Board gets new leadership
Gary Lader and Craig Evans were unanimously elected president and vice president respectively at the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission’s first meeting of 2021 on Jan. 25. New member Mike Simonson replaced Phil Roeder, who retired in December 2020.
Lader and Evans presided over an agenda that included discussion of proposed demolition of a row of vintage buildings that comprise 319, 321, 323, 325, and 327 S. New St. to make way for a 12-story mixed use apartment building.
The team representing the ambitious project included developers Rafael Palomino and Jeffrey Quinn, architect Jordan G. Clark and Anthony Scarcia Jr. from Allied Building Corporation. They sought consent from the board to tear down all four buildings and replace them with a structure with a 6,500-square-foot ground floor. As the new building’s height increases, the structure would span the existing alley at E. Graham Place to increase the footprint of each story to approximately 8,000 square feet. The support columns and upper stories would include a strip of land at 317 S. New St. which abuts the South Bethlehem Greenway.
The single story wood frame building at 319 dates from circa 1900. The painted brick Italianate building at 321-323 is three stories, with residential over retail. It dates from 1885 and rear additions were built during the 20th century. Its neighbor is a heavily altered 3-story vacant stuccoed building also built around 1885. A single story retail building at 327 and its rear addition are circa 1900. According to historic officer Jeff Long, defining architectural details for this building and two others have been lost over the years. He recommended retaining the existing building at 321-323, as it contains original architectural details.
Long argued the proposed 12-story structure “is inappropriate for the immediate streetscape and more generally, for the overall historic conservation district.”
The applicants produced an engineering report that pointed out various code violations and structural deficiencies found in the row of buildings, in an effort to support demolition.
When asked, Quinn said they could look at saving the façade of the building at 321-323 S. New St., but emphasized that, “everything inside the building is a public safety hazard and finished its useful life.”
According to Quinn, the design and materials for the new construction would reflect the historic nature of the surrounding district.
“The building is attractive,” said Craig Evans. But its 12-story height was a problem for him.
“It’s way too high,” exclaimed Roger Hudak.
Seth Cornish noted the structures on the Southside were predominantly two to four stories high, “with some notable exceptions.” He said this rhythm was key to the district’s identity and he was not willing to approve anything over five stories.
With his restaurant business background, Palomino described his vision for a food court on the first floor of the project.
The applicants explained that post-COVID technology for occupants would be built into the project to make it safer. There was an affordable housing component, as well.
When Lader called for public comment, Downtown Manager Missy Hartney spoke in favor of adding the “beautiful looking building” to the “heart of the downtown.”
The board agreed to table the proposal, with the applicants to return with a revised design. Ken Loush recused himself from this one agenda item.
J.C. Jewelry & Gifts, Car Village Title & Notary, Lara Bly Designs, and Pat’s News Stand are commercial tenants in the targeted properties owned by 325 S. New Street Development, LLC.
Representing 740 E. 4th St., Evan Blose from Fast Signs scored a certificate of appropriateness for Empire Workforce Solutions for a flat 108-inch by 22-inch sign for above the storefront windows. The board stipulated the gold and blue wording and blue logo be reduced in size to allow for a pinstripe to frame them.
Lauray Gregory is the owner of the circa 1910 Queen Anne Style brick commercial building.
David Delos Santos of D-signs & Awnings Inc. was awarded a conditional COA to replace two panels in an internally illuminated box sign for Nawab Indian Restaurant at 13 E. 4th St. Each 10-foot by 2-foot panel contains the name in red with a gold crown graphic on an off-white background surrounded by a pinstripe. The applicant was asked to move additional wording for “Dine-in,” “Takeout,” “Delivery” and phone number from the proposed sign panel design to a storefront window.
Although the commission encouraged Delos Santos to remove the old box signs, they would allow the unit to remain, but it could no longer be lit internally.
It was stipulated the redesign of the sign panel with window signage be submitted to the chair and historic officer.
The circa 1880s Italianate style three-story structure is owned by Edward and Rosalie Vogrins.
Voting was unanimous for both signage proposals.
Assisted by Curtis Mita from Universal Fabric Structures, John Trapani received reluctant approval to install awnings on the east and north side of his ZEST Bar & Grille. These permanent installations are for his sixth floor restaurant at 306 S. New St. to protect outdoor diners from inclement weather.
Trapani argued that the ongoing pandemic restrictions limiting indoor dining makes it financially necessary to continue providing outdoor dining. Hartney supported for the awning proposals. She said the temporary COVID situation may have permanent consequences for struggling businesses if they are not allowed to adapt to it.
Mita explained the awning material was a PVC-coated membrane and was strong enough to carry a load of snow. The structure would also direct runoff to a drainage system and not drop it on passersby below. The applicants said that the color and sharp angle of the awnings would allow them to blend in with the rest of the building and not be too visible from the street level.
Already-installed outdoor heaters were permitted to remain for the east terrace.
Voting was 4-2 for a COA, with Cornish and Evans voting “nay.” Lader recused himself from participating on this one item. Greenway I Inc. owns the building.
Planning & Zoning Director Darlene Heller asked if the commissioners could meet soon with the team involved with the South Side Planning project to provide input.
The Bethlehem HCC is charged with the task of determining if new signs or other alterations to a building’s exterior would be an appropriate fit for the neighborhood in one of three designated historic districts. The next virtual hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Obtaining a certificate of appropriateness is only a first step for business owners and residents in a designated historic district who wish to make alterations to a building’s exterior. The commission’s recommendations are later reviewed, then voted on by city council before any project is allowed to proceed.