Church of the Manger UCC to come down, make way for 24 townhomes
- A church in northwest Bethlehem is planned to come down following a planning commission vote on Wednesday
- The lot is being eyed for 24 townhomes and 48 parking spaces
- Westgate Mall is within walking distance, one project engineer said
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — A church in northwest Bethlehem is set for demolition to provide space for rental housing.
Bethlehem City Planning Commission on Thursday gave unanimous support for land development plans for the project.
“What the applicant’s proposing to do is raze the church, parking lots and construct 24 townhomes,” said Joseph Rentko, president of Black Forest Engineering out of Coplay.
The Church of the Manger UCC, 1411 Greenway Dr., and its parking area would be replaced by 24 townhomes and 48 parking spaces — two of which would be ADA-compliant — on a 2.27-acre lot south of Westgate Mall and Catasauqua Road.
“What the applicant’s proposing to do is raze the church, parking lots and construct 24 townhomes."Joseph Rentko, president of Black Forest Engineering out of Coplay
The homes, to include 1411-1435 Greenway Drive, would be in the city’s RG medium density zoning district. Each would be two stories high and offer about 1,400 square feet of living space, Rentko said.
There was no discussion about the monthly rental cost of the units.
The surrounding area includes multifamily, twin and some single-family developments, Rentko noted.
The project came before the planning commission in July, offering just a sketch plan at that time.
Rentko said surrounding neighbors won’t see the parking lot lighting, which the buildings would block out.
The property would handle stormwater by collecting runoff from roof leaders and the parking lot, sending it to an above-ground basin and discharging it into a semi-underground infiltration area.
Just over 100 street trees on Greenview should form a natural buffer for the neighboring households, Rentko said. The developers are exploring possible low-growing vegetation as well, he said.
The applicant has been asked to perform trip generation calculations to determine whether a traffic study is needed.
“With 24 units, you’re definitely going to be below the cutoff. And it already has sidewalk [access], they’re maintaining sidewalk on the interior of the project.”Bethlehem Director of Planning and Zoning Darlene Heller
City Planning and Zoning Director Darlene Heller said there would be 50 or fewer peak-hour trips, so the city wouldn’t require a study. A partial study is required for 50-100, and a full study for more than 100.
“With 24 units, you’re definitely going to be below the cutoff,” Heller said. “And it already has sidewalk [access], they’re maintaining sidewalk on the interior of the project.”
Planner Matthew Malozi said Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority provides public transport along nearby Catasauqua and Schoenersville roads.
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission will perform a land use assessment on the site.
The city’s Environmental Advisory Council has recommended bike parking and EV charging stations, high-efficiency HVAC systems, passive solar design features, sustainable building materials and capabilities of potential future solar power.
Rentko later said the developer plans to use a special HVAC system, though the solar power capabilities don’t seem feasible, as it would be too expensive for 24 homes.
Robert Jroski, a neighbor of the proposed development, said the proposed eight-foot buffer trees won’t cut it; he said he’d still see two-story townhomes when he looks over his 6-foot privacy fence.
He said his neighbors aren’t excited about the project, and the only people benefitting from it are the developer and the city.
“All I ask is that you consider higher trees sporadically throughout that vegetation area,” Jroski said. “You’re putting them out at the road to buffer the road looking into that property.
“But to me, the most important thing since I live there is the buffer between me and that property.”
“All I ask is that you consider higher trees sporadically throughout that vegetation area."Robert Jroski, Bethlehem resident living near the proposed development
Jroski even said he'd offer to buy some of the trees if the developer agreed to place them every 30 or 40 feet.
“The applicant, I think they’re always about trying to make the neighbors happy,” Rentko answered.
Rentko and Jroski met outside Town Hall to discuss future possibilities surrounding the natural screening.