More Infill, Less Lowe’s

I appreciate what Bryan Callahan is saying here, and agree with him that what Bethlehem needs are more bold ideas and less political wimpishness. But I do think there needs to be a distinction drawn here:

Bethlehem City Council candidate Bryan Callahan said the opening of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and Lowe’s on Eighth Avenue are examples of bold decisions he would continue if elected.

Neither decision was initially popular but both have proven to be good economic development initiatives for the city, Callahan said at his announcement today to run for city council.

The Bethworks plan was a good idea because it made better use of an area with good connections to existing neighborhoods and mixed-use areas. It reused land in an already built-up part of the city. I’m not in love with all the land use choices Bethlehem’s planners made for the site (don’t like the quasi-highway level of service on Daly Ave/E. 3rd Street, don’t like that surface parking is an allowed use, etc) but those are the kinds of things that future politicians can ratchet back as more of the site gets developed.

Lowe’s on 8th Ave brought Big Box sprawl to Bethlehem, and I think that was a mistake. What needed to happen on 8th Avenue was a reduction in level of service to make it less like a highway, and more like Broad Street or Union Blvd. It needed a road diet, with a bus-only lane and some curb parking, but planners doubled down on the idea of 8th Ave as a highway. Shrinking the road space would have made the Martin Tower redevelopment plan make sense, they could have rezoned the area between Martin Tower and Union Blvd to improve pedestrian connections between the Tower and the neighborhoods, and laid the zoning foundation for a bunch of compact mixed-use development. You could have a whole walkable commercial district serving the west side neighborhoods over there. That wasn’t an example of political courage, it was an example of bowing to the highway. It was the least visionary thing they could have done with that land.


  1. Jack Contado says:

    Of course, your ideas regarding what someone can lawfully do with their private property are far superior to whatever they may actually want to do. It’s a shame that you’re not the central planner that can stop these developments.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Jack, the point that you constantly seem to miss is that it’s not my ideas about zoning versus the free market. In the real world, it’s my ideas versus the status quo of mandatory low-density. Most of my views on land use involve giving developers more freedom to do use their land as they see fit. Every part of the land market is very heavily regulated. Check out the zoning regulations for that area. Every detail is regulated by the city.

  2. Well at least you’re learning – a couple months ago you wanted Federal funding to tear down Martin Tower, didn’t know there was a brand new supermarket across the street, forgot that the mall was 1/2 mile away, didn’t want to admit it would be exceptionally easy to connect downtown Bethlehem, etc.

    Now you realize it has the potential to be a great community.


    • Jon Geeting says:

      The problem with that area is that it’s designed for cars, not pedestrians. It has the potential to be a great community if you completely change the nature of the road and rezone the land. But I’ve never heard any politicians actually propose a road redesign. I believe PennDOT’s road design regulations are actually the main obstacle to doing a road diet.

  3. You can’t completely change the nature of it because the people that live there will have to drive to get to work so cars are a necessity. You can make modest changes and it would be fantastic.

    Rather than your penchant for completely ripping something up and your love of spending billions of someone else’s money in the process, how about you tackle it piece by piece?

    Case in point – dedicated bus loop between the tower, downtown and the Westgate Mall. You solve your connectivity issue for the cost of 1 bus and a driver, offset by rider fees. This works well while you’re working out all the other stuff (walking trails, traffic patterns, pedestrian islands, etc).

    Amazing what you can accomplish when you actually think about a problem rather than just lob cash at it.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      “Have to drive” is a consequence of the land use and zoning choices to design that area for cars, not pedestrians. You can redesign it so that over time car ownership becomes less and less necessary, people can walk to their basic needs, and opt to take transit to their jobs if they prefer. Car ownership should be a choice, and a real choice. Opting out should not involve a major sacrifice in quality of life. In the area near Martin Tower there are 6 lanes at one point. I’d put a bus-only lane on each side next to the sidewalks, get rid of the turning lanes, and take it down to a single driving lane each way. If still too wide, I’d put a nice planter down the middle as a median. I would get rid of the setback requirements, so any new buildings over there abut the sidewalk. I’d add some more cross streets to shorten the blocks, and put in some new traffic lights and cross-walks.

      • Yeah but you can’t redesign it all at once or two things will happen – it won’t get approved; and 2) if it gets approved it’ll be a colossal failure because there isn’t enough demand yet.

        This is another challenge with your generation – you have no concept of working toward a goal that takes more than 30 minutes, and if you want something, you want it right fucking now.

        Also, when you trot out plans like this as a ‘all or nothing’ approach, you cement yourself as a radical far left liberal who is not to be taken seriously.

        Do like the gun banners are doing right now – take what you can get, and get the rest later. It’s a tried and proven technique. And in this case it’ll have the added benefit of increasing the city’s tax base and putting a huge white elephant to use. And you won’t look like an idiot.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Nowhere did I say I didn’t think this would take an extremely long time. Of course it would. The first step is saying what you want to see and getting people interested. Even if enough politicians became interested in the idea, it would take at least 3 years to do a community outreach and planning process, then you’d have to convince City Council and PennDOT to sign off on the plan, and on and on. It’ll take forever. And even then, there’s no chance everything on the fantasy plan makes it into the final proposal. I’m well aware that politics is very slow and requires great patience and tolerance for compromise. But again, the first step is laying out the vision and putting the issue on the agenda.

  4. And in the meantime you’re ignoring a plan that costs virtually nothing from a public perspective and gets that building occupied?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I can get behind the Martin Tower plan if it’s part of a comprehensive strategic plan for that area. If the plan is to redevelop Martin Tower with no other changes to the existing land use, then no, I don’t like it. I just think it’s a distraction from developing the CBDs, insofar as there are only so many public dollars to devote to redevelopment.

  5. That’s the trick Jon – you don’t need to devote any public dollars to the redevelopment. You’d probably need a TIF which no one will complain about, but that’s it.

    You keep holding out for grand slams and you’ll have a very unproductive life. Singles and doubles work too.

  6. What’s wrong with Lowes? The place is always full so there is obviously a demand for the home improvement store. Also they employ several people and generate revenue thru the tax base for the city.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      You can collect a lot more property taxes from a row of 3-4-story mixed use buildings. And you can fit a whole lot of those between Union Blvd and Martin Tower on 8th Ave. They’re pissing away tax dollars with the mandatory low-density zoning.

  7. No developer or investor is going to build anything just for the sake of building it. There isn’t any demand for that kind of development in that area right now. Case and point is the above mentioned Martin Towers. The only multi level high rise in town sits completely empty. An empty building is a tax burden to a city not a revenue generator.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      It’s empty because its a crap location, and it’s a crap location because who wants to live in a high rise off a highway? People want apartments that are within walking distance from businesses. The city can impact the land value over there by changing the zoning to allow more pedestrian-centered development over time.

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