Bethlehem City Council denied a developer's request to amend the city's zoning map to build a new apartment complex during Tuesday night's meeting on the bill's first reading by a 4-3 vote.
Denying property owner Dennis Connell's request to rezone 11 and 15 W. Garrison St. were Councilwomen Paige Van Wirt, Olga Negron and Grace Crampsie Smith and Councilman J. William Reynolds. Voting for the request were President Adam Waldron and Councilmen Bryan Callahan and Michael Colon.
In addition to 11 and 15 W. Garrison St., Connell has been acquiring other properties in the neighborhood for the last 37 years. He owns seven other properties on North New and West North streets nearby.
The legislative body's vote contradicted the recommendation of the city's planning commission and support of the Donchez administration for the zoning change.
A favorable vote would have rezoned the two parcels from a high density residential district to a central business district.
The vote came after neighbors of the proposed development portrayed the zoning request in stark, but ultimately simplistic terms. A vote for the zoning change would allow a developer to destroy a tight-knit and soulful community just to make a dollar.
"Do the lives of those people matter" resident Lauren Miller asked.
Miller said the neighborhood embodied all that is good and decent in the city.
"To the problems that we have in this city, community is the answer," she said.
After more than one dozen people spoke against the zoning change, Connell took the microphone to speak.
"I am not the devil incarnate," he said.
Connell added that he had been in discussion with the city and with neighborhood residents, including tenants, to develop a project that would enhance the fabric of the existing community. Those discussions eventually led to his proposal to demolish some of the existing buildings and build a five-story, 72-unit structure with retail space on street level.
His case did not sway the majority of council.
"Garrison Street should stay the way it is," Negron said.
"I feel this is not the direction we (as a city) need to go," Crampsie-Smith said.
Van Wirt said she was impressed by the residents' "passion" against the project. She added that she was not certain that Connell faced a true hardship, and that the project could be built elsewhere.
Waldron said the request presented the council with a "tricky situation" because their were pros and cons for the proposed project. The president added that on balance, the proposal had the potential to be "a positive one" for the neighborhood.