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Plans for the new Walnut Street parking garage receive green light

Walnut Street Garage from the street
Will Oliver
Approval was given Thursday night to construct a new Walnut Street parking garage on the current site in Bethlehem. The old structure is currently being demolished.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Plans for the new Walnut Street parking garage got the green light.

By a 3-1 vote, the Bethlehem Planning Commission on Thursday approved a project to build a 517-space, 64-feet-high, nearly 200,000-square-foot parking garage to replace the old one currently being demolished.

The $27 million project will include 3,056 square feet of adjacent retail space and an additional 33,398-square-foot parcel to the West of the new garage, near Main Street, to be available for future development, including apartments.

The new parking garage will be 8 feet higher than the old facility and have 253 fewer spaces.

The parking garage is not expected to be open until 2025.

The Bethlehem Parking Authority will build, own and manage the garage, according to Bethlehem Planning and Zoning Director Darlene L. Heller.

Opposition to the project has been expressed by residents and local businesses who disapproved of the height of the garage and the reduction of parking spaces.

During Thursday’s meeting Bruce Haines, managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem, expressed his opposition to the parking space reductions.

“Bruce had previously raised these issues with the city council and HARB," or the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board, Heller said after the meeting.

“The parking authority did an extensive parking demand analysis, taking into consideration any new development. Everything was taken into account; it was a specialized analysis.

"So we feel the information they gathered during that study is accurate. We trust those numbers.“

"Less people are utilizing cars. They’re walking more. And LANTA has a bus route that goes right through that area.”
Darlene L. Heller, AICP, City of Bethlehem Director of Planning and Zoning

Also, Bethlehem Parking Authority previously argued that all parking spaces at the garage were not being used. The PBA added that parking options also are available at the North Street Garage, less than a half-mile away.

Built in the 1970s, the Walnut Street garage had fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Demolition of the structure is nearly two-thirds complete and is expected to be completely razed in late May or early June, Bethlehem Parking Authority Executive Director Steven Fernstrom said late last month.

In February, a partial collapse of the existing garage caused a support beam to fall on a nearby condominium. Work was halted as a result, but resumed in March.

Plans for the new parking garage have not been without controversy.

Bethlehem City Council in February voted 5-2 to replace the parking garage, despite objections by HARB over the new plan.

HARB recommended to the BPA to build the new garage to the same size as the old one, which would have increased the cost of the project by $8 million, to a projected $35 million.