Archives for July 18, 2012

What’s Wrong With Bars In Downtown Neighborhoods?

Good news that Bethlehem city council passed the new zoning ordinance over NIMBY objections, but I would’ve preferred to see the new ordinance go even further, with a form-based code that doesn’t address *uses* at all.

Section 1304.04 that the NIMBYs are flipping out about doesn’t go far enough.

Not only should businesses be allowed to use whatever buildings they want – not just “corner buildings” – they should be allowed to do so as-of-right, without any political approval needed.

There is absolutely no broader public interest in maintaining any part of the downtown area as a purely residential neighborhood. It should all become mixed use over time.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with a corner bar in the neighborhood. Downtown “wants” to be an entertainment cluster. If more liquor licenses were available, you’d see more bars and restaurants opening. And that would be awesome. It might be something of a nuisance for the immediate neighbors, but that’s the trade-off with wanting to live in the center of the action.

The trade-off city council would be making in ceding the “no neighborhood bars” point to the NIMBYs would essentially be accepting a suckier downtown with fewer businesses, in order to preserve a fully private benefit for a handful of wealthy people. Sacrificing a broad public benefit for a narrow private benefit.

Owner of Melt and Blue Opening Nice Restaurant in Downtown Allentown

Zach Lindsey on Donny Petridis’ vote of confidence in downtown Allentown’s future:

Melt and Blue co-owner Donny Petridis likely will be the founder of a planned restaurant at Two City Center near Allentown’s hockey arena project, Petridis and City Center Lehigh Valley announced Tuesday.
The upscale restaurant planned for the first floor of the center on Seventh Street

The upscale restaurant planned for the first floor of the center on Seventh Street and Hamilton Boulevard, would have lunch, dinner and cocktails, and could be in a style similar to New York bistros, Petridis said in a news release.
If everything goes as planned, the restaurant could be open by early 2014.

“The restaurant will be right in the heart of the city’s new scene, making it the ideal spot for a business lunch, a pre-game dinner, cocktails with friends or people-watching from the outdoor lounge,” Petridis said in the release. “We want it to be a destination for Valley residents and visitors.”

Build More Apartments to Stop Illegal Apartment Conversions in Allentown

The reason you see people making all these illegal rental conversions in Allentown is that the rent is too high for a lot of people to afford their own apartments. If people could afford their own apartments, I don’t think they’d be trying to live in cramped conditions. It’s not like they enjoy that.

The solution must involve not just enforcing the existing zoning laws, but also figuring out how to bring down rents on the low end of the market. Why is this market failure is happening? Why aren’t there enough options for people to lease low-rent apartments at a lower square footage? Why aren’t developers responding to a tight rental market by building more apartments? These are the issues city council needs to be focusing on.

The city can pull some investment in new multifamily buildings forward in time by raising their tax on assessed land values, and lowering their tax on building values. It would be an even bigger deal if the school district split their real estate tax, and matched the city’s millage rate spread. They also need to look at zeroing out minimum lot size requirements and height limits.

Police Regionalization in the Slate Belt

This was not on my radar, but Bernie O’Hare says it’s in the works:

Bangor Borough Council is poised to vote next Monday on a state-financed police regionalization plan for the 5 Slate Belt communities.

A regional department would result in 24% total savings in police costs. .

In Bangor, it is basically a wash in the first year. Plainfield Township would save $250,000 in its first year. Pen Argyl would save $100,000.

Bangor Borough Council member Dave Houser, who supports the plan, states, “I think we can pull this off and assure the public of no drop offs in service.”

I wish we were seeing more local governments going this route, trying to save money through shared services, rather than just cutting jobs or raising taxes.