The Correct Answers to the Bethlehem Citizens Association Questionnaire

Candidates for Bethlehem city council answered 20 questions from the Bethlehem Citizens Association. The Express Times posted their unedited responses, which you can read over there. None of the candidates come close to meeting my expectations for pro-development awesomeness, but Willie Reynolds comes the closest. I am extremely disappointed with Donchez’s answers on land use issues, maybe even moreso than the Republicans.

Just for fun, here are the correct answers that I think a pro-growth hero candidate would give:

1. How would you eliminate the city’s annual deficits?

Bethlehem has already cut too many positions over the past 3 years. Firing more people would be counterproductive for the city’s economy and for the delivery of public services. I would look into more job-sharing and reducing hours for city workers to avoid more layoffs. To make up the difference, I would increase land value taxes and reduce property taxes, for a net increase in revenue.

I would look into raising revenue by switching to a single hauler and saving money through single-stream recycling. The politics would be tough, but I would also propose taxing soda, plastic bags, and poured alcohol. When solid revenue growth returns, I would use the revenue from these new taxes to reduce property taxes even further.

Over the next few years, I would expand the land area covered by the two CB zones, eliminate all density restrictions in these zones, and expedite demolition for one- and two-story buildings below a minimum height. I would set a population growth target for the next 5 years, and upzone accordingly. I believe all these changes would send a clear message to developers that the city means business about new construction and growth.

2. Should more city employees be required to live within the city? If so, what requirements should be imposed?

No
3. Do you support closing the Engine No. 7 Firehouse on Dewberry Avenue?

The Mayor’s administration is the only body with enough political distance to make that decision on the merits. I would need assurances that there is no trade-off with public safety, but I would be inclined to defer to the Mayor on this question.

4. Do you support Tax Incremental Financing for the Martin Tower tract, where $10 million would be borrowed and turned over to the developer, with bond repayments coming from increased real estate tax revenues from the property?

I would be disinclined to support this TIF, as I would be concerned that it would draw investment away from our CB districts. I’m not persuaded that we can create workable pedestrian connections between Martin Tower and the rest of the urban grid, so I am concerned that this will only increase auto dependence and traffic congestion. I could be persuaded to support the TIF if measures were taken to price parking at market rates and develop the land for maximum density. The TIF is not worth it if all we’re doing is promoting more auto-dependent low-density sprawl.

5. Should any more casinos be allowed into the city?

I believe state law would prevent this, but I would not support another casino.  The city should not be in the position of micromanaging which kinds of businesses are allowed, but we do have to be wary of predatory business models like gambling, pawn shops, payday lenders and check cashing, rent-a-centers, etc.

6. There is presently no height limit in the two downtowns. What do you think it should be for North Bethlehem? South Bethlehem excluding the Sands?

I do not support any height limits for the downtown CB districts or the Bethlehem Steel land.  Height limits make housing less affordable and hurt job growth. Developers should be allowed to build as tall as they think is appropriate and cost-effective. I am in favor of strengthening property rights for downtown landowners more generally.

7. The Limited Commercial (CL) zone is the most restrictive commercial zone, and is found adjacent to residential areas. There is presently a height limit of 35 feet in CL. The administration proposes to raise this height limit to 60 feet in front and 45 feet in back. Do you agree? If not, what do you think it should be?

I am in favor of eliminating height limits in the CL zone. I do not believe the government should impose arbitrary height limits.

8. Should there be any kind of buffer between commercial and residential zones? If so, what should it be?

No

9. Do you agree with inserting the following statement into the Zoning Ordinance: “If the Zoning Hearing Board grants a use variance or a special exception, the new use shall be subject to the restrictions found in any zone where that use is permitted as a matter of right”?

No

10. How can the city reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon footprint?

Zero out minimum parking requirements and height limits city-wide. Get government out of the parking business altogether, and stop requiring developers to supply parking. Install electronic smart meters for all curb parking in the CB districts, Bethlehem Steel land, and downtown neighborhoods, so that meter prices rise and fall with parking demand. Return the meter fares to the residents on the blocks where they are collected. Sell the parking garages to private firms and the surface parking lots to private developers. Disband the Parking Authority. Tax land value at 5 times the rate for structures. Adopt Philadelphia’s formula for pricing stormwater runoff. Subsidize bus fares at 100%, deregulate taxis, and invest in more cycling infrastructure.

11. Should wind turbines be allowed in residential areas?

That is a property owner’s decision to make, not the government or neighbors

12. Should reports from the council’s Environmental Advisory Council be a regular item on the city council agenda?

Yes, if there is new information to present

13. Should reports from the Controller be a regular item on the city council agenda?

Yes, if there is new information to present

14. Much as certificates of appropriateness are approved now, should city council approval be required for the demolition of a historic building anywhere in the city?

No. I support strengthening property rights for downtown landowners, not weakening them further. I would do away with the “certificates of appropriateness” process, and I would establish a zoning budget and preservation budget. I would cap the number of buildings that can be on the historic registry at any given time. Historic preservation can be a great development tool when used well, but there is a trade-off between preservation and growth.  I would put this trade-off front and center, so that any time a building is added to the historic registry, another building must be removed from the list. I would create a similar “budget” for upzoning and downzoning. If one area is downzoned, another must be upzoned so that the total supply of housing and office space stays the same, or increases at the rate necessary to hit the population growth target.

15. Would you favor brown signs directing travelers to Historic Bethlehem from I-78 and US 22 even if a special exception from PennDOT would be required?

Sure

16. Should any more digital electronic billboards be allowed in the city? If so, where? Should any more “ordinary” billboards be allowed? If so, where?

No, I consider billboards a nuisance and a form of blight on the landscape. I would want to examine the city’s legal options for halting further billboards – traditional and electronic – and removing existing billboards.

17. Should town homes (row houses) be allowed in neighborhoods that are now predominantly composed of single family homes?

Yes. That decision should be made by landowners and developers, not government and neighbors.  Modern multi-family models can be quite beautiful, and this appears to be where the housing market is headed. Also, the exclusion of multi-family housing from predominantly single-family home neighborhoods has traditionally been used as a tool for racial segregation. It’s wrong, and city council shouldn’t stand for it.

18. Public speakers are limited to five minutes at council meetings and five minutes at meetings of council committees. What should the limit be at council meetings? Committee meetings?

The five minute time limit should be maintained. There should be an option for citizens to get longer presentations pre-approved. Council should make meeting minutes interactive on the city’s website so that people can post comments on the various agenda items.  Posting meeting minutes in .PDF format is not especially helpful.

19. Should any resident or property owner in Bethlehem be permitted to speak on any request for a variance or special exception before the Zoning Hearing Board?

Yes. It is a mistake to assign more weight to the immediate neighbors’ views than the rest of the city’s residents. Restricting development in one area of the city puts development pressure on other areas of the city, like squeezing a balloon. Arbitrary restrictions on density in the CB zones increase the cost of housing elsewhere in the city. The views of all city residents should carry equal weight in zoning decisions. Zoners and city council members should not feel assign extra weight to the views of the immediate neighbors.

20. Since the mayor and the city council are separate branches of government, their collaboration and independence are of considerable importance. It is thus of interest to know how much in the way of campaign contributions you have received from the mayor and whether you would accept any after today.

I belong to the same political party as the Mayor because we have similar political values. We have mostly the same issue positions. I’m not always going to vote with him, but most of the time I am. If you’re looking for a candidate who’s mostly going to disagree with the Mayor, you’d be better off voting for the other Party.

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  1. [...] all the studies you want, but in the end there’s no substitute for political leadership. Some of the policies that will grow Bethlehem’s economy and improve quality of life for residents are controversial or downright unpopular. Real political [...]

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