Thursday, December 27, 2007

Celebrity Bartenders Benefit for PrideGLV

Date: Thursday, December 27, 2007

Time: 8pm-10pm

Place: Allentown Brew Works, 812 Hamilton St, Allentown PA 610-433-7777,

Join us for our winter bash with Bethlehem native USA Mr. Gay 2008, Jonathan Taylor and Philadelphia Mr. Gay 2007, Andy Petruzelli serve up drinks at the Allentown Brew Works!

All tips, as well asa portion of the proceeds from each drink go to Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley. As a special bonus, sign up for a Martini Club membership that night and the Brew Works will donate a portion of your membership fee to Pride!

Stop by before the event for dinner in one of the Brew Works three dining areas!

Sponsored and Produced by Velocity Mobile, Boys With Hot Phones Get Laid More,

Mr. Gay Logo is a trademark of, and used with permission from The Noble Beast Foundation,

SnowBlast Winter Festival

Hosted by the Emmaus Arts Commission, the streets of Emmaus will be filled with more than a dozen free, community-wide outdoor and indoor activities, musical performances, and an affordable ticket for the SnowBlast Blizzard Ball on January 19th. Just like last year, downtown ice sculptures will be featured throughout the SnowBlast weekend. Also on the schedule of events are roving musicians, carriage rides, storytelling, hoot hike, sunrise cross-country skiing, ice skating, Frostbite Fun Run for Kids - and more! For more details visit their website at

Allentown to invest millions in parks system

Today an article appeared in the Morning Call outlining many things Allentown park director Greg Weitzel told me about a few months ago. As part of a $5.3 million plan, Allentown intends to overhaul much of its park system to update facilities and add new amenities.

Renovate the more than 100-acre Cedar Creek Park, also known as Cedar Beach, in the West End. The park, one of the city's largest, hosts the annual Mayfair and SportsFest events. The renovated park will include a huge playground. The lake also may be dredged. There could be walkways along the creek with signs identifying wildlife, vegetation and trees. Another walkway could include sculptures.

Officials hope to make life easier on brides by allowing them to reserve a time to have photographs taken in the Cedar Creek's Rose Garden. The garden may be dressed up to include paved or brick walkways, which would allow chairs to be used for the first time. A reception area could be in the works, too, and a cafe.

Allentown's oldest park, West Park, will have a year-long series of events to mark its 100th birthday. The celebration will include improvements to the band shell, fountain, war memorials, signs and other amenities. Monthly programs will include scavenger hunts, block parties, an Earth Day party, dinner-and-a-movie nights and concerts.

The disk golf course in Little Lehigh Parkway could be updated in hopes of attracting the state and world championships.

The driving range at the golf course will be enclosed so it can be heated, with the goal of attracting more winter business. Other golf course improvements are expected to include new restrooms, cart paths and bunker sand.

A number of smaller but noticeable changes are planned too. New trash cans, benches, grills, picnic tables, lights and restrooms will be built at several parks. Targeted parks include Roosevelt, Buck Boyle, Percy Ruhe, Little Lehigh Parkway and East Side and South Mountain reservoirs.

Studies should be completed by the end of next year on how the city should proceed with connecting its trails and updating its swimming pools. Also to be studied is where to build Allentown's first dog park, an enclosed area where people can let their pets run leash-free.

The city is creating a ''Friends of the Park'' committee, a tool used in other cities to raise money and enlist volunteers. The committee would be created as a nonprofit organization. Its first meeting is scheduled in January.

A ''remembrance tree'' program is in the works to allow people to honor a loved one by making a donation and planting a tree in their name.

Canal repair delayed but in the works

From the Morning Call:

Running about four months behind schedule because of administrative delays, repairs on the flood damaged Delaware Canal between Easton and Raubsville won't begin until spring at the latest, officials say.

State officials had hoped to begin the $10.9 million repair project in the fall, but it has taken several months to complete a memorandum of understanding among the various state and federal agencies funding the fix, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokesman Terry Brady said the state's construction contractor on the project says it may be able to start some of the work in the winter if there is not too much snow and ice.

''So much of the work will be debris removal, silt removal, things that can be done that are not weather dependent,'' Brady said.

The repair work will be done in four sections, starting with the portion of the canal between Easton and Groundhog Lock in Raubsville.

In total, the project is expected to cost between $35 million and $40 million covering repairs all the way down to New Hope.

The repairs are expected to include a new towpath, used by bicyclists, walkers and joggers, that will be less prone to being washed away by flooding.

About $265,664 in repairs to a variety of flood damaged structures including the chain dam crib embankment, Easton fish ladder and Lock 24 are also awaiting administrative approval, Brady said.

Joe Szafran, executive director of Friends of the Delaware River Canal, said getting the repairs done is the first step toward realizing the canal's full potential as a historical and recreational attraction.

Friday, December 21, 2007

NET organizing first annual trade fair

NET is organizing its first-ever trade fair scheduled for the end of April.

Attendees: NetYP Members who would like the opportunity to market or sell their product, business, or service

Guests: NetYP members, NetYP Partners and Affiliates

Style of Event: A stylish & sleek trade fair that offers the perfect blend of professional and social interaction.

Location: Allentown Business Plaza (645 Hamilton St., Allentown)

If you are interested in organizing or participating in the trade fair please contact Abigail Tucker via the NET website.

NET looks to form city YP advisory councils

NET is in the preliminary stages of creating young professional advisory councils for the cities of Allentown, Easton, and Bethlehem. Often referred to as "Mayor's Kitchen Cabinets," similar councils have been formed throughout the nation.

One of the best examples is in Cincinnati. Mayor Mark Mallory's created the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet (YPKC) in 2006.

YPKC generates ideas and initiatives to support a more vibrant downtown, the arts, park systems and other amenities attractive to young professionals. The result is a more informed and engaged community.

Mayor Mallory said he began the group as a way to help all citizens. "To face the challenges of the 21st century, Cincinnati must attract and retain young professionals," Mallory said. He created the YPKC "to give Cincinnati's young professionals a voice in City Hall that will help me increase the quality of life for Cincinnatians of all ages."

As NET begins discussions with all three cities about forming similar groups, young professional residents of each city will be needed to serve on the council.

If you would like to represent NET on one of these councils and live in Allentown, Easton or Bethlehem or for more information please contact Vanessa Williams at

Greenway in Bethlehem hits a speedbump

From the Morning Call:

Bethlehem's quest to turn a 3.5-mile stretch of old railroad into a trail will have to wait until next year.

Days before the city was scheduled to close on the deal to buy the land on the South Side, Bethlehem officials said the sale has been delayed until next year because of unfinished survey work.

''We want to make sure we're getting everything we pay for,'' said Tony Hanna, city director of community and economic development, on Tuesday.

The agreement of sale, which was reached in July, has undergone some changes this year. City officials have done some last-minute negotiating with the owners, Norfolk Southern, and cut the deal from 44 acres to 28. Two adjacent property owners are buying the balance.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband declined to comment on why the deal was postponed except to say that it was ''caused by the city.'' The new closing date, he said, would be determined by whether changes in the agreement were acceptable.

Mayor John Callahan said that the core agreement still calls for the city to buy 28 acres for $1.8 million. The delay, he said, should not affect the city's schedule to develop the rails-to-trails project.

City officials said earlier this month that Norfolk Southern wanted to sell the land before the end of the year so the railroad can close its books on it.

Some council members questioned why they were being asked to authorize the spending before they had a chance to review the sale agreement.

Councilman Joseph Leeson Jr., who did not want to stall the deal, had said he would vote for the funding ordinance on first reading, but expected a copy of the agreement before council cast its final vote Tuesday.

With no contract in hand and Norfolk Southern's agreeing to extend the deal until January, the administration requested to pull the second reading of the ordinance from Tuesday's agenda.

The park, which has been seven years in the making, meanders through the South Side business district from Union Station to Saucon Park. City officials have heralded it as a trail to link the community with businesses, residences, parks and institutions such as Lehigh University, drawing people and priming the pump for more economic development.

Future looks bleak for Riverwalk project in Easton

From the Morning Call:

The Easton Parking Authority wants to see a redesign of the controversial $50 million Riverwalk condominium/parking garage, or else the project might die.

To save the project, the authority board voted 5-0 Thursday night for its partner -- Arcadia Properties of Hanover Township, Northampton County -- to provide specific details on revising Riverwalk at the authority's next meeting Jan. 17.

Arcadia proposes to build 140 condominiums and commercial space in seven stories above a parking garage, which the authority would manage. The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority would use a transportation center in the garage.
The building would be constructed along Riverside Drive across from the Delaware River and behind the Governor Wolf Building on N. Second Street.

But the estimated price tag for the authority's portion is nearly $30 million, which makes the project impossible to produce.

''It is just not something we can do, based on our financing,'' said authority member Drew Lewis.

Meanwhile, a federal judge may soon decide whether to grant the Delaware Riverkeeper Network's request to at least temporarily halt the project.

Delaware Riverkeeper and other opponents have said the project is wrong for the city, mainly because of its size and because it is planned in an area prone to flooding.

Judge Petrese B. Tucker must decide whether the court should intervene before the Federal Transit Administration offers a ruling on the findings of an environmental assessment study conducted by LANTA.

The suit filed jointly by the Delaware Riverkeeper and the American Littoral Society was discussed last week in Philadelphia.

Authority solicitor S. Graham Simmons said Thursday legal fees and litigation toward the more than one-year project are estimated at nearly $123,000.

Simmons said $56,000 of those fees accumulated since June, when the suit was filed against the Riverwalk plan.

Authority Chairman Lou Ferrone read a nearly five-page statement criticizing opponents who believed the project would ruin recreational activities, increase vandalism and harm the environment.

''I believe this has been a sad day for the city of Easton,'' he said. ''Riverwalk was promoted as the ideal multi-use development for the city and would have contributed tremendously to the vitality and pulse of the city.''

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nominate your favorite home light displays

From very modest beginnings, Bill White's Christmas display tours posted every year in the Morning Call has blossomed into a multimedia production that raises thousands of dollars every year for charity. For many, the tours have become part of an annual holiday tradition - it certainly has in my household.

Bill is again looking for nominations. When possible, include directions. Armed with this information the end result will be a series of mini-tours and photos that are scheduled to run Dec. 21, the last Friday before Christmas.

A few reminders:

Don't hesitate to nominate your own display. This is very common, and in many cases it has kept the best houses from falling through the cracks.

Don't assume a return to a house because it was on the tour last time. New nominations are required every year.

Don't assume a house isn't worth nominating if it wasn't included in the past. The routes change every year, and in many cases inclusion depends on what other displays are nearby and the tastes of that group of judges. What's more, all the nominees run on the Web site.

If there's an interesting story behind the display, tell Bill. He usually writes features on one or two houses over the course of December.

Bill can be reached:

A local and a tourist take on Bethlehem

A friend of mine came into town on Friday to take in the sights and sounds of Christmas City USA. I often take for granted what a beautiful city I work in. I work right downtown at Spark, a full-service advertising, marketing and public relations firm.

For weeks shop owners have been decorating and preparing for the busy holiday shopping season. Beautiful window displays went up, and sprigs of greens were hung from the old streetlights. A few weeks ago, the holiday music began pumping through the street. Slowly foot traffic has increased downtown.

My friend and I started our day with a tasty bite to eat at the Bethlehem BrewWorks. Then we strolled down Main Street stopping here and there along the way, making sure to of course stop at the Moravian Book Shop.

Next we headed into Chriskindlmarkt. We both picked up a few gift items, and I grabbed a couple nice photographs. Then back up the hill to the Christmas Putz at Central Moravian Church. Most of the figurines we were told were made in the 1800s.

With the snow slowly falling, it was a picture-perfect afternoon. I hope you all have time to make it to downtown Bethlehem this holiday season. Most of the shops are open late all week during the season.

Happy Holidays,

Vanessa Williams

NorCo agrees to join regional health department

In a major victory for regional collaboration, the Northampton County Council voted last week to join with Lehigh County in creating a health department serving the entire bi-county area.

The ordinance passed by Northampton County Council authorizes the creation of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health, which will work over the next year to establish a comprehensive plan-also to be approved by County Council--for establishing a Lehigh Valley Health Department.

Now, the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners this coming week takes up its own regional health ordinance, by which it will join in creating a Lehigh Valley Board of Health.

Please consider attending the upcoming meeting of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners: Wednesday, December 12, 7:30 p.m. at the Lehigh County Government Center (Public Hearing Room, First Floor), 17 South Seventh Street in Allentown. The ordinance on regional health is expected to pass easily-all nine Commissioners are co-sponsors-and your attendance not only shows your support for this critical initiative, but also acknowledges the leadership being shown by county officials across the region.

Meeting tonight concerning the fate of Salisbury's Southbury Park

The Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club has some deep concerns about the proposed Southbury Park residential subdivision. It's located on 100 acres on South Mountain that has been identified as worthy of conservation by Federal and State Agencies. A Lehigh County judge has already overruled a Salibury Township Commisioners' decision to grant a variance for this development, calling it an "abuse of discretion."

Tonight, at 7 PM, the state DEP will consider a developer request to divert construction activity stormwater right into Trout Creek and Black River. The purpose of tonight's meeting is to solicit public comment and concerns. This meeting will take place at Salisbury Twp. High School Auditorium, 500 E Montgomery St, Salisbury, PA.

Why should you care?

1) Because the highlands of South Mountain are a natural resource that Federal and State Agencies have named as worthy of conservation

2) Because you feel a responsibility toward the inheritance we leave future generations, not just today's privileged interests.

3) Because you're concerned about the potential for more flooding in the area and the degradation of Trout Creek, one of the state's few remaining high quality streams

Luminaria Night This Saturday

New Bethany Ministries will be holding its annual Luminaria Night Saturday, December 15. Thousands of families decorate their walkways and properties with votive candles in Bethlehem and the surrounding communities.

First organized in 1997, the event has grown each year and has now become a fundraiser for New Bethany Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit. Last year 1,600 homes participated, with the lighting of 31,500 luminaries. In 2007 the committee hopes to light 55,000 candles. All proceeds from luminaria kits benefit New Bethany Ministries.

Kits may be purchased at a Bethlehem Municipal Building right by the skating rink. Kits are available today and tomorrow from 4 to 6 p.m. One kit is $10, and every kit thereafter is $5.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bethlehem rail-to-trail project builds steam

Bethlehem City Council got the ball rolling Tuesday to free up $1.8 million in grants to pay for the greenway, a 3 1/2-mile rails-to-trails park.

But before they cast their final vote and the deal closes later this month, council members want to see exactly what the agreement calls for.

City officials have done some last-minute negotiating with the owners, Norfolk Southern, and cut the deal from 44 acres to 28.

Two adjacent property owners are buying the balance, and all of that must be addressed in the agreement of sale. But the document was not ready in time for council's vote.

Councilman Joseph Leeson Jr. was reluctant to vote on the funding ordinance on first reading, but after questioning the city solicitor, he said council members will still have time in two weeks to derail the project if they don't get copies of the new agreement of sale or approve of what's in it.

''It's a little unorthodox to proceed in this matter, but it is a worthwhile project,'' he said.

Council is expected to decide whether to authorize the sale by Dec. 18.

The park, which has been seven years in the making, meanders through the South Side Business District from Union Station to Saucon Park. City officials have heralded it as a trail to link the community with businesses, residences, parks and institutions such as Lehigh University, drawing people and priming the pump for more economic development.

Community leaders envision the path eventually featuring everything from decorative street lights to a community plaza. It would also be home to a skate park.

The park would hook into existing paths. That would form a continuous trail from the Monocacy Park recreation complex, through the Nature Trail, into the Burnside Plantation, through Monocacy Way, through Johnston Park and onto the Sand Island recreation complex.

After using the Fahy Bridge to cross the Lehigh River, a walker would be able to pick up the greenway and go into Saucon Park.

Mayor John Callahan estimated that developing the park will cost $4 million in total. The city will try to soften the financial punch by doing the project in phases.

The first phase will center on a half-mile that cuts through the heart of the South Side downtown. From New Street to Lynn Avenue, the land will be graded, seeded and planted with trees.

In July, the city struck an agreement to buy 44 acres for $2.5 million. About 10 acres of it was to be resold to adjacent landowners, but since then, the contract was changed, with Norfolk Southern now selling the property directly to the landowners.

The paperwork is being completed before the Dec. 21 settlement.

Callahan said he was especially proud of the city acquiring the property solely through grants: $200,000 from Transportation Enhancement funds, $600,000 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and nearly $1.1 million from Northampton County.

Religion can help Allentown, mayor says

The souls of the city find sanctuary in Allentown's 140 houses of worship, but Mayor Ed Pawlowski and a broad coalition of clergy say the community of faith can offer something else: a united front against gangs, guns, drugs, despair and untold other problems afflicting the urban core.

Faith leaders have always been involved in such efforts, but in sometimes fragmentary fashion unaided by city government, Pawlowski said at a news conference Wednesday in announcing the formation of Allentown's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

While individual congregations serve as forces of good in their own neighborhoods, ''the goal of this new office is to link them together,'' said Pawlowski, painting the office as a clearinghouse where ministers, rabbis, priests and imams can share resources and ideas, and learn how to pursue federal and state grants for social programs. ''We want the city to be there, not as a hindrance but a resource.''

The mayor, a former pastor and social worker, began reaching out to religious leaders more than a year ago, inspired by similar programs in Philadelphia and elsewhere. He said he made a special effort to involve Latino clergy, because 37 of the city's houses of worship are Latino.

He held three meetings with representatives of 46 churches and synagogues, and said the effort has already borne fruit: In May, when 4-year-old Daviay Legrand was killed by a police cruiser in center city, several clergy responded to the mayor's call for help to calm simmering street tensions that threatened to erupt into a riot.

Religious leaders also have given a boost to a program called Chec Mate, which enlists residents to alert police to crime and suspicious activity. Pawlowski said ''enormous numbers'' of people have signed on after hearing their pastors promote the program.

Indeed, after the news conference, Gus Al-Kahl, a minister at Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church and several Arabic churches in east Allentown, handed the mayor two dozen Chec Mate cards filled out by his congregants and said he would deliver 17 more later.

Al-Kahl and other clergy praised the mayor for recognizing the potential strength congregations can bring to the fight against gangs, broken families, and other causes and symptoms of municipal decay.

''Our mayor is a person of great vision and he is providing moral leadership in a time when there is a vacuum in moral leadership,'' said Rabbi Robert Lennick of Congregation Keneseth Israel, characterizing Allentown as a city of ''two universes'' -- the relatively well-to-do west and the poorer, more troubled east. The office can help bridge that gap, he said.

''The congregations can no longer afford to hide behind the doors of their sanctuaries,'' Lennick added.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an Allentown native who lives in San Diego and heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the promise of Allentown ''can be realized only when all shareholders coalesce around that purpose.''

He added that many Latino congregations in the city will soon begin a program called Generation Fuerza. Translated as ''Generation Strength,'' it dovetails with the city's aims by targeting Latino dropout rates and promoting gang prevention, Rodriguez said.

The new city office will be overseen by Ismael Arcelay, the mayor's special assistant, and won't require the addition of city employees or space, Pawlowski said. An office Web site, to be launched next year, will display all faith- and community-based institutions with an outline of their resources.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A quiet night in Allentown

Last week my husband and I headed over to the Ten Thousand Villages sale at Muhlenberg College. Afterwards we shopped at the Allentown Farmers Market to pick up dinner and a few other items. To my surprise, the market was not busy on Thursday, and we were able to shop at a leisurely pace because the market stays open until 8 p.m.

There's something wonderful about the market that you just don't get at your grocery chain store. The vendors there are friendly and more than willing to have a chat with you. They also are happy to give out samples, which my husband was especially pleased about. There are a variety of vendors there so we were able to pick up some meat and cheese, fresh vegetables, Mediterranean cuisine, and delicious hot American dishes for dinner.

Many prepared items are available for your holiday gatherings. So check out the Allentown Farmers Market this winter. You never know what you might find.

Vanessa Williams

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Old fashioned Christmas in Emmaus starts today

Includes two nights of Candlelight Tours (Nov 30th & Dec 1st, 6 ˆ 8:30 pm, limited seating, $15 adult, $10 children under 12 years old), Children‚s Holiday Stories at the Library (Nov 30th & Dec 1st, 10:30 am and 1:30 pm), Wreath Decorating, Holiday Cookie and Pet Costume Contests (Dec 1st, 12 noon ˆ 3pm), Horse & Carriage Rides (Dec 1st, 4 ˆ 8 pm, $7 adult, $3 children under 12 years old), Free Trolley Rides (Dec 1st, 12 noon ˆ 4 pm), Tree Lighting Ceremony, Holiday Sing Along, Arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus (Dec 1st on the Triangle, 6:00 pm). Questions? Or for more information call 610-965-6279 or email

We'll STILL Sing for Food concert

The Foundation for the Awareness and Alleviation of Poverty (FAAP) at Lafayette College is hosting its second annual "We'll STILL Sing for Food" concert on November 30th, at 9PM in Marquis Dining Hall. Singer/songwriter JOY comes back as the headliner for this year's concert and will highlight the best of her genre, "emo/soul/rock". FREE FOOD and the concert is open to all.

As a benefit concert, a contribution as small as a few cents will get you in the door, all of which will be donated to Fundacion Hermanos Menores, an organization that aids child workers in Quito, Ecuador.

Do your holiday shopping tonight in Ten Thousand Villages

Have a long holiday shopping list? Get unique, handcrafted items at Muhlenburg College tonight at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival.

This Festival is an opportunity to buy beautiful, hand-made holiday gift items produced by artisans in developing nations; and, more importantly, an opportunity to support the principle of fair trade. Fair trade means that the artisans are paid a fair wage for their work. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide vital, fair income to artisans around the world by marketing their handicrafts and telling thier stories in North America. By carrying out their mission, Ten Thousand Villages contributes to job creation and poverty alleviation in the developing nations.

The sale is today from 10 am- 8 pm at Muhlenberg College in the Seegers Union. Parking will be reserved in the circle just in front of the union. Check it out!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New light design unveiled for Southside Bethlehem

Most people know that Bethlehem's historic downtown as the Christmas City -- horse-drawn carriage rides, the Live Christmas Pageant, Christkindlmarkt and candlelit tours past some of the city's oldest Moravian buildings.

But community leaders are about to add a burst of that festive spirit in the Christmas City's downtown south of the Lehigh River.

Starbursts, that is.

Holiday lights will wrap around the streetlights along Third and New streets. The shape shape mimics a star.

''This will draw more attention to the South Side, which sometimes gets overlooked this [holiday] season,'' Mayor John Callahan said at a news conference Wednesday.

The lights are the result of a $10,000 partnership of Lehigh University, Northampton Community College and the Citizens Christmas City Committee, which comes under the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The new lights are the latest decoration that community leaders have added to Bethlehem since it was dubbed Christmas City USA 70 years ago.

The large tree for Payrow Plaza, 10 E. Church St., will have 3,500 lights. In addition, 900 pine trees are being hung around the city's downtown. There are 20 other large trees secured in places such as the Hill-to-Hill bridge. Large advent candles will be set up.

Some of the cost is supported by the Christmas Seal. First introduced in 1964, it features an image picked from an art competition. This year's theme is the Live Bethlehem Christmas Pageant which depicts the biblical Mary and Joseph.

The seal was designed by Sandra J. Hager of Phillipsburg. Seal packets are available at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, City Hall, Westgate Mall and the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Casino building now underway

After months of tearing down old Bethlehem Steel buildings, the project to build a $600 million casino project in Bethlehem moved into the building phase today.

Despite a steady rain, city and company officials gathered to watch the pouring of concrete for the casino.

Not only did it mean that the $600 million Sands BethWorks casino was finally under construction, but it means crews would allow nothing to knock them off their schedule to have people dropping money into slot machines by the spring of 2009.

It also means Sands BethWorks remains on schedule to begin erecting 16,000 tons of steel on Feb. 15.

"You better believe we're pouring concrete today," said Sands BethWorks President Robert DeSalvio, who traveled from Las Vegas. "We're not messing around."

Breath easy Lehigh Valley: NET joins local Air Quality Partnership

NET has joined with a bi-partisan nonprofit concerning air quality in our area: Air Quality Partnership Lehigh Valley-Berks. What the group is best known for is Ozone Action Days. Ozone Action Days are days when the ozone level meets a red, or dangerous level, and all Lehigh Valley residents may ride LANTA Bus for free.

Today I attended their annual luncheon to learn more. What I learned was that the Lehigh Valley has a very low particulate matter (bad stuff) in the air in relation to our population. We have the second densest population in the state, as well as second largest industry and manufacturing concentration however we only had 3 ozone action days this year, compared to Philadelphia (first in both categories) which had 23. This is all good news. But to keep with such good numbers, we need to do our part. You can help in a number of ways.
  1. Buy locally. Think about how long it takes for an item you purchased at the store the other day to get into your home or on your dinner table. By buying local, we can cut down on emissions, especially when it comes to food, and we can help support the local economy.
  2. Carpool. Us young professionals like to live in dense populated areas. Get to know your neighbors. You may not be the only one traveling to a downtown area, or that industrial park.
  3. Use alternative transportation. Utilize LANTA, or better yet, use pedal power and bike. Walk if you can.
Together we can keep the Lehigh Valley's air clean!

Vanessa Williams

The Association of International Cultural Exchange

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with members of The Association of International Cultural Exchange. AICE hosts diversity and cultural programming throughout the Lehigh Valley. They are of particular interest to young professionals, because the group is primarily made up of younger business individuals. They host business mixers as well as roundtable discussion on hot button topics. The goal of the AICE is that its where you can turn with your tough or taboo questions about diversity. Their next program will be held Nov. 26th.

What: A Turkey, A Token, or A Treasure? - How dynamic, capable people of color evaluate their contribution in spheres of influence where they are minority.
When: Monday, Nov. 26th from 7 - 9:30 p.m.
Where: Borders, 1937 MacArthur Rd., Whitehall
Cost: Free

New Coordinator Revitalizes Brownfields ReUse Program

In less than three months on the job as the Coordinator of the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative (LVLRI), Holly Wilde Edinger has revitalized the program by refocusing attention on the potential of brownfield sites across the Valley.

From the Riverfront project along the Lehigh River in Allentown to the Coca-Cola Stadium at the former Agere site to a proposed new recycling and composting facility in East Allen Township, LVLRI and Edinger have been working to bring renewed attention to the potential of former industrial sites throughout the Lehigh Valley.

LVLRI is assisting the DunnTwiggar Company in the redevelopment of the Lehigh Steel Property along the Allentown waterfront. By utilizing EPA Grant dollars for assessment work LVLRI has funded over $25,000 for environmental investigation on the 26-acre site. LVLRI recently secured from the EPA through the Targeted Brownfield Assessment Program. This additional work with provide the necessary site characterization data to pursue site closure under Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Program (Act 2).

“Helping a developer identify environmental impacts before the purchase the property gives a project clarity that moves it forward,” Edinger said. “Developers can be put off by the history of a property. Our initiative uses the EPA Assessment Grant to perform Phase I and II investigations on a site. This gives a developer a clear idea of what they are getting into. It can also provide the peace of mind to a lending institution involved in the project.”

LVLRI is also working with East Allen Township. Partnering with East Allen and The First Regional Compost Authority the group has identified an old dairy farm, owned by the township, to be redeveloped into a multi-municipality compost and possible recycling center. LVLRI will be providing Phase I and II assessment of this property and will assist the township and the First Regional Compost Authority in identifying resources to clean up the site and get it ready for the recycling center.

“This is a terrific project because it taking a brownfield and using it for something green, like recycling,” said Edinger.

LVLRI also worked with the City of Allentown and Lehigh County to secure insurance for the new Iron Pigs baseball stadium that will open in April 2008.

An Allentown resident with a Bachelor of Science degree from Philadelphia University, Edinger was hired in August to work with LVEDC and Lehigh and Northampton County economic development leaders to encourage the redevelopment of industrial and commercial buildings and sites – commonly known as brownfields -- that are underutilized, abandoned or in need of rehabilitation. The position is funded through grants from Lehigh and Northampton counties and the LVLRI program is managed by LVEDC.

LVLRI is financially supported by Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

Edinger said the potential to redevelop unused or underutilized commercial and industrial sites presents a variety of opportunities for the Lehigh Valley.

“We can protect taxpayers by putting these properties back into productive use and back on the tax rolls, we can preserve open space by redirecting appropriate development to our urban cores, and we can save money for the developers by giving them access to sites that in most cases already have the infrastructure to support their plans,” Edinger said.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jeff Warrn wins Easton City Council seat

Warren, 30, is chief legislative assistant to state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton. Warren will step down from the city's Zoning Hearing Board, which he served on since May 2006.

This year's election focused on three main issues: the Police Department, finances and economic development.

The three winning candidates all said they support Police Chief Larry Palmer and will find ways to hire more officers to the full complement of 64.

The winners also agree a full-time finance director would help collect more than $1 million in unpaid debts.

YP Peter Schweyer wins in Allentown

Peter Schweyer, 29, chief of staff for state Rep. Jennifer Mann has been elected to Allentown City Council.

Schweyer, who grew up in center city Allentown, said he was moved as he visited the polls and saw people he's known his entire life voting for him.

''I'm very humbled by the whole experience,'' he said. ''Allentown's my hometown. I'll do anything I can to protect its integrity and move it forward.''

Aide set to be youngest on Bethlehem City Council

Political newcomer J. William Reynolds on Tuesday captured a seat on Bethlehem City Council, making him the youngest council member ever and continuing the Democratic Party's monopoly of the board.

'I didn't run for council to set any record -- this is the town I grew up in, the town I love, and I ran to make it better,'' Reynolds said while watching the election returns with friends at the Bethlehem Brew Works. ''No one's life is going to get better by one election. It's what happens over the next four years that matters.''

Reynolds ran an aggressive campaign in the more competitive and crowded primary field and kept up the pressure during the fall as he, two incumbent Democrats and Republican Lee vied for three council seats.

At candidates' forums this year, Reynolds drove home the message that he had more at stake than any other candidate running. As a young professional, he said, he knows the challenges Bethlehem faces to get young people to stay and raise families in the city.

Before Reynolds, now-Mayor John Callahan held the distinction as being the youngest city councilman when he was elected in 1997 at the age of 28.

Reynolds was a star athlete at Moravian College and Liberty High School and now works as a legislative aide for state Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton and Lehigh.

Bucks County approves open space spending

Bucks County voters appeared to speak resoundingly in favor of saving their scenic landscapes Tuesday, telling county officials to move forward with plans to borrow $87 million for a second round of open space preservation.

The open space question was at the top of many voters' lists of reasons for coming out to vote in a the low-profile, off-year election.

Most appeared to share the opinion of Dublin's Jennifer Berg, who voted yes on the ballot question.

''Bucks County has had astronomical population growth,'' said Berg, 31, outside her polling place Tuesday afternoon. ''Farmland and natural areas are getting eaten up.''

Some other voters, apparently in the minority, said they didn't think the open space money was being used wisely.

Wayne Wexler, 41, of Hilltown Township said he thinks there is little public benefit to open space expenditures, especially when land is preserved without public access.

''I'm not a believer in what they are doing with the money,'' Wexler said. ''I don't see the benefit.''

Bucks County officials plan to borrow the money in installments, reaching the full $87 million around 2014.

A decade ago, voters approved the county's first $59 million open space program by a margin of more than 2-1, resulting in the preservation of roughly 15,000 acres over the program's first 10 years.

The newly approved spending will allow Bucks County to continue preserving farmland, natural areas and park land throughout the next decade.

It is expected to cost the average taxpayer roughly $10 in 2008, rising to $30 a year in 2014.

Leading up to the vote, a nonpartisan group led by former U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, former county commissioner Andy Warren and Judge William Hart Rufe, formed to promote the initiative.

''The alternate is to permit the county to become overdeveloped, congested, paved over, all of which will require additional government investment in schools and emergency services, trash collection and schools,'' Fitzpatrick said.

The group lined up a long list of municipal officials, business organizations and environmental advocates as supporters of the ballot initiative under the banner: Save Bucks County.

The money will be split up this way: $26 million for municipal grants, $25 million for farmland preservation, $19 million for parks, $11 million for natural areas and $7 million for Delaware riverfront.

House approves federal protection for gay workers

From the New York Times:

"The House on Wednesday approved a bill granting broad protections against discrimination in the workplace for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, a measure that supporters praised as the most important civil rights legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 but that opponents said would result in unnecessary lawsuits.

The bill, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, is the latest version of legislation that Democrats have pursued since 1974. Representatives Edward I. Koch and Bella Abzug of New York then sought to protect gay men and lesbians with a measure they introduced on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the brawl between gay men and police officers at a bar in Greenwich Village that is widely viewed as the start of the American gay rights movement.

“On this proud day of the 110th Congress, we will chart a new direction for civil rights,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and a gay rights advocate, in a speech before the vote. “On this proud day, the Congress will act to ensure that all Americans are granted equal rights in the work place.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and a longtime supporter of gay rights legislation, said he would move swiftly to introduce a similar measure in the Senate. Some Senate Republicans said that, if worded carefully, it would have a good chance of passing, perhaps early next year.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has said that she would be the lead co-sponsor of the Senate bill. Ms. Collins, in a statement, said that the House vote “provides important momentum” and that “there is growing support in the Senate for strengthening federal laws to protect American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

President Bush threatened to veto an earlier version of the bill, but a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said the administration would need to review recent changes before making a final decision. Few Democrats expect Mr. Bush to change his mind.

The House bill would make it illegal for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

While 19 states and Washington, D.C., have laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, and many cities offer similar protections, federal law offers no such shield, though it does bar discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, sex, age, disability and pregnancy."

The bill, however, does not outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.

"To ensure passage of the bill, Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats, including Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, removed language granting protections to transsexual and transgender individuals by barring discrimination based on sexual identity, a move that infuriated gay rights groups.

The Democrats also carved out a blanket exemption for religious groups, drawing the ire of civil liberties advocates who argued that church-run hospitals, for instance, should not be permitted to discriminate against gay employees. The civil liberties groups wanted a narrow exemption for religious employers.

On the House floor, Ms. Pelosi acknowledged challenges. “History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” she said. “It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”

Bike commuter given lower car insurance rates

A recent bike commuter convert remarks on his journey to a smaller carbon footprint:

Can bicycles really make a difference in fighting global warming?

I had been pondering this question for several months, especially as I watched my colleague Tom bike to work from his home in Menlo Park to our office in San Francisco with an assist from the special bike cars on Caltrain. Tom was riding almost every day, rain or shine. He encouraged me to try it, but I didn’t think it was possible from my home in the Berkeley hills. My regular routine was to drive my 15-year old Honda Accord to North Berkeley and park the car in a lot, ride the train into downtown San Francisco, and walk the rest of the way to the office. The major hurdle to biking the Berkeley section was the 700 foot elevation change in 2.1 miles, which would be fine going down, but would require an arduous climb back up.

I also hadn’t owned a bicycle since I was in graduate school 20 years ago. After a little research, I bought a pretty basic Giant brand bike with hybrid tires, upright handle-bars, a cushy seat and 24 gears. It cost me $469 plus another $90 for a helmet, front and back lights, and a good lock. Nothing fancy, but the bike salesman said it would do the job.

I started riding in June. What a rush to go down the hill! Wind in my face, views of the City by the Bay, and no worries about finding a parking spot. I took the bike on BART and then rode from a San Francisco station to work. On the way home, I did everything in reverse. The hill was a bear, but I found that if took it slow and steady and used my gears I could actually make it all the way up without having to walk the bike. And it was an excellent workout. I arrived home drenched in sweat and pleased with my surprising accomplishment.

Along the way I learned some bike commuting tricks. I kept several sets of clothes at the office, including a suit and tie if important meetings came up unexpectedly. I installed a rack on the bike and used bungee cords to secure my backpack.

After a month, I could feel my legs getting stronger and I wasn’t huffing and puffing up the hill so much. I looked forward to the ride home, both for the exercise and the chance to decompress. I also found that I could use the bike for errands, e.g., grocery shopping, trips to the library, or sporting events at the university. Each time I had to go somewhere, I asked myself: is there any reason I can’t go by bike? Some weeks I realized that I never started up my car.

Now it’s been five months of biking to and from work every day. This weekend I measured my gasoline usage from January to May (115 gallons) and June to October (55 gallons). My auto-related carbon emissions dropped from 2,249 pounds to 1,031 pounds over a comparable five-month period.

I’m not saying everyone can make such changes in personal transportation. But if 20% of urban dwellers in the U.S. would shift from a car to a bike as their primary way to get around town, it would add up to a lot of tons of real carbon reductions.

As an added benefit he was able to reduce his car insurance by $186:

This morning I called GEICO to see if my reduced driving habits would lead to a lower insurance rate. I told the agent that by biking to work and for errands I would drive 3,000 miles less for the year. I also reported that I no longer parked my car in the public BART lot each day, thus greatly reducing the risk of a break-in or theft.

Because of these two changes, effective today my annual car insurance rate dropped by $186. I then estimated other savings from becoming a bike commuter.

  • Gas savings @ $3.25/gallon: $468/year
  • Parking fees (no more $1/day to BART): $250/year
  • Oil change (one less needed during year): $30/year
  • Total savings: $934/year

In sum, if I can keep up the biking through the Bay Area winter (we do get rain here), my bicycle investment will pay off in eight months, five of which have already passed. So by the end of January, I will reach break-even financially. And that’s in addition to the carbon and health benefits. This is a good deal.

DeSales Screendance Festival this weekend

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Allentown Brew Fest

Bethlehem's Christmas Open House This Weekend

Jim Thorpe receives funding for a new band shell

The sound of a check being cut was music to the ears of Jim Thorpe officials Monday as they accepted a $75,000 state grant to build a new band shell and bathrooms at Memorial Park on the borough's east side.

The new buildings will replace ones that council voted in January to demolish to make way for new offices.

The band shell and bathrooms will be at Memorial Park at 10th and Fern streets, on what is now an empty lot near Jim Thorpe Area High School. They will be close to where the original band shell stood.

State Rep. Keith McCall, D-Carbon, said the grant is through the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

''It's a very important community project here in Jim Thorpe,'' he said. ''It's a park that is utilized very heavily, not just by people from Jim Thorpe, but from all over the county.''

The band shell and bathrooms will be a stone's throw from Memorial Park Hall, where the administrative offices were housed for decades until moving, along with the Police Department, to a rental building on North street several years ago.

The Police Department had been housed on the other side of town in the old YMCA building on Broadway.

A new office building is needed because the owner of the North Street building wants the site vacated to use it for other purposes.

Whether to build or rent elsewhere is still undecided. The proposal to build new offices died in early summer when council failed to approve a $430,000 financing package for the project.

Construction on the band shell and bathrooms is expected to be completed by midsummer, Councilman Justin Yaich said.

Councilman Jeremy Melber said engineers figure the band shell and bathrooms can be built for about $75,000.

"The bandstand was always a landmark in Memorial Park," he said. "It was always the site of the musical entertainment for the Fourth of July celebration, and it also housed the only public restrooms the park had."

However, the band shell had "become so deteriorated that all we could do was tear it down," he said.

Yaich said bringing the band shell up to current government safety standards would cost at least as much as building a new one.

"When you are spending state money or any tax dollars, you have to bring everything into state compliance with the building code," he said. "The amount of money we would have spent renovating that band shell and making it [Americans with Disabilities Act]-accessible, along with all the other building codes, would have amounted to what we would spend on a new facility. Now you're going to have something brand-new that's going to last 80 years or longer."

Melber said council wants to restore the park to its former glory.

"This is one of the last great parks in Jim Thorpe," he said. "A lot of people bring their kids here to play, and we want to have a bathroom facility for them."

He also said council was planning to spend $20,000 in grant money on new rides for the park.

"We're really trying to build the park back up to what it used to be," he said.

Memorial Hall is a large social venue the borough rents for wedding receptions, bingo and festivals. The borough's annual Stay at Home Festival on Fourth of July weekend is held there.

The downstairs of the building contains a skating rink popular with area youths.

Allentown poised to invest in parks

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity, along with NET's Sports Chair Cory Crawford, to sit down and discuss Allentown's valuable park system with parks Director Greg Weitzel. Thanks to a guy named Trexler, Allentown has more park space per capita than any other city in the country.

Greg, who has been in his position less than a year, has big plans for Allentown. He unveiled a working plan for a total revamp of Cedar Park. And let me tell you with a sculpture walk, a skate park, a cafe, and a new pavilion for weddings and other special events - it was cool. This is a long term plan which we probably won't see complete for another 3-4 years, however there are some more immediate things in the works. In many of the entrances to Allentown, you may have noticed new "Welcome to Allentown" flags. The city intends to build upon this with greenscaping at entryways into the city and more "Welcome to Allentown" signage.

I have experienced first hand what a little clean up, signage, street lamps and greenscaping can do. I attended college in York, Pennsylvania which has many similarities to Allentown. Recently on a jaunt through the city I saw some major improvements including brickwork, flower boxes and plentiful, quaint lighting. It made a world of difference in my perception of that area. Greg is a big supporter of greenscaping, and I hope to see similar improvements in Allentown.

Finally, Allentown has been working for along time to connect all its parks together with one giant bike path. It seems that progress is being made, albeit slowly. They are working closely with Rodale and the Wildlands Conservancy to connect even more land. I made a suggestion that would go hand-in-hand with this master plan - rental bikes.

In my trip down to Louisville in September to the Young Professionals Summit, I learned about a unique bike rental system they have there. There are bike stations throughout the city where you swipe your credit card and money is taken off you card which releases the bike. When you return the bike to any of the stations you swipe your card again and get your money back. Similar systems are in place in Paris and Munich, but it really hasn't caught on here in the states. I think a similar system would be a great thing to implement here in Allentown, and would perhaps help with some traffic concerns as well.

Your president,

Vanessa Williams

Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Nouveau Weekend

From the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Association:

It is a great time to celebrate! The 2007 harvest is now complete. This should be one of the finest vintages in years. The warm, dry summer and fall have added many unique and special components to this year’s crop. These components are complemented by the mineral-rich soil of the Lehigh Valley.

Nouveau Weekend, Nov. 17 and 18, will be your first opportunity to sample some of the unique components of this year’s vintage. The nine wineries of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail will each share their individual specialties as listed below:

• Nouveau Weekend at Vynecrest – Enjoy caramelized onion herb focaccia bread with our 2007 Gamay Beaujolais Nouveau wine.

• Big Creek Vineyard and Winery will pair Pasta Ossabaw (pasta with Gorgonzola sauce) with the 2007 Marechal Foch Nouveau.

• Franklin Hill will serve pierogies with assorted toppings, dips and cheese paired with our Nouvelle wine.

• Pinnacle Ridge Winery has done a twist on the Nouveau tradition this year by producing a white wine called “NuVo.” From Sémillon grapes, the winery has created an easy-drinking table wine reminiscent of Austrian pub wine. This unfiltered, semidry white is a hearty companion on a rainy, raw day with the rib-sticking goodness of a thick soup. Paired with the 2007 NuVo at the event will be a rich, golden corn chowder.

• Galen Glen will feature a classic French-style Nouveau produced from 2007 gamay and sweet potato scallops with caramelized onions. The onions are an especially good match to the fruitiness of the Nouveau; just add a turkey, and Thanksgiving is on the table!

• Amore will debut two new releases: Raspberry Romance and 2006 Chambourcin Reserve. Also, a tasting of this year’s Niagara will be available. Assorted bread, cheese and “almost-famous” homemade dipping oil will be offered.

• Celebrate Nouveau Weekend at Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery. Wine and food pairings don’t always need to be fancy dishes. Join us as we sample mini pulled pork sandwiches with Turtle Rock Red, a local favorite! Learn how to make an everyday dinner more enjoyable!

• Blue Mountain will offer an assortment of artisan bread and cheese provided by F. Crivellaro Italian Cheese & Bakery paired with our newly released 2007 Nouveau Beaujolais. Enjoy our Mountain Spice mulled just right and paired with an autumn pumpkin loaf.

Nouveau Weekend is also a great time to start planning your Christmas gift giving. Remember to order your custom labels early. Also, it is a great opportunity to stock your wine racks for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.


Today is local election day. Polls are open until 8 p.m. Please don't forget to vote!! Info on yp candidates.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Moravian College Community Orchestra concert this Sunday

Come out and support your NET Vice President, Wendy Gerlach this weekend at Moravian College Community Orchestra concert.

Concert includes:
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
  • Franz Schubert - Symphony in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished) - After clicking the link below go to samples 5 and 6
  • Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra in D Major, RV 9
  • Guest Performer: James Schultheis, guitar, Winner of the Moravian College Instrumental Concerto Competition for Orchestra
  • Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Andante Cantabile (from String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11) - Listen to excerpt number 6 towards middle of page
  • Smetena - Three Dances from The Bartered Bride
The concert is on November 4 at 7:30pm in Foy Concert Hall at Moravian College. Tickets are $10.

So you think you can putt?

50/50 Puttle Tournament - Winner takes half!

$10 Entry Fee/18 & Older
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley
424 Center St.
Bethlehem, PA

Saturday 10 am - 2 pm
November 17
December 22
January 19
February 23
March 22
official rules and scorecard of puttle

Contact: Ko Kleppert at 610-504-8031 for more information

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Affordable Housing: Number Crunching

One of you out there asked what the median income is in our area. I'm working on finding out. In the meantime, chew over this post.

Average young professional income:
  • The median income for families headed by people aged 20 to 29 was just under $28,000 in 2004, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Adjusting for 3% inflation each year this may be more like $30,500 now.
  • The median income for families headed by people aged 30-39 was $48,000. Perhaps $52,500 with inflation.
  • One-third of twenty-somethings made $20,000 or less.
Average young professional debt:
  • The average debt load for a bachelor’s degree hovers around $19,000. Additional $31,000 for a grad degree.
  • Americans age 25 to 34 tend to carry a balance of more than $4,000 in credit card debt according to Demos, a research firm in New York.
Average cost of housing:
  • The average cost of an existing home in Lehigh and Northampton counties in September was $217,000 according to statistics from the Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors
Number crunching: Is housing affordable?

The FHA says most people can afford to spend 29% of the annual gross income on housing costs, which include mortgage payments, property taxes and other regular costs.

Annual Gross Income 29% of Gross Income Monthly
20k 5800 583
30k 8700 725
40k 11600 966
50k 14500 1208
60k 17400 1450
70k 20300 1691
80k 23200 1933

Typical mortgage payments for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

Mortgage Amount 6.5% 7% 7.5% 8%
100k 632 668 699 734
150k 948 998 1048 1100
200k 1264 1331 1398 1468
250k 1580 1663 1748 1834
300k 1896 1996 2098 2201

So therefore the average “affordable house” for a single 20-29 year old is $100,000-150,000.

Average “affordable house” for a couple aged 20-29 years old is $200,000-250,000

Average “affordable house” for a single 30-39 year old is $200,000.

(NOTE: Women are now first marrying later in life. In the early 1960s, 80 percent of women had been married by the time they turned 24. Today, most women have not yet been married at age 24, and it is not until age 32 that 80 percent have been married.)

Again, the average housing cost in the Lehigh Valley is $217,000.

Housing developments in the area that target young professionals have priced themselves out:
  • Riverport Condos, Bethlehem: the low $200,000s to $400,000 making it only “affordable” to households earning $60,000 or more.
  • The Farr Lofts, Allentown: $1,000-1,500 a month to rent making it only “affordable” to households earning $40,000 or more.
  • Estonian Condos, Easton: the high $200,000s and up making it only "affordable" to households earning roughly $75,000 or more.
Clearly there is a disconnect between what yps want and what we can afford.

However, there is some assistance available:

Pennsylvania Housing Financial Agency offers a lower interest mortgage for first-time homebuyers who fit within income and purchase price limits.

For a 30-year fixed mortgage rates are:
KHL 0 pts 6.25%
KHL 1 pt 6.125%

Lehigh and Northampton Counties Limits:
Maximum purchase price - $289,000
Maximum household income
1-2 members - $65,900
3 or more members - $75,700

FHA loans benefit those who would like to purchase a home but haven't been able to put money away for the purchase, like recent college graduates, newlyweds, or people who are still trying to complete their education. FHA home loan - 203(b) finances up to 97 percent of a home loan. It is the only loan in which 100 percent of the closing costs can be a gift from a relative, non-profit, or government agency.

Insurance on FHA mortgages are often rolled into the total monthly payment at 0.5 percent of the total loan amount which is roughly half of the price of mortgage insurance on a conventional loan. The maximum amount for an FHA loan in Lehigh and Northampton Counties is $305,666.

Confession from your president

So I have a confession to make. I have a sickness, an obsession really for all things retro. So as you can imagine I was especially saddened to hear that the Sunrise Diner in Jim Thorpe is closed. I frequent Jim Thorpe this time of year, and usually grab a piece of pie at the diner. It's a truly classic, retro gem complete with the chrome highlights and retro colors. It seems the property was bought by adjacent restaurant owners who want to expand their existing business. They are offering the diner up for sale in hopes to save the structure, just at a different location. I hope it finds a new home soon.

Check out the yp candidates in today's Morning Call voter guide

Check out the young professional candidates in today's Morning Call. Regardless of your party affiliation it is important to support candidates that represent our demographic to serve as a young professional voice in our region. NOTE: I designated "young professional" as under 40. NET in no way endorses these candidates as their views are wide and diverse, but it is important to engage these individuals on issues you care about.

Peter Schweyer is running for Allentown City Council. Previous blog post about him.

Jeff Warren is running for Easton City Council. Previous blog post about him.

Peter Melan is running for Easton City Council.

Bill Timmann is running for Easton City Council.

William Reynolds is running for Bethlehem City Council. Previous blog post about him.

Stephen Barron Jr. is running for Northampton County Controller.

Jake Hammond is running for Magisterial District Judge in District 31-2-02 which includes North and South Whitehall.

Daniel Corpora is running for Magisterial District Judge in District 03-2-06 which includes Southside Easton, Glendon, and Williams Township.

Yvonne Falcone is running for Magisterial District Judge in District 03-2-08 which includes Nazareth, Bath, Stockertown, East Allen and Upper Nazareth.

There are a few others running for various municipal and borough councils and area school boards. Please consult the voter guide out today for more details.

Rep. Freeman, Champion for Smart Growth and Urban Revitalization

I had the opportunity to sit down with Rep. Robert Freeman last week. He is the state representative for the Easton area of our region. I found out very quickly that Rep. Freeman is very yp-friendly. His two biggest issues are smart growth and urban revitalization, so he gets it. He serves on the board of Renew Lehigh Valley, and authored the Elm Street bill. The Elm Street program provides funding for areas surrounding downtown main streets for things like facade improvements and greenscaping. We blogged about Bethlehem and Tamaqua taking advantage of this program.

He introduced House Bill 1280, to promote traditional neighborhood development as an alternative to sprawl, was approved unanimously in the House of Representatives and now is sitting in committee in the Senate for review.

“Traditional Neighborhood Development is an excellent alternative to the type of sprawl development that consumes vast amounts of farmland and creates traffic congestion nightmares,” Freeman said. “TNDs are a more compact form of development that use less land, are pedestrian-friendly and provide for a mix of uses and housing options that foster a greater sense of community than conventional suburban developments. A TND creates an actual village or neighborhood rather than a subdivision.”

In the 1999-2000 session of the legislature, Freeman authored the Traditional Neighborhood Development provisions, known as Article VII-A, to the state’s Municipalities Planning Code. Since then, a number of communities pursued the TND alternative, but provisions in the 2000 law proved somewhat cumbersome to implement.

Freeman said H.B. 1280 would make significant changes to the TND provisions to make it easier for municipalities to use as an alternative to sprawl. Under current law, a TND that is in the form of a new development must be in the form of an overlay zone rather than a designation “by right.” The bill would allow municipalities the option of either designating a TND “by right” or to continue to offer the overlay zone approach.

“By allowing municipalities to make an outright TND designation in their zoning codes, it would be a lot easier to create TNDs,” Freeman noted. “Municipalities could ensure that this more compact form of development would be utilized, rather than simply suggesting it to a developer as an alternative. With this added tool in their planning toolbox, local officials would be in a much better position to manage growth more effectively, preserve more open space and reduce people’s dependency on the automobile for everyday needs.”

The bill also would allow municipalities to incorporate a design guideline manual for TNDs as part of their zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances in order to ensure quality design.

Rep. Freeman is just one of many legislators I meeting with in coming weeks. I encourage you to contact me about issues you care about, and more importantly engage local government as I am to help them understand yp issues.

Your president,

Vanessa Williams

Did you know?

If Pennsylvania was a country, it would have the 17th largest economy in the world.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Passes PA House

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 110, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, legislation that would create a global warming strategy in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania alone contributes one percent of the heat-trapping pollution that causes global warming, more than 105 developing nations combined. We are also third worst in the nation, behind only California and Texas, for production of greenhouse gases.

The bill still needs to pass the Pennsylvania Senate.

Please take a moment to thank (or chide!) your state representative. You can use Penn Future's Action Center to send a quick message or to get the contact information you need to make a quick phone call.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Celebration of Samhain: Mystical Bellydance Event this Saturday

Gather to Celebrate the Final Days of Autumn With "A Celebration of Samhain"


Join us on November 4th, From 1:00-4:00 pm (Doors Open 12:45)

The Day's Inn Conference Center

1151 Bulldog Drive

Allentown, PA 18104

(Near the Intersection of Routes 22 & 309)

Advance tickets - $12.00

Tickets at the door - $15.00


For tickets and info. Go to

Takeover Lehigh Valley at Crowne Plaza on Nov. 9

From Takeover:

We are excited for our next takeover where we swing back to Allentown to go back to one of our original venues way back in January of '06. Crowne Plaza is thrilled to have us back to their cool and relaxed Geo Spirits Lounge serving up drinks and casual American cuisine where they assure us they will have plenty of bartenders and servers. The Geo Lounge is an upscale but cozy bar with plenty of tables and our own jute box so we control the music! And, if you want to make a night of it just around the corner the Stonewall will be serving up our official after party with free cover, and go-go boy upstairs just for us, while downstairs is Latin night so we can shake the night away! For those out-of-towners it may be a good occasion to stay the night at the Crowne Plaza while you enjoy both Takeover and the Stonewall! See you there.
Date: Friday, November 9th
Time: 6:30pm

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NET Volunteer Positions available

NET Volunteer Positions

Thank you to all of you who have stepped up to the plate to contribute your time to the NET. As a result, the NET is becoming a more active, vibrant organization. Through partnerships with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Rotoract, United Way, and Lehigh County Bar Association - Young Lawyers Division we are able to offer more events to our members. If you know of an organization that would be interested in partnering with the NET please contact myself at

Please consider donating your time. If you want to start out small, NET needs event hosts. Event hosts, do just that, host events. Usually, all that is required is your e-mail to RSVP and
for you to show up at the event. Some more complex events require reservations or site/presenter coordination, but usually only a few hours of your time are needed. If you are interested in hosting or organizing an event please e-mail Wendy at

* NET Independent Film Club

NET is seeking one individual to host a NET Independent Film Club on a Tuesday once a month at 19th St. Theatre. Please contact Wendy at if you are interested in hosting and/or joining the NET Independent Film Club.

* NET Book Club

NET is seeking one individual to host a NET book club on a weeknight once a month. Please contact Wendy if you are interested in hosting and/or joining the NET book club.

* Sports Committee Volunteers needed

NET is creating several leagues and various other sports activities for the next year. If you're interested in helping out with this endeavor contact Cory Crawford, Sports Chair at

Lehigh Valley Disc Golf

I just came across a new website geared at disc golf in the Lehigh Valley area. Disc golf is very similar to regular golf, but instead you use small frisbee-like discs and throw them at chained baskets. Of special importance, the website lists and maps all the disc golf courses in the area. NET has beginner disc golf packages available which includes a putter, a driver, and a bag for $25 for NET members, or $30 for non-members. Please contact me for more information on

Vanessa Williams

Thanks Sec. Yablonsky

On Friday, I attended a luncheon where Sec. Yablonsky, head of Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development spoke about his plan for Pennsylvania. To my pleasant surprise he brought up a point I had made to NET's board a day earlier - young professionals move to an area because of quality of place, not for a job like previous generations. I publicly thanked him for this acknowledgment.

It is refreshing to know that someone in as powerful position as he is gets it. Please give his office a call to thank him sometime at 717-720-1355.

Vanessa Williams

Monday, October 29, 2007

Celebrate Diwali - Nov. 17th

Presented by the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley

5:00pm - Dinner
6:30pm - Local entertainment
8:30pm - back by popular demand - Film songs by Sunita Kapur!

In addition to an exquisite dinner and talented performances from local artists, this year we are going have a special entertainment program given by Sunita Kapur and her music group. Sunita Kapur is a famous singer from Bollywood, who has performed on stage with stars such
as Sonu Nigam, Anu Malik, Sudhesh Bhosle, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Kalyanji Anandji, Abhijeet, Kumar Sanu, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Alka Yagnik, Shaan, Vinod Rathod and many others. Check her website at for more details.


Adults - $18 (Advance purchase only); $20 at the gate
Kids and participants - $12
Please call Nitin Laud (610-351-4984) to get your tickets today.

Learn about the Neighborhood Partnership Program this Wednesday

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (GLVCC) and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) will hold a Community Breakfast on October 31 to inform the business community about The Neighborhood Partnership Program – a significant tax credit program that fosters the development of private, non-profit, public and neighborhood civic groups to improve the quality of life in distressed communities.

The Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) is offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development as a new tool to help communities build and sustain development efforts and adapt to changing economic and social conditions over the long term. The NPP provides tax credit incentives to private, for-profit businesses that have significant state tax obligations and make substantial long-term contributions to community development projects. The program also promotes business growth and provides employees with the opportunity to volunteer in the community and have a hands-on role in neighborhood improvement.

It is the mission of GLVCC and LVEDC to promote economic prosperity throughout the Lehigh Valley, and one of the most important efforts in reaching this goal is through the marketing and revitalization of our urban cores, including the more impoverished neighborhoods. As community partners responsible for ensuring that our businesses in the Lehigh Valley thrive and continue to prosper, LVEDC and the GLVCC encourage your attendance to learn about this important component to the health and success of the Lehigh Valley.

The breakfast will be held from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Northampton Community College, Fowler Center, 511 S. Third Street, Bethlehem. For more information, contact: Taryn Heisler at 610.266.2217 or

LVEDC's Urban Opportunities Tour shows investment opportunities in Lehigh Valley's downtowns

New York architect Kathy Sekowski was impressed. The urban designer making her first visit to the Lehigh Valley expected to find its urban zones just starting to move out of the post-industrial malaise and instead found three cities far along the path to revitalization.

“There’s a huge disproportion between the image and the reality,” she said after a lunch break on the 2007 Urban Opportunities Tour conducted Oct. 18 by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

The goal of this year’s tour was to reach out to developers and real estate professionals across the Valley and beyond to introduce them to the potential for redevelopment in the urban areas, and the tour attracted almost 30 of those professionals from as far away as New York City and Connecticut. For some, it reinforced what they already knew and provided further insight on the efforts the city’s have been putting forth to rebuild their tax base. For others, such as Sekowski, it was an eye-opening day.

“I never realized how much development was going on, how much architectural wealth there is, and how much charm there is in these cities,” she said after listing to Easton Mayor Phil Mitman’s luncheon presentation on his city’s four-year effort to prioritize cleanliness, economic development, public safety and residential and investor confidence. “I will definitely come back.”

The third annual Urban Tour gives the developers and real estate professionals a chance to interact with city Community and Economic Development leaders and visit a variety of sites that display the potential of urban properties. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and Easton Mayor Phil Mitman will give presentations on their cities as the tour visits each municipality, and the developers will have the opportunity for follow-up meetings with the mayors and city officials on Friday to learn more about specific sites of interest.

“The revitalization of our cities has been and remains one of our top priorities,” said Robert Weed, interim President and Chief Executive Officer for LVEDC. “By providing the opportunities for developers to learn more about the cities and the potential these sites offer for creative and substantial use or re-use, we encourage increased investment and the continued restoration of an important economic platform for the Lehigh Valley.”

The tour began at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem at 8:30 a.m. Thursday with a presentation by Mayor Callahan, followed by a bus tour of selected sites in that city.

Callahan outlined the $1.6 billion in redevelopment already underway in the Christmas City and explained the committed urban planning process that has guided the city as it sets the pace for redevelopment across the Valley.

“While Bethlehem has see a tremendous amount of growth and good things, there are still a lot of opportunities here,” Callahan said before the group began its tour of his city. “You are going to see some projects that will take some vision, but we are here to help.”

Mayor Mitman said Easton has seen a resurgence in residential investment over the past four years, and that has helped spur increased commercial and office development interest. Referring to the Bank Street Annex where the group stopped for lunch, Mitman explained its reuse over the years.

“We are going to see several buildings in Easton that offer the same potential,” he said as the group prepared to board the bus for the post-luncheon tour.

Mayor Pawlowski told the professionals that while Center City has seen some strong projects brought to fruition over the past several years, they are only a small portion of a renaissance going on across the Valley’s largest municipality. The focus now is on rebuilding the residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown to provide a stable platform for continued growth, he said.

“We have some great potential. This is a place for opportunity,” he said during a presentation at the Baum School of Art. “Allentown is at the tipping point (of a solid revival).”

Sites visited in each city included a mix of office, retail/commercial and industrial buildings and developable sites without existing structures, such as the Calo building on Front Street and the former Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 5 office on Lehigh Street in Allentown; the Miller Wholesale/Christmas City Bottling facility on Monocacy Street and the former D’Huy Engineering building on Main Street in Bethlehem; and the former Lipkin’s Furniture store at 3rd and Ferry Streets and a vacant manufacturing building on Lincoln Street in Easton.

Unique grassroots movement promotes tolerance for LGTB community

I first heard about the "gay? fine by me." T-shirt project last year when my sister mentioned it occurring out at Millersville University's campus.

The Gay? Fine By Me™ T-Shirt Project sprung from a dinner conversation between ten friends, both gay and straight, at Duke University in the spring of 2003. In January 2005, two of the founders of the original T-Shirt Project, Lucas Schaefer and Leila Nesson Wolfrum, established Fine By Me, Inc. to give voice to the friends and supporters of LGBT Americans. In June 2005, Fine By Me became a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

Through the organization you may purchase an inexpensive T-shirt which simply states "gay? fine by me." It is one way to promote tolerance for the LGBT community regardless of your sexual orientation. The movement has spread virally across primarily college campuses with several thousands of T-shirts purchased and distributed nationwide.

To learn more visit

Why the Lehigh Valley needs a regional Health Bureau

Last week, I met for the first time with NET's Board of Advisers to discuss my plans for the upcoming year. Steve Bliss, a representative from Renew Lehigh Valley, was there to alert NET for the need for a regional health bureau.

Why is this an issue? Currently we have two health bureau's in this area, one in Allentown, and one in Bethlehem. Anyone who live outside of those areas may have an official here and there, but are grossly unprotected. These groups and scattered officials for the most part do not communicate on a regular basis. What does this mean? That in the Lehigh Valley we are seriously lacking public health services like immunizations. And if were ever to have an large outbreak of any kind, or bioterrorism, there is no central entity to take charge, and take action. A Lehigh Valley Health Bureau would coordinate response to such emergencies.

Some officials are wary of a regional health bureau because they are afraid that it will tax the existing fragmented system. However, by creating a regional organization, state funding for the area would increase by $3.2 million. More than double what our region receives now - $1.4 million.

What can you do? Express your support! Voting is coming up in both counties on the issue.

I live in Lehigh County...

I live in Northampton County...

Together we can create a safer, healthier region.

Vanessa Williams

"Priced Out" says Morning Call; the Affordable Housing Crisis in the Lehigh Valley

An article appeared in Sunday's Morning Call about the affordable housing crisis in this area. This is a topic NET has been speaking about for over a year now. We know that it is one of the biggest hurdles facing young professionals in this area. And I know first hand as I am currently in the housing marketing.

The article followed the Telesha family who are looking for a home under $125,000. Not surprisingly, they only found homes which were in bad neighborhoods, or in dire need of repair. In my opinion, however, they are the extreme. Most of you have expressed "affordable housing" as being between $150,000 and $200,000. This is still a struggle as most of us, as the article touched upon, are ineligible for any sort of assistance program.

Vanessa Williams

The article reported:

"In the past five years, home prices have risen more than 55 percent, hitting a record high last year of $228,000. Prices are even higher now, with the average cost of an existing home up 3 percent from a year ago.

Median incomes in the Valley, meanwhile, have risen at less than a third of that rate in the same period, according to the U.S. census.

Lehigh and Northampton counties deem the lack of affordable housing a growing issue and are planning to convene a first-ever summit on the issue.

''You have young professionals who are almost becoming the working poor,'' said Chris Bennick of Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley. ''It's a crisis.''

Some fear that the growing failure of people to make the jump from rental housing to owning a home will undermine the Valley's economic boom.

The dearth of affordable housing threatens to affect employers -- particularly hospitals and schools that may not be able to attract essential employees. A bi-county study published this year found teachers, policemen and others can no longer afford homes in the Valley that cost the median price.

On the heels of the report, the two counties have taken some steps to address the problem. Both counties have put aside money to pay for a regional housing coordinator to develop a strategy to boost the number of affordable units.

Lehigh County has re-established its housing trust fund, which will pay for the construction and rehabilitation of houses for low-to-moderate income families, and hopes to begin disbursing funds by the end of the year.

Other initiatives also provide a measure of hope. The Housing Association and Development Corp. announced last week an ambitious plan to build and repair 26 homes in Allentown, many of which will be sold for less than $100,000. In Bethlehem, Habitat plans to build 26 affordable homes near the top of South Mountain.

The number of people in the Valley who need help, however, is growing. And few assistance programs target people who are not low-income. For example, only families earning 80 percent of the median income or less will be eligible to buy homes in the HADC project."


"Participants in the Valley's recent study on affordable housing, completed in May, recommended creating a revolving loan pool to provide financing to nonprofit developers of low-cost housing.

They also recommended waiving some fees and providing incentives for private developers that commit to building affordable housing. That's an idea embraced by housing advocates across the country.

''In order to meet the demand for affordable housing, we have to mobilize the private sector,'' Pam Patenaude of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

Florida is addressing the problem aggressively after a housing summit galvanized the state, Patenaude said. The state has created a pilot program to build ''work force'' housing for those making between 60 to 120 percent of the area's median income. Florida is also using density bonuses to encourage private developers to build more affordable units.

The Valley's bi-county advisory committee has taken steps to make affordable housing a permanent issue. It will meet at least four times a year, organize an annual summit and produce annual progress reports.

Experts say it's wise for the two counties to take the long view because the availability of affordable homes in the Valley is unlikely to change soon."

Gaydar Magazine Holiday Party to Benefit Fighting AIDS Continuously Together and Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley

Don’t miss this kick off to the holiday season!

Date: Thursday, November 29th

Place: Lee Gribbens on Main

198 Main St., Emmaus, PA

Time: 8-11PM

$20 admission includes this menu and your first cocktail


Mini Tarts filled with Raspberry, Almond & Brie

Stuffed Mushrooms with Crabmeat

Mexican Pie with Chips

BBQ Shrimp wrapped in Bacon

White Bean Feat & Bruschetta

Roasted Sweet Potato Pancakes

Fruit & Cheese Kabobs

Strudel with Wild Mushrooms & Goat Cheese

Open-faced Tenderloin Sandwiches

Bring friends and give back to these non profits who work hard all year

to make this a better community for all of us

RSVP to Lee Gribbens on Main by calling 610.967.4409

Preorder tickets at

All proceeds benefit FACT (Fighting AIDS Continuously Together)


Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley

Gaydar Magazine: Together, we put the fun in fundraiser!