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.


  1. So people that invested $200k, $300k, $500k+ in their homes are horrible, evil people because they stand up for themselves.


    There’s a great book you should read – “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I think if you took it to heart it could really help you. Here’s the synopsis:

    Share everything.
    Play fair.
    Don’t hit people.
    Put things back where you found them.
    Clean up your own mess.
    Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    Wash your hands before you eat.

  2. Palmer Township has a bar called 1818 in a residential neighborhood. You know who’s there at night? People from the neighborhood. I don’t agree with taking approval out of the process, because some types of businesses don’t belong in residential neighborhoods. I do agree that bars in neighborhoods are absolutely fine.

  3. Rich, I’d be happy to debate on the merits. But these attacks are getting old. My favorite was when he attacked Beall Fowler.

    Enough on that.

    On the merits, it depends on the neighborhood. Palmer Township is not Bethlehem. Also, Bethlehem has been by far the most successful of the cities in the region. So why does Bethlehem need to change and take a chance it doesn’t work, when what they’re doing has worked so well? And just maybe they don’t want to be like NYC? Or Palmer for that matter?

    Further, Jon’s stance that everyone else in the city (because as we’ve already discussed, non-interested parties have no basis and therefore should be ignored) has never been backed by facts, only conjecture.

  4. Jon Geeting says:

    I’m not saying anybody’s a bad person, they’re just wrong. There is no conceivable citywide interest in protecting regulatory rents for a handful of wealthy property owners. There is a strong citywide interest in making it possible for more people, offices and shops to make use of the city’s nice downtown.

  5. Jon Geeting says:

    I would argue that the Moravians are most responsible for the success of Bethlehem’s downtown in 2012. If it were up to the current Bethlehem city council, it would be illegal to build a nice dense mixed-use corridor like Main Street today.

    To the extent that Bethlehem has been successful in recent years, it’s because the policy agenda has been pretty accommodating to the development of a nice walkable downtown with mixed uses. This post is arguing that Bethlehem should do more of what Bethlehem is already doing well. The anti-development, anti-property rights politics of the city’s entitled upper crust is the main factor holding the city back from attracting even more residents and investment.

  6. urban_LV says:

    When neighborhoods have a mix of homes and businesses, people can choose to walk to these businesses. If the zoning ordinance pushes business uses away from where we live, then walking is no longer an option. There is a reason that the businesses on Schoenersville Road and Stefko Blvd all need huge parking lots, but the corner stores, restaurants, and hair salons near downtown do not.

    Bethlehem’s biggest strength are the businesses located downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. We should continue to encourage new businesses to locate throughout the city

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