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Proposed law would strengthen protection for Bethlehem historic landmarks

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Mar 19 2013 10:55:25 PM CDT
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

A proposed ordinance that would shore up protection for historic buildings and landmarks in Bethlehem was unveiled t a public hearing Tuesday night.

The reception from the public and Bethlehem City Council was mostly positive. However, a couple of city residents said it didn't go far enough, and one building owner asked that his property be removed from a list of 26 "historic resources" that would be covered by the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance will have its first official reading at city council's April 2 meeting.

Darlene Heller, director of planning and zoning, outlined the proposed ordinance, saying the review procedures for buildings and properties that would be covered are the same as for properties in the city's historic districts. The major difference: plans for a building or property on the ordinance's historic resources list would only be subject to review if the owner wanted to demolish it.

The list includes buildings and properties such as: the Bethlehem Silk Mill at 238 Goepp St.; the Fellows Building (aka the Farr Building) at

2 West Broad St.; Martin Tower, 1170 Eighth Ave.; Packer Memorial Church, 18 university Drive; Liberty High School's Commons Building at

1115 Linden St.; the Burnside Plantation at Schoenersville Road at Monocacy Creek, and the Elmwood Park Historic District.

Kenneth Miller, a member of the governing board of St. Thomas UCC Church, 902 Macada Road, said his congregation was pleased their building is on the list, noting that the church was founded in January

1848 and originally known as the Manockisy Church.

Evelyn Beckman, a member of the task force whose "long and exhausting effort" help put together the ordinance over the last three years, was also supportive, saying she was happy that the Siegfried Pharmacy at

310 West Broad St., which is home to her Ambre Studio, is on the list.

Beckman called the ordinance "a start," noting that the enforcement provisions could be tougher and the definition of demolition by neglect could be more explicit.

Bill Scheirer, of 1890 Eaton Ave., said the list of historic sites is hardly exhaustive, and council should vote directly on whether "structures of a certain age" can be demolished, "perhaps anything from 50 years up to a bare minimum of 200 years old."

He also said the ordinance should say that anyone who buys a building on the historic resources list cannot claim "economic hardship" at a later date. "That economic hardship [would be] self-imposed after the passage of this ordinance," he said.

Stephen Antalics asked why the former St. Stanislaus Polish Church,

419-429 Hayes St., and the former St. John Capistrano Church, 910 East 4th St., were on the list. "Is it because they were churches, or because of their architectural value?"

He said the architect who worked on another building on the list, St. 

Joseph's Catholic Slovenian Church, 413 East 5th St., also influenced the St. John and St. Stanislaus buildings and could be responsible for their being on the list.

Atty. Kevin Kelleher spoke on behalf of the owner of the Lehigh and New England Railroad Freight Warehouse at 15th Avenue at Gary Street, asking that the building be taken off the list. "Why would a seven- story with more than 200,000 square feet of storage space on the north side of the Spur Route [Route 378] be on such a list. Why?" Kelleher wondered.