Willie Reynolds Running for Bethlehem Mayor

I’m still hoping to see Donna Taggart get in the primary for Bethlehem Mayor, but I think the next best hope for staving off 4 years of no-growth NIMBYism in the Mayor’s office is Willie Reynolds. So I’m glad to see Councilman Reynolds will be announcing a run this Tuesday.

My big fear is that Willie, like Bob Donchez, is disturbingly inclined to coddle NIMBYs at the expense of population growth and redevelopment. He’s shown little interest in moving towards a form-based zoning code, instead of a use-based one:

Other council members said zoning ordinances may be favored by the city as a whole, while their impact may have a negative effect on a few.

“People want these types of changes to occur, but not necessarily in their own backyard,” said councilman J. William Reynolds. “We have to make sure there’s a balance that we get the best for everyone.”

I was also none too pleased with this quote from back in 2011:

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?

Reynolds: I would support a TIF if the project was one which I was comfortable with. The challenges of redeveloping the Tower are enormous. The expense of removing the asbestos alone is a multimillion dollar issue. I am not in favor of building too much high density housing around the Tower. Bethlehem succeeds because of our neighborhoods and our balance of high, medium, and low density housing. Whatever development occurs at the site must rely on smart growth.

Smart growth is great, but in this context what it means is maximum infill. At a regional level smart growth means land use planning for no growth in the exurbs and greenfields and as much growth as is politically feasible in the central cities. The only reason to spend taxpayer dollars on redeveloping Martin Tower is if you’re also willing to develop the huge surface parking lots that surround it. It’s only worth it if that whole property becomes a multi-building high-rise mixed use district with a lot of shops, apartments and condos. And the same goes for the former Steel land. If you’re not interested in using these TIF projects to really increase the size of the zoning envelope and do something huge, then you’re better off sticking to granny flats and small scale infill projects in the neighborhoods as a redevelopment strategy. “Smart growth” has to be more than just a political buzzword, it has to mean something in policy terms.

Those problems aside, I think that Willie probably is more persuadable than Bob Donchez on some other issues like mobile vendors, single hauler trash collection, 911 regionalization, parking reform, etc. He’s just a younger guy and is going to be more interested in doing some interesting things in the city that will look good on his resume and advance his political career. He’s going to be more willing to learn from all the great stuff that’s happening in Philly and Pittsburgh and NYC and try to import some of their successes to Bethlehem. Donchez has given every indication that his would be an administration that gets spooked at the very hint of controversy. In practical terms that means 4 years of painfully slow progress, which Bethlehem just can’t afford.

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