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City vs Lehigh over church properties

Bethlehem Mayor William Reynolds made it clear at the Jan. 17 council meeting that the city will not back down on its vision of the Southside, which includes revitalizing the area with the interests of its communities and residents at the forefront, and is standing firm in its determination to purchase several Lutheran Church properties Lehigh University also wants.

Reynolds said, “We believed our $3 million offer includes terms that the congregations were looking for. And we believed it to be the start of an ongoing dialogue to reach a deal that benefits everyone. We were clear we were willing to come back for further discussion and negotiation. We did not imagine that this opportunity would be denied. Without an opportunity to make our plea directly, we publicly stated we would match Lehigh’s current offer as we understood it. That is how important this effort is to us, the residents, and the future of South Bethlehem.”

Councilwoman Rachel Leon, who has personal ties to St. John’s Windish, told Reynolds, “At some point, the Southside should be able to win.

“It’s very difficult to continue to watch Lehigh spread. I know that Lehigh isn’t in the wrong, to my knowledge, but I hope that they would understand why there is so much conversation regarding this, and how very difficult this is for some members of the Southside.”

The sale of the Lutheran properties has ignited a larger debate about how the Southside is changing, particularly with Lehigh’s ever-growing presence.

Councilwoman Dr. Wandalyn Enix said she wonders if there is going to be anything left to preserve.

“Some of those larger homes had three or four generations of families. Grandma, Aunt Sadie, parents, children, all living together in harmony. I mean large beautiful homes. Irish, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, we all got along. And now, there are just a bunch of houses, housing Lehigh students, waiting to house more Lehigh students.

“I have nothing against Lehigh students. I was one myself,” Enix said, but she argued against allowing large entities such as Lehigh and, previously, Bethlehem Steel Corp., from consuming more residential neighborhoods.