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Master plan for Martin Tower replacement approved

Despite public concerns that the concept lacks “individuality,” the Bethlehem Planning Commission narrowly approved a master plan for a $200 million “live-work” development to replace the historic Martin Tower.Once the dust settles from the skyscraper’s implosion, the developer plans to build a trio of office buildings — at least two of them medical — near Eighth and Eaton avenues where there are similar offices. There would also be a gas station and convenience store, a 132-room hotel, a restaurant and as many as two retail stores. There would be another 528 garden-style apartments, rising three stories high, on the other end of the property.The buildings would be surrounded by parking lots, and much of the open space would be along the edges of the property, which slope toward the historic Burnside Plantation. A pocket park, near a retention pond, would feature the I-beam sculpture that is now mounted to a fountain at the entrance of the vacant Martin Tower, once the world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel.The commission based its 3-2 approval on a number of conditions, including that the developer look at shared parking in order to reduce the size of the parking lots and perhaps move the pocket park to a more central location.Planning Commission member Matthew Malozi, who voted against the plan, likened the 53-acre property in west Bethlehem to a suburban project. He said he wished the project would be more integrated like many modern suburban developments, where there are a mix of uses in a building, for example, residences above retail.“It’s a mix of uses on a large tract of land, but it’s not mixed use,” he said, regarding the plan.Duane Wagner, a representative of the developers HRP Management, said the plan was laid out that way based on the feedback from the 2015 rezoning, when residents complained that the project would “create a third downtown,” stealing business from historic Main Street.He said that was why the plan is not “vertical” nor calls for a mix of uses in the same building.While he recalls that sentiment, Malozi said there is nothing in the ordinance that prevents a mix of uses and would rather see something a little more creative. Malozi said the market has changed in four years, and he would like to see a resilient development.Malozi and Joy Cohen voted against the plan. Rob Melosky, Louis Stellato and Thomas Barker voted for the plan.The vote topped off a nearly three hour meeting where the developers walked the commission through the benefits of the plan and residents raised their concerns.Steve Melnick, a resident and retired economic development official, said “what’s missing is individuality and some precepts of modern planning.”Charlene Donchez Mowers, president of Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, said she appreciated the setbacks of the project because it protected the viewscape from Burnside Plantation, but the amount of pavement concerned her. Already, there are runoff issues, and all those parking lots will only exacerbate the problem, she said.Mike Topping, a resident and former city planner, also took issue with the pavement.“This shows nothing but parking, hard surfaces and sort of the look of Levittown coming to Bethlehem,” he said.Wagner acknowledged that the number of parking spaces in the plan exceed what the city requires, but the number is what is practically required for the end-users.Wagner said the project would bring 325 jobs to 1170 Eighth Ave. and residents in market-rate apartments that typically don’t attract many families with school-age children. Meanwhile, the tax assessment for the now-idle property would jump from $2.8 million to $116 million, he said.The subdivision and land development plans are expected to be submitted over the next year. Martin Tower is scheduled to be imploded May 19.Martin Tower opened in 1972 as the world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. The company declared bankruptcy in 2001, and its assets were sold two years later. Martin Tower has been vacant since 2007 as redevelopment plans emerged for the 53-acre site.Plans stalled during the Great Recession, and the property landed a powerful tax incentive known as the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone in 2013.The city rezoned the property in 2015, making it easier to demolish the tower. The developers spent the last two years removing asbestos and demolishing nearby ancillary buildings. The developers have said it is not economically feasible to reuse Martin Tower and, in January, confirmed the pending demolition.Morning Call reporter Nicole Radzievich can be reached at 610-778-2253 or at
Source: Morningcall

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