Proposed high rise tabled
Gary Lader and Craig Evans were unanimously re-elected as president and vice president respectively at the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission’s first regular meeting of 2023.
The HCC tabled Milelli Realty’s proposal to demolish a strip mall and replace it with a six-story building at the corner of Third and Adams streets. While the commissioners had no qualms about razing the modern one-story structure, they were not receptive to the height of the proposed new construction.
The property is located on the site of the former South Side Market, that had been demolished in the 1970s.
It was later replaced by the suburban-looking shopping center with a parking lot in front anchored by Rite Aid.
Representing the project were Eric DeLong and Dylan Catino from USA Architects, with developers Carmen Milelli and Joseph Milelli seated nearby. The proposed new structure is a mixed-use development with 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and a total of 125 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments on the second through sixth floors. An enclosed parking garage on the first floor at the back of the structure would face Mechanic Street.
Evans mentioned there had been soil stability issues with the current building on the property where the Rite Aid “tower” had been leaning. It had to have its foundation reinforced. The developers responded that the site would be tested for stability and the rotting wood debris from the old market would be dug up and sifted out.
With one of few intact blocks of original, historic storefronts across the street from the site, historic officer Jeff Long noted that those structures maxed out at three-and-a-half stories and six stories would be “inappropriate.”
The board worried that the proposed six-story structure would throw significant shade across the façades of the storefronts across from it. The applicants responded that this would only happen during winter solstice.
The applicants were instructed to return with an accurate rendering depicting how the new construction would relate to neighboring buildings, as well as additional information. Lader encouraged them to consider making it a three-story building.
The directors granted a certificate of appropriateness for two signage proposals.
Barbershop owner Robert Powell, assisted by TJ Burger from FastSigns, was OK’d for vinyl window graphics featuring a barber pole flanked by open straight razors over “Upper Cut Barbershop” in off -white lettering for 132 W. Fourth St.
The narrow brick one-story building, built circa 1940, is owned by Soi Poh Chan.
Representing 113 E. Third St., Ray Rabeh from Project Printed scored a COA for storefront signage for the building’s barbershop tenant. Twenty-inch pin-mounted letters spell out “Fade on 3rd” in black across the sign band over the entrance. While the board usually recommends a pinstripe around the lettering, Evans opined the contrasting building color around the off-white sign band serves the purpose of a border.
The three-story residential over residential building is owned by Campbell Realty.
All votes were unanimous.
Bethlehem AICP Director Darlene Heller discussed proposed historic district ordinance amendments with the directors. This was similar to her discussion with members of the Historical and Architectural Review Board on Feb. 1.
The changes would include a fee schedule for applicants to better fund inspection and enforcement.
The fee scale would be tied to the scope of each project. For example, it was suggested $25 may be charged for a project costing less than $10,000, while a higher application fee may be charged for a demolition and new construction proposal.
Also discussed is a pending “over-the-counter approval” process that would allow for a select group of proposals to receive administrative approval as long as they involve a “like for like” replacement that follows historic district guidelines.
Having one representative on the HCC board instead of two from the Mount Airy district has also been proposed. Heller explained it is difficult to find multiple reps from such a small neighborhood.
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 two of three designated historic districts. The monthly meetings are generally scheduled for the third Monday of the month.
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, and then voted on by city council before any project is allowed to proceed.