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ANOTHER VIEW Walnut Street garage: People need to pay attention

Future historians of Bethlehem may well cite the Walnut Street Garage as a symbolic turning point in whether Bethlehem will retain its traditional characteristics of closely knit neighborhoods, overall human scale, and relatively calm streets, or morph into a significantly larger city with a significantly higher percentage of people living in apartment buildings, taller buildings and more activity and congestion.

Analysis of the proposals emanating from the City of Bethlehem administration (CB) and its poodle, the Bethlehem Parking Authority (BPA), indicate the values held by the combination (CBBPA). First, the new garage will have fewer parking spaces, because the existing garage is full only during Musikfest and the Christmas season. Thus the new garage will not be able to satisfy peak demand. Why? Well, it will create some space on the ground.

Second, the new garage will be taller, creating more space on the ground, even though a taller garage with the same number of spaces is less efficient, since a higher percentage of floor space is devoted to ramps.

Third, part of the sidewalk will be incorporated. Why? Well it will create more space.

Fourth, the CBBPA is asking that a portion of Walnut Street be vacated. Why? Well, it will create still more space on the ground.

What is the proposed use of this additional space? The CBBPA has recently been more forthcoming on this; the additional space will be devoted to a market rate apartment building in downtown. Indeed, a Request for Proposals has been issued and proposals have been received.

Clearly the CBBPA intends to have an apartment building. It is alleged that this will increase the vacancy rate from 2 percent to 7 percent in the city, which is more normal and will help with affordable housing. But the gap between affordable housing and market rate housing currently is so great that any trickle down effect on affordable housing would be minuscule at best.

So the choice is between a more efficient replacement garage that will have a better chance of meeting peak demand, will not alter the height limits in the historic district, and leave Walnut Street open, versus a less efficient garage that will not meet peak demand, will alter the historic district height limits, and will block Walnut Street in the middle, all in order to provide more market rate housing.

The choice is clear. I just hope the people of Bethlehem are paying attention, before it is too late,

P.S. The CBBPA has already won Round One, because it has secured approval of the demolition of the existing garage and has already begun to argue that any resistance to its proposals will delay the provision of needed parking.

Bill Scheirer


Press photo by Dana Grubb Staging for demolition of the nearly 50-year-old Walnut Street Garage and the overhead pedestrian walkway is underway Jan 5.