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Towering Southside building proposal tabled

After listening to input from four Bethlehem residents, the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission tabled a proposal for a demolition project and replacement building at the March 15 virtual hearing.

Joseph Posh returned with Salvatore Verrastro and Jason Monroig from Spillman Farmer Architects with revised plans for 14-18 W. Third St.

The applicants informed the commissioners that the façades of the two existing buildings they had hoped to incorporate into the new construction are too fragile to preserve.

Previously, the board was uncomfortable with the building’s height, tall vertical glass curtain wall for the upper stories and sail-like roof canopy.

The redesigned building eliminated the glass curtain and canopy, but the commissioners found the overall look “too massive.” Vice Chairman Craig Evans said the building looks like a silk mill instead of residential over retail, which would be more appropriate for that side of West Third Street.

Although the new design features ceiling heights that are lower than originally submitted, the board and residents criticized its still being eight stories tall. Several board members praised elements of the opposite side of the structure, like the stacked bay windows for the apartments on the upper floors.

Dana Grubb, Rachel Leon, Kim Carrell-Smith, and Alan Lowcher each critiqued the project when public comment was solicited.

“In terms of mass and height, it’s déjà vu all over again,” Grubb said, quoting Yogi Berra. He said the building should be less tall and the façade broken up to better fit the residential and commercial appearance of the historic district.

Leon expressed concerns that allowing a building that was already too tall would adversely affect future development in the district. Carrell-Smith echoed those sentiments and encouraged maintaining current historic district guidelines.

Lowcher was reassured by the board that the applicants need to secure building permits for a new structure before they are permitted to demolish existing buildings.

Verrastro agreed to break up and step down the façade as suggested. He also said he would rework the cornices above the first floor to allow for a sign band, as well as “pay homage” to the two buildings being torn down in the design of the new structure. Although he disagreed with calls to reduce the height of the new construction, he said he would look to drop a floor.

Chairman Gary Lader said the design was moving in a good direction and suggested the western end where the front and back walls meet be the tallest part of the structure, with the rest stepping down from there. He also advised the applicants to return with an elevation that would show how the shadows from new construction would impact nearby buildings in the neighborhood.

The decision was 8-0, with Ken Loush recusing himself from voting.

Joseph T. Posh Properties owns the two circa 1905 buildings and triangular vacant lot facing East Third, with the Greenway trail located behind it.

Xi Cheng’s application for a new wall sign for 220 E. Third St. was also unanimously tabled. The proposed signage featured the business name “Hocaa” with back-lit, off-white lettering on an off-white signboard background and an off-white pinstripe. Board members agreed with Evans’s assessment that it would be unreadable during the day. The sign’s mock-up was found not to be legible due to the lack of contrast.

“Fresh Bubble Tea” and various company graphics are rendered in black on the 144-inch by 36-inch sign for above the entrance.

The applicant was advised to change the background color and return with an updated proposal.

The two-story, late 19th century building is owned by Kevin Luna and was the former home of Cricket Wireless.

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 April 19.

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.

Joseph Posh's proposed demolition of these two buildings at 14 - 18 W. Third St. was tabled at the Bethlehem HCC March 15 hearing.
PRESS PHOTOS BY ED COURRIER The revised architectural plans for 14-18 W. Third St. presented by Spillman Farmer Architects were considered too tall for the historic district by board members and several members of the public at a virtual hearing.
3: Xi Cheng's application for a new wall sign for 220 E. Third St. was also unanimously tabled as much of it was viewed as unreadable due to the lack of contrast.
Xi Cheng's bubble tea establishment is located at 220 E. Third St., in the former location of Cricket Wireless.