Rezone the Martin Tower Land for Mixed-Use No Matter What

Here’s a wrinkle in the Martin Tower demolition debate that I wasn’t aware of:

Wagner showed the board a new concept plan for the property that has three major components: redevelopment of the tower at the west end of the property; adding three-story, garden-style apartments on the northern side of the property — 240 units in 10 buildings – and adding up to 183 townhouses on the southern side[…]

“We can easily decrease the number of townhomes” so commercial uses – such as an office building — can “grow” into that section of the property, he explained. He added more commercial uses will enhance the speed at which the property gets redeveloped, rather than waiting years for townhouses to be sold.

Wagner said the city requires Martin Tower itself must remain standing on the property for mixed-use development to occur there. He did not mention who would occupy that building or describe how it would be modified.

This land should be zoned for mixed uses no matter what happens to Martin Tower. And it should especially be zoned for mixed uses (CB, if you ask me) if Martin Tower is demolished.

This gets to the heart of why land use issues are so important. The basic factors of production are land, labor and capital. How much economic output Bethlehem can produce depends on how efficiently these resources are used. Bethlehem only has so much land inside its political boundaries. Here is a mostly blank 53-acre property. How much stuff can people develop on it?

If this parcel was located in an exurban township, they might insist that each new home be built on a 1-acre parcel. If Bethlehem did that, you’d only fit 53 homes on this massive tract of land. That would be a huge waste!

Alternatively, you could zone this land as CB, same as Bethlehem’s Northside and Southside central business districts, and create thousands of new housing units on a brand new 53-acre Main Street-style mixed-use business district for the West side.

The first kind of zoning regulations would basically neuter the productive potential of this enormous parcel. The second would bring in tens of millions more in revenue, hundreds of business opportunities and thousands of jobs, new residents, and all the benefits that come along with more economic growth.

Politicians always like to talk about doing more with less. Here’s a great opportunity to have lots more economic output using much less land.

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