Willie Reynolds’ campaign website is here, and of course it is as vague as the typical professional campaign website. However, there are a few clues in The Plan that suggest a Mayor Reynolds would take a “smart growth” (traditional neighborhood development, new urbanism, market urbanism, whatever term you prefer) approach to land use and development issues.
Here is the section on Sustainable Neighborhoods:
“Cities face no greater challenge than creating, supporting, and maintaining neighborhoods in which families want to raise their children. As Bethlehem moves forward, the most crucial issue facing the City will be our ability to foster neighborhood development as we continue to compete with surrounding municipalities and suburban areas. I had the pleasure of growing up in a neighborhood in which I could ride my bike with my friends and play baseball in our parks. That idea of what a neighborhood can be must be maintained and developed.
As the campaign unfolds, I will be releasing several initiatives that are designed to support this idea of neighborhoods. We must create the programs and governmental support necessary to achieve this goal and attract and retain middle class families in the 21st century.”
Translation: neighborhoods need to be more pedestrian and bike-friendly.
Here is the section on Economic Redevelopment and Revitilization [sic]:
“The City of Bethlehem has made great strides in the last several years in avoiding many of the problems that have crippled other cities throughout the country. Our community has seen the successful rehabilitation of many dilapidated properties throughout the city which has allowed us to start to recover from the hit our tax base endured with the decline of Bethlehem Steel. When Bethlehem Steel closed, as a community, we could have gone one of two ways. Fortunately, we have had leadership over the past 15 years that saw the benefits of moving forward, even if those decisions weren’t always popular with everyone in our community.
During my time on City Council, I have supported our redevelopment efforts including those involved with the Bethworks development (the former Bethlehem Steel site). Even though the BethWorks development will go a long way in revitalizing the vacant Bethlehem Steel property, we need to keep up our redevelopment efforts if we are going to see the continuation of the city’s financial picture. These efforts will be vital if we are going to rebuild our tax base in an effort to keep our property taxes low.
Translation: Bethlehem needs to keep the development momentum going, even if it’s not always popular with everyone.
Without being able to comment on specific proposals, I think that’s exactly the right political outlook for the next Mayor.
Bethlehem’s greatest asset is its land, and the potential to grow the tax base by developing underused land parcels in high-demand areas, and redeveloping vacant-but-cool buildings into useful housing or commercial space.
Much progress has been made, but city politicians can’t get complacent just because a few successful big projects have been built. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit left, but taking the city to the next level of growth is going to require the next Mayor to take on some tough political controversies over population density and parking in the neighborhoods – stuff like cracking down on surface parking lots on Southside Bethlehem, ratcheting back the scope of the Southside Conservation District, road diet and upzoning for West Broad Street, performance parking for the CBD zones, etc.