Mount Airy Neighbors Should Pay For Historic Home Restoration, Not City Taxpayers

Here’s a good example of a situation where there’s no compelling citywide interest in preserving a building, but Bethlehem politicians lean toward preservation anyway. The backstory is that the Diocese of Allentown wants to demolish a 123-year old home in West Bethlehem because they don’t think the $230,000 in repairs it needs are worth it. But West Bethlehem neighbors don’t want it demolished, so City Council voted unanimously against the demolition. It’s not really clear to me what that vote committed them to do:

The Spring Street home was owned by the gardener of former Steel President Eugene Grace. Mount Airy Neighborhood Association President Mary Toulouse argued that homes of workers have an important place in historic districts just as slave quarters are maintained as part of historic plantations.

“It’s important we preserve the homes of the gardeners as well as the CEOs,” she said.

Several Mount Airy area residents said they felt the diocese failed to maintain the home to the point that it was a case of demolition by neglect, a practice disallowed in other cities. They said the city shouldn’t allow any homes in the small historic district to be knocked down.

“Why have a historic district if there’s no teeth?” Prospect Avenue resident Arnold Traupman asked.

The appropriate question to ask here is “important to whom?” I think it’s clear this is really only important to the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association. Southside Bethlehem families are not losing sleep over this. It’s not really an issue for anyone but the folks who live near it. I think that means that the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association needs to ask their members how much they personally are willing to shell out for the restoration. If they can come up with the $230,000 from within their own membership then they should go ahead with the repairs. If there’s not enough interest, then that’s that.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Or here’s a novel concept that you hate beyond all hate – hold the owner of the property accountable for allowing the deterioration in the first place, and require them to bring it up to code.

    Your generation doesn’t think anyone should be held accountable (remember the people you advocated not pay their mortgage so they could go to the casino and take their boat out?) so this idea won’t float with you, but it’s what should happen.

    It’s called being responsible.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      What?? I have so many posts on here about the need for better code enforcement, and stronger anti-blight laws. I don’t know how you missed them…

      • John says:

        Didn’t miss them – if you go back and read them, you never hold the person responsible and always look for someone else to pay the bill, and it’s usually the taxpayer.

        In this situation I have no problem with the city ordering the Diocese to fix the house and suing the Diocese if it doesn’t comply.

        Enough of the bullshit already.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Where did I ever say the taxpayers should pay? I have always been for taxing blight – fining owners of blighted properties and seizing properties if they don’t pay the fine. I have argued for this policy in a dozen or more posts.

          • John says:

            Jon you ALWAYS say taxpayers should pay.

            Oops, you’re right – you always say OTHER taxpayers should pay, just not you.

            In the history of your life, every solution you have ever come up with boils down to two points – throw money at it, and it should be other taxpayers’ money that is thrown.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Just shows you have no reading comprehension skills. My point almost always boils down to the idea that sometimes people/policy choices impose hidden costs on others, and they should have to pay those costs directly. Taxpayers should pay for public goods, private consumers should pay for their own private goods, and sometimes it’s appropriate to top up poor people’s consumption of certain kinds of private goods because we’re not monsters. I’m already thinking of examples where I don’t agree with this, but that’s the lesson most of the time.

          • John says:

            No, your point always boils down to spending more of someone else’s money. Hell I’ve pointed that out about 1,000 times!

            Example – you’ve stated often that suburbs and rural areas should be bent over, their money confiscated and sent to the cities. Why not hold cities, who have tremendously high cost structures, accountable for their costs? Or have them address their cost structures? Nope, your solution is to take money and throw it at the problem, not address the problem.

            The horror of it is you really don’t know the difference between fixing a problem and throwing money at it, you think they’re the same. Another example of what a lousy job my generation did raising yours.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            And you’re always wrong about it.

  2. I was at the city council meeting last night and there was quite a lot of testimony that didn’t make it into the news article. As someone who doesn’t live in that neighborhood, here’s what I got out of what I heard at the meeting:

    The city has laws to deal with vacant buildings with code enforcement issues. Apparently the city was not doing anything to cite the property owner for these issues over time.

    The property owner doesn’t want the house, but they don’t want to sell it either, presumably to reuse the property. The same property owner also owns other historic/old buildings that they are letting fall into disrepair.

    If city council would allow the demolition permit for this building, it would be setting a precedent that if a property owner buys a house they can just let it sit for a while so it will be “demolished by neglect” and then it will have to be allowed to be torn down, whereas it normally wouldn’t be had the property been maintained.

    tl;dr
    The neighbors in that area want it to remain a neighborhood, not a giant retirement complex, which is apparently what the property owner is seeking to do.

  3. Lynn Olanoff says:

    Council’s vote was to not allow the home and barn’s demolition. If you own a property in one of the city’s certified historic districts (Historic, South Side or Mount Airy), you can’t tear down a structure or make modifications to it without the city’s OK. Council’s vote last night doesn’t put the city on the line for any of the renovations.

  4. Hillary Kwiatek says:

    As someone who both lives in the neighborhood and has a relative in one of the Holy Family Manor properties, I’m conflicted here.

    On the one hand, I think it’s good to have assisted living and other retirement home options situated in a residential neighborhood. My father in law is able to be a part of our family’s life in a much bigger way than if he were in a high rise 20 miles away or by the hospital as my mother in law was.

    On the other hand, HFM/The Diocese has not been a good steward of this particular part of its property. One has to be led to believe their neglect was intentional. I don’t think that’s cool at all. Their claim that they want to just keep the property as open space is really laughable. Why would they do that instead of just selling the parcel if they don’t intend to use it for something eventually (presumably they had thought they’d demolish the buildings and then wait a while for people to forget).

    If HFM really has no alternative plans for the property, then they should just fix up the buildings minimally so they pass inspection, unload the parcel and pocket the proceeds. They could also just sell it as is, right? Or will they just continue to let the buildings rot, hope they haven’t attracted the attention of code enforcement, and wait for a new city council that might be more sympathetic? I guess their bluff is officially called.

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