 28

· 1847 Financial Lehigh Valley is hosting an Open House Celebration in recognition of the grand opening of their new space in Allentown. The event will take place on Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. at 1550 Pond Road Suite 140 in Allentown.

· CBRE has arranged a lease for Venture X, a workspace community for entrepreneurs and businesses, at Gateway at Greenway Park in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This will be Venture X’s first location in Pennsylvania. 

· A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for You've Got Maids and The Gathering Place at 351 W. Broad Street in Quakertown on Sept. 26 at noon.

· Fischer's Tuxedo is celebrating 100 years in Quakertown. A ribbon-cutting on their next 100 years is set for Tuesday, Sept. 17 at noon.

· Multisport Fitness will host a grand opening celebration on Sept. 26 from 5-8 p.m. at the gym, located at 2016 South Delaware Drive in Upper Mount Bethel.

· The Vibe: Connect and Thrive fitness studio had a grand opening Sunday, Sept. 8 at 202 S. 3rd Street, Suite C, in Hamburg. 

· Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley has relocated to 2132 South 12th Street, Suite 401, in Allentown.

· LVHN ExpressCare to open in Lehighton on Sept. 3. The urgent care facility at 363 North First Street will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

· Dog grooming service to open along North Sixth Street in Allentown

· NY Gyro opened their second location at 129 E. Third Street in Bethlehem.

· CBD American Shaman opened their first Lehigh Valley location. A grand opening is scheduled for September 6 on 9 E. Third Street in Bethlehem.

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