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Bethlehem Council approves sale of land, revitalization of pocket park

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 17 2013 10:57:04 AM CDT
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Despite criticism from some residents, Bethlehem City Council gave its unanimous approval Tuesday night to sell an odd-shaped tract of land near the Hill to Hill Bridge to a developer who wants to build a three-story office building on it.

Council also voted 7-0 to approve a $1 a year lease with the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center, which wants to revitalize a pocket park along East 4th Street, a move that also angered one resident.

Council followed the recommendation of its Parks and Public Property Committee in voting to sell the .67-acre tract along West 3rd Street near the Perkins restaurant to Triple Net Investments XXXI, of Asbury, N.J., for $45,000.

News that a deal was in the works was made public by Mayor John Callahan on April 2. The land will be consolidated into an adjacent parcel owned by Triple Net.

A representative of the developer said he has met with property owners near the parcel -- namely, the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Perkins and Sayre Mansion -- and "we told them we'd be happy to work with them through the [land development] process."

Council members William Reynolds and Karen Dolan and council president Eric Evans all spoke in favor of the sale.

Reynolds predicted the sale would ultimately "add jobs and revenue to the city" as well as put a property back on the tax rolls.

Dolan called the property "a gateway corner" to the South Side business district, and said the land "doesn't meet the requirements for open space [use] … You can't have an open space park at the edge of a highway [Route 378]."

She said a new building on the parcel would be "a boost and a boon to the city," and would mean "more feet on the ground [and] more jobs."

Dana Grubb, president of the South Bethlehem Historical Society, said while he agreed with most everything council members said, he still had reservations that "a very attractive view of the city will be [negatively] impacted" by the kind of building being proposed by Triple Net.

He said he hoped any plans for the parcel "maybe can be done with a little more sensitivity."

South Side resident Mary Pongracz was more blunt. "This triangle project is an insult to the people who live in the neighborhood. Why are we denigrating [this] neighborhood again?"

The developer's plan for the parcel will be studied by the city planning commission.

Grubb and Pongracz also commented on the pocket park revitalization project at 727 East 4th Street. The South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center will use $25,000 in grant money and volunteers to begin work on Thursday, with hopes of having it opened in June.

Grubb, a retired city employee, said he recalled when the plot was renovated with Community Development Block Grant funds. "I can see that wasn't money that was well spent," he told council.

Pongracz said the money will be used to turn the plot "into a dump yard of stone benches and stone gargoyles."

Reynolds defended the park project, saying it is a much-needed addition to that side of town.

Dolan called the project "well planned," and praised the replanting of "native plants" and installation of game tables, concrete urns and benches that will be done by Neighborhood Center volunteers.